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Lenin's War Communism: An Essay

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According to Pipes, the economic policies Lenin imposed were not in the best interest of the Russian people, it was a façade in a way to implicitly have control over the people. Pipes states that the Bolsheviks “were revolutionaries not for the sake of improving the condition of the people but for the sake of gaining domination over the people and remaking them in their image”. Lenin tried to introduce state capitalism in 1917. However, Lenin’s period of economic trial and error saw his move from capitalism to socialism to communism. Therefore, we could see how workers’ rights and conditions diminished overtime. Pipes also goes on to say that foreign trade was a minimum. He states “With private commerce outlawed (until 1921 and again after 1928), the Soviet regime controlled all legitimate wholesale and retail trade”. The ideological opposition of the Bolsheviks to outside international trade, their refusal to pay the debts of Russia’s World War I, and the civil war turmoil, limit foreign trade to the bare minimum required for the industrial development of the country. However, Lenin’s NEP loses the monopoly over foreign trade of the commissariat, enabling the creation of other organizations that can trade directly with foreign partners. This meant that foreign trade began to improve. Pipes believes that there wasn’t a strong amount of state control. For example, he says “the rebellion spread to frontline troops, who deserted in droves to share in the spoils; to workers, who took control of industrial enterprises; and to ethnic minorities, who wanted greater self-rule”. This is due to the control given to the workers. Workers ‘ control is imposed in all manufacturing, retail, agricultural industries that employ people to work for them in their shops or that give them work to take home, in the hopes of comprehensive supervision of the national economy. That power applies to the production, processing, procurement, and selling of raw materials and finished products as well as the company’s finances. This meant that state control decreased and ‘greater self-rule’ was given.

However, Hill believes there was not much economic freedom in Russia. He also believes nationalization was essential for the army and the war. However, the grain requisitioning affected the poor Russian people as it led to many deaths of the peasants. He states: “In 1918 the country had been economically exhausted and bankrupt, but there was a spirit of optimism and self-confidence among the workers which was itself able to overcome many difficulties”. In 1918 Lenin introduced war communism. This meant the government had greater intervention and state control of resources. The Bolsheviks had to guarantee supplies for the red army during the civil war. War communism was harsh and triggered a famine in which 5 million died because Lenin ordered the Cheka to seize grain from the farmers to give to the soldiers and the workers in the cities. This shows how the workers’ rights were violated so Lenin could uphold his aim of winning the war. Initially, we see that the amount of state control was very small however increased during the civil war. This is shown as Hill states “Lenin announced… the transfer of land to the peasants; workers’ control over the production and distribution of goods; national control of the banks”. The decree on land in 1917 meant the abolishment of private ownership of land by giving it to the Russian people. However, during the civil war, we saw that peasants were forced to hand over their resources and were murdered while families and workers were also forcibly sent away to work and help with the war effort. Foreign trade was not focused on much. This is shown as he states “In the next few days also passed laws abolishing all inequalities based on class, sex, nationality or religion, and nationalized banks, railways, foreign trade and some of the key big industries”. The outbreak of war with Germany means that the main trading partner of Russia had been destroyed. Therefore, they had to focus on themselves and their self-sufficiency to grow economically before trading internationally again.

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However, according to figures the workers’ condition and rights were poorly enforced. There was a low amount of foreign trade and a great amount of state control. For example, he says “Those in the factories spent most of their time making simple goods to barter with the peasants. Skilled technicians, in high demand, roamed from factory to factory in search of better conditions”. After the October Revolution in 1917, Lenin had put pressure on workers and allowed the syndicates to run the works. Nevertheless, they proved unable to do so, and production was broken down (though it had already started before the trade unions had taken control, so it couldn’t be blamed). Workers fled to the Red Army from the factories, and the factories were left small and some did not work. There was a minimum amount of foreign trade as he states: “The capitalist classes in Russia, including the ‘kulaks’, had already been destroyed by the revolution. And as long as it controlled the ‘commanding heights’ of the economy, banking, heavy industry, transport, and foreign trade, then the state could regulate the market and use fiscal pressures to encourage the smallholders towards the collective farms and co-operatives”. This shows how they focused on nationalization and building their domestic trade and economy instead of foreign trade. Furthermore, he goes onto to say Lenin “wanted the economy to be run with military-style discipline and precision. The whole population was to be conscripted into labor regiments and brigades and despatched like soldiers to carry out production orders (couched in terms of ‘battles’ and ‘campaigns’) on the economic front”. We see this large amount of state terror through the 1921 Tambov Rising. This was when the peasants revolted in protest of the grain requisitioning which was shut down by 50000 red army soldiers. The vast number of soldiers needed to contain a mere ‘protest’ shows the extent of the amount of state terror.

In conclusion, Lenin introduced war communism for the needs of the army (food, supplies) not provided under the union-run factories of the worker, and for high inflation and food shortages (requesting). War communism’s main components were requisitioning, rationing, labor ‘discipline’, business nationalization, and the prohibition on private trading, but it also introduced Red Terror (to suppress dissent, most prominently the Tsar and his supporters, and to consolidate central control and impose fear). Generally, for most residents, life in the Russian cities was horrible; peasants (food and fuel scarcity, arrests, famine, austere punishments), employees (factory militarization, food, and fuel shortages) and, most of all, the residual capitalist and middle classes. Members of the party lived comparable luxury lives.

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Lenin’s War Communism: An Essay. (2022, October 28). Edubirdie. Retrieved February 6, 2023, from
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