Communist Propaganda
THE RUSSIAN CIVIL WAR of 1918 – 1920 was a war fought between the Reds and the Whites, which eventually led to a Red victory. This led to Communist Russia and its economic situation throughout the 1920’s.

Reds vs. Whites:

The Russian Civil War between the Reds and Whites would tear Russia apart for three years – between 1917 and 1923. In early 1917 the Bolshevik party seized St. Petersburg or Petrograd; this marks the beginning of the civil war. However the war really took off on 6 March 1918, When the Bolshevik or Red leader, Lenin, gave the order for the signing of the Brest-Litovsk.
Propaganda Poster

The Brest-Litovsk surrendered large amounts of territory to the German empire along with others including Poland, Finland, Lithuania and more. This made many groups very opposed to Lenin and the Bolsheviks. These groups included monarchists, militarists, and, for a short time, foreign nations. They became known collectively as the Whites. The main military leader for the Russian whites was Admiral Kolchak. Leon Trotsky was Lenin’s’ war commissar and in January 1918, after repeated failures in combat, Trotsky headed the reorganization of the Red Guard. The Whites fought on a variety of fronts
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against the Reds with the most important being the East, South and North Western. In early 1919, Kolchak took the force he had gathered around him, and began his attack. He soon took the city of Perm and continued on to the Volga. He could have marched on Moscow from the Volga but chose not to. This was his greatest mistake. The British were advancing from archangel in the north and together they could have formed a two-pronged attack, if Kolchak had continued. However, the British were to shortly pull out of Russia, and the Whites lost, probably, their best opportunity to defeat the Bolsheviks. Lenin dominated the territory under his control with extreme force; Along with the Red Guard, the party had a secret police known as the CHEKA, although they would change their name to the NKVD, which was brutal and cruel in hunting enemies to Lenin. Both armies required a large conscription for their cause.

The easiest way to get large amounts of troops was from rural Russia, which left the peasants feeling very used and alienated. In this too, the Red army was much more successful; men flocked to join the Red army. Not necessarily because they agreed with Lenin but because he had ordered that food supplies went first to soldiers, what was left went to those who lived in the cities. The whites however had a terrible reputation with the rural Russian people. This meant that most of the peasants although on white territory, were red supporters. The treatment of the rural Russians was a large part of the reason why the allies and foreign nations stopped recognizing Kolchak as a friend and lost incentive to aid him.

Once the allies and foreign aid had left the country the white army had no real chance against Lenin and the Red Guard. The war continued however until the majority of the fighting came to an end in 1920. However a notable resistance in certain areas continued until 1923 when it ended with the Kronstadt Mutiny and the final resistance of the White movement in the Far East. The whites, despite their greater numbers, were not a unified group. They were made up of many groups that did not necessarily like each other. Although the reds were being attacked on all sides the attacks were hopelessly uncoordinated. This was the main reason for the Reds defeat of the Whites.

'What is Waiting for Them', White Russian Civil War Propaganda Poster, 1919

Foreign Intervention:

The Russian Civil War’s foreign intervention was wide spread and had various reasons. Nationalist groups such as the Ukrainians and Baltic peoples (the Ukrainians being Ukrainian Nationalist Green Army, Ukrainian Anarchist Black Army and the Black Guards) wanted to establish themselves independently (free of Russian control) and as their own countries. At first, Ukrainian anarchists fought alongside the Red Army to defeat the Whites, but later the Red Army turned on them to recapture the Ukraine. The Poles attempted seizing more land fir their won, recently established country by using chaos to attack, and failed, being driven back to the gates at Warsaw and almost being entirely captured by the Red Army in 1920. However, the most important and relevant foreign intervention was that of the Western Allies (Britain, France, Japan, Canada, and the U.S). It is said that the allies went because they wanted to keep Russia in a war with Germany, or that they wanted to continue to right in World War 1, or even that they hated communism. But, the main (initial) goals of the “Entente Intervention” (mostly British and French goals) were:

1) To rescue the Czechoslovak Legion whom was half stranded on the Trans-Siberian railroad because of a “promised” safe passage that had broken down.
U.S Intervention, gathering in the streets

2) To secure supplies at Russian ports (weaponry, merchant supplies, etc.)

3) To re-establish the Eastern Front that was defeated by a German counter-offensive on June 18, 1917 that quickly collapsed.

The British and French had little troops to spare, so they asked Woodrow Wilson to provide troops for the “North Russia Campaign” and the “Siberian Campaign.” Wilson agreed against the advice of his War Department. Canada agreed to combine their forces with Britain for a larger British Empire Force. Japan’s reasoning for support was expansion of influence and territory in the Far East and wanted to recoup historical losses to Russia. They also felt intense hostility to communism as a potential threat to their monarchy. The British, French, Canadian, the U.S and miscellaneous troops from Poland, Serbia and Italy intervened in Northern Russia. In Southern Russia, right after the Armistice on December 18, 1918, the campaign to aid White forces operating in the area of Odessa ended in failure. Later, there was another defeat of White forces in the attempted march again Moscow. Evacuation of Allied ships ended on November 14, 1920. In Siberia, all allied forces were involved, and all failed. All allied troops had departed in 1920, and Japan had entirely departed by 1922. The Red Army were deemed victorious. The White forces failed because they were divided and didn’t work together; therefore the Red Army was able to deal with them individually, making their fall easier. The White’s reliance on allied support was also seen as treasonous, the Red Army was able to state that they were fighting for a “free of foreign control” Russia.

War Communism:

War Communism was the name given to the economic system that existed in Russia from 1918 to 1921. War Communism was introduced by Lenin to combat the economic problems brought on by the civil war in Russia. It was a combination of emergency measures and socialism.

One of the first, and major, measures of War Communism was the nationalization of land. Banks, large, and small industries were also nationalised and there was a state monopoly placed on foreign trade. Lenin stressed the importance of the workers showing discipline and a will to work hard if the revolution was to survive. To achieve this strict centralized management was introduced in factories, which meant that all industries were controlled by the state. Also, sever discipline for workers were implemented and all strikes were banned.
On June 28th, 1918, a decree was passed that ended, and made illegal, all forms of private capitalism. Many large factories were taken over by the state and on November 29th, 1920, any factory/industry that employed over 10 workers was nationalised. Factories with only 1 or 2 workers were supposed to have been left in the hands of the workers, however most of these small industries were also nationalized.

War Communism also took control of the distribution of food. The Food Commissariat was set up to carry out this task. All co-operatives were fused together under this Commissariat. This aggravated the peasants because not only did the government take nearly all their produce from them, but also the Russian secret police was used to collect the food. In the countryside, the Cheka was sent out to take food from the peasant farmers. Anybody found keeping food from others was shot. The peasants responded to this by producing only enough food for them which meant that the cities were more short of food than before. War Communism also implemented a military-like control of the rail system.

War Communism had six principles:

1) Production should be run by the state. Private ownership should be kept to the minimum. Private houses were to be confiscated by the state.

2) State control was to be granted over the labour of every citizen. Once a military army had served its purpose, it would become a labour army.

3) The state should produce everything in its own undertakings. The state tried to control the activities of millions of peasants.

4) Extreme centralisation was introduced. The economic life of the area controlled by the Bolsheviks was put into the hands of just a few organisations. The most important one was the Supreme Economic Council. This had the right to confiscate and requisition. The speciality of the SEC was the management of industry. This frequently resulted in chronic inefficiency. The Commissariat of Transport controlled the railways. The Commissariat of Agriculture controlled what the peasants did.

5) The state attempted to become the sole distributor as well as the sole producer. The Commissariats took what they needed to meet demands. The people were divided into four categories: manual workers in harmful trades, workers who performed hard physical labour, workers in light tasks, and housewives and professional people. Food was distributed on a 4:3:2:1 ratio. Though the manual class was the favoured class, it still received little food. Many in the professional class simply starved. On July 20th 1918, the Bolsheviks decided that all surplus food had to be surrendered to the state. This led to an increase in the supply of grain to the state. However, the policy of having to hand over surplus food caused huge resentment in the countryside, especially as Lenin had promised “all land to the people”. While the peasants had the land, they had not been made aware that they would have to hand over any extra food they produced from their land.

6) War Communism attempted to abolish money as a means of exchange. The Bolsheviks wanted to go over to a system of a natural economy in which all transactions were carried out in kind. Effectively, bartering would be introduced. By 1921, the value of the rouble had dropped massively and inflation had markedly increased. The government could raise no revenue for itself as it had abolished most taxes. The only tax allowed was the ‘Extraordinary Revolutionary Tax’, which was targeted at the rich and not the workers.

War Communism was a disaster. In all areas, the economic strength of Russia fell below the 1913 level.

80 million tonnes
37.6 million tonnes
29 million tonnes
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0.1 million tonnes
4.3 million tonnes
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1.3 million tonnes
0.05 million tonnes
2039 million kW
520 million kW

Peasant farmers only grew for themselves, as they knew that any extra would be taken by the state. Therefore, the industrial cities were starved of food. Malnutrition was common, as was disease. Those in the cities believed that their only hope was to move out to the countryside and grow food for themselves. Between 1916 and 1920, the cities of northern and central Russia lost 33% of their population to the countryside.

In the cities, private trade was illegal, but more people were engaged in it than ever before. Large factories became paralysed through lack of fuel and skilled labour. Small factories were, in 1920, producing just 43% of their 1913 total. Large factories were producing 18% of their 1913 figure. With little food to nourish them, and being “paid in goods”, workers could not be expected to work effectively or efficiently. However, even if anything of value could be produced, the ability to move it around Russia was limited. By the end of 1918, Russia’s rail system was in chaos. Also, no foreign country was prepared to trade with communist Russia, so foreign trade ceased to exist.

There was a difference of opinion between the people of Russia in their reaction to War Communism. Within the cities, many were convinced that their leaders could do no wrong. They believed their leaders were right and the failings being experienced were the fault of the Whites and international capitalists. There were few strikes during War Communism – though Lenin was quick to have anyone arrested who seemed to be a potential cause of trouble. Those in Bolshevik held territory were also keen to see a Bolshevik victory in the civil war, so they were prepared to do what was necessary. The alternate, a White victory, was unthinkable. However, in the countryside, where farmers were being robbed of their produces, War Communism was considered to harsh and the people didn’t think that the policies followed the communist ideal that the Bolsheviks were supposed to be fighting for.

The harshness of War Communism could be justified whilst the civil war was going on. When it had finished, there could be no such justification but many members of the Bolshevik Party were convinced that War Communism could be used even during times of peace. However, there were violent rebellions throughout Russia which convinced Lenin that War Communism needed to be removed or changed. One of the major rebellions that decided Lenin on his next course of action was the Kronstadt Naval mutiny.

Kronstadt Naval Mutiny:
Map of Kronstadt and it's vicinity

The sailors stationed as Kronstadt were considered to be “the reddest of the red” by other Bolsheviks so their rebellion against the Bolshevik government came as a big shock. On 28 February 1921, in retaliation to the harsh use of force to repress several strikes in Petrograd, and the banning of any political party except the communist party, the men stationed at Kronstadt held an emergency meeting and drew up a list of demands. These demands consisted mainly of: equal rations for all the working people’ and ‘freedom for the peasants’. The men believed that these two points would be a return to true revolutionary principles, rather than for an end to the revolution.

Leon Trotsky was given the job of defeating the rebellion. In Petrograd, the Bolsheviks took the sailors’ families as hostages. On 5 March, Trotsky reached Kronstadt and called on the sailors to surrender – or they would be ‘shot like partridges’. He knew that he had to act quickly – soon the pack ice would be melting and the naval base would become impregnable. But the first Bolshevik troops to attack Kronstadt were young and the Cheka with machine guns had to be placed behind them to stop them retreating. When they attacked on 7 March across the 5-mile stretch of open ice, the Kronstadt defenders mowed them down.

Trotsky continued to bombard the Kronstadt fortress with artillery, and gathered an army of 50,000 crack troops. On 16 March they attacked. In an 18-hour battle, 10,000 Red Guards were killed, but Kronstadt was taken. Hundreds of mutineers were imprisoned: 500 were shot on the spot, and a further 2000 were executed over the next few months. The rest were sent to Siberia.

With this mutiny Lenin realised that he faced the very real risk of an uprising of workers and peasants. In February 1921, Lenin had decided to do away with War Communism and replace it with a completely different system the New Economic Policy. This was supported by the Bolsheviks, and especially by Stalin who believed NEP was a patriotic and nationalizing mission which would strengthen Russia in the international system. War Communism was swept away.

New Economic Policy (NEP):

The period of war communism was followed, in the 1920s, by a partial retreat from Bolshevik principles. The New Economic Policy permitted certain types of private economic activity, so that the country might recover from the destruction of the Civil War. With the Kronstadt base rebelling against war communism, Lenin decided on a new course of action in Soviet policy. Lenin realized that the radical approach to communism was unsuited to the existing conditions in Russia and jeopardized the survival of his regime. Now the Soviet leader proposed a tactical retreat, convincing the congress to adopt a temporary compromise with capitalism under the NEP program. The NEP policy would use a mixed economy by combining state controlled large-scale industries, like banks and foreign trade, with limited small-scale privately owned industries, like shops and small businesses. The NEP also introduced a “tax” on agricultural goods produced by peasants. The state would take a fixed portion of all agricultural goods but then the peasants could decide what to do with the surplus. This meant that peasants were more motivated to grow crops and invest in their farms by purchasing large machines to help production.

Lenin considered the NEP to be a strategic retreat after the failure of War Communism. He believed that this “state Capitalism” would be the last step before socialism. Other Bolsheviks saw that the NEP went against Marxist ideals but they believed it would be the best solution for the economic crisis in Russia. The NEP was an overwhelming success to begin with. All agricultural output was increased dramatically and surpassed the pre-war levels. The agricultural sector became reliant on small farms that produced most of the grain.

Unlike the agricultural sector and small businesses, state owned businesses and industries did not grow whatsoever. Factories did start to produce goods but few had the money to buy them. As workers could be dismissed, unemployment started to grow. Lenin allowed industry bosses to use foreign capital – but few countries were brave enough to invest in the communist state. Therefore, money was earned from exporting produce that could not be sold in Russia. The export of grain and coal helped to kick-start Russia’s economy but not by much.

Eventually, it got to the point where state-controlled industries could not keep up with the agricultural sector. This created an imbalance within Russian economy which became known as the scissor crisis.
The Scissors Crisis started in October 1923 when industrial prices were three times higher than agricultural prices. The incentive to produce more food in the countryside had led to much higher production. With so much food around, prices for farm produce fell when compared to industrial prices as industry, by the very nature of it, took longer to recover. Compared to the countryside, costs in industry were high. The farmer’s primary produce was food as they knew that this could be sold in the cities and the incentive to grow food was to make money. Industries based on cotton found that they were starved of their most basic raw material as the farmers knew that food was a much better bet to grow. The government could not allow the cities to get hungry again. Therefore, the government became the principle purchaser of food but they used their position to force down the price that the farmers wanted. With less money, the farmers had less capital to buy products from the cities. The government responded to this by forcing down the prices of manufacturing produce and decrees were issued that controlled prices. Government interference in the economy was never far away. This crisis also led to the creation of NEP men who would buy goods at a higher price and sell it for even more. Communists considered the NEP men to be class enemies and tried to limit their spread across Russia.

The NEP succeeded in creating an economic recovery after the devastating effects of the First World War the and the Russian Civil War. By 1928, agricultural and industrial production had been restored to pre-WWI level. However, unemployment skyrocketed under the NEP and a wider gap was created between classes. The NEP was generally believed to be intended as an interim measure, and proved highly unpopular with the Left Opposition in the Bolsheviks because of its compromise with capitalism and because of the relinquishment of State control. 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. This fully planned economy would be given to them by Lenin’s successor, Stalin, who eventually introduced collectivization after he abandoned the NEP in 1925.

Important Questions:

In your opinion do you think the Red Forces were acting for the Russian People, or their own party?

No, we believe the Red Forces were acting for their own party, and their own personal goals in mind, that were not relevant for the well being of the Russian People. Lenin prioritized the necessities of his military over the people by sending food sources to the army before the people. Also Lenin was ruthless with the people under his control. He utilized a secret police force called the CHEKA or NKVD, who were brutal and in most places appointed themselves judge, jury, and executioner. The signing of the Brest-Litovsk is a clear indication that Lenin was working with only his party in mind.

Was foreign intervention (largely supportive of Whites) a benefit or a hindrance to the White forces?

In our opinion, foreign intervention was surely a hindrance to the White forces. The forces, being so broad, were divided and didn’t work together as a united power with the same motives. Their aims were by no means organized. They were all fighting for different reasons. The Whites themselves fought as opposition to the Bolsheviks, while the Western support fought partly as aid for their ally, and as an opposition to communism, but they also fought for their own territorial establishment and to further their conquests in war. This made the victory of the Red Army much easier to achieve. Also, our group believes the allied intervention had the effect of making the Whites appear as puppets of foreign governments to the Russian public. This gave the Red Army the argument of stating that they were fighting for a Russia, “free of foreign control,” and foreign invaders.

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