On January 11, 1919, the Soviet government passed a decree introducing the so-called “prodrazvyorstka,” the system of surplus distribution.
This system was a specific measure undertaken in the framework of the “war communism” policy, which existed in Soviet Russia during the Civil War of 1918-1922. The basic purpose of this policy was supplying the Red Army with weapons and food. All the country’s resources were mobilized, as the Bolsheviks were determined to win the Civil War at any cost.
The surplus distribution obliged peasants to sell surpluses of all agricultural goods to the government at very low prices; because of the high inflation rate, the ruble was practically worthless. The government determined the limits of the products sold, addressing the needs only of the army and not of the peasants. Frequently the peasants had to give away food necessary for the survival of their families, as well as grain prepared for the next season. In 1918, the surplus distribution was only accepted in several central regions of the Soviet Russia, but in 1919, after the decree had been passed, it was instituted all over the country.
The collection procedure was performed by the local authorities, assisted by the so-called food squads, and were widely supported by the poorest peasants, who took pleasure in robbing off the wealthier peasants. Peasants who refused to give the provisions to the government were punished by whipping. The peasants resented the surplus distribution system. They hid the food and killed members of the food squads – in 1918 alone, the number of food squad victims amounted to 20,000. Most of the peasants cut the sown areas, and grew as little grain as possible, significantly decreasing yields.
In 1918 the Bolshevik party changed its name to the Communist party, leading many peasants to think that the cruel Communists had overthrown the good and fair Bolsheviks. In compliance with this idea, the Bolsheviks had given people the land, the freedom and civil rights, and the Communists brought war, famine, and “prodrazvyorstka.”
Only in March 1921, by decree of the 10th Congress of the Russian Communist Party (Bolsheviks), was “prodrazvyorstka” exchanged for a food tax.