** Soviet economy: War Communism

Soviet Economy: War Communism (1918-21)

 War Communism
Figure 1.-- The Bolsheviks as part of War Communism introduced obligariry labor service for the non-working class. Here we see 'the bourgeoise doing compulsory labor service'. This woukd be expanded into slave labor and the Gulag. Even is not arrested, the bourgeoise families would face serious obstacles in Soviet society.

The Russian economy including the agricultural sphere was devestated by first World War I (1914-18) and then the Civil War (1919-21) which followed the Revoultion. The Bolsheviks early steps to introduce socailism made matters worse than the wars. The first Bolshevik economic policy was War Communism -- the seizure of factories and other productive facilities. War Communism was adopted by the Soviet Supreme Economic Council --Vesenkha. It introduced centralized management of the economy. Lenin's policy of War Communism involved the seizure of private property from the businessmen, aristocrats, land owners, farmland, factories, mills, railroads, banks, the church, and other property owners. There was no compensation [Lenin] The Bolsheviks seized control of all foreign trade. There was strict labir deiscipline, medaning no strikles were permitted. Obligatory labor serbice was introduced for the non-working class. One author writes, "... the Bolsheviks' success on the battlefield led them to overestimate their abilities and achievenments on the economic 'front'. They came to believe that they could apply the draconian measures used to fight the Civil War to the construction of 'socialism,' or 'communism'--indeed, they assumed that they were well on the way toward its construction, and without the assistance of the revolution in the West, only recently consudered essential." [Patenaude] It is easy to understand this. There was no Marxist theiory on winning the Civil War, but Marxist theory armed then with what they were convinced was the key to a prosperous future--scientifically based socialism. War communism, however, was an disaterous economic failure. Food supplies rose at first with seizures from the peasantry, but industrial production and employment, harvests, and living standards soon began falling. This resulted in some Bolsheviks advocating for extending control over peasant farming--actually seizing the land. Only a year ot two earlier the Bolsheviks were promissing land to the peasantry. The justification for the failure of War Communism was that the Russian people were not equipped or preplared for such a drastic change. The falibility of socialism could not be questioned. So the obsious anser was to remake people. Apologists explain that Lenin eroniously attempted to plunge into full-blown Communism. And as a result of War Communism, unemployment and inflation surged. Banks, manufacturing and retail operations were nationalized. Peasant harvests were seized by force. The Bolshevik vision was that food and goods would become state properity and be evenly distributed to the people. Forced-labor policies were adopted. Civilian and soldiers were required to work for the new Soviet state. Food supplies rose at first, but industrial production and employment, harvests, and living standards fell continuously. This resulted in some Bolsheviks advocating for extending control over peasant farming. The result was economic collapse and famine. Lenin and the Bolsheviks were not moved by millions who began to starve. They were moved by building violent opposition -- worker-peasant-sailor uprisings (January-March 1921). Kronstadt and Tambiov were the major uprisings. Both were rutlessly suppredes by Red Army forces commanded by Mikhail Tukhachevsky. He was known for ordering summary execution of hostages and poison gas as part of his operations against the peasantry. [Montefiore, p.222.] He would be one of the Old Bolsheviks arrested, tortured, and shot by Stalin as part of the Great Terror (1936). Evenntually the Bolsheviks relized that a shift from War Comminism was needed. One author writes, "Lenin recognized that the government would have to seize the land of tens of millions of peasants, who surely would resist. He tried during the Russian Civil War (1918-1920), but retreated in the face of chaos and five million famine deaths." [Caplan] Remenber the Bolshevik's promised the peasants land. Many peasants had seized land after the Tsarist regime collapsed (February 1917).


Caplan, Bryan. "Communism," The Library of Economics and Liberty (Undated).

Montefiore, Simon Sebag. Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar.

Patenaude, Bertrand M. "Peasants into Russians: The Utopian essence of War Communism," The Russian Review Vol. 54, No. 4 (Octoiber 1995), pp. 552-70. The author found this idea expressed in Iurii Libedinskii's 1925 novel Komissary


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Created: 9:18 AM 4/10/2021
Last updated: 9:18 AM 4/10/2021