The Opposition between Society and the State during the 1939–1941 Supply Crisis

By Elena Aleksandrovna Osokina


Interaction between decisions from above and decisions from below, which is both from the local authorities and from people, is well illustrated by the 1939–1941 supply crisis. This paper demonstrates how pressures from below led to the uncontrolled reintroduction of rationing practices. The crisis was caused by the structural disequilibrium of the Soviet economy during all the 1930s, which was worsened by specific circumstances at the end of the decade. As early as 1938, long queues appeared in front of the shops, with thousands of people queuing all the night. Descriptions of this chaotic situation can be found both in official reports, especially from the N.K.V.D., and in letters of irritated citizens on the verge of starvation. The central power took measures in order to provide an acceptable supply to the army and the members of strategic enterprises, introducing for them closed shops and dining halls. However, they refused to bring in a general rationing system comparable to the beginning of the 1930s, despite many pressures from below. They also tried to slow down the demand and promoted self-consumption and local production. Nevertheless, their inability to take the crisis under control led to repressive measures, in order to forbid people queuing and to remove from the big cities new-comers who had been attracted by a better supply. In order to face the crisis, rationing practices were increasingly introduced by local initiative, despite the central power's opposition, even though rationing booklets were not officially adopted before July 1941.
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