War communism

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War Communism

War communism was the economic and political system implemented in Russia/the Soviet Union by the Communists after the October Revolution, during WWI and the Russian Civil War. It caused catastrophic effects and was abandoned in 1921.

The system and its catastrophic effects are relatively unknown to the general public, when compared to the mass deaths that occurred during Stalin's regime. This may be related to the responsibility of Lenin and the Red Army leader Trotsky for the catastrophe, with Lenin and Trotsky, unlike Stalin, still being admired by, for example, Trotskyists.


The goals of are a matter of controversy. Many Communists, after its catastrophic effects became apparent, claimed and claim that it was only an emergency measure, with the sole purpose of winning the wars. Some Bolsheviks argued that it was a transitional step towards socialism.[1] Others, such as the historian Richard Pipes, the philosopher Michael Polanyi,[2] and the economists such as Paul Craig Roberts [3] or Sheldon L. Richman,[4] have argued that War communism was actually an attempt immediately to eliminate private property and market exchange, in order to immediately implement communist economics, and that the Bolshevik leaders expected an immediate and large-scale increase in economic output, due to the supposedly far superior communist system. 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".[5]


War communism included the following policies:

  1. Prodrazvyorstka – requisition of food from the peasants
  2. Confiscation of all industries and the introduction of strict centralized management
  3. State control of foreign trade
  4. Strict discipline for workers, with strikes forbidden
  5. Obligatory forced labor by non-working classes
  6. Rationing of food and most commodities, with centralized distribution in urban centers
  7. Private enterprise banned
  8. Military-style control of the railways


One effect was due to the peasants resisting the food policies. This eventually developed into separate civil war waged between the Red Army/Cheka (the state Communist Party secret police) and the peasantry. "By most estimates several hundred thousand peasants were killed as a result of this so-called "Bread War" - as usual, the Red Army and the Cheka executed not only captured rebels, but often families, friends, or entire villages associated, however vaguely, with counter-revolution."[6]

A black market emerged in Russia, despite the threat of martial law against profiteering. The currency collapsed and barter increasingly replaced money as a medium of exchange[7] and, by 1921, heavy industry output had fallen to 20% of 1913 levels. 90% of wages were paid with goods rather than money. 70% of locomotives were in need of repair. The food requisitioning, combined with the effects of seven years of war and a severe drought, contributed to a famine that caused many million deaths. Coal production decreased from 27.5 million tons (1913) to 7 million tons (1920), while overall factory production also declined from 10,000 million roubles to 1,000 million roubles. According to the historian David Christian, the grain harvest was also slashed from 80.1 million tons (1913) to 46.5 million tons (1920).[8]

The famine caused city inhabitants to flee to the countryside, where they hoped to find food. City populations in some cases declined by over 50%.[6]

Estimates for the numbers killed by the famine, diseases, persecutions, and the wars vary, with several sources stating five million deaths due to the famine alone and many more million deaths from other causes.[9]

"The White forces shared little of the blame: as Pipes notes, the Civil War was essentially over by the beginning of 1920, but Lenin continued his harsh exploitation of the peasantry for yet another year. Moreover, the areas under White control had actually built up a food surplus. The horrific famine of 1921 was thus much less severe in 1920, because after the reconquest of the Ukraine and other White territories, the Reds shipped the Whites' grain captured grain north to Petrograd, Moscow, and other cities with less hunger but more political clout. Low estimates on the deaths from this famine are about 3 million; high estimates go up to 10 million - which would probably have been much higher if not for foreign relief efforts which Lenin had the good sense to permit. For perspective, the last severe famine in Russia hit in 1891-92, and cost about 400,000 lives."[6]

As a result, there were a series of workers' strikes and peasants' rebellions, such as the Tambov rebellion, all over the country. The turning point was the Kronstadt rebellion, at the naval base, in early March 1921. The rebellion startled Lenin, because Bolsheviks considered Kronstadt sailors the "reddest of the reds". According to David Christian, the Cheka reported 118 peasant uprisings in February 1921.


War communism officially ended on 21 March 1921, with the beginning of the so-called New Economic Policy (NEP), which actually involved a partial return to traditional economic policies.

Stalin would later again socialize agriculture and again with catastrophic effects. See the article on the Holodomor. See also the article on The World Wars and mass starvation on the Soviet scorched-earth policy contributing to mass starvation and mass deaths during WWII.

See also

External links


  1. Szamuely, Laszlo (1974), First models of the socialist economic system, Budapest, pp. 45–61
  2. Polanyi, Michael. 1960. "Towards a Theory of Conspicuous Production." Soviet Survey (34, October–December):90-99.
  3. 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.
  4. Sheldon L. Richman, "War Communism to NEP: The Road From Serfdom" Journal of Libertarian Studies, Winter 1981, 5(1), pp. 89-97.
  5. Nikolai Bukharin, The path to socialism in Russia, 1967. New York: Omicron Books, pp. 178
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 "War Communism", the Red Terror, and Lenin's Famine http://www.gmu.edu/departments/economics/bcaplan/museum/his1g.htm
  7. (9 December 1993) The Economic Transformation of the Soviet Union, 1913-1945. Cambridge University Press, 6. ISBN 978-0-521-45770-5. 
  8. Christian, David (1997). Imperial and Soviet Russia. London: Macmillan Press Ltd, 236. ISBN 0-333-66294-6. 
  9. Russian Civil War (1917-22): 9,000,000 http://necrometrics.com/20c5m.htm#RCW
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