War communism

War communism

War communism or military communism (Russian: Военный коммунизм, 1918–1921) was the economic and political system that existed in Soviet Russia during the Russian Civil War, from 1918 to 1921. According to Soviet historiography, this policy was adopted by the Bolsheviks with the aim of keeping towns and the Red Army supplied with weapons and food, in conditions in which all normal economic mechanisms and relations were being destroyed by the war. "War communism", which began in June 1918, was enforced by the Supreme Economic Council, known as the Vesenkha. It ended on March 21, 1921 with the beginning of the NEP (New Economic Policy), which lasted until 1928.



War communism included the following policies:

  1. All industry was nationalized and strict centralized management was introduced.
  2. State monopoly on foreign trade was introduced.
  3. Discipline for workers was strict, and strikers could be shot.
  4. Obligatory labour duty was imposed onto "non-working classes."
  5. Prodrazvyorstka – requisition of agricultural surpluses from peasants in excess of absolute minimum for centralized distribution among the remaining population.
  6. Food and most commodities were rationed and distributed in urban centers in a centralized way.
  7. Private enterprise became illegal.
  8. The state introduced military-style control of railroads.

Because all of these measures were implemented in a time of civil war, they were far less coherent and coordinated in practice than they might appear on paper. Large areas of Russia were outside the Bolsheviks' control, and poor communications meant that even those regions loyal to the Bolshevik government often had to act on their own, lacking any orders or central coordination from Moscow. It has long been debated whether "war communism" represented an actual economic policy in the proper sense of the word or merely a set of desperate measures intended to win the civil war at any cost.[1]

The arts under War Communism

Post-revolutionary enthusiasm, the Russian tradition of modernism, the elimination of Tsarism and the fostering of Proletkult saw avant-garde artistic expression flourish in the era of War Communism.[2]


The goals of the Bolsheviks in implementing war communism are a matter of controversy. Some commentators, including a number of Bolsheviks, have argued that its sole purpose was to win the war. Lenin, for instance, said that "the confiscation of surpluses from the peasants was a measure with which we were saddled by the imperative conditions of war-time." [3] Other commentators, such as the historian Richard Pipes, the philosopher Michael Polanyi,[4] and the economists such as Paul Craig Roberts [5] or Sheldon L. Richman,[6] have argued that War communism was actually an attempt immediately to eliminate private property, commodity production and market exchange, and in that way to implement communist economics, and that the Bolshevik leaders expected an immediate and large scale increase in economic output. This view was also held by Nikolai Bukharin, who said that "We conceived War Communism as the universal, so to say 'normal' form of the economic policy of the victorious proletariat and not as being related to the war, that is, conforming to a definite state of the civil war".[7]



War communism catastrophically aggravated the hardships experienced by the population as a result of the war. Peasants refused to co-operate in producing food.. Workers began migrating from the cities to the countryside, where the chances to feed oneself were higher, thus further decreasing the possibility of in natura[clarification needed] exchange of industrial goods for food and worsening the plight of the remaining urban population. Between 1918 and 1920, Petrograd lost 75% of its population, whilst Moscow lost 50%.

There were also a series of workers' strikes and peasants' rebellions, such as the Tambov rebellion rolled over the country. The turning point was the Kronstadt rebellion at the naval base in early March, 1921. The rebellion had a startling effect on Lenin, because the Kronstadt sailors were considered by the Bolsheviks as the "reddest of the reds"[citation needed]. According to David Christian, the secret police of the CPSU at the time, the Cheka, reported 118 separate peasant uprisings alone in February 1921. The noted historian David Christian's comments about War Communism in his book "Power and Privilege", "A government claiming to represent the people now found itself on the verge of being overthrown by that same working class...the crisis had undermined the loyalty of the villages, the towns and finally sections of the army. it was fully as serious as the crises faced by the tsarist government in 1905 and February 1917..." evidence the animosity of the general public towards War Communism.


A black market emerged in Russia, despite the threat of the martial law against profiteering. The ruble collapsed and was replaced by a system of bartering and, by 1921, heavy industry had fallen to output levels of 20% of those in 1913. 90% of all wages were "paid with goods" (payment in form of goods, rather than money). 70% of locomotives were in need of repair and the food requisitioning, combined with the effects of 7 years of war and a severe drought, contributed to a famine that caused between 3 and 10 million deaths.[8] Coal production decreased from 27.5 million tons (1913) to 7 million tons by 1920, while overall factory production also declined from 10,000 million roubles to 1,000 million roubles. According to the noted historian David Christian, the grain harvest was also slashed from 75 million tons (1913) to 45 million tons by 1920.

See also


  1. ^ See Nicolas Werth, Histoire de l'Union Soviétique de Lénine à Staline, 1995 (French)
  2. ^ Compare Naiman, Eric (1997). Sex in public: the incarnation of early Soviet ideology. Princeton University Press. p. 58. ISBN 9780691026268. http://books.google.com/books?id=dcITpLnONz8C. Retrieved 2010-11-06. "[...] the realms of literature and the arts, though pervaded by a rhetoric of homogeneity and uniformity, showed remarkable diversity throughout the period of War Communism." 
  3. ^ Lenin, V.I., Collected Works, volume 32, 1965. Moscow: Progress Publishers. pp. 187
  4. ^ Polanyi, Michael. 1960. "Towards a Theory of Conspicuous Production." Soviet Survey (34, October–December):90-99.
  5. ^ Roberts, Paul Craig. 1990 (1971). Alienation and the Soviet Economy: The Collapse of the Socialist Era, Independent Studies in Political Economy. Oakland, Ca.: The Independent Institute.
  6. ^ Sheldon L. Richman, "War Communism to NEP: The Road From Serfdom" Journal of Libertarian Studies, Winter 1981, 5(1), pp. 89-97.
  7. ^ Nikolai Bukharin, The path to socialism in Russia, 1967. New York: Omicron Books, pp. 178
  8. ^ http://users.erols.com/mwhite28/warstat1.htm#Russian

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • War Communism — (1918–21) Soviet economic policy applied by the Bolsheviks during the Russian Civil War. Its chief features were the expropriation of private business and the nationalization of industry, as well as the forced requisition of surplus grain and… …   Universalium

  • Communism — For the form of government in which a state is controlled by a communist party, see Communist state. Part of the series on …   Wikipedia

  • communism — /kom yeuh niz euhm/, n. 1. a theory or system of social organization based on the holding of all property in common, actual ownership being ascribed to the community as a whole or to the state. 2. (often cap.) a system of social organization in… …   Universalium

  • war — war1 /wawr/, n., v., warred, warring, adj. n. 1. a conflict carried on by force of arms, as between nations or between parties within a nation; warfare, as by land, sea, or air. 2. a state or period of armed hostility or active military… …   Universalium

  • COMMUNISM — COMMUNISM, the international revolutionary Marxist movement that evolved under lenin s leadership from the Bolshevik faction (created in 1903 in the Russian Social Democratic Party) to become the ruling party of Russia after the October… …   Encyclopedia of Judaism

  • Communism — • In its more general signification communism refers to any social system in which all property, or at least all productive property, is owned by the group, or community, instead of by individuals Catholic Encyclopedia. Kevin Knight. 2006.… …   Catholic encyclopedia

  • Communism in Kerala — Communism in India Communist Party of India AITUC AIKS AIYF AISF NFIW BKMU Communist Party of India (Marxist) …   Wikipedia

  • War in Vietnam (1945–1946) — War in Vietnam (1945 1946) Part of the Indochina Wars and the Cold War A Japanese off …   Wikipedia

  • Communism —    Communism as well as anarchism, socialism, and other variants of the left has had a long tradition in South America, closely connected with the rise of trade unions. The traditional left in Chile, dominated by the Partido Comunista (PC,… …   Historical Dictionary of the “Dirty Wars”

  • War crime — War crimes are violations of the laws or customs of war , including but not limited to murder, the ill treatment or deportation of civilian residents of an occupied territory to slave labor camps , the murder or ill treatment of prisoners of war …   Wikipedia

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.