Meat, Margarine, and Murder

The Soviet Union has always been known for their quick draw reflexes to silence anyone within their sovereignty who vocalized dissent to their reign. One of these moments to mention is the Novocherkassk massacre of 1962. This massacre was the result of a locomotive manufacturing workers protest because of rising food prices.



One of the locomotives manufactured by the protestors

To start out it is important to discuss the current issues in Russia causing the rise in prices of meat and butter. According to The Current Digest of the Russian Press, the Soviet agricultural sector was actually seeing increases in production. To counter this:

“The Soviet economy is developing swiftly. The population of our country, especially the urban population, is growing very rapidly. Between 1953 and 1961 it rose by 29,000,000, of whom 28,000,000 are city dwellers. The money income of the working people has been rising year by year. In 1961 it was 42,000,-000,000 rubles, or 87%, higher than in 1953.”

This led to high demand for the basics of Soviet diets, meat and butter. And what’s worse than getting your communist, sub-par rib eye? When the same communist who gives you the sub-par rib eye makes you pay more for it. The Soviet government could easily raise the prices of alcohol, tobacco, and other non-essential products in order to sustain the prices of essential items needed by the people.

On June 1, locomotive workers took their stand on these ridiculous increases by marching onto the Communist Party’s headquarters in the center of Novocherkassk. The steadfast protesters were met with unexpected gunfire and 26 protestors were killed and 87 were wounded. To top this off, in a top-secret KGB report, they described the protestors as “not reflecting the views of the greater population” and “reacting to minimal increases in the price of meat and butter.”

As this shows, when the government cannot trust the people to express their own opinion, they have to exercise in the taking of human life and make an example. While this kind of scare tactic can help in the short run to create peace, it never works out over the long haul.


Putin visiting the memorial site in 2008

A. Nelson

Thanks for highlighting the tension between the publicity about increased consumer expectations and rising prices – especially for meat. One of the triggers for the protests in Novocherkassk was a wage CUT, which of course deepened resentments all the more.

Kelly Cooper

This was an interesting post. I agree with annapope that the government reaction to the protest is similar to Bloody Sunday in 1905. With the wage cut and the rising meat and butter prices, it is understandable why the locomotive workers protested. However, it always surprises me when the government resorted to gunfire to suppress the protestors, for that never solves anything in the end, as you noted.


I agree with everyone else’s comments: it’s surprising to me how the Soviet Union always resorted to shooting protesters expecting new results, yet it never truly solved the problem. Good job describing the back story as to why the Soviet Union was experiencing shortages to begin with; I really like the quote you used. It showed just how quickly and massively the Soviet Union had grown–I find it incredible that the population grew by 29,000,000 in 8 years. I guess this definitely creates the grounds to protest wage cuts and an increase in costs of basic foods, like meat and butter.

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