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Lecture III: SOCIAL TURMOIL IN THE 1920S:CIVIL WAR, “WAR COMMUNISM” and NEP In the framework of the course “ Crucial Issues of Russian Political History from the early XXth century up the present time ” Sergey Verigin, Ass. Prof. Petrozavodsk State University Contents list:

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lecture iii social turmoil in the 1920s civil war war communism and nep


In the framework of the course “Crucial Issues of Russian Political History from the early XXth century up the present time”

Sergey Verigin, Ass. Prof.

Petrozavodsk State University

contents list
Contents list:
  • Civil War. 1918-1920. "Red" and "White" terror
  • Policy of War Communism
  • New economic policy (NEP)
i civil war 1918 1920 red and white terror historical views of the civil war
I. Civil War. 1918-1920. "Red" and "White" terrorHistorical views of the Civil war.
  • For a long time in Soviet historiography literature the Civil War was seen as a struggle of workers and peasants against internal and external enemies: counterrevolutionary "white movement" and foreign military intervention. 
  • But authors who wrote about the Civil War after emigrating from Soviet Russia (V.V.Shulgin, P.N.Milukov and others) had a different opinion. They saw the war as a wave of anarchy and strife.
  • General A.Denikin titled his book "Essays of Russian strife". They saw the Bolsheviks as a guilty party in starting the war.
  • Historian S.P.Melgunov in his work "Red terror in Russia, 1918-1923", provided numerous facts which proved this opinion.In the minds of the Soviet people the Civil War is seen as a struggle between "red" (supporters of Soviet power) and "white" (their enemies).
  • But the political spectrum during this war was as wide as it was in 1917 or even wider.In the Civil War Bolsheviks had to struggle against not only the white movement but also the "democratic counterrevolution" (supporters of the Constituent Assembly) and even with their former allies, left social - revolutionaries and anarchists.
bolsheviks measures against enemies
Bolsheviks measures against enemies
  • After taking power Bolsheviks began persecuting right and liberal organisations.
  • November 1917 - Lenin signed the decree "For the arrest of leaders who opposed the revolution", which declared the cadets party as enemies of the people. Members of this party were supposed to be arrested and appear before the revolutionary tribunals. There were executions of non-proletarian people. 
  • As a result, opposition to the Bolsheviks grew. Even before the end of 1918 there were several anti-Bolshevik organisations, such as the "Committee of the salvation of Russia and revolution", the "Committee of public salvation" and others.
first steps of the civil war
First steps of the Civil war
  • January 6, 1918 - after the dispersal of the Constituent assembly, the Bolshevik's enemies began to arm themselves.
  • Before May 1918 military performances against Bolsheviks were not substantial.
  • The march of general P.Krasnov on Petrograd and the mutiny of the junkers in Moscow in October 1917;
  • the revolts of Cossack chieftains A.Kaledin on the Don and A.Dutov in the Southern Urals,
  • the offensive of L.Kornilov on Ekaterinodar in 1917 - early 1918 were not co-ordinated with each other. The white movement had just begun its formation.
srs and mensheviks in the war
SRs and Mensheviks in the war
  • The beginning of the full-scale Civil war is connected with the revolt of Czechoslovakian military corps organised by SR (social revolutionaries).
  • The Czechoslovakian corps had to be transferred to Vladivostok, but the corps spread out along the entire territory from the Urals to Vladivostok. Along this vast territory during the revolt Soviet power was overthrown and governments which supported the Constituent assembly appeared. Mensheviks and SRs played the leading role in these governments. However, Mensheviks and SR's attempts to find the "third line" in the Civil War - to fight against the monarchists and Bolsheviks were unsuccessful.
  • However, the Bolsheviks disbanded the Assembly and thereafter the SRs became of less political significance. The Left SR party became the coalition partner of the Bolsheviks in the Soviet Government, although they resigned their positions after the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk was signed. A few Left-SRs like Yakov Blyumkin joined the Communist Party. The PSR and other anti-Bolshevik parties were banned in 1918. SR leaders and party members were arrested, imprisoned, and exiled, and some were executed; in response, some SRs turned once again to terrorism. A former SR, Fanya Kaplan, tried to assassinate Lenin in response to proscription of SR members on August 30, 1918. Many SRs fought for the Whites and Greens in the Russian Civil War.
  • Before summer 1918 leftist wing SR left the Bolsheviks Government. They were sharply against the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk and confiscation of food in villages. In July 1918 they organised the mutiny against the Bolsheviks in Moscow and the Volga district.
  • By this time the contradictions between the Bolsheviks and anarchists became clear. During the first months after the October revolution anarchists were loyal to the Soviet power. The Treaty of Brest-Litovsk divided them into supporters and adversaries of the Soviet regime. 
  • Supporters of the Soviet power appeared. Some of them, such as A.Szheleznyakov, D.Furmanov and others even fought in the Red Army. The majority of the Anarchists took an antibolshevik stands. The Anarchists took part in the mutiny of the leftist SR and after it they began an "active terror" against the Bolsheviks. The Bolsheviks had mixed feelings towards the Anarchists. It was illustrated in their relation toward the insurgent peasant army led by Nestor Makhno, which was active in the Ukraine.
nestor makhno 1888 1934
Nestor Makhno(1888 - 1934)

Makhno is perhaps one of the most famous leaders of world anarchy movement.

Unlike many of his fellow anarchists he had a chance to try anarchist ideas in real life.

Makhno spent 7 years (1907-1917) in exile in Siberia.

Revolution of 1917 freed him and in 1918-21 he headed the peasant anarchy movement in Ukraine.

The amount of people in his "republic" reached up to 35 th people. Makhno tried to fight Germans, anti-revolutionary forces and Bolsheviks.

In 1920-21 his army suffered several defeats from the Red Army and Makhno had to flee abroad.

nestor makhno 1888 193411
Nestor Makhno(1888 - 1934)
  • At first Makhno's army and the Bolsheviks fought together against Petlura's army.
  • Being a part of the Red Army Makhno's soldiers retained their black flags and the principles of their internal organisation.
  • In the Ukraine in the territory under Makhno's control the peasants had self-government and the principle of the equal use of the land was realised. When the Bolsheviks attempts to confiscate food failed, Makhno broke off relations with them. The situation was created that the Bolsheviks used the Anarchists and at the same time they oppressed them.
  • In June 1919 the Bolsheviks caught and executed the members of Makhno's staff. After that for the first time Makhno inflicted a blow against the Reds. The failure between the Bolsheviks and Makhno was one of the reasons of the defeat on the Southern front of the Red Army against white general Denikin.
  • After the Red Army's retread from the Ukraine, Makhno was the only power left to fight against Denikin. He fought on 2 fronts-against "the reds" and against "the whites".In 1920 the Bolsheviks using political promises were able to attract Makhno's troops to struggle against white general Vrangel and took control of Crimea. But after that his troops were surrounded and disarmed. The commanders were shot. Makhno himself continued to fight until the middle of 1921, but the balance of forces had changed and his troops were defeated.
general anton denikin 1872 1947
General Anton Denikin(1872 - 1947)

One of the leaders of the White


general petr vrangel 1878 1928
General Petr Vrangel(1878 -1928)

One of the leaders of the White movement

white movement
White movement
  • The movement of Mencheviks and SR's was weak during the Civil War. They opposed the Bolsheviks, but the white movement didn't sympathise them. Denikin's and Kolchak's generals dispersed the governments of SR's and Mencheviks. Many of their leaders were arrested and shot. 
  • Without reference to their will, Mensheviks and SR's allowed Admiral Kolchak to create a dictatorship in Siberia and the Far East.
  • The white movement was the most consistent enemy of the Bolsheviks. Its ideologists, prince G.Lvov, P.Struve, V.Shulgin tried to consolidate the movement on the base of national identity, which offered the struggle for the revival of strong Russian stateship.
  • Former Black Sea fleet commander admiral A.Kolchak led the struggle against the Bolsheviks in the East. He was able to gather 4 thousand soldiers. General N.Yudenich acted in the northwest of the country, E.Miller-in the North. But during the war they couldn't unify their fronts. 
  • The social base of the white movement varied pretty much. It included officers, Cossacks, office-workers, patriotic people who believed in national identity.
the white movement
The White movement

There are several reasons for "the whites'" defeat:

1) the movement wasn't unified, it included not only "the fighters for the national identity" but other people as well who came at random;

2) the movement was discredited by Cossack chieftains who allowed lawless in Siberia, Primorye, Zabaikalye, terrorising the population. For example, Cossack's chieftain Grigoryev was famous for his cruel massacres in the Ukraine.

3) "the white" couldn't win the support of the peasants, who during the war hesitated to choose between "the whites" and "the reds".

terror as a method of war
Terror as a method of war
  • The Civil War in Russia was a time of furious clashes when millions of people were ready to sacrifice their lives for the victory of their ideas. One of the most terrible manifestations of the Civil War was terror, which was used by all sides.
  • The Bolsheviks widely used the tactic of hostage taking. After the murder of Petrograd intelligence chief (VChK) Uriztsky they shot 900 hostages. As a response to the murder of German communists Rosa Luxenbourg and Karl Libknekht in 1918 in Berlin Tsaritsin's SNK ordered all of their hostages to be shot. After an attempt on Lenin's life (30 of August 1918,) several thousand people were shot. Repression touched both individual people, and all segments of the population During the night from the 16th to the 17th of July 1918 tsar Nicolas II and his family were shot in Yekaterinbourg. Even earlier from the 12th  to the 13th  of June in the suburb of Perm, Mikhail, the last Romanov with a title of emperor, was shot. But not only the reds were cruel. Admiral Kolchak signed the orders giving captive soldiers of the Red Army to the military tribunal. In Siberia several concentration camps were created for those people who sympathised with the Bolsheviks.
  • In the end the Civil War cost Russia 10 percent of her population (more than 12 million people).
ii policy of war communism economic views of bolsheviks
II. Policy of War CommunismEconomic views of Bolsheviks
  • At the moment of the October revolution the Bolsheviks didn't have a clear plan for economic reform. They thought that the events of October would spur the socialist revolution in Europe and German proletariat would play the main role.
  • Lenin wrote at that time: "We drudged socialism into everyday life and now we must understand all of what that means". The orientation of the Bolsheviks economic policy became the economic model, written by Marx and Engels. 
  • According to this model the dictatorship of the proletariat must monopolise all ownership, equality must lead in society, it means they took a course of changing from free market into centralised distribution.
war communism
War communism
  • The economic system that existed during the Civil War was named "War communism". At first this system was expressed in the liquidation of industrial, financial and trade capital. All private banks were nationalised, all foreign loans were annulled.
  • The policy of war communism included following principles:
  • 1. All large factories to be controlled by the government.2. Production planned and organized by the government.3. Discipline for workers was strict, and strikers could be shot.4. Obligatory labor duty was imposed onto "non-working classes".5. Prodrazvyorstka – requisition of agricultural surpluses from peasants in excess of absolute minimum for centralized distribution among the remaining population.6. Food and most commodities were rationed and distributed in a centralized way.7. Private enterprise became illegal.
war communism20
War Communism
  • This policy putting nearly everything of significance under the stringent control of government and martial law has only a superficial relation to communism, and the name was chosen for political reasons.
  • Although this policy achieved the aim of winning the war, it did not eliminate hardships and in many instances actually aggravated them. Peasants refused to co-operate in producing food, as the government took away far too much of it. Workers were abandoning cities into countryside, where the chances to feed oneself were higher, thus further decreasing the possibility of the fair trade of industrial goods for food and worsening the plight of the remaining urban population.

January 1919 - "prodrazvyorstka" began: the state confiscated the surplus food from the peasants (sometimes even the necessary food supply). Peasants resisted this policy. But then they began sending "prodotryadi"- armed groups of workers from the cities, which confiscated bread by the force of arms. 

  • In addition to their food obligation, the peasants had to participate in the system of labour obligations, such as the mobilisation of horses and wagons. The government began imposing price on food. They were 46 times cheaper than market prices. 
bolshevik party and the state system
Bolshevik party and the state system
  • Already in 1918 we can't equalise the political system of the state with the power of the Soviets.
  • It was during this time that the centralised apparatus of the Communist party's power was created. Central party organs such as Politburo and Orgburo of the CC of the RCP (B) were formed.
  • Party permeated the entire state system (in 1920 the party had 600 thousand members).
effects of the war communism policy
Effects of the "war communism" policy
  • the Bolsheviks economic policy during the Civil War "War Communism", was directed not towards the development of production, but towards the control over distribution and consumption.
  • Peasants didn't want to work for a food dictatorship and began to decrease sowing. The grain harvest for the period between 1917 and 1920 decreased by 40 percent.
  • The total amount of livestock was greatly decreased, too. 
  • The workers were transferred from piecework to a wage system that reduced their interest in labour.
  • The economy declined quickly. 
  • Although this policy achieved the aim of winning the war, it did not eliminate hardships and in many instances actually aggravated them.
  • As a result, a series of workers' strikes and peasants' rebellions (such as the Tambov and Kronstadt rebellions) rolled over the country. After the rebellions, Lenin ended the policy of War Communism and replaced it with the New Economic Policy.
iii new economic policy 1920 21 revolts declaration of nep
III. New Economic policy1920-21 revolts. Declaration of NEP
  • The peasants' protests against food confiscation during the war took the character of arm revolts in the winter of 1920-1921. At the beginning of 1921 sailors and the workers of fortress Kronstadt came out against the Bolsheviks. They were the heart of revolution in October 1917. The government used cruel methods: the revolt in Kronstadt was suppressed in blood, to suppress peasants revolts they used regular army.
  • Lenin and the other leaders of the Soviet government understood that the shift from war to peace required a different policy. 
  • The New Economic Policy (NEP) was officially decided in the course of the 10th Congress of the Russian Communist Party. It was promulgated by decree on March 21, 1921, "On the Replacement of Foodstuff and Natural Resource Assessment by a Natural Tax." In essence, the decree required the peasantry to give the government a specified amount of any surplus agricultural, raw product, and fodder, and allowed them to keep the remaining surplus to use as capital or to trade for industrial goods. Further decrees refined the policy and expanded it to include some industries.
a cart of children who died of starvation in the famine of 1921 prior to the introduction of nep
A cart of children who died of starvation in the famine of 1921, prior to the introduction of NEP
food tax
Food tax
  • Food confiscation was abandoned in favour of a food tax .The amount of the food tax was much less than the previous confiscation, and it allowed the peasant to use the surplus food any way they wanted. In 1922 they helped the peasants a lot by reducing the food tax by 10 percent of the previous year's tax. In 1922 the peasant produced a very good harvest. But it was not enough. 
  • The government had to create conditions for the sale of these agricultural products. So they allowed the free market system for agricultural products at the same time created the food tax.
  • But for peasants such kind of exchange was unprofitable and in autumn 1921 Lenin confessed that the exchange between city and village had failed and the "black market" system appeared. So the Bolsheviks had to abandon limits on this trade and allow peasants to sell their products anywhere they wanted.
  • The NEP succeeded in creating an economic recovery after the devastating effects of the First World War, the Russian Revolution and the Russian civil war. By 1928, agricultural and industrial production had been restored to the 1913 (pre-WWI) level.
financial reform
Financial reform
  • Already in 1921 the state had to take steps to rehabilitate money. Between 1922 and 1924 there was a financial reform which stabilised the Russian currency. The creators of this reform were Peoples’ commissioner of finances G.Sokolnikov, director of the State bank Sheiman and the member of the board of directors of the State bank N.Kutler who was also the former minister of finances in the tsar government. Rapid improvement of agriculture, revival of trade, measures for reinforcing the financial system allowed the government to stabilise industry.
industrial development
Industrial development
  • The development of industry consisted of supporting small and medium size enterprises, transferring heavy industry to "hozraschot", a widening of initiative and independence of enterprises. In the cities private persons were allowed to open or to rent small enterprises. In the middle of 1920 capitalist sector included 20 percent of all industry. In the retail trade private enterprises controlled 53 percent of all commodity turnover.
mixed character of nep
Mixed character of NEP
  • Over all NEP economy had a mixed character of market and command. The Bolsheviks resorted to allowing capital and elements of a free market at the same time they kept in their hands "commanding heights" such as heavy and middlesize industry, transportation, foreign trade and banks. It meant that socialist system coexisted with nonsocialist systems such as capitalism, small business and patriarchal system, gradually replacing them in the economy of the country. New economic policy created displeasure among some Bolshevik leaders, who saw in it a retreat back to capitalism. In addition, along  with the stabilisation of economy some negative moments appeared, such as the reinforcement of the role of private capital, the revival of the bourgeoisie ideology. Lenin, the creator of NEP, in 1922 had to declare that the retreat to capitalism was over and that we had to place private capital within limits. The same year he wrote: "We began NEP for a long period and seriously, but not forever. It's a mistake to think that NEP ended the terror. We will return to terror, but an economic terror".   
effects of nep
Effects of NEP
  • The NEP was generally believed to be intended as an interim measure, and proved highly unpopular with the strong Marxists in the Bolshevik party because of its compromise with some capitalistic elements. They saw the NEP as a betrayal of communist principles, and they believed it would have a negative long-term economic effect, so they wanted a fully planned economy instead. In particular, the NEP benefitted the Communists' so-called "class enemies", the traders (Nepmen), while being detrimental to the workers, whom the Party claimed to represent.
  • On the other hand, Lenin is quoted to have said ""NEP is for real and for a long time", which has been used to surmise that if Lenin were to stay alive longer, NEP would have continued beyond 1929, and the controversial collectivization would have never happened, or it would have been carried out differently.
effects of nep35
Effects of NEP
  • In the middle of the 1920's the successes of NEP in the rebirth of the Russian economy were apparent. The recovery of the economy was successful and allowed the agricultural sector to feed the population of the country. In 1927-1928 the USSR surpassed pre-revolution Russian in consumption of food. The welfare of people was improving.
  • From the other side the realisation of NEP was difficult and resulted in lopsided development of the main branches of the countries economy: industry obviously lagged behind the development of agriculture. Periodically crises appeared. They could have been solved by using NEP principles, but Stalin's striving for the creation of an administrative - command system, reinforcing his own power, these political factors hindered the success of NEP. 
literature to the topic 3
Literature to the topic 3:
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  • Strakhovskys, L. two books. The Origins of American Intervention in North Russia. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1937.
  • The ideas of Nikolai Bukharin., edited and introduced by A. Kemp-WelchOxford: Clarendon Press, 1992. 209p. bibliog.
  • The Testimony of Kolchak and other Siberian Materials. - Varneck and Fisher, eds
  • Theen, R. Lenin: genesis and development of a revolutionary. –Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; New York: Lippincott, 1973. 194p.
  • Towster, J. Political power in the USSR, 1917-1947. –New York: Oxford University Press, 1948.
  • Treadgold, D. Twentieth century Russia. Chicago: Rand McNally, 1964.
literature to the topic 343
Literature to the topic 3:
  • Trotsky, L. D., translated by Max Eastman. The history of the Russian revolution. –New York: Simon & Schuster, 1932. 3 vols.; Ann Arbor, Michigan: University of Michigan Press, 1957. 3 vols. in 1.
  • Trotsky, L., edited and translated from the Russian by Charles Malamuth. Stalin: an appraisal of the man and his influence. London: MacGibbon & Kee, 1968. New ed. 516p.
  • Trus, M. Soviet foreign policy: early years. Moscow, 1972.
  • Tucker, R. Stalin as revolutionary, 1879-1929: a study in history and personality. –London: Chatto & Windus, 1974. 519p. 3 maps. bibliog.
  • Tucker, R.C., ed. The Lenin Anthology. -New York, 1975.
  • Unterberger, B. M. America’s Siberian Expedition, 1918-1920. Durham: Duke University Press, 1956.
  • Varneck, E. and H.H.Fisher. The Testimony of Kolchak and Other Siberian Materials. –Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1935.
  • Von Laue, T.H. Why Lenin? Why Stalin? -Phiadelphia and New York, 1964.
  • Westwood, J. N. Russia, 1917-1964. London: Batsford, 1966. 208p. 2 maps.
  • White, J. A.. The Siberian Intervention. –Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1950.
  • Williams, A. Through the Russian revolution. Westport, 1978.
  • Wrangel, P. The Memoirs of General Wrangel. London: Williams and Norgate, Ltd., 1929.