Revolutionary Russia

Kustodiev_The_BolshevikOrlando Figes at Lapham's Quarterly:

In all revolutions there comes a moment when the high ideals of the revolutionaries crash onto the hard rocks of reality. In Russia that moment came in March 1921, when the Bolsheviks retreated from their first attempt to introduce a planned economy—by which they had thought to impose communism by decree—and let back elements of private trade to rescue their regime from popular rebellions.

Chronic shortages had built up over seven years of war, revolution, and the Civil War, especially in the austere years of the latter, between 1918 and 1920, when the Red Army had fought against the Whites, and leather-jacketed commissars had waged another war on the market.

Townsmen traveled to the countryside to barter with the peasants, who were reluctant to sell foodstuffs for paper money when there was nothing they could buy with it. They left with bags of clothes and household goods to sell or exchange in the rural markets and returned with bags of food. The railways were paralyzed by these armies of “bagmen.”

more here.