Re-Reading My Weblog: August 2005
Liveblogging History: 299 BC

Leon Trotsky's Not-Entirely-Reliable-Narrator View of Lenin's New Economic Policy of the 1920s


Daily Economic History: Leon Trotsky: The Revolution Betrayed: "With the bourgeois economists we no longer anything to quarrel over...

Socialism has demonstrated its right to victory, not on the pages of Das Kapital, but in an industrial arena comprising a sixth part of the earths surface--not in the language of dialectics, but in the language of steel, cement and electricity. Even if the Soviet Union, as a result of internal difficulties, external blows and the mistakes of leadership, were to collapse--which we firmly hope will not happen--there would remain an earnest of the future this indestructible fact, that thanks solely to a proletarian revolution a backward country has achieved in less than 10 years successes unexampled in history.

This also ends the quarrel with the reformists in the workers movement. Can we compare for one moment their mouselike fussing with the titanic work by this people aroused to a new life by revolution?

If in 1918 the Social-Democrats of Germany had employed the power imposed upon them by the workers for a socialist revolution, and not for the rescue of capitalism, it is easy to see on the basis of the Russian experience what unconquerable economic power would be possessed today by a socialist bloc of Central and Eastern Europe and a considerable part of Asia. The peoples of the world will pay for the historic crime of reformism with new wars and revolutions....

The first three years after the revolution were a period of overt and cruel civil war. Economic life was wholly subjected to the needs of the front. Cultural life lurked in corners and was characterized by a bold range of creative thought, above all the personal thought of Lenin, with an extraordinary scarcity of material means. That was the period of so-called ‘military communism’ (1918-21), which forms a heroic parallel to the ‘military socialism’ of the capitalist countries.

The economic problems of the Soviet government in those years came down chiefly to supporting the war industries, and using the scanty resources left from the past for military purposes and to keep the city population alive. Military communism was, in essence, the systematic regimentation of consumption in a besieged fortress.

It is necessary to acknowledge, however, that in its original conception it pursued broader aims. The Soviet government hoped and strove to develop these methods of regimentation directly into a system of planned economy in distribution as well as production. In other words, from ‘military communism’ it hoped gradually, but without destroying the system, to arrive at genuine communism.... Reality, however, came into increasing conflict.... The city demanded grain and raw materials from the rural districts, giving nothing in exchange except varicolored pieces of paper, named, according to ancient memory, money. And the muzhik buried his stores in the ground. The government sent out armed workers’ detachments for grain. The muzhik cut down his sowings. Industrial production of steel fell from 4.2 million tons to 183,000 tons.... The total harvest of grain decreased from 801 million hundredweight to 503 million in 1922.... Foreign trade... plunged from 2.9 billion rubles to 30 million. The collapse of the productive forces surpassed anything of the kind that history had ever seen....

The utopian hopes of the epoch of military communism came in later for a cruel, and in many respects just, criticism.... [But] it was considered self-evident that the victorious German proletariat would supply Soviet Russia, on credit against future food and raw materials, not only with machines and articles of manufacture, but also with tens of thousands of highly skilled workers, engineers and organizers. And there is no doubt that if the proletarian revolution had triumphed in Germany--a thing that was prevented solely and exclusively by the Social Democrats--the economic development of the Soviet Union as well as of Germany would have advanced with such gigantic strides that the fate of Europe and world would today have been incomparably more auspicious.

It can be said with certainty, however, that even in that happy event it would still have been necessary to renounce the direct state distribution of products in favor of the methods of commerce. Lenin explained the necessity of restoring the market by the existence in the country of millions of isolated peasant enterprises, unaccustomed to define their economic relations with the outside world except through trade. Trade circulation would establish a ‘connection’, as it was called, between the peasant and the nationalized industries.

The theoretical formula for this ‘connection’ is very simple: industry should supply the rural districts with necessary goods at such prices as would enable the state to forego forcible collection of the products of peasant labor. To mend economic relations with the rural districts was undoubtedly the most critical and urgent task of the NEP. A brief experiment showed, however, that industry itself, in spite of its socialized character, had need of the methods of money payment worked out by capitalism. A planned economy cannot rest merely on intellectual data. The play of supply and demand remains for a long period a necessary material basis and indispensable corrective.

The market, legalized by the NEP, began, with the help of an organized currency, to do its work. As early as 1923, thanks to an initial stimulus from the rural districts, industry began to revive. And moreover it immediately hit a high tempo.... By 1926 had already reached the pre-war level....

The disagreements in the party began about the question how much to take from the villages for industry, in order to hasten the period of dynamic equilibrium between them. The dispute was immediately complicated by the question of the social structure of the village itself. In the spring of 1923, at a congress of the party, a representative of the ‘Left Opposition’--not yet, however, known by that name--demonstrated the divergence of industrial and agricultural prices in the form of an ominous diagram... ‘the scissors’....

The peasants made a sharp distinction between the democratic and agrarian revolution which the Bolshevik party had carried through, and its policy directed toward laying the foundations of socialism. The expropriation of the landlords and the state lands brought the peasants upwards of half a billion gold rubles a year. In prices of state products, however, the peasants were paying out a much larger sum. So long as the net result of the two revolutions, democratic and socialistic, bound together by the firm snow of October, reduced itself for the peasantry to a loss of hundreds of millions....

A small commodity economy inevitably produces exploiters. In proportion as the villages recovered, the differentiation within the peasant mass began to grow. This development fell into the old well-trodden ruts. The growth of the kulak far outstripped the general growth of agriculture. The policy of the government under the slogan ‘face to the country’ was actually a turning of its face to the kulak.... The surplus grain, chiefly in possession of the upper strata of the village, was used to enslave the poor and for speculative selling to the bourgeois elements of the cities.

Bukharin, the theoretician of the ruling faction at that time, tossed to the peasantry his famous slogan, ‘Get rich!’ In the language of theory that was supposed to mean a gradual growing of the kulaks into socialism. In practice it meant the enrichment of the minority at the expense of the overwhelming majority.

Captive to its own policy, the government was compelled to retreat step by step before the demands of a rural petty bourgeoisie. In 1925 the hiring of labor power and the renting of land were legalized for agriculture. The peasantry was becoming polarized between the small capitalist on one side and the hired hand on the other.... The rising tide of capitalism was visible everywhere.... In 1925, when the course toward the kulak was in full swing, Stalin began to prepare for the denationalization of the land. To a question asked at his suggestion by a Soviet journalist: ‘Would it not be expedient in the interest of agriculture to deed over to each peasant for 10 years the parcel of land tilled by him?’, Stalin answered: ‘Yes, and even for 40 years.’... The aim was to give the farmer confidence in his own future. While this was going on, in the spring of 1926, almost 60 per cent of the grain destined for sale was in the hands of 6 per cent of the peasant proprietors!

The state lacked grain not only for foreign trade, but even for domestic needs. The insignificance of exports made it necessary to forego bringing in articles of manufacture, and cut down to the limit the import of machinery and raw materials.

Retarding industrialization and striking a blow at the general mass of the peasants, this policy of banking on the well-to-do farmer revealed unequivocally inside of two years, 1924-26, its political consequences. It brought about an extraordinary increase of self-consciousness in the petty bourgeoisie of both city and village, a capture by them of many of the lower Soviets, an increase of the power and self-confidence of the bureaucracy, a growing pressure upon the workers, and the complete suppression of party and Soviet democracy.

The growth of the kulaks alarmed two eminent members of the ruling group, Zinoviev and Kamenev, who were, significantly, presidents of the Soviets of the two chief proletarian centers, Leningrad and Moscow. But the provinces, and still more the bureaucracy, stood firm for Stalin. The course toward the well-to-do farmer won out. In 1926, Zinoviev and Kamenev with their adherents joined the Opposition of 1923 (the ‘Trotskyists’)...