The New Economic Policy and Thoughts on the Opposition
I was listening to an excellent lecture on Soviet History from the Great Courses series, specifically about the period of the New Economic Policy in the early 1920s.
“Quick” history lesson: after the Civil War, the Bolsheviks were in power, however opposition to Bolshevik rule came from everywhere, from peasant revolts to labor uprisings; peasants refused to plant because the markets were collapsed; urban workers fled to the country; the cities became wastelands. Plenty of anarchists opposed the one-party state and advocated for what we now call libertarian socialism. So the Bolsheviks, if they wanted to avoid another war, had to take some decisive action.
Lenin and the Committee of People’s Commissars created a policy of concession - they used violence to put down the revolts but made sweeping economic concessions by letting small industry and consumer trade, as well as grain trade, become free market, while the government held on to the “crowning heights of the economy” - factories, banks, and international trade. This created a period of wonderful ideological freedom and economic prosperity (the economy rose to pre-war levels), but also brought back socioeconomic inequality and poor wages. Plus, the government had no investment capital to expand the economy, which was still majorly agrarian and needed to be rapidly industrialized for Russia/the Soviet Union to be able to be part of the world at large.
So there were two main opposition groups, which formed as Lenin’s health started to fail him and a new appointment for the head of the government was needed.
First, there was Trotsky and the Left Opposition. The Left advocated for small investments coming from squeezing the consumer goods markets through force and investing in industrialization. Trotsky advocated for coercion and violence to garner capital. The entire way of life in Russia, with its drinking and swearing and laziness of workers, needed to be reformed as well, and this aggressive policy would work with these social problems as well.
Second, Bukharin and the Right Opposition, which included Stalin, advocated for a gradual industrialization through expansion of the consumer good market. Using an economic theory that sounds a whole lot like modern-day capitalist theory, he argued that if there were more consumer goods to buy, the capital that could flow from that to the government through taxes could be reinvested in heavy industry. He opposed the idea of violence and instead advocated for teaching the peasants the good that socialism can do for them, and opposed the violence that Trotsky validated through Machiavellian argumentation.
For all its problems, I love the NEP. I think the NEP is exactly what we need throughout the world - the state controls big industry or big corporations, food production is de-corporatized and instead collectivized and individually privatized, and traded free market, and consumer goods are free market with government overseeing them to keep the managers accountable and to have worker control and management collectively, but not directly run by the state.
The reactions to the NEP in the Soviet Union were, of course, very relevant to the problems of there and then, but don’t lend themselves precisely to analyzing current day problems in light of Communist ideology. Still, there is some transcendent values that I do need to criticize. On the one hand, I oppose Bukharin’s “expand the consumer good market” argument because it reeks of modern-day commodity fettishism and consumerism which is the tool of the capitalist class to subjugate the 99%. On the other, I abhor Machiavellian argumentation and would never use violence to raise capital; I advocate for educating those who don’t understand why socialism works and helps them.
Hearing that Bukharin was sided with Stalin and against Trotsky in this argument through me for a loop as a self-proclaimed Trotskyist, but then I remembered: Trotsky was the ultimate pragmatic idealist. He went from being a Menshevik to an independent trying to marry the two factions to finally joining the Bolsheviks when it looked like they were going to be in power. He made decisions based on his brilliant analysis of the actual situation, not just on ideals. He may have been Machiavellian in some respects, but he did it with good reason. So while in this particular area I agree with Bukharin, Trotsky still remains my ideological forefather.