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War Communism


Apart from winning the support of the majority of the population, the Communist victory in the civil war also depended on the new regime’s ability to keep the economy going when some of the vital food- and fuel-producing territories were temporarily outside its control and when tsarist Russia’s former Western allies, intervening on the side of the anti-Bolshevik forces, sought to enforce an economic blockade of Soviet Russia. In this situation, the Bolshevik government adopted emergency economic measures, which became known collectively as war communism.  

War communism pursued two principal objectives: first, to prevent total collapse of the economy and, second, to mobilize all available resources for the struggle against the domestic and foreign enemies of the new regime.

War communism involved the nationalization of the country’s entire industrial resources. In addition to large-scale industry nationalized in the course of the “Red Guard attack on capital” in the first six months following the October Revolution, the Soviet government put under its control all small middle-size companies. In the countryside, a state monopoly of the grain trade was introduced, which prohibited the private sale of grain. A surplus-appropriation system was enforced. This meant that all food surpluses in the hands of the peasants were to be recorded and bought by the state at fixed prices. This helped to accumulate a store of grain for the provisioning of the army and the workers. Finally, a universal labor conscription was imposed on all classes of the population.


The prohibition of free trade had placed the burden of rationing food to the urban population and supplying the peasants with industrial goods on government agencies. Goods and foodstuffs were distributed centrally, usually without payment in exchange for coupons; the railways were obligated to transport goods free of charge; and essential communal services in the cities and medical care were also free. In theory, this system made money unnecessary. During war communism, the Bolsheviks toyed with the idea of abolishing money altogether, but all their experiments in this direction merely contributed to the chaos and rampant inflation that made the rouble practically worthless.


The majority of the population was unwilling to submit to the discipline of the state-run, moneyless economy, and many could survive the hardships of that period only by disobeying the strictures imposed on them by the Bolshevik regime. Those who stayed in hunger-stricken cities managed to survive thanks, to a great extent, to the activities of the so-called sack pushers (meshochniki), that is, people bringing sacks with food for sale or personal consumption. The authorities tried to curb the burgeoning black market by posting armed detachments at city gates to catch “sack pushers” and confiscate “surplus” foodstuff. Despite all the attempts to eradicate the black market and its inflated prices, about half of all food supplies in the cities were delivered by the “sack pushing” profiteers who, effectively, saved the urban areas from total extinction.

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The Socialist Experiment


Soviet Russia

Understanding the Soviet Period
Russian Political Culture
Soviet Ideology
The Soviet System
Soviet Nationalities
The Economic Structure
The Socialist Experiment
"Great Leap" to Socialism
The USSR in World War II
Stalin's Legacy
Brezhnev's Stagnation
The Economy in Crisis
Political Reform
The USSR's Collapse

Models of Soviet Power

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