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HIH3300 Dissertation:

The Peasant Revolution in Russia,


The Civil War, The Green Armies
and Lenins War Communism 19171921
Student Number: 553836
Supervisor: Kelly Hignett
Word Count:9,853
Date of Submission:18/04/2012

Contents

1. Introduction

2. The Peasant Revolution in Russia 1917

3. The Civil War and The Green Armies 1918-1921

20

4. Lenins War Communism 1918-1921

34

5. Conclusion

41

6. Bibliography

43

The Peasant Revolution in Russia, The Civil War, The Green Armies and Lenins War
Communism 1917-1921

Introduction
This dissertation will attempt to investigate and analyse the Russian peasantry during the
period 1917-1921, will a brief analysis of pre-revolutionary Russia. The main research
themes discussed within the chapters consist of exploitations on the peasants and peasant
developments in socio-economic, political and military terms, in combination with the
Bolshevik revolution, Civil War and Lenins War Communism. The dissertation will argue
that despite historians placing the peasantry as an ineffective tool, the peasantry were actually
an effective, politicised and militarised mass of proletarians, especially during The Civil War
and War Communism period and Green Armies; they were certainly curators of their own
Revolution during 1917-1921. The peasantry were an undeniable factor in the Bolsheviks
rise to power and arguably part of the dual revolution of 1917, The Bolshevik and Peasant
Revolutions; the peasantry effectively led the Bolsheviks and Lenin to Soviet power during
1917-1921. Similarly, the investigation will provide an insight into the peasant agricultural
class consciousness and social and economic characteristics of peasant life during this period.
The peasantry have been somewhat neglected over the decades as Soviet historians have
placed more importance on the workers and soldiers of the Bolshevik Revolution, despite
claims that the Revolution was in fact the social liberation of the Peasants. In addition to this,
many historians portray the peasantry as a primitive and ignorant people who could only play
a destructive role in the revolution and who were thus ripe for manipulation by the
Bolsheviks; this dissertation will hope to disprove this. Historical thought on the Russian
peasants has become more defined since the 1960s, none more so than in the Soviet Union.
Historians such as V. P. Danilov, A. M. Anfimov have both attempted some reworking of this
peasant definition. Danilov and Anfinmov have approached peasant society as an internal
3

organisation rather than the class terms defined by the old Soviet historiography of Marx and
Lenin. Similarly, Western interpretation has become more refined as a result of the rise of
social history, the growing influence of social anthropology, and the rediscovery of A. V.
Chaianov and his theory of the peasant economy within the Communist State. Historians
began to stress the influence of regional, ethnic, demographic and cultural factors, in addition
to economic ones, on the identity, importance, intellectuality and rationality of the peasants.
Approaches toward the investigation will primarily include documentary collections and
official government documents, as the majority of the peasantry were illiterate. In addition,
the use of Diaries (in the case of the Civil War and Green Armies), Newspapers, Journals,
Secondary works and perhaps most importantly Lenins own works.

Chapter 1: The Peasant Revolution in Russia 1917


The focus of this chapter is the social, political and economic developments and actions of
the Russian peasants during the Russian revolution of 1917. This chapter will argue that the
Russian peasants were an effective and organised social mass of working-class revolutionary
proletarians, who were politically active and economically driven within and frequently
against the Communist State. Similarly, this chapter will argue that the peasants were a
crucial component of the Bolshevik Revolution and of the Lenins Communist regime. The
involvement and influence of the peasants in the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, and
subsequent Communist regime, has been little studied and often underestimated by historians
commenting on the revolution. Sheila Fitzpatrick argues that Western historians had placed
the revolution on a working class and political and ideological basis, rather than that of a
social and economic aspect.1 The role of the peasants in the Russian revolution seems to have
deserted both western and soviet historiography in the immediate decades after the
revolution.
There has, however, been more careful analysis and revisionist work of the change of
political consciousness among peasants in different regions of the country.2 Edward Acton
observes how over the past two decades a wealth of research by western scholars has cast
new light on the events of 1917.3 The importance of the Russian peasantry can be seen in
their integral influence in the studying of social history; contemporary historians,
sociologists, economists and anthropologists have all sought to gain an understanding of the
Russian peasantry.41

11Sheila Fitzpatrick, The Russian Revolution (Oxford: New York, Oxford University Press, 1994), p. 4. 2Edward
Acton, Rethinking the Russian Revolution (London: Edward Arnold, 1990), p. 34.
3
Ibid, p. 1.
4
Ben Eklof and Stephen P. Frank, The World of the Russian Peasant, Post-Emancipation Culture and Society
(London: Unwin Hyman Ltd, 1990), p. 1.

The availability of Russian revolution documents, in terms of peasant memoirs and personal
accounts is somewhat sparse, as the majority of peasants during the revolution were illiterate.
There are however telling Bolshevik and Provisional Government official documents that
involve all aspects of the Russian peasantry and their actions. It is also important to
understand the significance of the opening up of the Soviet archives after 1989, in which a
more detailed, localised study of the revolution in the countryside has been apparent. 5
Similarly, Lenins collected works represents an in-depth and detailed primary source for the
study of not just the history of the revolution, but the relationship between Lenin and his
Bolshevik party towards the Russian peasantry.6 To gain an insight into the peasant situation
during the February and October revolutions of 1917, it is perhaps necessary, for social
clarity and understanding, to present social, economic and political conditions of the
peasants pre-revolutionary period.

Pre-Revolutionary Period
Marcus J. Kurtz argues that scholarly debate surrounding the role of the peasants in social
revolutions has created a plethora of different theories. 7 Sheila Fitzpatrick argues that the prehistory of Russian peasants and peasant component of the working class made it more
revolutionary than less. Fitzpatrick also argues that Russian peasants were not conservative;
they had a tradition of violence and anarchic rebellion against landlords, exemplified in the
Pugachev revolts of the 1770s and the 1905-1907 peasant revolution.8 Similarly, James Scott
credits the peasants as possessing a venerable popular culture of resistance.92
25Acton, Edward., Vladimir Lu. Cherniaev, Rosenberg, William G, Critical Companion to the Russian
Revolution, 1914-1921 (London: Arnold, 1997), p. 544.6 Acton, Rethinking the Russian Revolution, p. 34.
7
Marcus J. Kurtz, Understanding Peasant Revolution: From Concept to Theory and Case, Theory and
Society , Vol. 29, No. 1 (Feb., 2000), p. 94.
8
Fitzpatrick, The Russian Revolution, p. 15.
9
James Scott, Weapons of the Weak: Everyday Forms of Peasant Resistance (New Haven: Yale University
Press, 1985), p. 35.

Kurtz presents three main theories on peasant revolution that are expressed in modern
scholarship: the Anthropological, dominated by Alfred Kroeber, Moral Economy by James
Scott and the Minimalist view, championed by Samuel Popkin.10 Perhaps the most relevant to
this study of peasant organisation, influence and revolution are the concepts of
Anthropological and Moral Economy. These theories deal with the understanding of the
distinctiveness of peasant communities and the social subordination to the focus of integrity
of the peasant community.11 Just arguments and challenges can be made against the
simplicities of the Minimalist view within this study however, in which peasants sole role
was as rural cultivators.12 Fitzpatrick expresses that the peasants, workers and soldiers were a
highly concentrated industrial proletariat, and who were thus ready for revolution over the
bourgeoisie.13 Fitzpatrick asserts that the Russian peasantry accounted for nearly 80% of the
Russian population: It is of no surprise then that the agricultural sector of Russian society
would play such a pivotal role in the workings of the Provisional Government and the
Bolshevik Revolution.14 Graeme Gill expresses that the eight month revolution starting in
February 1917, which culminated in Bolshevik victory, was effectively curated by the role of
the peasants and their actions which lay in the character of traditional peasant life. 15 It could
be argued that the emancipation of the peasants ultimately led to widespread frustration,
anger and protest against the zemstvo.
The emancipation of the peasants in 1861 effectively laid the foundations for the 19051907 peasant revolution, and had some bearing on the 1917 revolution.3
310Marcus J. Kurtz, Understanding Peasant Revolution: From Concept to Theory and Case, Theory and
Society , Vol. 29, No. 1 (Feb., 2000), pp. 98-99. See also, Alfred Kroeber, Anthropology (New York: Harcourt,
Brace and Co., 1948); James Scott, The Moral Economy of the Peasant (New Haven: Yale University Press,
1976); Samuel Popkin, The Rational Peasant (Berkeley: The University of California Press, 1979). 11Robert
Redfield, The Little Community (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1955); Scott, The Moral Economy
of the Peasant.
12
Popkin, The Rational Peasant.
13
Fitzpatrick, The Russian Revolution, p. 15.
14
Ibid, p. 14.
15
Graeme Gill, Peasants and Government in the Russian Revolution (London: Macmillan Press Ltd, 1979), p.1.

Individual peasants were bound to the village communes and by the debts of the mir (village
council). The strictures of emancipation attempted to prevent an influx of peasants into towns
and the creation of a landless proletariat which would represent a danger to public order. It
made it impossible for peasants to consolidate their land strips, expand or improve their
holdings, or make the transition to independent small-scale farming. 16 Russian peasants would
have to rely on the village communes for support; these agricultural institutions such as the
mir, skhod and volost skhod, were to be of significant importance during the revolution of
1917.17 Robert Redfield and Victory Magagna also express how integral the peasants
communes were; they were the principal unit of organization (and social meaning) for
peasants is the local village community, which exists in structured relationships with the
larger society that surrounds it, spatial boundaries (i.e., villages) shaped the very nature and
meaning of agrarian social structure.18 Such was the importance of the peasantry leading up
to the revolution of 1917; even the Russian populists and intelligentsia saw the peasants as an
integral part of their movement. Capitalism had exploited the peasants, and the populists
wished to save the traditional form of villages and the communes from the ravages of
capitalism; they believed that the mir was an egalitarian institution the survival of early
communism, another path to socialism.19
The strains of the First World War on the peasants took a damaging toll. The gains made
in agriculture before the war were now slipping from their grasp. The stocks of capital that
the peasants had accumulated during the early part of the war were being eaten away by
increased exactions for the war effort and by rapidly growing inflation.204
416 Fitzpatrick, The Russian Revolution, p. 12.17 Gill, Peasants and Government in the Russian Revolution, p.8.
18

Robert Redfield, The Little Community: Peasant Society and Culture (Chicago: The University of Chicago
Press, 1960), pp. 9-10; Victor Magagna, Communities of Grain (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1991), pp. 1315; Cyril Zaitsev and Bernard Pares, The Russian Agrarian Revolution, The Slavonic and East European
Review , Vol. 9, No. 27 (Mar., 1931), p. 550.
19
Fitzpatrick, The Russian Revolution, p. 19.
20
Norman Stone, The Eastern Front (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1975) Ch. 9.

Similarly, increased food prices also dominated peasant struggles during and after the war. 21
Peasant conscription for the war effort also impacted on Russian agriculture. The Russian
Army had a pre-war size of 1,370,000, which rose to 16 million in mid-1917, 80% of those
being peasants.22 Richard Sakwa gives a more precise figure of 15,798,000 people,
constituting to about 40-50% of the able bodied male population. 23 This led to a severe
shortage of workers on farms, as well as those being hired for labour on privately owned
estates. Furthermore, peasants also left agricultural work for the high wages in the factories to
replace urban workers who entered the army, Crane Brinton estimates that 9 million peasants
took out seasonal work outside their native village each year, and of these almost half were
working outside agriculture.24 Even the use of prisoners-of-war and refugees in field-work
could not compensate the larger estates for this loss of the regular work force.25
Peasant contributions to the war effort were of a patriotic nature; there was peasant
support for soldiers, contributions of food, tobacco, clothing, Christmas gifts, theatrical and
choral performances to raise money for war relief.26 Despite this supposed peasant
patriotism to support the war effort, it is questionable how far the peasants were willing to
delve into their own resources. Peasants had already been drained of male workers in the
mobilization of peasants and livestock for the army in 1914; the economic burdens placed on
the village during the ensuring period only reinforced their sense of unfairness.275
521Petr Stuvre, Food Supply in Russia During the World War (New Haven, Yale University Press; London,
1930), pp. 269-278.22 Gill, Peasants and Government in the Russian Revolution, p.14.
23
Richard Sakwa, The Rise and Fall of the Soviet Union, 1917-1991 (London; New York: Routledge, 1999), p.
36; Scott J. Seregny, Peasants, Nation, and Local Government in Wartime Russia, Slavic Review, Vol. 59, No.
2 (Summer, 2000), p. 337; Aleksei Antsiferov, Russian Agriculture During The War (New Haven, Yale
University Press, 1930), pp. 116-7.
24
Crane Brinton, The Anatomy of Revolution (London: Cape, 1953), quoted in: Fitzpatrick, The Russian
Revolution, p. 14.
25
A.V. Shestakov, Ocherki po selskomu khoziaistvu I krestianskomu dvizheniiu v gody voiny I pered oktiabrem
1917 (Leningrad, 1927), p. 80-3; S.M. Dubrovskii, Ekonomicheskoe polozhenie rossii nakanune velikoki
oktiabrskoi sotsialisticheskoi revoliutsii, III (Moscow, 1957), p. 61, quoted in Gill, Peasants and Government
in the Russian Revolution, p.14.
26
Seregny, Peasants, Nation, and Local Government in Wartime Russia, Slavic Review, Vol. 59, No. 2
(Summer, 2000), pp. 337-338.
27
Ibid, p. 338.

The loss of working cattle and working horses for the war effort accounted for nearly 40 per
cent in European Russia during the war and the front continued to stretch the resources and
manpower of peasant villages and households.28 Yet for all the strictures and the losses that
the war brought to the peasants, they still maintained their true character of dedication and
determination throughout the course of the war. Stanley Washburn explains in his article
Peasant Patriots of Russia: Some Dialogues for The Times (Thursday, Nov 4, 1915), how the
peasants may not understand the war but it is erroneous to believe that they wish to stop
short of victory, or that they consider too great the sacrifices which they must make for
success.29 Washburn describes a conversation with a peasant:
We do know this much however, and that is that the Germans have attacked us and we
must beat the Germans, no matter what it costs us. We must beat the Germans. Yes I would
sacrifice my sons and go myself, even though I am an old man, if I could help. We hate the
Germans.30
Washburton then describes peasant characteristics within the article They are very polite,
these mujiks, but very definitely persistent none the less. At one point on a road we stopped to
talk with three, they stood watching us with ill-concealed suspicion. 31 Again from this we
can see that the peasants were suspicious of outsiders and wanted to protect their holdings.
Peasants sort to widen their horizons and increase expectations for better economic positions
after the war.326
628P.I. Liaschenko, Ekonomicheskie predposy 1917g (Moscow 1928), p. 39; Antsiferov, Russian Agriculture
During The War, p. 278, quoted in Gill, Peasants and Government in the Russian Revolution, pp.15-16.29Stanley
Washburn, Peasant Patriots Of Russia. Some Dialogues, The Times, 4 November 1915, available online at:
http://infotrac.galegroup.com/itw/infomark/834/145/147398007w16/purl=rc1_TTDA_0_CS118949220&dyn=2
1!xrn_142_0_CS118949220&hst_1?sw_aep=uows (Accessed 13 March 2012)
30
Ibid.
31
Ibid.
32
Seregny, Peasants, Nation, and Local Government in Wartime Russia, Slavic Review, Vol. 59, No. 2
(Summer, 2000), p. 338.

10

The introduction of Government regulations on the grain trade late in 1916 only worsened the
situation for the peasants. These regulations placed limits on their main money earner while
leaving their main items of expenditure unregulated.33 Similarly, Academician Sakharov
remarks accurately upon the situation facing the peasants in pre-revolutionary Russia. In his
celebrated work, Thoughts on Progress, Peaceful Co-existence and Intellectual Freedom,
Sakharov expresses how:
It has not been merely a question of unconstrained exploitation of the countryside,
predatory procurement at symbolic pricesthe near-serfdom of the peasantry, the
appointment of kolkhoz (kollektivnoye khozyaynstvo collective farm) chairmen solely on
the basis of their servility and cunning but also a most profound and scarcely retrievable
destruction of the economy and the whole way of life in the countryside.34
Peasant relations with the Tsar and the government were also very tense during the pre-war
years. For peasants, the zemstvo was a remote and alien entity whose purpose they simply did
not understand. Peasant apathy towards the zemstvo found the form of absenteeism at
zemstvo elections during the pre-war years.35 We can see from this that the peasants were
politically active during the pre-war years, all be it in an indirect way, Seregny claims that
there was now a new peasant intelligentsia. Russia peasants sensed little connection to the
zemstvos. Peasants sense of alienation toward the zemstvos could be seen in the Stavropol
province; the peasants rejected the introduction of the zemstvos in Stavropol during 1913-14
and the peasants claimed that Nicholas II had not sanctioned the new zemstvos.367

733Gill, Peasants and Government in the Russian Revolution, p.16.34Sakharov, Thoughts on Progress, Peaceful
Co-existence and Intellectual Freedom, quoted in Robert Conquest, Agricultural Workers in the USSR (London:
the Bodley Head Ltd, 1968), p. 7.
35
Seregny, Peasants, Nation, and Local Government in Wartime Russia, Slavic Review, Vol. 59, No. 2
(Summer, 2000), p. 340.
36
Ibid, p. 341.

11

1917 Revolution
The onset of the 1917 for the peasants brought with it a difficult situation economically. In
this situation of uncertainty, the peasants gaze again turned to traditionally perceived
ideology: the land currently in non-peasant hands (as was the case in the 1905 Peasant
Revolution).37 Peasant and workers dissatisfaction and frustrations with food price risings,
food shortages and coal shortages ultimately came to a head in the February strikes, uprisings
and subsequent workers revolution of 1917. The downfall of the monarchy with the
abdication of Tsar Nicholas the II on 2 March, and with his brothers refusal to accept the
throne, created a power vacuum. From this, two organisations were created; the Soviet of
Workers and Soldiers Deputies on the 1 March, a lower class organisation, and the second
consisting of the Provisional Government, formed on the 2 March. 38 Initial peasant reaction
was one of confusion, many peasants refused to believe that the tsar had fallen, although one
official report spoke of universal joy at the tsars fall.39 The peasant reaction to this was that
they now believed that the nobles old illegitimate title to the land was revoked, land
belonged to those who tilled it, peasants wrote this in their numerous petitions to the
Provisional Government in the spring.40 The peasant land question was also discussed by the
relevant peasants congress:
Everything possible must be done for the temporary solution to the land question. If landowners do not sow and do not wish to sow, (their) equipment will be transferred to
organisations of volost committees of peoples power.418
837Gill, Peasants and Government in the Russian Revolution, p.16.38Ibid, p. 19.
39

Ia. A. Iakovlev. (ed.), 1917 god v derevne (vospominaniia krestian), (Moscow, 1967), p. 103; Mart-Mai
1917g Krasnyi Arkhiv, T. 15 (1926), quoted in Gill, Peasants and Government in the Russian Revolution, p.21.
40
Marc Ferro, J.L Richard and Nicole Stone, The Russian Revolution of February 1917 (London: Routledge and
Kegan Paul, 1917), pp. 121-30.
41
L.S. Gaponenko, (eds.), Revoliutsionnoe dvizhenie v Rossii posle sverzheniia samoderzhaviia. Dokumenty i
Materialy (Moscow, 1957), pp. 693-4, quoted in Gill, p. 22.

12

The agrarian reforms carried out by Stolypin in the years before the First World War made
little impact on peasant consciousness and revolutionary spirit during 1917. 42 This could be
seen again in the importance of the peasant mir and unauthorized peasant land seizures in the
summer of 1917. Sergius Korff remarks how Bolshevik propaganda influenced the peasants
and pressurized the Provisional Government in the broadcasts that they made. The peasants
were told: You want the land? go and take it; nobody has the right, nor the possibility of
preventing you from taking it.43 In their petitions to the Provisional Government, the
peasants asked for an egalitarian redistribution of lands held by the nobility, state and the
Church.44 Peasant seizures of land were conducted on behalf of the mir. The general pattern
was that the mir divided up the newly captured lands amongst the villagers. The mir thus reasserted its authority between 1917-1918. The Provisional Government had no mechanism or
administrative capabilities to deal with this expropriation and transfer of lands and warned
peasants not to take the law into their own hands. 45 One of these warnings included an
Appeal To The Peasants, documented by a correspondent in Petrograd for The Times:
The long-expected pronouncement on the land question was issued by the Provisional
Government this morning. The peasants are informed that this will be one of the first matters
to be discussed by the Constituent Assembly. Meanwhile they are warned against listening to
those who would incite them to violence and robbery (the Bolsheviks).469

942Legislation in six statuses: 3 November 1905; 4 March 1906; 5 October 1906; 9 November 1906, extended
by decisions made on 14 June 1910 and 29 May 1911; S.M. Dubvrovskii, Stolypinskaia reforma (Moscow,
1963); P. N. Pershin, Uchastkovoe zemlepolzovanie v rossii (Moscow, 1922); G.T. Robinson, Rural Russia
Under the Old Regime (New York, 1961), Ch. 11, quoted in Gill, Peasants and Government in the Russian
Revolution, pp. 11-12.43 Sergius A. Korff, The Peasants during the French and Russian Revolutions,The
Journal of International Relations , Vol. 12, No. 2 (Oct., 1921), p. 233.
44
Fitzpatrick, The Russian Revolution, p. 44.
45
Ibid, p. 50.
46
Russian Land Settlement Reserved. Appeal To The Peasants., The Times, Thursday 5 April 1917, available
online at:
http://infotrac.galegroup.com/itw/infomark/561/36/181755884w16/purl=rc1_TTDA_0_CS84478085&dyn=33!
xrn_66_0_CS84478085&hst_1?sw_aep=uows (Accessed 16 March 2012).

13

We can see from this that the peasants made full use of political and economic opportunism,
in the wake of the February Revolution and the fall of the monarch in March 1917. The weak
coalition government provided the platform for unauthorised peasant land and estate seizures,
which the Bolsheviks encouraged and the Provisional Government could not stop. This
collapse of authority placed huge importance on the aspirations of the peasants; since their
obedience could no longer be compelled, they could pressurise, frustrate and indeed destroy
those be it officers, managers, landlords, officials or politicians in charge of them. The
wishes of the peasants now had a direct political significance they had not had before. 47 This
highlighted a small victory for the peasants after centuries of not just emancipation, but of
government exploitation, inflation, food shortages, grain regulations and the destruction of
the peasant agricultural economy. The mir, from the peasants perspective, was perceived as a
true peasant institution, historically abused and exploited by the state, which had finally
thrown off state authority and accomplished a peasant revolution.48
The importance of the Russian peasantry in the course of the revolution could also be
seen in Lenins April Theses (Peace, Bread and Land), in which Lenin believed the
second stage of the revolution was the overthrow of the bourgeoisie by the proletariat: To the
second stage, which must place the power in the hands of the proletariat and the poorest
strata of the peasantry.49 Similarly, Lenin outlines the need for a: republic of Peasants
Deputiesthe confiscation of all landed estates and the Nationalization of all lands in the
country.5010

1047Acton, Rethinking the Russian Revolution, p. 182.48Fitzpatrick, The Russian Revolution, p. 75.
14

Lenin believed that an alliance with the peasantry would give the proletariat the strength to
overthrow the old bourgeoisie and the Provisional Government in the Proletarskaya
revolyusiya (Proletarian Revolution). The first all-Russian conference of Bolsheviks (7-12
May 1917) pushed forward these issues of the transfer of power the soviets and the
immediate giving of land to the peasants. 51 Lenin and his Bolsheviks believed in the
confiscation of landowners estates and their redistribution by the peasants themselves, in
conjunction with the creation of the All-Russian Peasant Congress. 52 The mood during this
period is summed up as one Menshevik commentator said that Lenin was planting the
banner of civil war in the midst of revolutionary democracy. 53 The Peasant Congress
accepted the need to organize the transfer of land through the Constituent Assembly, another
small victory for the Russian peasants.54 The importance of the Soviets of Peasants Deputies
can also be documented in Lenins writings:
The proletariat can smash everything that is oppressive, routine, and incorrigibly
bourgeois in the state apparatus and substitute its own, new apparatus. The Soviets of
Peasants Deputies are exactly this apparatus.55
Lenin also believed in a worker-peasant alliance that was crucial for and after the
revolution.56 Lenin proclaimed to the Second Congress of Soviets on 25-6 October 1917: We
shall win the confidence of the peasantry by abolishing pomeshcik [landlord] landownership.
The peasants understand that their only salvation lies in an alliance with the workers.5711

49

Lenin, On the Tasks of the Proletariat in the Present Revolution (the April Theses, April 7 [20], 1917;
Selected Works, Vol. II, book 2, pp. 13-17), reproduced in Robert. V. Daniels, A Documentary History of
Communism. Vol. 1 (Vermont; University Press of New England, 1985), p. 55; Sakwa, The Rise and Fall of the
Soviet Union, 1917-1991, p. 34.
50
Lenin, On the Tasks of the Proletariat in the Present Revolution in: Robert. V. Daniels, A Documentary
History of Communism. Vol. 1, p. 56.

15

The Soviet regime implemented its first measures on peasant agriculture and economy. These
measures we in actual fact Socialist Revolutionary, not Bolshevik in inspiration and were
framed in response to peasants demands, rather than in conformity with Bolshevik doctrine
on the socialisation of agriculture.58 Similarly, these agrarian measures were also re-iterated
and presented by Lenin in The Seventh (April) All-Russia Conference of the R.S.D.L.P.(B.)
held in Petrograd from April 24 to 29 (May 712), 1917.59 The Land measures are also
discussed in a Newspaper Report On The Agrarian Question, April 28:
There is no time to wait for the legalisation of landownershipthe crisis is approaching
in gigantic strides. The peasants have already displayed a revolutionary initiative; they have
been taking over the landowners livestock for common use.60
The first major step towards land transfer and distribution to the peasants was introduced by
the Bolsheviks. The Land Decree of November 8, 1917 incorporated the SR Peasant
Instructions, drawn up on the basis of peasant demands.61 It asserted that the most just
solution would be the conversion of all land, including State land, to the use of all who
work on it and that forms of land tenure must be completely freeas may be decided by
individual villages. The implementation of the second decree, the Socialisation of Land
February 19, 1918 referred to the virtues of a collective system of agriculture. 62 It was
concerned with achieving the just distribution of land according to the Land Decree. Lenin

1151 Sakwa, The Rise and Fall of the Soviet Union, 1917-1991, p. 36.52Fitzpatrick, The Russian Revolution, p.
44.
53
V. I. Lenin, Collected Works, vol. 24 (Moscow, 1964), pp.21-6.
54
Acton, Rethinking the Russian Revolution, p. 163.
55
Lenin, Can the Bolsheviks Retain State Power?, September 1917, Selected Works, pp.363, 366, 372-3,375-6,
377, reproduced in: Sakwa, The Rise and Fall of the Soviet Union, 1917-1991, p. 48.
56
Conquest, Agricultural Workers in the USSR, p. 14.
57
Robert Browder and Alexander Kerensky (eds), The Russian Provisional Government 1917: Documents, vol.
III (Stanford, Stanford University Press, 1961), p. 1793.

16

himself admitted that we did not want to oppose the will of the majority of the peasants
that is why we helped to divide the land.6312
Despite concessions being made to the peasantry in the form of equal land divisions through
the village communes, Lenin started to implement his Bolshevik doctrine of the socialisation
of agriculture. Lenin was concerned not to antagonise the peasants however, since his regime
depended on them for survival, as they were food providers for the Red Army recruits. Thus
we see a shift in the relationship between the peasants and Lenin and his Bolsheviks, with
Lenins ideology of collective (kolkhoz) and State (Sovkhoz), which made little progress
amongst the peasants.64 These measures by Lenin against the peasants were used primarily to
secure food during the civil war, such as their use of armed detachments to extract grain by
force and the food dictatorship that infuriated and alienated the peasantry.65
The strictures of the measures placed on the peasantry could only be received by them in
one way: uprising. The combination of a food shortage and serious peasant uprisings in 192021 led to a major peasant revolt and even peasant military mobilisation. Two armies led by
Antonov in the Tambov area totalling 50,000 men had to be suppressed by the Red Army
under Marshal Tukhachevsky.66 Lenin felt it necessary to make further concessions to the
peasantry as a result of this peasant show of strength, dissatisfaction and mobilisation in the
face of adversity, Lenin told the Tenth Party Congress:
The peasantry is dissatisfied with the kind of relationship which has grown up between
us, and they do not wish it and will not carry on existing like this. Their will has been clearly

1258 Conquest, Agricultural Workers in the USSR, p. 15.59 V.I. Lenin, Collected Works, Vol. 41 (Progress
Publishers:
Moscow,
1977),
pp. 409-429.1.
Available
online
at:
http://marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1917/7thconf2/index.htm#fwV41E536 (Accessed 20 March 2012).
60
Newspaper Report On The Agrarian Question April 28, Pravda No. 45, May 13 (April 30), 1917. Available
Online at: http://marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1917/7thconf2/8.htm#v41pp77-424 (Accessed 20 March
2012).
61
RSFSR Laws, 1917, 1:3 (IKP, Vol.1, p. 17).
62
RSFSR Laws, 1918, 25:346 (IKP, Vol.1, p.19).
63
Lenin, Works, Vol. 28 (Marx-Engels-Lenin Institute, Moscow, 1941-50), p. 156.

17

expressed: let us change our policy towards the peasants. We can no longer maintain the
situation which has existed so far.67
This would eventually become the New Economic Policy (NEP) which included the right
of peasants to hire labour and lease land.6813
We see from this that the peasants were very important and influential in the policy making
decisions of the Provisional Government and Lenin and his Bolsheviks, who would acquire
sole power through the October Revolution of 1917. The peasants were organised, politically
minded and active, economically motivated and even militarised in the face of opposition.
Conclusion
The Rebellion in the Volga countryside was not influenced by ideas from outside. Party
activists, radicalised soldiers and the industrial working class played a decidedly secondary
role in stimulating peasant militancy; it welled up from within the village itself. 69 Nor can
their actions be dismissed as anarchic or ignorant. The invasion of and subdivisions of gentry
estates were planned, organized and co-ordinated through the village communes. Behind the
shifting pattern of peasant protest and rebellion there was both a short-term and long-term
economic logic. The immediate objects of peasant desire crops, timber, equipment, or land
itself were not chosen at random, but varied according to local needs and seasonal factors. 70
Nor was the reassertion of the peasant commune, the determination to parcel out property of
private landowners among peasant households and the reversal of trends towards socioeconomic differentiation necessarily economically retrogressive.71 Comparative studies with
Danish agriculture have also been used to demonstrate the economic potential of peasant
agriculture and the small-scale family farm. 72 Peasant action that seemed to property owners
1364 Conquest, Agricultural Workers in the USSR, p. 15.65Ibid, p.15.
66

Ibid, p.16.
Lenin, Works, Vol. 32 (Marx-Engels-Lenin Institute, Moscow, 1941-50), pp. 192-3.
68
RSFSR Laws, 1922, 36:426.
67

18

and officials the product of ignorance and external agitation was neither. Even the peasants
resort to violence and attacks on landowners and their families was no orgy of mindless
destruction.7314
These actions represented peasant desire to change the traditional patterns of landownership;
in the countryside peasants attempted to ensure it could never be re-established. The
peasants conceived an expressed image of a new world, a dream of justice and a demand for
land and liberty.74 As soon as the old regime was overthrown, peasants began to generate
their own ideas through resolutions and petitions in villages across the country. The peasant
drive against private landownership with the fiercest militancy and highest level of violence
was in central Russia, where private landholding was concentrated and population density the
greatest.75 From the spring, on a growing scale, they proceeded to take direct action at local
level to solve the problems that confronted them. 76 The goals, the methods and the rhythm of
peasant actions during 1917 were their own, but ultimately peasants unfulfilled aspirations
and their hostility toward urban society were critical factors in the success of both peasant
green parties and various fascist movements in mobilizing rural support during the 1920s
and 1930s.7715

1469M. Ferro, J. L Richard, and Nicole Stone, The Russian Revolution of February 1917, pp. 121-30.70Orlando
Figes, Peasant Russia, Civil War. The Volga Countryside in Revolution, 1917-1921 (Oxford: Clarendon, 1989),
pp. 40-61.
71
Acton, Rethinking the Russian Revolution, p. 183.
72
R. Bideleux, Communism and Development (London: Methuen, 1985), pp. 12-18.
73
Acton, Rethinking the Russian Revolution, p. 184.

1574Teodor Shanin, Roots of Otherness: Russias Turn of Century, Vol. II (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1986), pp.
130-1.75Gill, Peasants and Government in the Russian Revolution, pp. 157-61.
76
Donald. J. Raleigh, Revolution on the Volga: 1917 in Saratov (Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press
1986), pp. 174-89.
77
Joseph Rothschild, East Central Europe between the Two World Wars (Seattle: University of Washington,
1974), pp. 14-18.

19

Chapter 2: The Civil War and The Green Armies 1918-1921

To explain peasant opposition to War Communism it is imperative to discuss the events and
the political, economic and social characteristics of the Russian Civil War. The storming of
the Winter Palace on the 25 October 1917 in the October Revolution signalled the beginning
of the Bolshevik Revolution and the Russian Civil War. Initial reaction after the assault on the
Palace was one of confusion. Fitzpatrick asserts that there remained a poignant question of
who were the victors of October? The Bolsheviks had organized the assault through the
Military-Revolutionary Committee of the Petrograd Soviet; the committee then delayed the
uprising until the eve of the meeting of the national Congress of Soviets. 1 Trotsky described
this as brilliant strategy of using the soviets to legitimate a Bolshevik seizure of power;
furthermore, Fitzpatrick expresses how the most common version in the provinces was that
the soviets had taken power.2
Pre - Civil War
Issues of permanent government rule and functions were addressed in the Congress of
Soviets in Petrograd on 25 and 26 October 1917. Members of Congress mandates were that
of transferring all power to the soviets. It is important to state however that the Bolsheviks
were not the majority party in Congress (300 of 670 delegates were Bolshevik). 3 The
Bolshevik mandate astonished the Mensheviks and SRs who quit the congress in protest. If

20

the different party factions of the Congress of Soviets were surprised by the mandate, then the
decisions made by Congress on the 26 October would only fuel their anger towards a lack of
representation.16
John Reed presents his account of the election of the presidium in the Second Congress of
Soviets, 25 October (7 November) 1917:
Avanessov announced that by agreement of the Bolsheviki, Left SRs and Mensheviki
Internationalists, it was decided to base the presidium upon proportionality. Several
Mensheviki leaped in their feet protesting. A bearded soldier shouted at them, Remember
what you did to us Bolsheviki when we were in the minority! Result 14 Bolsheviki, 7 SRs,
3 Mensheviki, and 1 Internationalist (Gorkys group). Hendelmann, for the right and centre
SRs, said they refused to take part in the presidium, the same from Khinchuk, for the
Mensheviki.4
This signalled the start of Lenins one party rule of government and further incensed the
different factions of Mensheviks, SRs, and more importantly: the anti-Bolsheviks
monarchists, conservative, liberals and moderate socialists, who would later be known as the
whites during the Civil War. We can also see the realisation from the party factions of the
political and social situation in Russia in Reeds account:
Matrov, demanding the floor, croaked hoarsely. The civil war is beginning, comrades!
We must urgently discuss a means of averting civil warour brothers are being shot down
the streets! 5
Again, we can see the fractions between the political parties and the social implications of
Bolshevik October Revolution. Amidst a wave of violent criticisms, the Congress decided
161Fitzpatrick, The Russian Revolution, p. 57.2Leon Trotsky, The Russian Revolution from Trotskys The
History of the Russian Revolution by F. W. Dupee) trans. by Max Eastman (New York, 1959), pp. 411-29, 472-4;
quoted in Fitzpatrick, The Russian Revolution, p. 57.
3
Fitzpatrick, The Russian Revolution, p. 57.

21

that central government functions would be operated by a new Council of Peoples


Commissars. This all-Bolshevik government was headed by Lenin, with Trotsky having the
role of Peoples Commissar (Minister) of Foreign Affairs.17
Roy Medvedev argues that the Bolsheviks route to power was accidental rather than
intentional.6 However, It is clear from Lenins writings during September and October that
Lenin had every intention of acquiring and maintaining Bolshevik state power, although it
must be said with the help of the peasants, workers and soldiers. 7 We can certainly see a level
of ambiguity in the legality of Bolshevik rule in the months preceding the Civil War. The
elections for the Constituent Assembly held before the October coup, in November 1917,
presented surprising results. The Bolsheviks gained 25% of the popular vote whereas the SRs
won 40% of the popular vote; the Bolsheviks expected to do better in the election. 8 The
Bolsheviks took Petrograd and Moscow and gained an absolute majority in the armies of the
Northern and Western Fronts and the Baltic Fleet. Similarly, we also see the condemning of
the Bolshevik seizure of power from Izvestiya, a daily Russian newspaper published in
Moscow run by the Mensheviks and SRs.9
Yesterday we called the Bolshevik uprising an insane venture. Today when the attempt
was crowned a success in Petrograd, we have not changed our mind. This is not a transfer of
power to the soviets but a seizure of power by one party; Bolsheviks have seized Petrograd
but not all of Russia. The danger of a bloody civil war is threatening. This can only be
averted by one event: a democratic government, recognized by all democratic elements and
parties.1018
The Beginnings of The Civil War

174John Reed, Ten Days That Shook the World (New York: The Modern Library, 1960), p. 125.5Ibid, p. 126.

22

The October Coup by the Bolsheviks was certainly perceived by the opposing parties as an
outright provocation to Civil War. Fitzpatrick explains however, that the Bolsheviks had
already associated themselves with armed confrontation and violence in the months between
February and October 1917. It was clear that the struggles in the countryside and the cities
would not be won without the use of force or military conflict. 10 By December 1917, central
Russia and Siberia were under Bolshevik control. 11 Fitzpatrick and William Chamberlin argue
that The Civil War between the Reds and the Whites began in the summer of 1918, but one
can argue that political and military tensions came to ahead in October 1917.12
Similarly, Russias withdrawal from the European war and the harsh sanctions by
Germany placed on Russia in The Treaty of Brest-Litovsk (March 3, 1918), further fuelled
opposition groups against Lenin and his Bolsheviks. The Whites, Czech Legions and the
peasant Green Armies in the Tambov area, posed the biggest threat to the Red Army
(formed 23 February 1918) under the command of Trotsky (promoted to Commissar of War,
spring 1918).13 The SRs and Mensheviks that quit the Congress of the Soviets in protests,
were now enlisted in the White Armies, along with the Cadets and monarchists. Political
affiliation and allegiances in military conflict between the Reds and Whites, were to shift
continuously throughout the Civil War. The Bolsheviks saw the Russian Civil War as a Class
War, Russian proletariat against Russia bourgeoisie; international revolution against

186Roy Medvedev, Let History Judge: The Origins and Consequences of Stalinism (London: Macmillan,
1972), pp. 381-4.7See Lenin, Bolsheviki dolzhny vzyat vlast (The Bolsheviks Must Seize Power), 12-14 (257) September 1917, PSS, vol. 34, pp. 239, 240, 241-2; Lenin, Can the Bolsheviks Retain State Power?, Late
September 1917, Selected Works, pp. 363, 366, 372-3, 375-6, 377;Lenin, Pismo v TsK, MK, PK I chlenam
sovetov pitera I moskvy bolshevikam 1 (14) October 1917, PSS, vol. 34, p. 340, reproduced in Sakwa, The
Rise and Fall of the Soviet Union, 1917-1991, pp. 45, 48.
8
O. Radkey, The Election to the Russian Constituent Assembly of 1917 (Cambridge, Mass., 1950); referenced in
Fitzpatrick, The Russian Revolution, p. 59.
9
Encylopedia Britannica Online, available online at:
http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/298543/Izvestiya (Accessed 3 April 2012).
10
Izvestiya, (Russian newspaper, organ of the Petrograd Soviet of Workers and Soldiers Deputies) 26 October
(7 November) 1917, p. 1; Browder and Kerensky, The Russian Provisional Government 1917: Documents, vol.
III (Stanford, Stanford University Press, 1961), p. 1801.

23

international capitalism.14 The Bolshevik Party had their first experience of ruling during the
Civil War and this ultimately shaped the partys future developments.1519
Robert Tucker presents how The Civil War experience militarized the revolutionary political
culture of the Bolshevik movement, which included the readiness to resort to coercion, rule
by administrative fiat (administrirovanie), centralized administration and summary justice.16
Fitzpatrick concludes that Tuckers view is more appropriate than the Western interpretation,
which expresses the partys pre-revolutionary heritage and Lenins advocacy of centralized
party organisation and discipline.17 The first signs of civil, political and military unrest were
seen in the days before and after the October coup. The hostilities between the Provisional
Government, and the opposing Petrograd Soviet and Military Revolutionary Committee can
be seen in their actions on the eve of the October coup. On the 5 November 1917, The
Military Revolutionary Committee (M.R.C.) refused an offer made by the Central Executive
Committee (C.E.C.), which involved the C.E.C offering the M.R.C. an increased
representation on the District Military Staff in return for the recall of the M.R.Cs order for
inciting the troops to insubordination. The M.R.C promptly refused and issued a new
declaration to the population of Petrograd, defying the authority of the government.18
In order to safeguard the conquests of the revolution against the counter-revolutionary
attempts, commissars have been appointed to the different units of the garrison located in the
most important districts of the capital. Resistance to the commissars will be considered as
opposition to the Soviet of Workers and Soldiers Deputies. The Soviet has taken every

1910 Fitzpatrick, The Russian Revolution, p. 65.11The Soviets moved the Russian capital from Petrograd to
Moscow, 5 March, 1918.
12
See W. H. Chamberlin, The Russian Revolution, vol. 2 (New York: Macmillan, 1935); Fitzpatrick, The Russian
Revolution, p. 67.
13
Fitzpatrick, The Russian Revolution, p. 68.
14
Ibid, p. 63.
15
Robert Service, The Bolshevik Party in Revolution: A Study in Organizational Change, 1917-1923 (London:
Macmillan, 1979) in Fitzpatrick, The Russian Revolution, p. 64.

24

measure to defend the revolutionary order against counter-revolution. All citizens are urged to
give every assistance to our commissars.1920
From this we can clearly see that the M.R.C. was promoting and committing itself to the
Bolshevik revolutionary cause of the overthrow of the Provisional Government. The
declaration was further ratified in a resolution dated 5 November, 1917 by the Petrograd
Soviet:
The Petrograd Soviet, having heard the report of the M.R.C., hereby approves all the
measures taken by the latter for the purpose of safeguarding the conquests of the revolution.
The Petrograd Soviet is bound to the ties between the M.R.C. and the revolutionary garrison
have become firmly established.20
The Military procedures were now in place for the revolution, pro-Bolshevik forces had
mobilized in preparation for the protection of Petrograd. The Provisional Government
response came in the form of desperate proclamations made by Polkovnikov and Kerensky to
those loyal to the government. Loyal troops and liberal Cadets were summoned from the
suburbs, Oranienbaum, Pavlovsk and Tsarskoe Selo.21 Keresnkys tried to organize a
Northern Front loyal to the Provisional Government and willing to march against the
Bolsheviks. Their efforts, starting on the 7 November 1917, lasted for several days. 22
Kerensky faced mixed fortunes in recruiting Cossacks; Cossack Contingents in Petrograd,
whom Kerensky regarded as loyal, ultimately decided to remain neutral and troops from the
front did not appear.23 Kerensky, now deposed as the Provisional Government leader, then
2016Robert C. Tucker, Stalinism as Revolution from Above, in Tucker, Stalinism: Essays in Historical
Interpretation (New York: Norton, 1977), p. 91-2.17Fitzpatrick, The Russian Revolution, p. 64.
18
James Bunyan and Harold H. Fisher, The Bolshevik Revolution, 1917-1918: Documents and Materials
(London: Oxford University Press, 1934), p. 83.
19
Rabochii Put, (Workers Path, daily newspaper, organ of the Central Committee of the RSDLP) No. 45,
November 7, 1917, p. 3, reproduced in Bunyan and Fisher, The Bolshevik Revolution, 1917-1918: Documents
and Materials, p. 84.

25

sent a message to the Allies not recognize the Bolshevik revolution, after which he promptly
left Petrograd at 11:30 A.M., 7 November 1917.2421
A newspaper report in The Times, 12 November 1917, describes Kerenskys March on
Petrograd and attempt at securing Cossacks support against the Bolsheviks. Similarly, the
article presents Pro-Government forces under the command of General Krasnov capturing the
chief Russian Wireless station and Tsarskoe Skelo:
Regiments faithful to the Government and the Revolution, in full agreement with the
Soviet of the Cossack troops and all the Democratic organizations, have occupied the town of
Tsarskoe Selo and chief wireless station. The Rebels are retiring in disorderly mobs. Those
guilty of rebellion are being handed to the military revolutionary court.25
Kerenskys and Krasnovs pro-government military campaign against the Bolsheviks lasted
barely a week. Red Guards checked the advance of Krasnovs troops on the heights of
pulkovo. Krasnov ordered a retreat; Tsarskoe Selo was abandoned, and the Kerensky forces
fell back on Gatchina during 12-13 November 1917. Colonel Muravev (Commander-in-chief
of the Petrograd Military District) expresses this in a Telegram to The President of The
Sovnarkom, dated 12 November 1917:
Our revolutionary soldiers captured and occupied Tsarskoe Selo. Kerenskys troops
retreated in the direction of Pavlovsk and Gatchina. Long live the Revolution!26

2120Rabochii Put, No. 45, November 7, 1917, p. 3, reproduced in Bunyan and Fisher, The Bolshevik
Revolution, 1917-1918: Documents and Materials, p. 84.21 Bunyan and Fisher, The Bolshevik Revolution, 19171918: Documents and Materials, p. 85.
22
Ibid, p. 122.
23
S. Oldenbourg, Le coup detat bolcheviste, 20 octobre-decembre 1917, recueil des documents relatifs a la
prise du pouvoir par les bolchevistes, traduits et annotes, Paris, 1929, pp. 181-82; Polkovnikov to the Stavka by
Direct Wire Sent at 10:15 A.M., 7 November 1917, Oktiabr na fronte, Krasnyi Arkhiv, XXIII (1927), p. 149,
in Bunyan and Fisher, The Bolshevik Revolution, 1917-1918: Documents and Materials, p. 99.
24
Rabochaia Gazeta (Worker's Newspaper, Organ of the Mensheviks), No. 196, 8 November, 1917, p. 2.

26

This signalled the beginnings of the Civil War in Russia between pro-government forces and
anti-Bolshevik Whites against the Bolshevik Red Army. 22
Revolutionary emotion and violence swelled to a climax as bitter Civil War raged on from
late 1917. Most Communists were filled with a fanaticism that combined utopian hopes for
socialism with dictatorial violence against all who stood in their way.27
The Peasantry and Antonovs Green Army
As with the revolution, peasant involvement during the Civil War has been somewhat
understudied by historians. The peasantry played an unequivocal role in the Civil War,
arguably a more important position than that of the contributions by the workers and soldiers
conscripted to the whites and Red army. Similarly, we must not forget the important of the
peasant Green Armies during the Civil War (Saratov, Tambov and Volga regions), who
remained independent and gave no allegiance to either side but were most active in the
outlying areas which the whites were based.28 The peasantry were crucial in the composition
of the Whites and the Red Army. The Red Army and the Whites both conscripted peasants,
but The Red Army was a massive institution, with an enlistment of over five million, mainly
peasant conscripts (Korff estimates the peasant population as ninety million). 29 Fitzpatrick
describes how the peasants resented The Red Army and the Whites and their grain
requisitioning, yet the Whites disapproved of land seizures and supported landowners claims.
The Whites did not win much support from the poor peasantry as they saw the White

2225Kerensky Marching On Petrograd. Cossack Support Claimed., Bolsheviks Wavering., The Times, Monday
12 November 1917 online at:
http://infotrac.galegroup.com/itw/infomark/363/355/184196010w16/purl=rc1_TTDA_0_CS135727468&dyn=1
1!xrn_1_0_CS135727468&hst_1?sw_aep=uows (Accessed 4 April 2012); P. N. Krasnov, Na vnutrenmen
fronte,; The government forces entered Tsarskoe Selo in the evening of November 10., Volia Naroda, No.
158, November 12, 1917, p. 3 in Bunyan and Fisher, The Bolshevik Revolution, 1917-1918: Documents and
Materials, p. 150.26A. L. Popov, Oktiabrskii perevorot: fakty I dokumenty, Petrograd, 1918, p. 227 in Bunyan
and Fisher, The Bolshevik Revolution, 1917-1918: Documents and Materials, p. 161.

27

movement as dangerous to their land ambitions; the peasantry refused any support to the antiBolshevik movements of Koltchak, Denikine and Wrangel during the Civil War.3023
Leopold Haimson argues that peasant views of Soviet power in 1917-1918 did not
encompass any conception of the relationships between themselves, their village
communities, or even the peasant estate as a whole. Peasants rejected any superordinate
authority and consistently acted out a profound urge to be left alone 31 Leopolds view of
peasant perceptions is somewhat limited however. It is clear that the peasants used
opportunism and initiative during the revolution to express their wishes and economic
desires. Similarly, the peasants and Green Armies would use the same motives to involve
themselves in the Civil War. The peasantry during the revolution and Civil War ultimately
used and exploited the opportunities that the resources, authority and idioms of the wider
polity and society afforded them.32 Scott Seregny questions the view that the peasants were
indifferent to national concerns or that peasants perceived the conflict as anything more than
another calamity visited upon the village by a state and society, with whom they felt no
common interest.33 Similarly, this chapter (as well as the previous) will argue and discredit
against the generalist view that the peasantry were predominantly agricultural, agriculturally
backward within the economic structure of Russian society. Moreover, the chapter will argue
that peasant involvement in the Civil War would comply with the Narodnik view of the
peasants being a revolutionary class.34

2327Decree on the Expulsion of the Right Socialist Parties from the Soviets, 14 June, 1918 in Robert. V.
Daniels, A Documentary History of Communism. Vol. 1 (Vermont; University Press of New England, 1985), p.
102.28Fitzpatrick, The Russian Revolution, p. 68.
29

Ibid; Korff, The Peasants during the French and Russian Revolutions,The Journal of International Relations ,
Vol. 12, No. 2 (Oct., 1921), p. 229.
30
Fitzpatrick, The Russian Revolution, p. 70; Korff, The Peasants during the French and Russian Revolutions,
pp. 229, 233.

28

Oliver Radkey explains precisely the difficulties in researching the activities of the
peasantry, as he expresses how the conflict between the Reds against the Whites engaged the
attention of a world somehow colour-blind to the conflict between the Red and Green.3524
There are certainly a number of issues with the historiography of the Green movement in
Soviet Russia, or second civil war as it was known in. The Soviet Regime was embarrassed to
disclose information the information of a movement that forced the Red Army into savage
conflict with large number of peasants. Western interpretation has sought to ignore the whole
affair, resting on their shared prejudice of Gorki against peasants as people who live in
darkness, are not identified with progress, do not take readily to socialism, and yearn for
private property.36 The Tambov and Central Black Earth provinces were overwhelmingly
peasant; the peasant population in the Tambov area alone was 91.8 percent.37 V.A. AntonovOvseenko, Chairman of the Plenipotentiary Commission of the All Russian Central Executive
Committee of Soviets for Fighting Banditry in Tambov Province, asserts that his satrapy was
the most peasant of all Russian provinces. 38 Similarly, population figures of peasants for
1920, the year of the insurrection are 92.7 percent.39
The causes of the uprisings in the Tambov province and of the Central Black Earth
regions were social, economic and political. The village was without nails for a year, no
implements, salt or kerosene40; Lenin admitted that the peasants, who had been better off than
the workers until the winter of 1920-1921, were now indeed worse off. 41 These words came at

2431Leopold H. Haimson, The Problem of Social Identities in Early Twentieth Century Russia, Slavic Review
47, No. 1 (Spring 1988), pp. 13, 16, 19 in Scott J. Seregny, Peasants, Nation, and Local Government in
Wartime Russia, Slavic Review, Vol. 59, No. 2 (Summer, 2000), p. 336.32 Seregny, Peasants, Nation, and Local
Government in Wartime Russia, p. 336.
33
Ibid.
34

G. D. H. Cole, The Bolshevik Revolution, Soviet Studies , Vol. 4, No. 2 (Oct., 1952), p. 141.
Oliver. H. Radkey, The Unknown Civil War in Soviet Russia: A Study of the Green Movement in the Tambov
Region, 1920-1921 (Stanford, California: Hoover Institution Press, Stanford University, 1976), p. 1.
35

29

a time of great peasant famine, the peasant now had a reason to revolt against Lenin and the
Bolsheviks.25
Radkey cites further irritants on the peasantry, ranging from the duplication of labor, poorly
attended crops and livestock badly cared for. The peasants saw this as a return to the
conditions under the old tsarist system. Radkey also makes specific reference to shootings of
peasants. An example was Dulkhovka in Tambov, where two villagers were killed, one
wounded, and one shot as an example to the others. 42 Similarly, there were also instances
from the food detachment people of taking peasants personal property: Peasants witnessed
the appropriation of wearing apparel by despoilers of the so lacking in a sense of shame that
they took warm clothing off the owner and put it on themselves in the home of the victim,
before his very eyes.43 Moreover, the peasants gave everything and they were expropriated
without compensation. They gave grain, they gave cattle for the army, and they fulfilled
onerous duties. They put it up with it all. The way was open for enemies of the Soviet to
reach them.44
We see then that the peasants and Green movement had clear motives for the uprisings in
the agricultural provinces. The Green Armies came under the leadership of Alexander S.
Antonov during the end of 1919 and early 1920, Antonov had a miniature army at his
2536Radkey, The Unknown Civil War in Soviet Russia: A Study of the Green Movement in the Tambov Region,
1920-1921, p. 2.37Tambov Province in Entsiklopedicheskii slovar, vol. 32 (Brockhaus-Efron, 1901), p. 560 in
Radkey, The Unknown Civil War in Soviet Russia: A Study of the Green Movement in the Tambov Region, 19201921, p. 12.
38
V. A. Antonov-Oseenko, O banditskom dvizhenii v Tambovskoi gubernii, 20 July 1921 [bandit movement in
Tambov province], Document T-686 of Trotsky Archive (Houghton Library, Harvard University), p. 1 in
Radkey, The Unknown Civil War in Soviet Russia: A Study of the Green Movement in the Tambov Region, 19201921, p. 12.
39
I. P Donkov Organizatsiia razgroma antonovshchiny [Organizing to crush the Antonov movement], Voprosy
Istorii KPSS, no. 6 (June 1966), pp. 60-61.
40
Radkey, The Unknown Civil War in Soviet Russia: A Study of the Green Movement in the Tambov Region,
1920-1921, p. 20.
41
Speech to the metal workers conference in Moscow, 4 February 1921, in V. I. Lenin, Polnoe sobranie
sochinenii, 5th ed, vol. 42, pp. 307-8 in Radkey, The Unknown Civil War in Soviet Russia: A Study of the Green
Movement in the Tambov Region, 1920-1921, p. 21.

30

command and disposal.45 Antonov, in conjunction with the Green Armies, proceeded with a
campaign of terrorism against soviet personnel and institutions, employing stealth and hitand-run tactics. Antonov had become a source of trouble for the Soviet regime and thus the
hero of the day to that large element of the population which felt aggrieved at its actions.4626
The Green program (uvast), under the Tambov Committee of the Peasants Union (STK) and
adopted by provincial peasants congress in May 1920, called for reconvening the Constituent
Assembly, reestablishment of all civil liberties, full socialization of the land, and restoration
of a mixed economy; as well as the overthrow of the Communist regime, for having led the
country to misery, ruin and shame.47 The Tambov, black-earth provinces, Volga basin, North
Caucasus and Siberian insurrection may have been fought between August 1920 to August
1921, but accounts show Green activities before this period. Greens Gathered in Rtishevo,
Saratov and Arkadak in the summer of 1919:
July 4 1919: The Greens are beginning to attack, and to destroy representatives of
Bolshevik authority in villages within ten miles of Saratov, and even less. Even Local
Bolshevik paper frankly acknowledges the Green danger,48
Similarly, there were peasant disturbances in the villages as early as the autumn of 1917. In
September, 105 estates were destroyed in Tambov: September- October, 164 sacked in Penza
and at least 20 in Voronezh, 20 in Nizhegorodm, 30 in Tula and 98 in Orel; 10-20 being
destroyed daily in Efremov uezd alone.49 The insurrection began initially in the villages of
2642Po Rossii: Zhizn sovetskoi derevni, Revoliutsionnaia Rossiia [To Russia: Life in the countryside,
Revolutionary Russia], no. 3, February 1921 (Dorpat, Berlin and Prague, 1920-1931), p. 23 in, Radkey, The
Unknown Civil War in Soviet Russia: A Study of the Green Movement in the Tambov Region, 1920-1921, p.
31.43Kommunisty na rabote, Revoliutsionnaia Rossiia, no. 5, April 1921, p. 25.
44
Mikhail. I. Kalinin (Head of Soviet State), Ot voiny k mirnomu khoziaistvennomu stroitelstvu, in Za eti
gody: stati, besedy, rechi, vol. 2, p. 115 (During these years: articles, conversations, speeches), (Leningrad,
1926-1929) in Radkey, The Unknown Civil War in Soviet Russia: A Study of the Green Movement in the Tambov
Region, 1920-1921, p. 33.
45
Ibid, p. 54-55.
46
Dokunin, Tambovskii schet sotsial-banditam, Pravda, no. 123, 4 June, 1922, p. 3.

31

Tambov: Khitrovo, Rasskazovo and Koptevot.50 The movement gained momentum in early
1921 and there was many as 900 village unions in five uezds according to secret official
figures of the Soviet government.51 Radkey also expresses that the insurrection spread to the
provinces of Voronezh and Saratov, both having peasant unions.5227
Actions of The Green Army during the spring of 1921 can again be seen in Babines account
of the Civil War:
March 23 rd 1921: Peasants are said to have slaughtered every Communist in khvalynsk,
and Saratov is rumoured to be surrounded by armed bands. Factory sirens called Communists
together last night after 11 P.M. This afternoon I met several workers with brand-new German
Mausers and heading towards the suburbs. The workers are reported to be in ferment.53
Donald Raleigh attributes these actions to the Greens, whose activities throughout March and
April pre-occupied the provincial executive committees. They were particularly active in the
Volsk, Pokrovsk and Balashov regions, under the guidance of Popov, Vakulin and of course,
Antonov, in which they had killed more than one hundred Commmunists.54
Conclusion
The organisation and tactics of the Green Army was surprisingly adept for a group of so
called bandits. The Soviet Commissar of Repression termed it an organized peasant army,
2747Pravda, no. 153, 12 July 1922, p. 4; Podbelski, Kaktambovskie krestiane boriatsia za svodbodu, pp. 13-14
in Radkey, The Unknown Civil War in Soviet Russia: A Study of the Green Movement in the Tambov Region,
1920-1921, p. 69; Alexis Vasilevich Babine and Donald J. Raleigh, A Russian Civil War Diary: Alexis Babine in
Saratov, 1917-1922 (Durham: Duke University Press, 1988), p. 147. 48 Babine and Raleigh, A Russian Civil War
Diary: Alexis Babine in Saratov, 1917, p. 149.
49

A. E Lutskii, Krestianskoe vosstanie v Tambovskoi gubernii v sentiabre 1917, Istoricheskie zapiski, T. 2


(1938), p. 71; K. G. Kotelnikov and V. A. Meller, (eds), Krestianskoe dvizhenie v 1917 godu (Moscow, 1927),
p. 232, in Gill, Peasants and Government in the Russian Revolution, p. 142.
50
Testimony of Bogoliubski, Pravda, no. 153, 12 July 1922, p. 4.
51
Put Borby vol. 2, p. 24, Antonovshchina in Trifonov, Klassy i klassovaia borba, part 1, p. 93 in Radkey, The
Unknown Civil War in Soviet Russia: A Study of the Green Movement in the Tambov Region, 1920-1921, p. 143.
52
Izistorii Vserossiiskoi Chrezvychainoi Komissii 1917-1921, no, 333, p. 456 in Radkey, p. 143.

32

resting on a powerful and intricate network of peasants unions and was a distorted mirror
of the Red Army.55 The Green Army even had its own framework of institutions: an
intelligence service, communication service, an economic unit and a special tribunal, as well
as a Special executioner, the Green counterpart to the Red Cheka, the killers and torturers
who hunted Communist party members and Soviet Employees. 56 The Greens also had a
political section and an office for the transaction of business.57 They were also financed by28
the Peasant Unions in the form of donations and levies on the peasantry. Radkey expresses a
conventional figure of 50,000 in terms of the size of the Green Army.58 The Greens utilized
the peasants and guerrilla warfare and knowledge of their terrain was crucial. The Greens
were rooted in their native soil through the territorial structure of their army and clung to it
tenaciously. If dislodged, they would double back to their base at the earliest opportunity. 59
Similarly, the Greens preferred to have acts committed by peasants that they [Greens] would
be less easy to trace.60 The Green Army had no flag of its own but ultimately wore the black
banner of anarchism, with the deployment of an organised, militant, volunteer hooligan
army, under the command of Antonov.29

2853Babine and Raleigh, A Russian Civil War Diary: Alexis Babine in Saratov, 1917, p. 180.54Ibid, p. 180.
55

Antonov-Oseenko,O banditskom dvizhenii v Tambovskoi gubernii, 20 July 1921, pp. 9-10; D. Petrovski, D.
Petrovski, Borba s banditizmom I krasnye kursanty,Izvestiia, no. 133 (1276), 23 June 1921, p. 1 in Radkey, p.
147.
56
Ibid, in Radkey,p. 148.
57
Antonov-Oseenko,O banditskom dvizhenii v Tambovskoi gubernii,p. 7 in Radkey, p. 148.

2958Radkey, The Unknown Civil War in Soviet Russia: A Study of the Green Movement in the Tambov Region,
1920-1921, p. 150.59Ibid, p. 165.
60
A. L Okinski, Dva goda sredi krestian: vidennoe slyshannoe, perezhitoe v Tambovskoi gubernii s noiabria
1918 goda do noiabria 1920 goda (Two years among the peasants: what has been seen, heard, and experienced
in Tambov province from November 1918 to November 1920), Riga, 1936, p. 312 in Radkey, p. 165.

33

Chapter 3: Lenins War Communism 1918-1921

This chapter will discuss the

implementation of Lenins War Communism and analyse its political, social and economic
characteristics and its exploitations on the Russian peasantry during 1918-1921.
Introduction
The Communist Partys (name change from Bolsheviks to Communist Party, March, 1918)
response to the civil war was accompanied by a series of political and economic measures
that came to be known as War Communism, from mid-1918 to March, 1921. The end of
Lenins War Communism was eventually succeeded by the New Economic Policy (NEP).
Richard Sakwa expresses that the debate over War Communism reflects the larger debate
over Soviet power.1 Sakwa also questions the motives behind the implementation of War
Communism: a programme for the introduction of socialism, or a means to finesse Russias
backwardness by employing non-capitalist ways of developing the economy?...socialism or
modernisation?2 The policies of War Communism during the period of 1918 to 1921
continued on from the communist project and Marxist ideology developed and was ultimately

34

Sovietised in the wake of Civil War and conflicting class conditions.3 The economic collapse
as a result of the Civil War led to unsocialist measures in the factories to maintain minimum
production for the Red Army, and the being peasantry subjected to Communist grain
requisitions throughout the countryside.
Bukharins Programme of the Communists (Programma kommunistov) published in May
1918, effectively laid the framework for War Communism.30Bukharin set out the
development of State power, crushing the bourgeoisie, nationalizing economic activity,
imposing strict labour discipline and the introduction of compulsory labour duty.4 Similarly,
Bukharin expressed that:
In a Soviet republic the non-working elements are deprived of the franchise and take no part
in administrative affairs. The country is governed by Soviets which are elected by the toilers
in the places where they work. The bourgeoisie, ex-landowners, bankers, speculating traders,
merchants, shopkeepers, usurers, the Korniloff intellectualsthe whole of the black host
have no right to vote, no fundamental political rights.5
Lenins War Communism and Impact on Economy, Society and The Peasantry
Communist vision was the classic war communist fusion of the commune idea, abolition of
politics, and the dictatorship of the proletariat.6 The Communists encouraged class war
amongst the workers and between the poor peasants and rich peasants (kulaks). Communist
food requisitioning was perhaps one of the most agricultural damaging strictures of War
Communism. Workers control and industry were nationalized and society was placed
under a highly centralized bureaucratic administration. Lenin attempted a natural economy
based on the equalization of poverty through rationing. 7 Industry and enterprise were
301Richard Sakwa, Preface to: Soviet Communists in Power: A Study of Moscow During the Civil War, 191821 (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1988), p. 18.2Ibid, p. 18.
3
Ibid, p. 19.

35

nationalised for the purpose of combating decisively the economic disorganization and the
breakdown of the food supply, and of establishing more firmly the dictatorship of the
working class and the village poor.831William Chamberlin argues that War Communism was
a compound of war emergency and socialist dogmatism. 9 Paul Roberts, questions this
however, evaluating how far War Communism was an application of socialist tradition,
aiming at the abandoning of commodity production and bourgeois political relations. 10
Similarly, Maurice Dobb explains it as an improvisation in the face of economic scarcity and
military urgency in conditions of exhausting civil war. 11 Moshe Lewin also prescribes that
War Communism was a harsh rationing system.12
Lenins policy of the dictatorship of the proletariat in conjunction with War Communism
fell hardest on the peasantry.13 Lenin describes War Communism as a suspension of economic
relations with the peasantry who were forced, by food requisitioning, to give up their grain as
a loan to feed hungry workers and soldiers.14 Trotskys defence also weighed on what he
labelled the Labour State.15 The most important feature of War Communism was the attempt
to destroy the market both in production and distribution. The Eight Party Congress (The
Party Programme) in March 1919 called for the replacement of trade by the planned
distribution of products organised on the state level. 16 Similarly, in response to the food

314Sakwa, Soviet Communists in Power: A Study of Moscow During the Civil War, 1918-21 (Basingstoke:
Macmillan, 1988), p. 19.5N. I. Bukharin, Programma Kommunistov (bolshevikov) (Moscow, May 1918),
reproduced in Revolutionary Radicalism, Its History, Purposes, and Tactics with an Exposition and Discussion
of the Steps Being Taken and Required to Curb It (Albany, 1920), p. 1696.
6
Sakwa, Soviet Communists in Power: A Study of Moscow During the Civil War, 1918-21 (Basingstoke:
Macmillan, 1988), p. 19.
7
Robert. V. Daniels, A Documentary History of Communism, Vol. 1 (Vermont; University Press of New England,
1985), p. 103.
8
V. I. Lenin, Decree on Nationalization of Large-Scale Industry, June 28, 1918 in Daniels, A Documentary
History of Communism, Vol. 1 (Vermont; University Press of New England, 1985), p. 103.

36

starvation crisis in the cities, the supply dictatorship was imposed on the peasants on 9 May
1918.32
Sakwa expresses that this was a grain monopoly; the supplies were in the hands of the state
and the peasants were forced to give up grain surpluses. 17 The peasants faced a revolutionary
crusade by soldiers and workers to obtain grain from the peasants in the productive
agricultural regions.18 The state had little choice but to take the peasants produce by force. 19
The workers and soldiers requisitioning detachments used violence against the peasantry as a
means of extracting grain; Lenin admitted that the supply detachments often stray from the
right path and turn into criminals.20 By 1920 these grain requisition groups were being sent
out less frequently; Sakwa expresses that during 1920, less than a third were being formed or
organized than in 1919.21 With the decline of the economy and inadequacies of the supply
mechanism, there developed an illegal second economy.22 Barter became the norm and
money lost its value, wages were often being paid in food and goods.23
To resist grain requisitioning, the peasants took advantage of this new illegal economy,
much to the frustrations of the Soviet state. The peasants resisted by often concealing their
goods, selling grain and produce on the black market and purposefully reducing areas of land
329W. H. Chamberlin, The Russian Revolution, 1917-1921, vol. 2 (New York, 1935), p. 96.10Paul C. Roberts,
War Communism: A Re-Examination, Slavic Review (June 1970), pp. 238-61.
11
Maurice Dobb, Soviet Economic Development Since 1917 (New York: International Publishers, 1948), p. 122.
12
Moshe Lewin, Political Undercurrents in Soviet Economic Debates (London: Pluto Press, 1975), p. 77.
13
See also, N. I. Bukharin, Programme of the World Revolution, To Communism Through Proletarian
Dictatorship (Einde O Callaghan, Marxists Internet Archive), Ch. 5, Available online at:
http://www.marxists.org/archive/bukharin/works/1918/worldrev/ch05.html (Accessed 14 April 2012), and
criticisms of the Russian Revolution including: Rosa Luxembourg, The Russian Revolution (Ann Arbor,
University of Michigan Press, 1961), pp. 68, 69, 70, 71, 72, Karl Kautsky, The Dictatorship of the Proletariat
(Michigan, Ann Arbor, 1964); Kommunist, no. 1, 20 April 1918, in Ronnie Kowalski (ed.), Kommunist: A
Weekly Journal of Economic, Political and Social Opinion, Publications of the Study Group on the Russian
Revolution (Millwood, N.Y., Kraus International Publications, 1990); N. Bukharin and E. Preobrazhensky, The
ABC of Communism, trans. by Eden and Cedar Paul (London, Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1969).
14
V. I. Lenin, PSS, 39, p. 358.
15
Leon Trotsky, Terrorism and Communism: A Reply to Karl Kautsky (London: New Park Publications, 1975), p.
121.
16
Lenin, PSS, 38, p. 99; Programma RKP(b) (The Programme of the Russian Communist Party, adopted by the
Eighth Congress of the RKP(b),18-23 March 1919 in Sakwa, The Rise and Fall of the Soviet Union, 1917-1991,
p. 99.

37

they cultivated, as to stem the produce of surplus grain that could not be taken away. 24 The
illegal market was the only market and in the first half of 1918 in Moscow, 85 per cent of
workers and 77 per cent of the population used the free market to buy bread. 2533As a result of
War Communism, the Bolsheviks tried to implement a policy of facilitating grain
procurements.
This Bolshevik policy outlawed the trading of private grain, and attempted to ignite a classwar between the poor peasants and the rich peasants (kulaks). Fitzpatrick presents how the
Bolsheviks believed that:
The growth of rural capitalism had already produced significant class differentiations
between the peasantsand that the Bolsheviks expected to received instinctive support from
the poor and landless peasants and instinctive opposition from the richer ones.26
The Bolsheviks began to organize Committees of poor peasants (kombedy) in conjunction
with Soviet authorities to extract surplus grain production from the rich peasants (kulaks).27
On 4 June 1918 the MK confirmed the formation of poor peasant detachments under party
and trade union control.28 These attempts failed however; Fitzpatrick cites reasons such as the
solidarity against outsiders and the fact that the poor peasants had improved their positions
because of land seizures during 1917-1918.29 This showed that the Bolsheviks had failed to
grasp the peasants understanding of the revolution in the countryside, and it was clear that
both the Bolsheviks and the Bolsheviks had very different revolutionary ideologies. The ABC
3317Sakwa, Soviet Communists in Power: A Study of Moscow During the Civil War, 1918-21, p. 57.18Ibid.
19

Fitzpatrick, The Russian Revolution, p. 74.


Lenin, IV Moscow Trade Union and Factory Committee Conference, PSS, 36, p. 448 in Sakwa, Soviet
Communists in Power: A Study of Moscow During the Civil War, 1918-21, p. 58.
21
Sakwa, Soviet Communists in Power: A Study of Moscow During the Civil War, 1918-21, p. 58.
22
Ibid, p. 60.
23
Fitzpatrick, The Russian Revolution, p. 73.
24
David Moon, The Russian Peasantry, 1600-1930: The World the Peasants Made (London ; New York:
Longman, 1999), p. 357.
25
Sakwa, Soviet Communists in Power: A Study of Moscow During the Civil War, 1918-21, p. 58.
20

38

of Communism effectively highlighted this; Bukharin encouraged peasant families to eat their
supper and join their neighbours at a communal village hall rather than in their own home.30
The food situation and rationing in the towns did not improve during War Communism; the
peasants were unwilling to sell their grain because there were no manufactured goods to buy
from the Soviet state. Similarly, War Communism attempted to convert consumers into a state
distribution network.3134
The issue of money was also indicative of War Communism. The Bolsheviks hailed the
withering away of money as an ideological triumph, but Fitzpatrick designates this triumph
as reminiscent of runaway inflation.32
In the absence of effective economic mechanisms and the rise of the illegal market, the
Moscow Cheka (secret police) was used to police the soviet economy. Lenin, on 27 January
1920, called on the Moscow Cheka to provide a responsible, experienced party investigator
to look into the completely unsatisfactory state of labour duty in Moscow. 33 The dire state of
the economy and effectiveness of the Cheka can be demonstrated in figures that show 40,000
people were arrested in Moscow from December 1918 to November 1920. 34 Furthermore,
between the same years, 5250 (13 per cent) were arrested for labour crimes, with 102 being
shot.35 War Communism attempted to implement its own state-run economy, despite the fact
that 80 per cent of the economy was conducted by the second illegal economy. Lenin
rejected Lev Kamenevs (chairman of the Moscow Soviet) proposals for urging the

3426Fitzpatrick, The Russian Revolution, p. 74.27Sakwa, Soviet Communists in Power: A Study of Moscow
During the Civil War, 1918-21, p. 57.
28
Uprochenie sovetskoi vlasti v moskve i moskovskoi gubernii: dokumenty i material (The consolidation of
Soviet power in Moscow and Moscow province: Documents and Materials, Moscow, 1958), pp. 319-20 in
Soviet Communists in Power: A Study of Moscow During the Civil War, 1918-21, p. 57.
29
Fitzpatrick, The Russian Revolution, p. 74.
30
N. Bukharin and E. Preobrazhensky, The ABC of Communism, trans. by Eden and Cedar Paul (London,
Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1969), p. 355.
31
Fitzpatrick, The Russian Revolution, p. 73.

39

liberalisation of supply policy and allowing concessions to the free market to the consumer.36
Sakwa presents that Kamenevs ideas would ultimately end the reign of soviet power.37
Conclusion
Ultimately Lenins War Communism failed as a result of numerous economic, political and
social failures within Soviet Russia. Lenins policies failed as Lenins class analysis of
socio-economic differentiation inside the peasantry were nave and seriously misjudged.3835
Bolshevik policies revolved around the idea that society was organised into classes, and that
political struggle was the reflection of the social one. Fitzpatrick argues that the Bolsheviks
assumed that their natural support would come from the urban proletariat such as poor
peasants and agricultural labourers.39 Lenin believed in a system of class justice, and it was
this class justice that led to the uprisings between 1918-1921.War Communism saw the
attempt at a reintegration of state and economic society, yet it mainly consisted of feeding the
army via grain requisitioning from the peasantry.40 This focus on the army led to the isolation
of the party from the working class and the isolation of the working class from the
peasantry.41 The illegal economy filled the gaps left by the Bolshevik policies of abandoning
free trade and the free market and remained the only active, stable economy. The illegal
economy thus gave rise to the economic and social policing powers of the Cheka, which
exercised measures of state totalitarianism; the Cheka effectively carried out Lenins
Dictatorship of the Proletariat. The attempt at the consolidation of state power led to the rise
3532Fitzpatrick, The Russian Revolution, p. 73.33Lenin, PSS, 54, pp. 424-5 in Sakwa, Soviet Communists in
Power: A Study of Moscow During the Civil War, 1918-21, p. 61.
34
Krasnaya Moskva: sbornik statei (KM), (Red Moscow: a collection of articles, Moscow, 1920), col. 631in
Sakwa, Soviet Communists in Power: A Study of Moscow During the Civil War, 1918-21, p. 62.
35
Ibid, col. 632.
36
Izvestiya, 12, 4 January 1920.
37
IX sezd RKP, mart-aprel 1920 goda: protokoly (IX Congress of the RCP, March-April 1920: reports)
(Moscow, 1960), pp. 195-6 in Sakwa, Soviet Communists in Power: A Study of Moscow During the Civil War,
1918-21, p. 62.
38
Moon, The Russian Peasantry, 1600-1930: The World the Peasants Made (London ; New York: Longman,
1999), p. 356.

40

in executive committee organs within the central government. They formed their own
bureaucratic departments of finance, education and agriculture. Fitzpatrick argues that the end
of the Civil War gave rise to the Bolshevik Party Central Committee and the Politburo were
usurping government powers.42 Leonardo Schapiro argues that War Communism failed as a
system of organising national economy, it helped lay the foundations for the dictatorship of
the communist bureaucracy which was designed to replace the machinery of state. 43 War
communism was the product of a special emergency, and lacked a sufficiently solid social
and economic basis to ensure its full survival.4436
The Peasant Revolution in Russia, The Civil War, The Green Armies and Lenins War
Communism 1917-1921

Conclusion
The chapters discussed present the socio-economic, political and military characteristics,
ideologies and developments of the Russian peasantry during 1917-1921. The chapters have
sought to disprove wide held historical theories that the Russian peasantry were an unorganized and un-politicised social mass, by expressing that they were in fact highly
mobilized militarily, socially involved with politics and the Soviet state, and economically
driven and resistant to harsh political and economic exploitations. The Peasant Revolution in
Russia, 1917, presents the importance of the peasantry and their village communes in Russian

3639Fitzpatrick, The Russian Revolution, p. 82.40Sakwa, Soviet Communists in Power: A Study of Moscow
During the Civil War, 1918-21, p. 63.
41
N. N. Popov, Ocherk istorii rossiiskoi kommunisticheskoi partii (Moscow/Leningrad, 1926), p. 248 in Sakwa,
Soviet Communists in Power: A Study of Moscow During the Civil War, 1918-21, p. 217.
42
Fitzpatrick, The Russian Revolution, p. 81.
43
Leonardo Schapiro, The Origin of the Communist Autocracy: Political Opposition in the Soviet State, 19171922 (London: Bell, 1955), p. 217.
44
E. H. Carr, The Bolshevik Revolution, 1917-1932, vol. 2 (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1952), p. 270.

41

society and documents the Peasant Revolution of 1917, from its political, economic and
social viewpoint; with Lenins reliance on the peasantry for the Bolshevik revolution and the
peasant land seizures and redistribution during the October Revolution. Similarly, the chapter
discusses the economic burdens placed on the peasantry, in which they respond resolutely to
the strictures of economic hardships, by seeking to advance their economic position. The
Revolution of 1917 was essentially their own.
The chapter on the Civil War and The Green Armies again re-iterates the organisational
characteristics possessed by the peasantry. The peasantry established a Green Army against
the Whites and the Red soviet forces and certainly went some way at a militarization of the
peasantry in the regions of Saratov, Tambov and Volga. The formation of the Green Armies
effectively quells the notion that the peasantry were not concerned with national issues; they
were apart of them and acted on them. There are a number of issues regarding historiography
surrounding The Green movement. The peasants or bandits as they were called, were often
illiterate, and as such there is a real rarity of peasant sources. However, Babines Civil War
diary is an excellent personal account of the destructive activities of the peasants in the Green
Armies. The peasants used the worsening economic situation as a catalyst for the military
uprisings. The main areas under Lenins War Communism are primarily the issues of grain
requisitioning, class-warfare and Lenins ideology of The Dictatorship of the Proletariat.
The peasants had to contend with forced and often violent supply detachments to collect grain
from them, food shortages and rationing, the failures of the Soviet economy. However, the
resistance of the peasantry was seen in their adaptation of survival in the illegal, black market
economy. The peasant fought tirelessly against the strictures of War Communism which was
seen in the risings in 1918-1921 in the agricultural regions of Russia. From my research it is
suffice to say that there certainly needs to be a thorough investigation and refinement into the

42

characteristics and developments of the peasantry, in terms of a socio-economic, political and


cultural analysis.

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