6 October 2009

New Economic Policy

[CU for Wednesday, 7 October 2009]

To read Lenin’s writings and speeches on the “New Economic Policy” (NEP) is to discover a process of comprehensive unpacking, and assessment, of factors and variables that are quite similar to those in play in South Africa at the present time. The NEP followed the “War Communism” that had been in effect during the Civil War in Russia after the Great October Revolution of 1917. [Picture: Lenin in Red Square, Moscow, 25 May 1919]

The NEP was not a substitute for industrial development. Early in our main document The Tax in Kind (1921) (linked below), Lenin emphasises:

“Socialism is inconceivable without large-scale capitalist engineering based on the latest discoveries of modern science. It is inconceivable without planned state organisation which keeps tens of millions of people to the strictest observance of a unified standard in production and distribution... At the same time socialism is inconceivable unless the proletariat is the ruler of the state.”- The Tax in Kind

Later, he sums up:

“The tax in kind is a transition from War Communism to a regular socialist exchange of products. The extreme ruin rendered more acute by the crop failure in 1920 has made this transition urgently necessary owing to the fact that it was impossible to restore large-scale industry rapidly. Hence, the first thing to do is to improve the condition of the peasants. The means are the tax in kind, the development of exchange between agriculture and industry, and the development of small industry. Exchange is freedom of trade; it is capitalism. - The Tax in Kind

The whole document is worth reading and re-reading. It is clear that what Lenin is doing is ordering priorities and synthesising all of the factors in play. There is no crude dichotomy here that would cancel out the small-scale producers in favour of the large ones. On the contrary, the “development of exchange” between small and large is seen by Lenin as the “means”, both to improve the condition of the peasants, and to restore large-scale industry rapidly.

In the Soviet Union, a false dichotomy did subsequently develop between the small and the large, and it may have weakened that country and helped to set it up for the collapse that occurred. In China, on the contrary, the most scrupulous attention was paid to those peasants and petty-bourgeois who formed the (once-overwhelming and still-existing) majority of the population; but not at the expense of large-scale industrial planning and development. China has survived, and prospered.

Even if this is a rough and general assessment, yet it can serve the purpose of dramatising the problem that confronts the SACP Special National Congress in Polokwane in December, when it comes to discuss “Industrial Strategy” and “Rural Development”. Are these things separate? Are they contradictory? Or are they one?

There is in fact no choice. We must have it all: both large and small. We must also recognise the inter-relationship between the small-scale enterprises, that can activate large masses of our people, and the large-scale enterprises, that need the same people as providers of goods and services, and as a market. Industrial Strategy and Rural Development must be a unity.

The second linked item, the short speech to the Moscow Soviet in 1922, gives more of the background and history of the NEP. The third, on the Role and Function of Trade Unions under the NEP, speaks unequivocally of “the duty of the trade unions to protect the interests of the working people” but needs careful reading to the end, so that the crucial component of the working class is not altogether left out of the calculation between large and small business. Historically, it is the formation and the growth of the proletariat that will be determinant, because class struggle is the motor of history, and because the proletariat is the gravedigger of capitalism.

Click on these links:

The Tax in Kind, Lenin (14724 words)

Plenary Session Of Moscow Soviet, Speech re NEP (3513 words)

Lenin, Role and Functions of the TUs under NEP (4353 words)


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