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Saratov Journal

Among the most interesting documents in the Babine Papers are Alexis Babine's notebooks, which show price changes in Saratov. For a long time Saratov was a provincial capital in the Volga region, a center of industry and trade, and one of the largest cities in the Russian Empire. In October 1917 Babine, a former superintendent of public schools in Vologda province, was appointed an instructor of English at Saratov University. It was here that he began to keep his diaries.

Soon after Babine's arrival, the Bolsheviks established a Soviet government in the city. Their reforms deeply influenced not only the economical and political structure of the region, but also the everyday life of the population. Although the situation with food supplies was not as bad as it would become later, prices had gone up more than 900 percent since 1914. In November 1917 the cost of two pounds of bread was only 0.48 rubles, and remained stable until the beginning of the next year. In March 1918 the cost of the same amount of bread ranged from 1.80 to 3.50 rubles. Changes in the rations of Saratov's middle class were also influenced by the increase in prices. Foods that were common in the pre-Revolutionary period: cheese, cocoa, smoked beef, etc., were replaced by potatoes, millet, and flour. Afraid of starvation, people began to hoard food. For example, in June 1918 Babine bought 44 pounds of flour and about 100 eggs. Hoarding was common until the beginning of the Great Famine in the Volga region, in January 1921.

With the Bolshevik introduction of War Communism, the entire working population began to receive bread coupons. The Soviet authorities distributed food, raw materials, and manufactured goods. Any kind of private trade was prohibited and all market operations became illegal and were classified by the Soviet government as speculation. This gave rise to a black market. Unlike official prices, which remained practically unchanged during the entire Civil War, the increase in black market prices can be characterized as inflation and later hyperinflation. For example, the black market price of four pounds of pork before the famine was 1,100 rubles, while the price for "meat sovetique [Soviet]" was about twenty times lower--42 rubles for 1 pounds. The absence of all agricultural products made the prices of even such things as "beef syrup" and "wheat meal" unbearably high. The population could no longer make large purchases. In Babine's materials we can often find such notes: "1 egg--650 rubles" (at the beginning of 1918 the price of 30 eggs was only 10.50 rubles).

Babine was saved from starvation by his participation in the activities of the American Relief Administration (ARA), which supplied its employees with food, as well as by packages from his friends in the United States. During the period between January and April 1921 there is no evidence that he bought any food for himself. Black market prices were too high for the great majority of citizens, most of whom had sold practically everything that they owned by that time. At the same time the Soviet authorities were not able to assist the region's population. They cut rations and did not send their regular shipments to the region. In November 18, 1921, Babine wrote: "The October University ration was issued only today. It contained 36 lbs. of rye flour, 7 lbs. of "meat" (which I had to throw away), 1 lb. of country butter, 1 lb. of damp granulated sugar, 2 lbs. of coarse dirty salt, 1 lb. of barley coffee, 20 lbs. of worthless Soviet matches. This is the best ration we have had yet." The last notes he made in Saratov were "April, 14: 10 eggs are 3,000,000 rubles. . . . black bread is 140,000 Soviet rubles a pound, granulated sugar--500, 000, rice--350, 000, American lard--1,000,000, butter--800,000, meat--500,000".

By that time Babine had decided to emigrate from Russia. In June 1922 he arrived in Moscow where he found a situation quite different from the suffering of the Volga region. The Soviet government had replaced its distribution system with an open market and legalized practically all kinds of trade. It also fueled further price increases. Just before his departure for the United States Babine wrote in his diary: "White bread is 650,000 Soviet rubles a pound, and that not of the best kind. Coal oil is 1,400,000 rubles a pound, eggs 1.2 million rubles a dozen, a pound of apples 400,000 rubles, a small bun--200,000 rubles."

The increase in prices, together with other factors, resulted in the destruction of the middle class in the entire region. Merchants, teachers, engineers, and craftsmen lived in equal poverty. They sold practically everything they had before the revolution and food became "a great blessing" for most of them.

The published edition of Babine's diaries, (A Russian Civil War Diary: Alexis Babine in Saratov, 1917-1922. Edited by Donald J. Raleigh. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1988. DK265.7 .B3 1988), which contains an emotional description of the horrors of the Civil War and the Great Famine in Russia, can be found in the European Reading Room.

Prices for:

1917 - 1918 - 1919 - 1920 - 1921 - 1922

year: month day product weight (lbs.) price (rubles)
1917: August 21 cocoa 5.00 40.00
    cheese 4.13 11.95
1917: September 4 bacon 1.13 2.13
  19 cocoa 10.00 100.00
    sugar 9.00 25.50
1917: October 13 sugar 1.00 0.32
1917: November 6 tea 0.50 5.50
  18 bread 2.00 0.48
    cheese 3.00 13.50
  20 smoked beef 2.25 9.60
  22 bread 9.00 1.71
  27 bread 5.00 0.90
    cocoa 1.00 20.00
1917: December 8 cheese 2.00 12.98
    smoked beef 2.38 20.45
  13 bread 8.00 2.14
  16 black bread 10.00 1.80
    honey 1.00 5.60
  18 cheese 0.75 3.40
  20 honey 2.25 15.40
  21 white bread 10.00 2.50
  24 soap 1.25 8.12
    sugar 1.00 0.39
  28 bread 5.00 0.90
  29 bread 2.00 0.52
  30 bread 4.25 1.05
year:  month day product weight (lbs.) price (rubles)
1918: January 8 bread 1.00 0.26
      5.00 1.30
  16 white bread 5.00 7.50
  20 bread 1.50 0.51
  24 smoked beef 2.50 12.50
    cheese 3.13 17.76
1918: February 4 bread 4.00 6.20
  8 honey 2.25 16.40
  20 cheese 1.13 9.00
  22 soap 0.25 3.60
1918: March 3 bread 2.00 1.80
  5 bread 4.50 5.42
  7 cocoa 1 kg 50.00
  15 bread 2.00 3.50
    butter 1.13 10.20
    cheese 3.50 28.00
  17 cocoa 3.00 72.00
  21 meat 1.13 5.65
  24 bread 4.00 7.20
  27 bread 5.00 13.00
    cocoa 1.00 25.00
  30 bread 2.75 7.50
    cheese 5.13 47.65
  31 bread 3.50 13.00
1918: April 3 bread 2.00 5.00
  4 sugar 1.00 1.72
  15 cheese 3.50 35.00
  16 smoked beef 1.50 13.00
1918: May 2 butter 1.00 10.00
  3 soap 1.00 10.00
  10 butter 1.00 9.50
  24 butter 1.00 10.00
1918: June 11 eggs 30.00 10.50
    flour 44.00 85.00
  12 eggs 30.00 10.80
  13 bread 4.75 12.00
  15 butter 1.00 10.00
  19 cheese 4.25 49.00
  21 eggs 40.00 17.60
1918: July 6 soap 1.00

4.50

1918: September 16 meat 11.00

33.00

1918: October 3 millet 12.00

60.00

  4 bread 12.00

60.00

    bacon 5.75

92.00

    coffee 3.00 21.00
    millet 4.00 20.00
  5 coffee 0.25 4.50
  8 eggs 105.00 115.00
  10 eggs 105.00 116.50
  23 soap 1.00 2.80
1918: November 12 potatoes 4.00 13.00
  15 meat 3.75 9.10
  20 butter 2.00 72,00
  21 flour 2.00 1.54
    soap 2.00 5.20
    onions 1.00 1.00
  24 millet 10.00 35.00
  29 coffee 1.5 19.50
  30 bread ticket   20.00
1918: December 4 millet 20.00 80.00
  7 salt 2.00 0.32
    onions 10.00 40.00
    soap 0.50 2.25
  12 butter 5.00 225.00
    millet 10.00 35.00
    onions 2.00 10.00
  14 bread ticket   20.76
  19 butter 5.00 220.00
year:  month day product weight (lbs.) price (rubles)
1919: January 6 meat 1.25 3.75
    potatoes 1.00 0.55
  10 salt 1.00 0.20
  25 soap 1.50 1.88
  30 bread ticket   20.00
1919: February 1 bread ticket   20.00
  14 bread ticket   20.00
1919: March 3 millet 20.00 80.00
  5 salt 0.50 0.14
  11 meat 4.50 54.00
  14 soap 0.25 1.97
  17 bread 2.75 2.71
  19 bread 1.50 1.44
    millet 20.00 44.17
  20 bread ticket   20.00
  22 butter 1.00 68.00
  23 pork 3.50 87.50
    butter 3.00 204.00
  24 butter 3.00 195.00
  27 tea 0.06 0.32
1919: April 5 bread ticket   20.00
    bread 0.50 3.87
  12 butter 2.13 148.50
  14 salt 0.50 0.14
  24 soap 0.25 1.07
  26 bread(market) 9.00 45.00
    bread 1.50 1.80
1919: May 1 pork 9.00 225.00
    sugar 0.25 1.15
    salt 0.50 0.14
    coffee 0.13 0.32
    pork 2.75 110.00
    bread ticket   21.00
  24 sugar 14.00 1.10
  26 bread (market) 7.00 50.00
    bread (allowance) 2.00 2.20
  28 pork 4.25 170.00
    white bread 6.00 60.00
  31 bread 2.00 2.20
1919: June 7 sugar 0.25 1.15
  10 bread 18.00 54.00
  13 bread tichet   20.00
  17 potatoes 10.00 1.25
  24 bread ticket   14.00
  30 eggs 60.00 219.00
    butter 3.00 270.00
1919: July 1 bread 17.50 52.50
  8 sugar 0.25 1.15
    coffee 0.13 0.50
  10 butter 2.00 180.00
  16 bread 16.00 48.00
  18 eggs 50.00 250.00
    butter 1.00 90.00
  23 soap 0.13 0.50
1919: August 24 flour 20.00 450.00
1919: September 3 salt 3.00 1.50
  10 bread 1.00 1.15
  11 eggs 200.00 150.00
    bread 11.00 160.00
  16 eggs 50.00 350.00
    eggs 35.00 262.50
  20 bread 12.00 220.00
  25 bread 3.00 3.72
    eggs 100.00 1000.00
1919: October 1 bread 8.00 130.00
  2 bread 6.00 120.00
  6 butter 7.00 1,750.00
  9 bread 11.00 110.00
  11 bread 3.00 3.72
  18 bread 6.00 4.56
  20 bread 11.25 17.00
  25 eggs 50.00 800.00
  27 bread 7.25 10.40
  31 bread 15.00 22.80
1919: November 2 millet 20.00 250.00
  20 coffee 0.13 0.75
  28 butter 1.00 550.00
    butter 1.00 650.00
  29 butter 5.00 3,250.00
1919: December 11 salt 4.00 4.00
    sugar 0.25 2.75
  23 millet 20.00 600.00
  24 bread ticket   8.00
  25 coffee 0.06 1.50
    sugar 0.25 2.75
    salt 0.50 1.15
year:  month day product weight (lbs.) price (rubles)
1920: January 1 meat 10.00 1,100.00
  23 meat 9.25 1,170.00
1920: February 23 millet 10.00 300.00
    millet 20.00 700.00
    bread 47.00 89.48
1920: March 2 butter 1.00 900.00
  7 butter 1.00 900.00
  11 soap 2.00 480.00
  15 butter 1.00 900.00
  17 millet 40.00 1,700.00
  30 butter 4.00 4,000.00
1920: April 5 bread 12.00 26.40
  9 bread 8.00 17.60
  25 butter 2.00 3,000.00
1920: May 6 butter 2.00 2,800.00
  16 butter 2.00 2,600.00
  18 salt 0.50 1.00
1920: June 1 butter 2.00 2,600.00
  4 millet 2.00 360.00
  10 butter 2.00 2,600.00
  13 eggs 10.00 450.00
    onions 2.00 260.00
  20 butter 2.00 2,600.00
    eggs 10.00 450.00
  26 bread tichet 3.00 9.00
  27 eggs 20.00 860.00
  28 white bread 12.00 75.60
    bread 12.00 26.40
    bread 14.00 67.00
    bread 6.00 2,850.00
1920: July 2 millet 6.00 30
    millet 2.00 3
  4 meat 6.25 2000
  7 eggs 10.00 420
  12 eggs 25.00 1,000
  16 soap 1.00 900
    butter 0.25 300
1920: August 5 eggs 20.00 1,100
  15 bread 8.00 2,000
  16 butter 1.00 1,600
  17 salt 1.5 6
    eggs 20.00 1,100
  29 butter 1.00 1,700
1920: September 15 butter 1.00 2,300
  24 bread 7.00 1,250
  30 bread 4.00 1,200
1920: October 2 bread 14.50 2,300
  9 butter 1.00 2,200
  13 bread 8.00 2,400
  17 bread 14.00 3,500
  18 butter 1.00 2,500
  19 salt 0.50 3
  23 bread 6.00 30
  27 butter 1.00 2,800
    meat 3.00 1,050
  30 potatoes 40.00 160
    bread (sovetic) 19.00 112
1920: November 4 butter 3.00 9,600
  6 butter 3.50 9,750
    bread 10.00 2,500
    meat 4.50 1,800
  16 millet 40.00 14,000
  17 butter 1.00 3,500
  21 bread 12.50 2,500
    meat 4.00 1,400
  22 butter 2.00 3,700
  29 millet 40.00 15,000
  30 pork 6.00 6,500
    soviet bread 15.00 75
1920: December 7 pork 3.50 4,200
    meat 3.50 1,225
  9 butter 4.50 16,650
  10 butter 2.50 9,152
  15 pork 5.25 6,850
    meat(sovetic) 1.50 53
  22 pork 14.25 16,950
  27 meat 5.50 2,200
    pork 4.00 4,000
    soviet salt 0.50 2
year:  month day product weight (lbs.) price (rubles)
1921: January 3 sovetic meat 1.50 42
    bread 12.00 60
  12 wheat meal 5.00 7,000
  20 wheat meal 5.00 6,500
1921: February 6 wheat meal 15.00 215,000
    eggs 2.00 800
  9 beef syrup 11.00 15,000
    pork 4.00 10,000
  17 pork 10.00 28,000
1921: March 1 pork 5.75 17,250
  6 meat 15.5 248,000
  23 wheat meal 5.00 15,000
    wheat meal 10.00 25,000
  25 wheat meal 7.25 21,750
1921: April 14 flour 40.00 160,000
  15 soap (sovetic) 1.50 12
  18 flour 40.00 60,000
    potatoes 1.00 15,000
    farm cheese 1.00 40,000
    egg 1.00 650
  28 pork 3.25 26,000
  30 salt pork 6.00 36,000
    bacon 1.50 15,000
1921: May 6 sugar 3.00 35,000
1921: June 3 sugar 2.00 30,000
  10 white bread 4.00 32,000
  21 wheat bread 3.00 20,000
  24 eggs 10.00 8,000
  29 bread 21.00 12,000
1921: July 1 bread 17.50 52.50
  8 sugar 0.25 1.15
    coffee 0.13 0.50
  10 butter 2.00 180.00
  16 bread 16.00 48.00
  18 eggs 50.00 250.00
    butter 1.00 90.00
  23 soap 0.13 0.50
1921: August 24 flour 20.00 450.00
1921: September 3 salt 3.00 1.50
  10 bread 1.00 1.15
  11 eggs 200.00 150.00
    bread 11.00 160.00
  16 eggs 50.00 350.00
    eggs 35.00 262.50
  20 bread 12.00 220.00
  25 bread 3.00 3.72
    eggs 100.00 1000.00
1921: October 1 bread 8.00 130.00
  2 bread 6.00 120.00
  6 butter 7.00 1750.00
  9 bread 11.00 110.00
  11 bread 3.00 3.72
  18 bread 6.00 4.56
  20 bread 11.25 17.00
  25 eggs 50.00 800.00
  27 bread 7.50 10.40
  31 bread 15.00 22.80
1921: November 2 millet 20.00 250.00
  20 coffee 0.13 0.75
  28 butter 1.00 550.00
    butter 1.00 650.00
  29 butter 5.00 3,250.00
1921: December 11 salt 4.00 4.00
    sugar 1/4 2.75
  23 millet 20.00 600.00
  24 bread ticket   8.00
  25 coffee 0.06 1.50
    sugar 0.25 2.75
    salt .50 1.15
year:  month day product weight (lbs.) price (rubles)
1922: April 14 eggs 10.00 3,000,000
1922: June 9 white bread 4.00 2,080,000
  10 eggs 10.00 80,000
1922: July 15 bread 2.75 1,190,000
1922: August 2 bread 2.00 1,400,000
  22 bread 2.00 1,000,000
  28 eggs 5.00 550,000
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