War Communism

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

War Communism


the economic policy of the Soviet government during the Civil War and the military intervention (1918-20).

The military intervention and the Civil War upset the constructive work which had begun under the dictatorship of the proletariat. The entire national economy had to be restructured on a wartime basis. The Soviet nation found itself in a difficult position: it was surrounded by a ring of fronts and deprived of its most important sources of raw materials and provisions, such as Donets coal, Baku and Georgian petroleum, metals from the south and the Urals, cotton from Turkestan, and grain from Siberia, the Kuban, and the Ukraine. To offset this difficult economic position of the Soviet state, the strenuous efforts of all its people were required. Their guiding and organizational force at the front and at the rear was the Communist Party.

“War Communism” was directed at the mobilization of all the strength of the people and the resources of the state for the cause of defense. In addition to the previously nationalized large-scale industry, the Soviet power carried out the nationalization of middle industry and a considerable part of small-scale enterprises. All industry worked for the country’s defense. Universal labor conscription was implemented for all persons capable of working, according to the principle:“He who does not work does not eat.”

With the economic disorder and the limitations in material resources, it was impossible to arrange the supply of every-thing necessary to the front without the extraordinary measures of“War Communism.” The Soviet power did not have at its disposal industrial goods to exchange for farm produce, and it could not obtain produce by means of trade turnover. The state was confronted with the necessity of confiscating surpluses of farm produce and prohibiting private trade, above all, trade in grain and other goods of prime importance, because during that period private trade could cut off the supply of provisions to the army and the workers, as well as the supply of raw materials to industry.

In order to win the war, all of the country’s resources had to be mobilized. All industry worked on the basis of centralized plans, which were subordinated to the country’s defense. Such a system of centralized direction of industrial production and distribution, despite its shortcomings, was at that time the only correct form of administering and planning industry. It ensured the mobilization and concentration, in the hands of the government, of all the country’s resources and their utilization according to plan in order to support the fundamental sectors of the wartime economy.

One of the most characteristic traits of“War Communism” was food requisitioning—the compulsory delivery to the state by the peasants of all surplus provisions requisitioned at a fixed price. This measure was dictated by wartime conditions, extreme need, and disorder. In carrying out the food requisitioning, the Soviet power relied on the wartime political alliance between the workers and peasants, which had been formed during their struggle against their foes. The economic basis of the military-political alliance between the working class and the peasantry was characterized by V. I. Lenin as consisting of the fact that from the Soviet power toiling peasants received land as well as protection from the pomeshchiki (landlords) and kulaks, and the workers received provisions from the peasants in accordance with the assessment system. In order to ensure the fulfillment of the requisitioning, food requisition detachments of workers were sent out into the countryside.

“War Communism” was characterized by a“naturalization” of the economy, a withering away of goods exchange, arid a decrease in the role and importance of money, credit, and finances.

The policy of“War Communism” was depicted by the enemies of socialism as a“consumers’“ and“soldiers’“ communism. But in actual fact, the first and basic task of“War Communism” was to ensure victory over the interventionists and internal counterrevolutionaries, to strengthen the dictatorship of the proletariat, and to preserve the society’s principal productive force—that of the workers and toilers.“If the working class is saved from death by starvation, saved from perishing, it will be possible to restore disrupted production” (V. I. Lenin, Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 38, p. 395). The Mensheviks, Socialist Revolutionaries, and Kautsky & Company, wrote Lenin,“when they blamed us for this 4War Communism,’ they were acting as lackeys of the bourgeoisie. We deserve credit for it” (ibid., vol. 43, p. 220). At the same time Lenin indicated that it was necessary to know the limits of this worth.“It was the war and the ruin that forced us into ’War Communism.’ It was not, and could not be, a policy that corresponded to the economic tasks of the proletariat. It was a makeshift” (ibid.).

In characterizing“War Communism,” Lenin exposed the erroneousness of the ideas formed during that period concerning the paths of transition to socialism and communism (ibid., vol. 44, p. 157). After eliminating the military intervention and finishing up the Civil War, the Communist Party, by a resolution of its Tenth Congress, passed from the policy of“War Communism” to the New Economic Policy.


Lenin, V. I.“Doklad o zamene razverstki natural’nym nalogom 15 marta [X s’ezd RKP(b) 8-16 marta 1921 g].” Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 43.
Lenin, V. I.“Novaia ekonomicheskaia politika i zadachi politprosvetov.” Ibid., vol. 44.
Lenin, V. I.“O znachenii zolota teper’ i posle polnoi pobedy sotsializma.” Ibid.
Lenin, V. I.“K chetyrekhletnei godovshchine Oktiabr’skoi revoliutsii.” Ibid. (See also the notes to vols. 43 and 44 of Poln. sobr. soch. V. I. Lenina, 5th ed.).
Dekrety Sovetskoi vlasti, vol. 3. Moscow, 1960.
Istoriia Kommunisticheskoipartii Sovetskogo Soiuza, vol. 3, book 2, Moscow, 1968; vol. 4, book 2, Moscow, 1970.
Gladkov, I. A. Ocherki sovetskoi ekonomiki 1917-1920 gg. Moscow, 1956.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.