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War communism was introduced as a temporary measure, which was necessitated by the exceptionally difficult conditions of national defense. It helped the Bolsheviks to prevail over the anti-Bolshevik movement. However, many of the party leaders soon began to see war communism as a necessary stage in the rapid transformation from capitalist to Communist patterns. The attraction of war communism to many Communists was that its economic policies were implicit in the doctrine of revolutionary Marxism. They rested on the same fundamental principle that, as the Bolsheviks believed, was to be the cornerstone of the socialist mode of production: a market economy, in which production was carried out by independent, autonomous producers for exchange on the open market, was to be replaced by a centrally planned, state-controlled economy.

War Communism seemed to have already made big strides toward achieving that objective: private ownership was virtually abolished, production and distribution were put under full control of the state, and the market and even money seemed almost redundant. To many Communists, it looked as if the first and most essential steps on the road to communism had been taken. Even as the civil war came to an end, they no longer considered the policies of war communism as temporary measures to survive and win the war, but began to see them as an important breakthrough in the direction of a genuinely nonmarket socialist economy.

The problem was that this was not the view of war communism shared by the Russian population. Angered by the continued confiscations of their crops, the peasants responded with armed antigovernment rebellions in different parts of the country. From peasants the discontent spread to the armed forces. In March 1921 in Kronstadt, the biggest naval base of the Baltic fleet situated on an island in the Gulf of Finland some twenty miles off Petrograd, 16,000 sailors and soldiers rose in an open armed revolt against the Communists. They demanded free elections to the soviets, freedom for all socialist parties, and broad freedom for the peasantry to farm and to dispose of the results of their labor as they chose. The insurgents were brutally crushed. Yet the populations widespread resistance to the governments plans to institute centralized planning compelled the Bolsheviks to reverse War Communism.

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The Socialist Experiment

 

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