November 01, 2020

War Communism Sputters

War Communism Sputters
Trotsky, Lenin, and Kamenev in May 1920.

By the autumn of 1920, the Bolsheviks could feel that they were close to achieving their cherished dream. Why had they struggled for all those years? Why had they formed underground organizations, languished in prisons and exile, suffered hard labor? Why had they endured long years in emigration? And, once the tsarist government was overthrown, why had they worked tirelessly to gain the upper hand over the Provisional Government? Why had they bled during the Civil War? This was it – their goal was within reach!

The goal was a communist society. Most people did not have a very clear concept of what that meant. In the future, every Soviet citizen would go through life – at school, at university, at collective farms, factories, and institutes – bored to death by tedious political education on the features of a communist society. But back in 1920, people had only the vague notion that communism would fundamentally transform Russian life. For the better, of course.

What did people expect to happen? Oh, many marvelous things. First of all, inequality would disappear. The slogans “Land to the Peasants” and “Factories to the Workers” sounded very appealing. Immediately after the Bolsheviks came to power, the peasants rushed to plunder the homes of noble landowners and divide up their land. Intoxicated by revolution, people did not much think about the fact that, technically speaking, the land now belonged to the state – not them. That was a minor detail.

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