Strategy for Revolution in 21st Century
Lenin on War Communism,
Its relation to a Culture of Peace for the 21st Century


Marx and Engels:
Communist Manifesto

Civil War in France


Theory of History

Marx and Engels:
On Human Nature


Violence and the Origin of the State

Socialism: Utopian and Scientific

Marx, Engels, Lenin:
On Dialectics

What is to be done?


The State and Revolution

Lenin: War Communism

The Cultural Revolution

Left-Wing Communism

The American Revolutions

The French Revolutions

On Workers Control

On Religion

On the Arms Race

Militarization of Labor

Russian Revolution

The Women's Question

Role of Communist Party

On Violence

On the Army

On Women

Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution

Mao and Fidel:
Fall of the American Empire

Man and Socialism in Cuba

Hall and Winston:
Fighting Racism

National Liberation and Culture

Cabral: National Liberation and Culture

Nkrumah: Neo-Colonialism

At the time of the October Revolution in Russia, Lenin and others had hoped that workers throughout Europe would overthrow capitalist governments and achieve socialist revolutions. But when that did not take place, the Soviet Union found itself economically isolated and attacked on all sides by the invading armies of imperialism. Winston Churchill described the purpose of the attacks, involving over half a million soldiers, as "strangling" the revolution "at its birth."

While the Soviet Union fought back and defeated the invading armies by the end of 1920, the damage was done. Industry and machinery, already largely destroyed by the capitalists who fled during the revolution, were in shambles, many of the best workers had been killed or maimed at the front, agriculture, already hurt by war and demoralization of the farmers, was further damaged by crop failure in 1920. The people in the cities were starving.

To feed people in the cities, the Soviet government confiscated grain from the farmers without having money to pay them. As Lenin explained in his pamphlet, The Tax in Kind, "It was the war and the ruin that forced us into War Communism," and "Under this peculiar War Communism we actually took from the peasant all his surpluses - and sometimes even a part of his necessaries - to meet the requirements of the army and sustain the workers."

Lenin saw "war communism" as a temporary policy that must not be continued. At the Tenth Congress of the Russian Communist Party in March 1921, he called for a new policy: "Up to now we have been adapting ourselves to the tasks of war; we must now adapt ourselves to the conditions of peace. The Central Committee is faced with this task - the task of switching to the tax in kind in conditions of proletarian power ... With the Civil War on, we had to adopt war-time measures. But it would be a very great mistake indeed if we drew the conclusion that these are the only measures and relations possible. That would surely lead to the collapse of the Soviet power and the dictatorship of the proletariat ... We must recognise the need to grant concessions, and purchase machinery and equipment to satisfy agriculture, so as to exchange them for grain and re-establish relations between the proletariat and the peasants which will enable it to exist in peacetime conditions." The new policy, originally laid out in The Tax in Kind, became known as the New Economic Policy or NEP. Lenin considered NEP as temporary until such time as the country could go through a cultural revolution and develop an economy based on cooperatives.

Toward the end of his life, Lenin was explicit about the need for peace. His brief greeting for the anniversary of the Revolution, printed in Pravda on November 20, 1922, said, in full, "I cordially greet you on the occasion of the fifth anniversary of the October Revolution. My desire is that we should in the next five years gain by peaceful efforts no less than we have gained up to now by force of arms."

But with Lenin's death in 1923, war communism became the permanent policy of the Soviet Union. Already, Leon Trotsky had called for the "militarization of labor," organizing the entire country like the armies he commanded in the civil war. For example, in his 1920 book, "Terrorism or Communism", he argues that people are naturally lazy and strive to avoid labor and therefore the Soviet Union needed to base its economy on obligatory labor service, supplemented by compulsion to the point of "extremely severe." "No organization except the army has ever controlled man with such severe compulsion as does the State organization of the working class in the most difficult period of transition. It is just for this reason that we speak of the militarization of labor."

In the end, although Trotsky did not triumph, his policy of coerced labor was firmly established by Stalin, to the point of mass labor camps. Then, during World War Two, the entire country had to be mobilized for war once again, and afterwards, with the Cold War, the militarization of the society continued. The country was run in military fashion: hierarchical and authoritarian, secretive, exploitative (of people and the environment) and male-dominated, justified by the enemy which was Western imperialism. And, of course, the capitalist West did all it could to be such an enemy. The Soviet economy was dominated by the military and military production, as the country matched the West in military strength on the basis of an economy only half as large.

In China to some extent, Mao Tse Tung also advocated a version of war communism. For him the People's Army was essential to socialist power: "The Chinese Red Army is an armed body for carrying out the political tasks of the revolution. Especially at present, the Red Army should certainly not confine itself to fighting; besides fighting to destroy the enemy's military strength, it should shoulder such important tasks as doing propaganda among the masses, organizing the masses, arming them, helping them to establish revolutionary political power and setting up Party organizations." On the other hand, he emphasized the army should always be subservient to the Communist Party: "Our principle is that the Party commands the gun, and the gun must never be allowed to command the Party."

Discipline as strong as that of war communism will be needed to defend the revolution of the 21st century against the inevitable counter-revolutionary attacks of the capitalists. Gandhi and King teach us that active nonviolence requires and promotes such discipline. Time will tell if it can meet the challenge.

To take part in a discussion about this page, go to the Forum on Writings of Vladimir Lenin on the Discussion Board:

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Revolutionary socialist culture of peace

Culture of War

Internal Culture of War

Culture of Peace

Education for nonviolence and democracy

Sustainable development for all

Human rights vs exploitation

Women's equality vs patriarchy

Democratic participation vs authoritarianism

Tolerance and solidarity vs enemy images

Transparency vs secrecy

Disarmament vs armament

Revolutionary leadership

Revolutionary organization

Proletarian Internationalism

National Liberation

Guerrilla Warfare


Agent Provocateurs

Communication systems

Psychology for revolutionaries

Capitalist culture of war

Socialist culture of war

Winning Conflict by Nonviolence

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Soviet Collapse

Has Socialism Failed?

Pedagogy of the Oppressed

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on Nonviolence

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