A Duma report on Russian cities in February 1917 (1917)

In early February 1917, a committee of the Duma compiled a report to the tsar on the rapidly deteriorating situation in Petrograd and Moscow. It is not known if the tsar read this report or, if he did, how he responded:

“Your Imperial Majesty

In a moment of terrible danger the worst policy is to shut one’s eyes to the full seriousness of the actual situation. One must boldly look it in the face since, in this case, there is a possibility of finding some sort of favourable solution. The situation in Russia today is both catastrophic and profoundly tragic. Her army is not defeated; it is better supplied with arms than ever before. But behind the army, in the rear, the breakdown is such that it threatens to render useless all the sacrifices, all the bloodshed, all the unparalleled heroism, and to tip the military scales to the advantage of our enemies.

From every corner of Russia come reports, each more dismal and miserable than the other. The mayor of Moscow reports in his memorandum presented to the chairman of the Council of Ministers that the situation in Moscow with respect to the food supply is critical. Instead of the required 65 carloads of flour… in December the daily flour supply in Moscow was not more than 50 carloads, and in January it fell to 42 carloads. That is, the supply met only a little more than half the need. If the supply of flour is not brought up to the norm, Moscow will soon have absolutely no reserves of flour.

The situation in Petrograd is no better. The January supply of essential commodities was 50 percent of the norm, as established by the Special Conference. The supply of livestock, poultry and butter was 25 percent of the norm, and supply in the first half of January was better than in the second half… The city needed 40 carloads of wheat flour per day, but [in five days] only 12, 10, 35, eight and two carloads were actually brought in…

The fuel situation is no better. Almost all of Russia is suffering from an acute shortage of liquid and solid mineral fuels, and of wood and peat. The same memorandum from the mayor of Moscow cites depressing facts. During the winter season Moscow needs daily 475,000 poods of wood, 100,000 poods of coal, 100,000 poods of fuel oil, and 15,000 poods of peat. But in January, before the frosts set in, average shipments into Moscow were only 430,000 poods of wood, 60,000 poods of coal, and 75,000 poods of oil…

Because of the shortage of fuel, many enterprises – including even those working for defence – have already halted or will soon halt operation. Buildings with central heating systems have 50 percent of the fuel they need, and the wood yards are empty… Of the 73 plants standing idle [in Petrograd] in December 1916, 39 were forced to suspend production because of a lack of fuel and 11 because of the suspension of electric power, caused by fuel shortages at power stations.

The country has everything it needs but cannot make adequate use of it. There is not the slightest doubt that agricultural production is able to satisfy the consumer needs of the Russian population… We must cite first the poor organisation of transportation, which does not permit us to move the requisite products in the necessary quantities from one place to another, and which therefore retards the pace of the national economy. Thus the fuel crisis is caused only by the fact that the railroads do not manage to transport the required amount of fuel, even though the latter is available.

The second major reason for the collapse of the rear is the confusion in the labor market. The huge depletions of the population caused by the mobilisation, which took more than 50 percent of the able-bodied males between the ages of sixteen and fifty, have created an extremely complex and crucial situation in the rear… Skilled workers were mobilised and sent to the front and all efforts to send them back from the army remained virtually fruitless until very lately. Under such conditions our enterprises had to resort to the labor of semi-skilled or entirely unskilled workers, and this had a number of harmful repercussions.”