It all started with bread

4606Female protesters in Petrograd (now St Petersburg) on 8 March 1917. Photograph: Fototeca Storica Nazionale/Getty Images

Don’t mess with women’s bread. 

From the beginning, the Tsar was warned that war would not be good for the republic. The state was fragile since the 1905 revolution. But Tsar had something to prove, he wanted the other countries of Europe to know that Russia was still of great-power status and not afraid of growing Germany.

At first, the war formed a “patriotic union,” citizens wanted to provide and win for their leader who would take care of them.  In less than 3 years, 15 million men were drafted into the war; rapid mobilization. Everyone’s brother, husband, and son were being forced into this war. And even with the number of men, the Russians were experiencing massive defeats in battle. Russia didn’t have the ammunition and weapons they needed, their own industries couldn’t make weapons fast enough and they were not importing nearly as much as they needed.

Citizens started to get impatient. The Tsar was not providing for them like they needed. The population was cold because it was the middle of winter and because of the war in the fields, there were food storages so people were starving. On top of that, the tsar started seeing society as the enemy. He tried to appease the population by replacing ministers with men who were apart of the professional and economic elites. The Duma was still not pleased. They formed the Progressive Bloc and tried to get the government to be responsible to the Duma while also assuming personal command of the army.

The tsar figured the population would be more willing to support the war effort if he himself went to the frontline and commanded his men. This had the opposite effect. Russia was still losing battles and now Tsar Nicholas was directly associated with the failing war. Inflation and food shortages reached critical levels in the autumn of 1916 which leads to February 1917.

With starving peasants and mutinous soldiers, the Romanov dynasty that ruled for three centuries was dissolved. The revolution started when working-class women took to the streets to protests the food shortages and the high price of bread. It just so happened that the Bolsheviks, an underground revolutionary group, also called on their followers to take to the streets to resume their demonstrations. The police, Cossacks, and soldiers from the Volhynian regiment tried their best to disperse the crowds but ended up only joining them and supplying arsenals a few days later.

The tsar tried everything, he dissolved the State Duma and tried to return to the capital but even his ministers told him that was a bad idea. The Duma had already declared themselves the Provisional Government. The people were done with the dynasty and wanted change. The tsar had no choice but to abdicate to save his son and for the sake of domestic tranquillity. The year that followed was the establishment of dual power, The Duma vs the Petrograd Soviets. Both vying for power.

The war lead to the food shortages, the women protesting in the streets about the high price of bread lead to the Bolsheviks coming out from the darkness, which lead to the February Revolution and fall of the House Romanov.

So if you are going to get anything out of history from this; don’t mess with a woman and her bread.


Russia A History, Third Edition. Gregory L Freeze, Pg 269-275.

Siegelbaum, Lewis. “February Revolution.” Seventeen Moments in Soviet History, 28 Dec. 2015,

7 thoughts on “It all started with bread

  1. I think it is important to understand that though many stood up against the Russian Provisional Government and Tsar Nicolas II himself, it was the women who began a revolution that would change Russia forever. This act of bravery coming from the female population of Russia in the early 1900s, if properly documented and presented to the outside world would be both inspiring and empowering to women all around the world. Therefore, your ending statement is true but I would add “don’t mess with a women’s bread or her family”.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Agree! Some kind of upheaval was likely inevitable, but women standing for bread set things in motion. And yet we don’t hear about that very often. Why do you think that women’s radicalism isn’t foregrounded more when we study the revolution?


  3. If you’re gonna revolt against something bread is a pretty great motivator. If your country is fighting a losing war, and also can’t feed it’s own people then maybe it’s time to try something new.


  4. When people think of the Russian Revolution, not too many people will think of protests against food prices. However, you have done an excellent job showing the important, and vocal, step women made against the Tsar. Great post!


  5. Claire, I thought the image you chose to put with your post was very interesting and powerful. It is so cool to read and see what a large part of this revolution women were, even though we may not always hear about it. I think your post gave a really explanation of tensions in Russia during the time, in terms of political and more domestic issues facing the population. You also mention that around 15 million men were drafted for the war in Russia, which maybe could be a reason women started having a larger political voice since their families were being effected so drastically/they had to speak in places the men in their life normally would have.


  6. Why do you think the Tsar thought the population would support the war efforts if he was leading it? The Russian Army may have had some success with fewer soldiers that had better equipment and better training. Regardless of what could have happened, it would still be hard to combat the strikes and demonstrations with the Tsar being on the front line. If he led the country instead of just the army, things may have been different.


  7. Great title, it really draws the reader in. While your blog is chronological and easy to read it gives several perspectives from the peasants and plays on everyone heart strings when you mentioned all the men that were drafted.It makes you step into a soldiers foot steps and imagine what life was like back then. Your blog was very thought provoking.


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