Vladimir Lenin found himself in yet another precarious position in the last days of the Russian Civil War. The economy was in ruins; the policy of “War Communism”, which practiced the redistribution of peasant-farmer's grains for the industrial workers and the military, had been a complete disaster, only deepening the hunger that years of war had forced Russians into. Something new had to be done. Whether out of Marxist theory or pure pragmatism, Lenin proposed a “strategic retreat” – a new policy of “tax in kind” would be the lead into his idea of state capitalism. Lenin sought to reconcile state capitalism under his “New Economic Policy” with Bolshevik ideology, and also to utilize a controlled capitalism in order to rebuild the Russian economy.
Many Soviet citizens feared that Lenin's undertakings were a move away from Bolshevik ideals, and Lenin needed a propaganda element in order to win Bolshevik support. He would utilize his own writings and argumentation to bolster support of the NEP, while simultaneously taking harsh authoritarian measures. Lenin argued that under atypical Marxist history, there is a linear progression of time. Russia could not simply skip from the beginning stages of capitalism all the way to communism. Lenin asks, rhetorically, “Can the Soviet state and the dictatorship of the proletariat be combined with state capitalism? Are they compatible?” and he answers his own question with a resounding “yes.” Lenin further argues that there must be a dictatorship of the proletariat to guide capitalism, avoiding any further ills beyond the revival of the “petty bourgeoisie.” Lenin writes, “Capitalism is a bane compared with socialism. Capitalism is a boon compared with medievalism.” He appeals to the ideological and intellectual senses of the communists, that capitalism must be used in order to build Russia. “Those who compare state capitalism only with socialism commit a host of mistakes.” He cautions in an October 1921 publication, furthermore, that “We must not count on going straight to communism.” Lenin warns in this same publication that the Communists risk being their own worst enemies with “communist conceit” with the belief that all problems could be issued by empty idealism. It was not just other Communists that were proving an issue, but resistant peasants. Lenin could not risk this undermining of Soviet recovery, and he directed Agitprop, the Department for Agitation and Propaganda, to undermine culture and religion in order to bolster support for Bolsheviks as a supplement to the New Economic Policy (Brovkin). This attack would not be limited to merely words, and the GRU secret police also took a dual role of monitoring Russians, and to silence dissent (Brovkin).
Lenin hammers out the details of his economic scheme, after his attempts at gaining ideological temperance by his comrades. Put another way, he tries to argue the beneficial effects of a controlled capitalism for Soviet Russia beyond ideological rectification. Lenin explains the first element of the transition from War Communism to state-capitalism – that of a new and incredibly lower tax. “The correct policy of the proletariat exercising its dictator ship in a small-peasant country is to obtain grain in exchange for the manufactured goods the peasant needs...The tax in kind is a transition to this policy.” Lenin points to the successes of Western European capitalism as the most civilized, and recommends its adoptions with key changes. Namely, profiteering would not be illegal, but the state-capitalist system would be so closely monitored that those who pilfer private capital would be subject to particularly harsh punishments. The peasant farmers would also be allowed to sell their food on an open market, as well as employing others and expanding their farms. A greater degree of private commerce would be allowed, and small factories would be denationalized (Simkin). Lenin also recommends massive, large-scale state-run initiatives for manufacture and industry, all closely regulated, as to not become overpowered by “the anarchy of petty bourgeois relations.”
Lenin eloquently attempted to make the case for concessions to capitalism, alienating many of his allies but at the same time hoping to save Soviet Russia from collapse. He expended massive effort, both in terms of propaganda to support his ideas as well as their implementation. Ultimately, Lenin's New Economic Policy would prove decently successful at restoring the Russian economy, but only to the level it had been in the first World War. Nevertheless, his successor Josef Stalin would quickly get rid of Lenin's concessions to capitalism and implement his own ideas – the first Five-Year Plan (Simkin). With Lenin's death, so too died the brief taste of a greater economic freedom and recovery.
Brovkin, Vladimir. “Russia After Lenin.” eBook. [http://www.revalvaatio.org/wp/wp-content/uploads/brovkin-russia_after_lenin_politics_culture_society_1921-1929.pdf], accessed 6 Nov. 2012.
Lenin, Vladimir. “The Tax In Kind.” 21 Apr. 1921. Course material; provided reading.
Lenin, Vladimir. “The New Economic Policy.” 17 Oct. 1921. Web. [http://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1921/oct/17.htm], accessed 6 Nov. 2012.
Simkin, John. “New Economic Policy.” Web. [http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/RUSnep.htm], accessed 6 Nov. 2012.