War Communism

War Communism. A term used to describe the Soviet economic policy from June 1918 to March 1921. The policy was designed to abet the Bolshevik war effort by means of state control over all sectors of the economy and forced agricultural procurement. In Ukraine the system came into operation between 1919 and 1921. Factories, enterprises, trade, and transport were nationalized, and all market and labor relations were regulated by the state. Able citizens between the ages of 16 and 50 were eligible for compulsory labor conscription. Trade unions were stripped of their independence in April 1919, when the Bolsheviks convoked the First All-Ukrainian Trade Union congress to subordinate them to the state; that was followed by their absorption into all-Russian bodies. Such measures, coupled with the disorders caused by the Ukrainian-Soviet War, 1917–21, and the Allied blockade, resulted in general economic chaos. Real wages fell, an extensive black market emerged, and inflation soared; the situation was particularly exacerbated when the Commissariat of Supplies began to dispense food free of charge, from December 1920. Such conditions encouraged a flight of workers from Ukrainian cities; thus, by 1921 there were only 260,000 factory workers left in Ukraine (half the prerevolution figure).

War Communism also provoked chaos in the countryside. Committees of Poor Peasants (komnezamy) were set up and charged with the forced collection of foodstuffs for the state. Members of those komnezamy were allowed to retain for themselves up to 25 percent of what was collected. Subsequently squads were sent across the countryside to fulfill grain deliveries. The requisitions were met with fierce resistance by the peasantry. During the course of 1920 about 1,000 food requisitioners were killed by peasants in Ukraine. The policy was largely unsuccessful: of the 2,624,000 t of grain demanded from Ukrainian sources in 1920, only 159,000 t were extracted. It has been argued that the requisition measures were a factor contributing to the Famine of 1921–3. The discontent and disorder that War Communism bred impelled the Bolsheviks to abandon the policy in favor of the New Economic Policy.

Serge Cipko

[This article originally appeared in the Encyclopedia of Ukraine, vol. 5 (1993).]

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