The New Economic Policy as a fundamental shift in the economic relations to the young Soviet Republic. I want to go over Trotsky’s relationship with this policy as it seems to be a commonly misunderstood aspect of Trotsky.
Before there was the NEP, there was War Communism was lasting from 1918-1921. The winter of 1917-1918 saw huge food shortages bread rations in the capital fell to 50grams of bread per day. When the revolution happened the peasants began to seize land even without authorization, the policy that did come down was more of legalization of what was already happening in the country. This combined with the unauthorized nationalization of factories created a lot of economic turmoil. Prices were set by the government and the peasants were supposed to sell at those prices this was the policy of the Tsarist, the Provisional and the early Bolshevik government. However, by 1917 prices had fallen behind what the peasants wanted and what they need to be able to purchase goods. This was all a problem before the civil war set in, and the loss of Ukraine and other grain-producing areas created a huge crisis. In Petrograd over half of the workers were unemployed, The population of the capital was 2.5 million in 1917 and was below 1.5 million in 1918, other major cities of European Russia lost large portions of their population as well.
This motivated a number of shifts in policy which constitutes “war communism” while most of these methods were necessary actions by the situation many people ended up turning them into virtues. A major aspect of this policy shift was moving to grain requisitions, these required armed detachments be sent out to take grain, most of this was launched from the poorest peasants being told to seize the grain stores of the wealthy peasants. This policy did see a large increase in the amount of grain being taken in from 30 million poods to 110 million poods in 1918. During this period it remained wholly impossible to live off the rations despite the increase. Everyone relied on illegal grain trade to some extent. This resulted in some legalization of the illegal trade, though a meshochniki became legalized to some extent and were permitted to trade in a certain amount of grain 1.5 poods worth. This period as well saw some parts of the country saw families no longer pay for food, housing, postage, and transportation. All of this gave hope that there could be a quick transition to a money less society. In 1919 the party programme read
“To continue undeviatingly to replace trade by planned, governmental organized distributions of products, The aim is to organize the whole population into producers’ and consumers' communes … [The Party] will strive for the most rapid carrying out of the most radical measures preparing the abolition of money. “
While there remained much hope the numbers paint a very bleak picture of the situation of the industry in the young Soviet Republic
Here we have a comparison between 1913 and 1920
Production, on the whole, remained far behind pre-war, of course, the problems came with having a civil war and the loss of some territory, but as well the emergency measures that constituted war communism were becoming not sustainable and production was not recovering. The peasants wanted some security and the requisitions to end, the state at this time was fully incapable of planning all of the industry at this time.
Ending War Communism
While most of the party was still fully in support of War Communism there started to be some push back. Trotsky in the winter of 1919-1920 was in the Urals direction economic work, mostly focusing on transportation inability to transport things at that point became a major stalling factor in getting people food and other resources. Trotsky wrote a letter in February 1920 he proposed replacing requisitions with a tax in kind. It was to be set up in a way to reward peasants for increasing production and to free them from the requisitions, to increase the ability to engage in trade for the peasants. Trotsky’s proposal was defeated 4 to 15 with Lenin being opposed. In Alec Nove’s An Economic History of the USSR he also reports that Yuri Larin proposed something similar near the end of January which was also opposed. Trotsky’s proposal is detailed at the start of chapter 19 of Volume II of Carr’s The Bolshevik Revolution.
The implementation of the NEP
February 8th, 1921 continued the discussion in the Politburo prompted Lenin to draft a new Policy.
To satisfy the desire of the non-party peasantry for the replacement of the requestion (meaning the taking of surpluses) by a grain tax ; To reduce the level of this tax in comparison with last year’s requisition ; To approve the principle of bringing the level of tax into relation with the effort of the cultivator in the sense of lowering the percentage of tax in proportion to an increase of effort by the cultivator. To extend the freedom of the cultivator to use his surplus over and above the tax for local economic exchange, on condition of prompt and full payment of the tax.
February 24th saw Lenin’s draft notes turned into policy and submitted to the central committee. Lenin introduced this at the 10th party congress.
March 21st saw this become government policy
So contrary to some ideas Trotsky was not opposed to the NEP, in fact, his proposal is pretty similar to what become Lenin’s notes. So much for the idea of Trotsky being opposed to the NEP
As well as during the era of the economic debates of the 1920s Trotsky had this to say in 1925 according to Moshe Lewin’s Political Undercurrents in Soviet Economic Debates.
“Trotsky, too in a brochure written in August 1925 developed positive expectations about long-term prospects of the NEP and defined it as “cooperation and competition” between socialism and capitalism. “ Preobrazhensky originally an opponent of the NEP in 1921 supported it and its transitional character and was against any violent elimination of it or forced collectivization.
So contrary to the often-repeated myth not only did Trotsky not oppose the NEP he was one of the first Bolsheviks to make proposals to move to it.
What Is Trotskyism?
“Trotskyism is not a new movement, a new doctrine, but the restoration, the revival, of genuine Marxism as it was expounded and practised in the Russian revolution and in the early days of the Communist International.”
— James P. Cannon (1944)