An Economic History of the USSR, 1917-91 by Alec Nove

By Alec Nove

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It was only after some delicate negotiations, plus some outright chicanery and finally the threat of direct violence (March 1918), that the railways were finally placed under the Soviet regime's authority, with workers' control ended. 4 Of course, workers' control was only one of many causes of this. But no remedy was possible which did not involve the stern subordination of the committees to some authority and discipline. On 20 November 1917 the State Bank was seized by armed detachments, because its employees had refused to issue money to what was, in their view, an illegal band of interlopers calling themselves the Council of People's Commissars.

However, the appalling losses of earlier years had undermined morale in the army, and the population in rear areas was not now in the mood to bear the sacrifices imposed upon it by the strain of war and the chronic difficulties of transport. St Petersburg was particularly likely to be affected by shortages, since it was far from the main food-producing areas and also had to import its coal vast distances by rail; it had been importing British coal, but this was cut off by the war. It was in fact shortage of food in St Petersburg which finally broke the back of the Russian Empire.

The retreat itself led to the abandonment of considerable stores to the enemy. The disasters in Poland and the general atmosphere of incompetence shook the faith of the people in the regime. The Tsar decided in 1915 to take command of the army himself, thereby taking an unnecessarily direct responsibility for failures and losses. Ministers did not take effective action, and there was constant friction between them and various voluntary organizations, of industrialists and others, who claimed that the government was unable to organize the country for war.

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