Jun 27, 2021
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A few strokes to the economic history of the Soviet state

During the 74 years of the existence of the USSR, the economic policy of the Soviet state changed several times. The following stages can be distinguished:

  • War communism – from the beginning of 1918 to the spring of 1921,

  • New Economic Policy (NEP) – until the end of the 1920s;

  • Stalinist economy – until about the mid-1950s;

  • Late socialism – before the collapse of the USSR in 1991.

A hundred years ago, in 1921, the transition from the first stage of economic policy to the second began. And it is worth taking a closer look at the events of those years. Their understanding helps to better assess the current economic situation, the position of the Russian Federation in the world and outline the prospects for state economic policy.

* * * The period of War Communism was the shortest, about three years. It was the economic model of wartime – the Civil War and intervention. It began to take shape in the spring of 1918, when a number of tough decrees of the Council of People’s Commissars were adopted. In accordance with these decrees in 1918-1920. the nationalization was carried out first of large, then medium-sized and eventually part of small industrial enterprises that had previously belonged to Russian and foreign private capital. Obligatory labor was in effect, labor was equated with military service (labor armies). The entire economy was turned into one giant factory, and the individual businesses were the “workshops” that made up that factory. The giant factory was managed from a single center.

A state monopoly was established on the purchase of many agricultural products from peasants, and at extremely low prices (surplus appropriation). A ban was introduced on private trade, it was replaced by the centralized distribution of many types of food (rationing system). There was a widespread curtailment of commodity-money relations. Private banks were liquidated; for some time the State Bank was even abolished.

War communism received partly an ideological justification in the form of a new party program adopted at the VIII Congress of the RCP (b) in March 1919. It set the task of building socialism as soon as possible through the elimination of commodity-money relations, the complete nationalization of all means of production and the socialization of production, the rigid centralization of state management of production, the organization of the planned distribution of the social product based on the principle of equality of all members of society.

Some historians and economists believe that War Communism is a kind of mobilization model of the economy. That similar models were in other countries that participated in wars, experienced civil unrest or natural disasters. Others believe that War Communism was an attempt to immediately implement the model of communism that was set forth in the Communist Manifesto (1848), in the works of Marx and Engels.

Both of these points of view can be found in Lenin’s articles and speeches. For example: “’War Communism’ was forced by war and ruin. It was not and could not be a policy that meets the economic tasks of the proletariat. It was a temporary measure “(Lenin V. I. Report on the replacement of the appropriation in kind tax on March 15, [Х съезд РКП (б) 8-16 марта 1921 г.], PSS, 5th ed., Vol. 43). And a few months later, Lenin admitted that War Communism was conditioned by reasons of an ideological nature: “Our previous economic policy, if it cannot be said: calculated (we did not calculate at all in that situation), then to a certain extent assumed, – one might say without calculation, assumed – that there will be a direct transition of the old Russian economy to state production and distribution on a communist basis ”(VI Lenin New Economic Policy and the Tasks of Political Education (October 17, 1921), Collected Works, 5th ed., vol. 44).

The culmination of the policy of War Communism was the end of 1920 – the beginning of 1921, when a series of decrees of the Council of People’s Commissars was issued on the free distribution of a number of vital goods among the population: consumption “(December 17),” On the abolition of payments for all kinds of fuel “(December 23). The peasants hid the remnants of agricultural products from the detachments who carried out the surplus appropriation. Trotsky’s experiments on the creation of labor armies failed; without an idea and without material remuneration, the workers felt themselves not as soldiers, but as slaves, did not want to serve in such “armies”, and there was massive desertion. The labor productivity of those who remained in the “armies” was extremely low.

The decrees did not save us from hunger and cold. Industrial and agricultural production plummeted. Industrial output by 1921 decreased three times, and the number of industrial workers was halved (compared with 1918). The decline in agriculture has become just as sharp. Due to the complete disinterest of the peasants to increase crops under the conditions of war communism, grain production in 1920 fell in comparison with the pre-war period by half.

War communism met with dull resistance from the population, there were riots. Unrest seized Ukraine, Don, Kuban, Volga region, Siberia. Peasant riots are known in the Tambov region in 1920-21. under the leadership of Ataman Antonov. On March 1, 1921, a military mutiny began in Kronstadt. All this gave impetus to a change in economic policy. At the X Congress of the RCP (b), it was decided to cancel the surplus appropriation system and replace it with a natural tax in kind, which was approximately half as much. The decision was approved by the decree of the All-Russian Central Executive Committee of March 21, 1921, it marked the beginning of the New Economic Policy (NEP).

The NEP was aimed at the introduction of private entrepreneurship (small-scale production) and the revival of market relations. The terms “mixed economy”, “mixed economy” (combination of the state economy with small-scale production, cooperation, and foreign capital) have become popular. Decentralization of the management of industry was carried out, the management of the factory industry through the central administrations was abolished; trusts were created that united enterprises of individual industries and industries and had a fairly large autonomy from the people’s commissariats and other government bodies. Later, syndicates began to emerge as voluntary associations of trusts to organize joint sales and procurement activities.

If War Communism had some kind of ideological foundation in Marxism, then NEP was a complete improvisation. On the sidelines, some Orthodox Bolsheviks called the NEP counter-revolution. Lenin understood risk as well as others. Speaking on October 17, 1921 with the report “New Economic Policy and the Tasks of Political Education” (Lenin. V.I. PSS, vol. 44), he was forced to admit that to a certain extent there had been a restoration of capitalism, which was necessary for the survival of the Bolshevik power, and the limits further deviations are unknown: “The New Economic Policy means the replacement of spreading with a tax, means the transition to the restoration of capitalism to a large extent. To what extent – we do not know … the destruction of the spreading means for the peasants free trade in agricultural surplus, not taken by tax, and the tax takes only a small share of the products. The peasants constitute a huge part of the entire population and the entire economy, and therefore capitalism cannot but grow on the basis of this free trade … the struggle is and will be even more desperate, even more cruel than the struggle against Kolchak and Denikin … The task of our party is to develop the consciousness that the enemy is there is anarchic capitalism and anarchic commodity exchange among us. “

By the way, in this report Lenin especially drew attention to the fact that the revival of a bourgeois atmosphere in society could lead to a degeneration of the consciousness of a part of the Bolsheviks. The NEP can become a breeding ground for corruption in the apparatus, for the merging of the apparatus with capital. And Lenin called for tougher discipline and control, did not rule out the need for regular purges of the party ranks.

To reduce the risk of an irreversible restoration of capitalism, the state monopoly remained in key sectors of the economy (large industrial enterprises, railroad transport, electricity, the central bank, foreign trade, etc.), but Lenin could not guess how long the retreat in the form of the NEP might take. Speaking at the IX All-Russian Congress of Soviets, on December 23, 1921, he declared that “NEP is serious and for a long time.” And 11 months later (November 20, 1922) he asserted the exact opposite: “From the NEP Russia, a socialist Russia will grow. The NEP is a temporary retreat in order to rebuild the ranks, to launch a new attack ”(VI Lenin PSS. Vol. 45, p. 309).

On October 15, 1921, the State Bank of the RSFSR was created, which was entrusted with the function of issuing money. Attraction of foreign capital in the form of concessions began, the restoration of the stock market (stock exchange), the revival of private banks, the transformation of the ruble into convertible currency. Negotiations were underway with some states to obtain loans. Plans were being prepared to return to the gold ruble (G. Sokolnikov). It was proposed to abandon the state monopoly of foreign trade and replace it with the usual protectionist policy (N. Bukharin).

The end of the NEP is usually dated 1928. In October of this year, the implementation of the first five-year plan for the development of the national economy began, the country’s leadership embarked on a course of forced industrialization and collectivization. Although no one officially canceled the NEP, in 1928 it began to wind down in many directions. De jure, the final completion of the NEP took place on October 11, 1931, when a resolution was adopted to completely ban private trade in the USSR.

Some effect from the NEP – social and economic – in the period 1921-1928. has been achieved, but very limited. In particular, the increase in industrial production occurred exclusively due to the restoration of the capacities of enterprises built in pre-revolutionary times. There were no large investments in the creation of new industrial capacities.

It is easy to see that the current economic policy of the Russian Federation resembles the one that started exactly a century ago. The then NEP finally exhausted itself in a period of about seven years, after which the transition from the NEP to industrialization began. The current economic policy of the Russian Federation, with some variations, has been going on for almost three decades. Isn’t it time to close this page of the economic history of modern Russia, passing to a new stage? Such a transition from the policy of economic liberalism to a policy that is different in its reasons, I would call “Industrialization – 2”.

Valentin Katasonov

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