Literature Review

A Review of Literature on the New Economic Policy

            In the first few years of the policy, literature written about the NEP tended to focus more on the immediate impact of the policy. Academic journals such as the Advocate of Peace through Justice and the Sociological Review looked at how the policy jumpstarted the Russian economy following the civil war and its impact on the agricultural and industrial sectors.[1] Most of the scholarly sources about the policy were written in the following decades of its abandonment, when the policy was replaced by the first of Stalin’s Five-Year Plans. These sources, in contrast with the primary sources mentioned earlier, tend to look at the NEP as a whole and how it impacted all aspects of the early Soviet Union. This literature review will examine several scholarly sources to see if they help answer the main question of the proposed research topic: why did Lenin institute the NEP into the Soviet economic system?

            The first scholarly source that will be looked at is The Development of the Soviet Economic System: An Essay on the Experience of Planning in the U.S.S.R. by Alexander Baykov. Published in 1946, Baykov’s book was one of the first scholarly works that dissects the early economic policies of the Soviet Union. There are several sections that look into the inner functions of the NEP and how it emerged as the main catalyst for the economy at the time. Baykov mentions that during the Russian Civil War, the Soviets relied on internal trade. He stated that due to the Bolsheviks rise to power, “the whole network of trade relations established in the pre-revolutionary period was destroyed”.[2] Because of this, the Soviets had to rely on an internal trade network. Baykov also stated that the internal trade networks “could only exist as an emergency measure, in order to ensure distribution of the very scarce supplies” due to the civil war.[3] He concluded that “this system did not offer any new means of securing the economic recovery of the country which was so desperately needed.” Baykov believed that that is why the NEP was adopted, to replace the failing internal trade networks that had served the Soviets during the civil war and to begin the process of economic recovery.[4]

            Alec Nove’s An Economic History of the U.S.S.R. was published in 1969 during the early years of the Brezhnev era. The time gap between Baykov’s and Nove’s works allowed for the further understanding and dissection of the NEP era, which by the publication of An Economic History of the U.S.S.R., had been abolished for nearly 40 years. “NEP” solely focused on the policy and how it shaped the Soviet economy following its introduction. Nove first looked at how Lenin was “persuaded” to create the NEP: “We have seen how, all the way up to February 1921, Lenin kept stubbornly on the course of all-round nationalization, centralization, the elimination of money, and, above all, the maintenance of prodrazverstka.[i]” Nove stated that a delegate brought up an argument that the peasants needed to know what they had to deliver to the state. He pointed out that once the delegate’s idea was accepted, “it was bound to lead to a reconsideration of the entire basis of the war communism economy.”[5] Nove stated that Lenin had proposed the NEP as a substitution of food tax (prodnalog) for confiscation of surpluses (prodrazverstka) as well as to prevent any more revolts, especially those like the Kronstadt rebellion of March 1921. Nove continued by further looking into Lenin’s reasoning for creating the policy. He looked at an October 1921 speech where Lenin, according to Nove, “frankly admitted this had been an error, an illusion. The only way was trade, and the state and party would have to learn to trade.”[6] Once the NEP was in place, foreign trade began to grow again. Grain and coal were imported into the Soviet Union to deal with the immediate shortages, but a more normal trade pattern slowly emerged. A trade agreement with the United Kingdom was signed in 1922, and other countries soon followed.[7]

            Following the works by Baykov and Nove, there was a time gap for scholarly works about the NEP until the 1990s, when the Soviet Union was in its waning years. Because of this, a majority of the scholarly sources used in the proposed research paper will be from this time period. Soviet economic development from Lenin to Khrushchev by R.W. Davies, published in 1998, was one of these scholarly works created in the 1990s. The book serves as a chronological timeline of the economic history of the Russian empire as well as the Soviet Union. Much like in Nove’s work, “The New Economic Policy of the 1920s” Looked at the NEP and how it stabilized a failing Soviet economy under war communism.[8] Davies stated that “the central feature of the NEP was the right of individual peasants to sell their products freely, locally or nationally, to private traders, direct to other individuals, or to state agencies.”[9] Like Nove, he points to the prodrazverstka policy that crippled the already fragile Soviet economy during the civil war, and how it inadvertently caused a major famine. He stated that the NEP attempted to fix this issue by instituting individual trading, as well as a system based on money, which had been abandoned due to war communism. “The restoration of the market implied the restoration of the money economy. Following a period of dramatic further inflation, the currency was gradually stabilized.”[10] In regard to the overall view of the NEP, he was not sure. He stated that “judgement about the long-term economic viability of NEP depends on a political assessment of how far it was essential for the Soviet Union to establish powerful capitalist goods and armaments industries in the space of a few years.”[11]

            After the collapse of the Soviet Union and the opening of the Soviet archives, more information became available to the public, leading to new scholarly works about the NEP. “Great war, Civil War, and Recovery: Russia’s National Income, 1913 to 1928”, published in 2011 by Andrei Markevich and Mark Harrison for the Journal of Economic History (volume 71, no. 3) looked at how WWI and the Russian Civil War led to the creation of the NEP. They argued that the NEP, as well as the mixed economy that it created, provided an effective framework for sustained economic recovery.[12] They looked at the national income data from the early 20th century and provided new estimates for the missing years to answer their question. Markevich and Harrison used several charts and tables to support their argument, with the final table confirming the link between WWI and the civil war with the economical turmoil in Russia. They concluded by stating that the NEP was created to begin the rebuilding process following these two devastating conflicts.[13]

            The final scholarly work that will be looked at is Gender and Housing in Soviet Russia: Private Life in a Public Space by Lynne Attwood. Published in 2010, the book talks about how the housing situation in the Soviet Union became a major topic for the Soviet government. “The New Economic Policy” looks at how the civil war affected housing and how the NEP attempted to correct those issues. In the chapter, Attwood, much like other scholars on the NEP, looked at prodrazverstka and how it devastated the lives of the peasants. She states that due to the famine, “urban workers fled the cities in the vain hope of finding something to eat in the countryside.”[14] According to Attwood, the NEP, due to its mixed economy and the replacement of prodrazverstka with a tax, led to the rebound of the Soviet economy and an increase in agricultural production. In her conclusion of the chapter, however, she raised a couple of concerns about the role of housing under the NEP. She stated that with the end of war communism and the introduction of the NEP, “municipalization was brought to a halt, and there was even a partial re-privatisation” and that “smaller apartments which were not considered useful to the local soviets were returned to private ownership, and sometimes even to their previous owners.”[15] Due to this, she concluded that the NEP almost did as much harm as good in regards to the housing situation.

            These scholarly sources, along with others, will help us gain a better understanding into the reasoning why Lenin introduced the NEP into the Soviet economy. Hopefully by the time of the final research paper, more scholarly sources will be collected and added to firmly support the argument.

[1] “Economic Developments in Russia.” Advocate of Peace through Justice 87, no. 2 (1925). 84-87.

[2] Alexander Baykov, The Development of the Soviet Economic System: An Essay on the Experience of Planning in the U.S.S.R. (London: Cambridge University Press, 1946), 27.

[3] Baykov, The Development of the Soviet Economic System, 28.

[4] Baykov, 29.

[5] Alec Nove, An Economic History of the U.S.S.R. (London: Allen Lane, 1969), 83.

[6] Nove, An Economic History of the U.S.S.R., 85.

[7] Nove, 89.

[8] R.W. Davies, “The New Economic Policy of the 1920s.” in Soviet economic development from Lenin to Khrushchev (London: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 23-37.

[9] Davies, Soviet economic development from Lenin to Khrushchev, 24.

[10] Davies, 25.

[11] Davies, 37.

[12] Andrei Markevich and Mark Harrison, “Great War, Civil War, and Recovery: Russia’s National Income, 1913 to 1928,” Journal of Economic History 71, no.3 (September 2011), 672-703.

[13] Markevich and Harrison, “Great War, Civil War, and Recovery,” 697.

[14] Lynne Attwood, “The New Economic Policy.” in Gender and Housing in Soviet Russia: Private Life in a Public Space (Oxford: Manchester University Press, 2010), 40.

[15] Attwood, Gender and Housing in Soviet Russia, 41.

[i] Prodrazverstka: (lit. food apportionment) the Bolshevik policy and campaign of grain confiscation and other agricultural products from the peasants at nominal fixed prices according to specified quotas. The term is commonly associated with war communism during the civil war when it was introduced by the Bolsheviks. However, the Bolsheviks borrowed the idea from the imperial government when they did it during WWI in 1916.

Working Bibliography

Attwood, Lynne. “New Economic Policy.” In Gender and Housing in Soviet Russia: Private Life in a Public Space, 40–61. Oxford: Manchester University Press, 2010.

Baykov, Alexander. The Development of the Soviet Economic System: An Essay on the Experience of Planning in the U.S.S.R. London: Cambridge University Press, 1946.

Davies, R. W. Soviet Economic Development from Lenin to Khruschev. New Studies in Economic and Social History. Cambridge ; New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998.

Erlich, Alexander. The Soviet Industrialization Debate, 1924-1928. Russian Research Center Studies 41. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1960.

Haensel, Paul. The Economic Policy of Soviet Russia. PSKing and son, limited, 1930.

Himmer, Robert. “The Transition from War Communism to the New Economic Policy: An Analysis of Stalin’s Views.” The Russian Review 53, no. 4 (1994): 515–29.

Hoover, Calvin B. “The Fate of the New Economic Policy of the Soviet Union.” The Economic Journal 40, no. 158 (1930): 184–93.

Markevich, Andrei, and Mark Harrison. “Great War, Civil War, and Recovery: Russia’s National Income, 1913 to 1928.” Journal of Economic History 71, no. 3 (September 2011): 672–703.

McClelland, James C. “Proletarianizing the Student Body: The Soviet Experience during the New Economic Policy.” Past & Present, no. 80 (1978): 122–46.

Nove, Alec. An Economic History of the U.S.S.R. London: Allen Lane, 1969.

Scheffer, Paul. “The Crisis of the ‘N. E. P.’ in Soviet Russia.” Foreign Affairs, January 1, 1929.

Treml, Vladimir G., and Robert Farrell, eds. The Development of the Soviet Economy; Plan and Performance. New York: Published for the Institute for the Study of the USSR by Praeger, 1968.