A police report on deteriorating conditions in Petrograd (1916)

In October 1916, a division of the Okhrana filed this report to the government on the deteriorating conditions in Petrograd:

“The gradually increasing disorganisation of the rear – in other words, of the entire country – has become chronic and is ever worsening… it has at this moment achieved such an extreme and monstrous stage that it is even now beginning to threaten results achieved at the front and promises in the very near future to plunge the country into the destructive chaos of catastrophic and elemental anarchy.

The systematically growing disorganisation of transport; the unrestrained orgy of pillaging and swindling of every kind by shady operators in the most diverse branches of the country’s commercial, industrial, and sociopolitical life; the unsystematic and mutually contradictory orders of representatives of state and local administrations; the unconscientiousness of minor and lower agents of the government in the provinces; and, as a result of all the foregoing, the inequitable distribution of food products and essential goods, the incredible rise in prices, and the lack of sources and means of procuring food… shows categorically and definitely that a dire crisis is already upon us which must inevitably be resolved in one direction or another.

The above summary may be confirmed by the particularly troubled mood now observable among the masses of the people. By the beginning of September of this year, an exceptional intensification of the feelings of opposition and animosity was distinctly noted among the most diverse sections of the residents of the capitals. Ever more frequent complaints against the administration and harsh and merciless condemnations of government policy have begun to be expressed.

By the end of September, according to well-informed sources, this spirit of opposition reached an exceptional scale, which it had not attained – in any case among the broad masses – even during the period 1905-06…┬áDespite the great increase in wages, the economic condition of the masses is worse than terrible. While the wages of the masses have risen 50 per cent, and only in certain categories 100 to 200 per cent (metal workers, machinists, electricians), the prices on all products have increased 100 to 500 per cent…

The impossibility of even buying many food products and necessities, the time wasted standing idle in queues to receive goods, the increasing incidence of disease due to malnutrition and unsanitary living conditions (cold and dampness because of lack of coal and wood), and so forth, have made the workers, as a whole, prepared for the wildest excesses of a “hunger riot”…

Never have we observed such nervousness as there is now. Almost every day the newspapers report thousands of facts that reflect the extremely strained nerves of the people in public places, and a still greater number of such facts remains unrecorded. The slightest incident is enough to provoke the biggest brawl. This is especially noticeable in the vicinity of shops, stores, banks, and similar institutions, where “misunderstandings” occur almost daily.”