THE CIVIL WAR
By the summer of 1918 the economy of that part of the
country, which was still under the Soviet authority, was in total collapse.
The industrial production had ground to a halt due to lack of raw materials.
As for the village, it was thrown back to subsistence-farming.
these conditions the Soviet Government sought refuge in the policy of
‘military communism’. Its essence lay in a mobilization of all resources
within the country for the needs of defense. One of the topmost elements of
this policy was a nationalization of all large, medium and a majority of the
small-scale industrial enterprises. It was also planned to achieve a maximum
centralization in managing industrial production and distribution. Private
trade was completely banned. All food produce and industrial goods were
distributed among the population through a system of ration cards. A
universal compulsory labor duty was introduced. People’s wages were all
special system of procurement of farm produce was introduced, called
‘prodrazviorstka’. Judging by official documents, it essentially boiled down
to this: Soviet Government set a certain norm for the peasants on bread and
other agricultural produce. This officially allowed minimum consisted of 12
pood (1 pood is just under 16,5 kilos) of grain and 1 pood of cereals or 7
pood of potato for one person a year. Everything above that norm was
officially declared surplus and had to be sold to the state at fixed prices
set by the latter.
as the so-called ‘food surplus’ went, firstly, a majority of peasants didn’t
have any. Their subsistence farming allowed their families to barely get by,
no more than that.
the peasants, fully in line with the communal psychology, that came to the
fore once they had been driven back to subsistence farming, distributed the
exaction of duties evenly, so that it was the better-off peasants who
suffered the most, even though their life was but slightly better than that
of the poorest peasant folk.
of extracting the ‘surplus’ food produce from the peasants fell to the
Peoples Commissariat on Food Supplies, which, in turn, set up a whole army of
so-called ‘supplies’ units’, made up of workers. The members of these units
were paid depending on how much food supplies they could extract from the
peasants. The Supplies’ units were aided by so-called ‘committees of the
poor’, set up in the villages in June 1918. They comprised village
proletariat, semi-proletariat, lumpenprol, impoverished folk and simply
declassified elements. In the first years of the revolution a vast number of
townsfolk arrived in the villages in an attempt to avoid famine.
Oleg Platonov writes the following about how the supplies’ units coordinated
their activity with the ‘committees of the poor’:
is how it all occurred in practice. A supplies’ unit, armed to the teeth,
arrived at a certain village. All the local proletarians, impoverished folk
and often simply god-for-nothing idlers and drunkards gathered for a meeting.
From these the heads of the supplies’ units would pick out the ‘committee of
the poor’. Members of the committee (often truly declassified, criminal
elements) informed the supplies’ unit which of the peasantfolk had the
largest stocks of grain.
Lenin’s personal instructions, a bonus of half the monetary equivalent of the
discovered bread went to the ones who informed about the whereabouts of the
‘surplus’. Next, through the barrel of a gun the unit demanded that the
peasants hand over the ‘surplus’, and the informers received their share.
Thus, in the Usmansky uyezd of the Tambov Gubernia out of the 6 thousand
poods of confiscated bread the supplies’ units transferred 3 thousand to the
committees of the poor.”
Russian mathematician, philosopher and public activist Academician Igor
Shafarevich in one of his recent books quotes the following testimony of a
witness to the operations to confiscate bread from peasants of the Voronezh
Gubernia, in the black earth region of
Margolin, who was conducting the confiscation, upon arriving in the village
gathers all the peasantfolk and solemnly declares: “I have brought death to
you, villains! See here: every one of my comrades has 120 leaden deaths for
you, scoundrels”…etc. There followed demands to comply with the
‘prodrazviorstka’, followed up beatings, being locked up in cold sheds, etc.”
surprising under the circumstances that the peasants revolted against such a
policy towards themselves, dying by the thousands in the struggle.
entire epoch of military communism consisted of a succession of peasants’
revolts, put down by the central powers,” Academician Shafarevich writes. “In
a vast number of instances the authorities simply waged war against the
resistance was so powerful that the supplies’ units managed to procure ten
times less grain than was planned.
the food supplies to their destination was just as hazardous as obtaining
them from the peasants. In the provinces the food echelons and ships with
food products were regularly pillaged. According to historian Leonid Katzva,
seeing the ineffectiveness of the policy based exclusively on violence,
“soviet power somewhat tempered it in autumn of 1918. Supplies of industrial
goods to the rural areas were augmented considerably, and the provision
prices on bread raised. While in December 1918 the ‘committees of the poor’,
which so alienated the more prosperous and middle peasants, were liquidated.”
Bolsheviks decided to completely redefine their policy towards the middle
peasants. This is what the leader of the Bolsheviks, Vladimir Lenin had to
say about this:
the most important question facing the party of communists, an issue that
drew the most attention at the recent party congress, is the question
regarding the ‘middle’ peasants…
‘middle’ peasant is one who does not exploit others and in no measure makes
use of the fruits of someone else’s efforts, but lives exclusively by his own
power has firmly determined to establish a relationship of peace and complete
accord with the middle-peasant, at any cost.
understandable that a ‘middle’ peasant cannot be expected to immediately take
to socialism, since he stands firmly by his customary way of life and treats
with suspicion all innovations, testing them out in practice prior to
accepting what he is being offered. He will never choose to alter his way of
life unless he has received proof that the changes are, indeed, necessary and
to his benefit.
workers, appearing in the villages, should seek to establish relations of
camaraderie with the ‘middle’ peasanthood, bearing in mind that a working
person who does not exploit someone else, is a true comrade to the working
class, one we can and must achieve a voluntary union built on complete
sincerity and trust.
measures, suggested by the communist powers, should be viewed as but advice,
a proposal to the middle peasant to change over to a new order. Only through
joint work, putting these new measures to practice, and by doing away with
possible mistakes, will such a union of workers and peasants become viable.
This union forms the pillar of Soviet power, its strength and backbone. It is
this union that will ultimately ensure that the business of socialist
transformation of society, the lofty task of gaining victory over capitalism,
of doing away with all form of exploitation, will be brought to its logical
conclusion by us.”
the elements of military communism was a militarization of labor. You will
get a clearer picture of what it meant from the following excerpt taken from
the book by Leon Trotsky “Terrorism and Communism”:
organization of labour is, in effect, an organization of a new society: every
historical society is, in essence, an organization of the labor process. If
every previous society was an organization of labour in the interests of a
minority … we are making the first attempt in world history to organize
labour in the interests of the working majority itself! However, this does
not exclude an element of coercion in all its manifestations, in the most
lenient and the most extreme forms…
sole means of attracting the necessary labour force for varied tasks of the
national economy is the introduction of the compulsory labour duty.
very principle of compulsory labor duty is indisputable for a communist: “He
who doesn’t work, doesn’t eat”. And since everybody must eat – everybody must
work! Our professional industrial organizations and economic executives have
the full right to demand from their members the same discipline, promptitude
and selflessness as up until recently only the army demanded…”
upon this apologia of compulsory labor, historian Oleg Platonov wrote:
Trotsky’s ideas we see a clear manifestation of a utopist striving to create
a comprehensive, omniscient and all-understanding centralist system of
administrative diktat, combined with a universal militarization of labor,
bureaucratization and naturalization of distribution and exchange, bringing
the trade unions within the fold of the state. He became one of the main
initiators of putting this system into practice. When it eventually suffered
a collapse, he explained this not so much by the inherent failings of the
system, as the overall low level of culture prevalent among the population of
end of 1918 only the central part of
south was occupied by German and Austrian troops, which continued their
advance, ignoring the peace accords that had been signed with them.
East was practically occupied by
Bolsheviks learnt their lesson of military disability – they began to build up
and strengthen the Red Army. Leon Trotsky contributed a great deal towards
its establishment. He was appointed People’s Commissar on Military and Naval
Affaris. He was too much of a realist not to acknowledge that one cannot
build an army out of ignorant recruits. So he gathered together 30,000
professional armymen from among the former Czarist officers – so-called
‘military specialists’, so that they would train the soldiers.
were different people among them: some actually sympathized with the Bolsheviks
and shared their ideals. But there were others, too. Quite a lot of former
Czarist officers who refused to accept the Bolsheviks volunteered for service
in the Red Army because they resented the poorly-concealed attempts of
Entente allies to lay their hands on Russian lands. While
result of Leon Trotsky’s efforts was quite remarkable: at the very height of
the Civil war there were 5 million quite well-trained soldiers fighting
within the ranks of the Red Army. Trotsky himself displayed outstanding
military talent. Though, at the same time he was notorious for being ruthless
when it came to matters of implicit discipline and meting out punishment. He
was forced to champion the very same advantages of military discipline that
the revolution initially intended to eradicate. But extreme measures were,
indeed, called for in such dire circumstances.
been tempered in battles, the Red Army began claiming revenge for its
of his speeches, addressed to the Red Army, Vladimir Lenin said:
Red armymen! Capitalists of
This will never be! The Red Army has become seasoned in battles, has chased
the armies of the gentry and the White officers from the Volga, liberated
Army is strong in its conscious and unanimous struggle for the land of the
peasants, the power of workers and peasants, for Soviet power!
Amy is invincible, for it has united millions of peasants and workers, who
have now learned to fight, have mastered discipline and comradeship, are
strong in spirit, never lose heart after minor setbacks, and attack the enemy
with fresh vigor, bolstered by the knowledge their victory is close at hand!”
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