1917 was a difficult year for Russians of all social standings. The Russian Revolution of 1917 was a huge turning point for the Russian Empire and there were many factors that contributed to the overthrow of the Tsar. My focus of this blog post will be about the food riots and pogroms that occurred in the weeks leading up to the October Revolution, but these riots were not uncommon in the beginning of the year either. Module 3 of the Digital History Reader notes that food shortages was one of this biggest causes for unrest in early 1917 and contributed to the abdication of Tsar Nicholas II, the largest of these being the strike in St. Petersburg on February 23 (International Women’s Day), when female workers protested the high prices of bread and food shortages. The next day saw multiple (underground) groups protesting and essentially shutting down all of the city (some people even reached the center of the city). Only once troops were ordered to begin shooting at the demonstrators were the crowds dispersed. This strike was so hugely important that it started the February Revolution. Sadly, the riots only continued throughout the year and soon escalated into pogroms, a persecution and subsequent massacre of a particular ethnic group. The Petrograd Telegraph Agency has several extracts of telegrams that were sent during September and October 1917 that report about these riots/pogroms that are occurring all over Russia.
What shocks me most about these telegrams is how violent the protestors would get, which says a lot about how upset they were with the horrendous conditions they dealt with on a daily basis: “Rostov-on-Don, October 10. In Azov, as a result of the dissatisfaction of the population with the rise in the price of bread and flour, disorder broke out. A crowd of residents marched to the city hall, broke into the food department, and attacked the government employees, who fled. When a member of the municipal government, Makarovskii, attempted to quiet the crowd, be was thrown down the stairs from the second floor, […]”
Two telegrams from Kharkov, in the Ukraine, describe the riots that have erupted: “Kharkov, September 24. […] On the evening of September 22 a wine storehouse was broken into and a large amount of liquor seized. The drunken crowds who took part in the destruction of the wine storehouse started to march through the streets singing and creating a disturbance. The population of the city is alarmed. The Jews have left the city. All stores are closed and the residents do not venture on the streets. Soldiers from the local garrison took part in the disturbance. A detachment of troops was sent from Kharkov to establish order and cadets were summoned from Chuguev …”
“Kharkov, October 11. During the past few days pillaging has been going on in the city. […]. Brigands plunder the goods and handle the proprietors roughly. It is in this way that … an innocent artisan, the Jew, Morein, was killed. During the night, the agitation for a pogrom has become stronger and the uprising has assumed a threatening character, being concentrated in the center of the city, on Pavlovskii Square. […] on the fences are hung proclamations using monarchist slogans and calling for a pogrom and for a massacre of the Jews; a dry goods shop has been wrecked; many of the pogrom-makers wear soldiers’ uniforms …”
These shortages allowed the Bolsheviks to take advantage of the situation, using the “deceptively simple platform of ‘bread, land, and peace'” to come to power in October 1917. However, the drawn-out process of restoring the food shortages back to normal wouldn’t be solved immediately, as this was a revolution that involved all aspects of social, economical, international and political life in Russia. To restore order, the Bolsheviks and Lenin would have to work endlessly, “Lenin’s fledgling regime began to rule in the midst of a disastrous war and a disintegrating economy, while struggling to consolidate and defend its hold on political authority. Overcoming such challenges would require the acceptance of a punitive peace with Germany, followed by swift mobilization for a brutal civil war.” DHR, Context)
I think it’s easy to forget that this revolution was a drawn-out process for all parties involved, a majority of 1917 was spent trying to find a good balance, “the year… was a complex story of ‘dual power’, the Provisional Government representing ‘Society,’ the soviet representing workers, peasants and soldiers.” (Freeze, 275) At the top of this post is a government advertisement from 1918 appeals to the peasants to aid the people of Northern Russia who are suffering under the worst drought in the Volga since 1873; the article asks them to help defend them against their enemies, both the German bourgeoisie and also the peasants/workers who are striking and hindering all transportation. The collective struggle across Russia really seemed to disable the country, something that eventually resulted in a crippling civil war between the Red and Whites. All of the events that happened in 1917 really just reinforce the fact that this tumultuous year was only the beginning of the struggles that Russia had to deal with in the early 20th century.
<a href=”http://www.dhr.history.vt.edu/modules/eu/mod03_1917/context.html”>DHR, Context</a>
<a href=”http://www.soviethistory.org/index.php?page=article&show=&SubjectID=1917food&ArticleID=1917riots1&Year=1917″>Food Riots and Pogroms, 1917</a>
Freeze, Gregory L. Russia: A History. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009. 275. Print
Image, taken from <a href=”http://www.soviethistory.org/index.php?page=subject&show=images&SubjectID=1917food&Year=1917&navi=byYear”>Food Supply Images</a>
Original Source: Albert Rhys Williams: Through the Russian Revolution. New York: Boni and Liveright. 1921.