The term is commonly associated with war communism during the Russian Civil War when it was introduced by the Bolshevik government. However Bolsheviks borrowed the idea from the grain razvyorstka introduced in the Russian Empire during World War I, in 1916.
1916 saw a food crisis in the Russian Empire. While the harvest was good in Lower Volga Region and Western Siberia, its transportation by railroads collapsed. In addition, the food market was in disarray. Fixed prices for government purchases were unattractive. A decree of November 29, 1916 signed by Aleksandr Rittich of the Ministry of Agriculture) introduced razvyorstka as the collection of grain for defense purposes. The Russian Provisional Government established after the February Revolution of 1917 could not propose any incentives for peasants, and their state monopoly on grain sales failed to achieve its goal.
In 1918 the center of Soviet Russia found itself cut off from the most important agricultural regions of the country. The reserves of grain ran low, causing hunger among the urban population, where support for the Bolshevik government was strongest. In order to satisfy minimal food needs, the Soviet government introduced strict control over the food surpluses of the prosperous rural households. Since many peasants were extremely unhappy with this policy and tried to resist it, they were branded as "saboteurs" of the bread monopoly of the state and advocates of free "predatory", "speculative" trade. Vladimir Lenin believed that prodrazvyorstka was the only possible way to procure sufficient amounts of grain and other agricultural products for the population of the cities during the civil war.
Before prodrazvyorstka, Lenin's May 9, 1918 decree ("О продовольственной диктатуре") introduced the concept of "produce dictatorship". This and other subsequent decrees ordered the forced collection of foodstuffs, without any limitations, and used the Red Army to accomplish this.
A decree of the Sovnarkom introduced prodrazvyorstka throughout Soviet Russia on January 11, 1919. Prodrazvyorstka also extended to Ukraine and Belarus (1919), Turkestan and Siberia (1920). In accordance with the decree of the People's Commissariat for Provisions on the procedures of prodrazvyorstka (January 13, 1919), the amount of different kinds of products designated for collection by the state (some historians[weasel words] call it an outright confiscation) was calculated on the basis of the data on each guberniya's areas under crops, crop capacity and the reserves of past years. Within each guberniya, the collection plan was broken down between uyezds, volosts, villages, and then separate peasant households. The collection procedures were performed by the agencies of the People's Commissariat for Provisions and prodotryads (продовольственный отряд, food brigades) with the help of kombeds (комитет бедноты, committees of the poor) and of local Soviets.
Initially, prodrazvyorstka covered the collection of grain and fodder. During the procurement campaign of 1919–20, prodrazvyorstka also included potatoes and meat. By the end of 1920, it included almost every kind of agricultural product. According to Soviet statistics, the authorities collected 107.9 million poods (1.77 million metric tons) of grain and fodder in 1918–19, 212.5 million poods (3.48 million metric tons) in 1919–20, and 367 million pounds (6.01 million metric tons) in 1920–21.
Prodrazvyorstka allowed the Soviet government to solve the important problem of supplying the Red Army and urban population and of providing raw material for different industries. Prodrazvyorstka left its mark on commodity-money relations, since the authorities had prohibited selling of bread and grain. It also influenced many, if not all, aspects of relations between the city and the village and became one of the most important elements of the system of war communism.