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War Communism 1918-21
Summer of 1918, Lenin introduced a series of restrictive economic measures, collectively
known as `War Communism'. The chief reason for the move away from the system of state
capitalism was the situation caused by the Civil War.
Lenin judged that the White menace could be met only by an intensification of authority in
those regions that the Reds controlled (Approx. 30/50 provinces in European Russia).
The change on the economic strategy was part of the terror that the Bolsheviks operated in
Social, economic and political life had to be subordinated to win the Civil War.
Effect on Industry
The existence of the Cheka and the Red Army enabled Lenin to embark on a policy of
centralisation knowing that he had the means of enforcing it. By that time also, there had
been an increase in the Bolshevik influence in the factories as a result of the infiltration of
workers' committees by political commissars.
This helped prepare the way for the issuing of the Decree on Nationalisation in June 1918,
which within 2 years, brought all major industrial development enterprises in Russia under
central government control.
However, nationalisation by itself did nothing to increase production. It was imposed at a
time of severe industrial disruption which had been caused initial by the strains of the war
from 1914-17 but which worsened during the Civil War.
Military needs were given priority which denied resources to those industries not considered
The situation was made worse by factories being deprived manpower resulted from Red
Army conscriptions and of the flight from Urban areas of large numbers of inhabitants who
left to search for food or escape from the Civil War.
The population of Petrograd and Moscow dropped by half between 1918 and 21.
Industry problems were deepened by hyper-inflation. Goods became scarce and the value of
By the end of 1920, the rouble had fallen to 1% of its worth in 1917.
This meant that while War Communism tightened the Bolshevik grip on industry, it did not
lead to economic growth.
Effects on Agriculture
For Lenin, the major purpose of War Communism was to tighten government control on
agriculture and force the peasants to provide more food. But, the peasants being naturally
conservative class, they were resistant to central government control, whether Tsarist or
The government blamed the resistance on the Kulaks who hoarded their grain stocks in
order to keep prices artificially high. This was untrue and there was no hoarding. The peasants
actually saw no point in producing more food until the government was willing to pay a fair
price for it.
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The government condemned the peasants as counter-revolutionaries and resorted to
coercion. Cheka requisition units were sent into the countryside to take the grain by force.
Between 1918 and 21, the requisition squads systematically terrorised the countryside. The
Kulaks were targeted for particular brutal treatment. Lenin ordered that they were to be
In a letter of 1920, Lenin ordered 100 Kulaks to be hung in public in order to terrify the
population. Yet the result was largely the reverse of the one intended.…read more