The significance of the NEP in the 1920’s in the Soviet Union was great. It would be looked upon later by peasants as a period of hope. The New Economic Policy was viable to a degree, but obviously not the complete answer for the Soviets economic ailments. In the end, few benefited from the open market of the NEP.
From 1914 to 1921 agricultural production fell some 40%. Many peasant uprisings made it clear that change was necessary. One problem for the party was finding a solution that would help the ailing economy and help booster socialism at the same time in the Soviet state. The New Economic Policy spawned thanks to the works of party leaders (including Stalin) at the 10th Part Congress in March of 1921. Critics of the NEP would say that it was a retreat to capitalism. This was a viable criticism. In order for the party to stimulate agricultural productivity, they allowed farmers to lease and hire labor. They also allowed most workers to freely enter a competitive labor market. So the NEP definitely had capitalist implications, but necessary ones according to Lenin. In order for Socialism to jump start in Soviet Russia, there would have to be a temporary capitalist-like economic policy to stimulate agricultural and industrial growth.
The party had little to work with though. The cultural landscape was dismal. Just as the NEP was starting to get off of the ground, famine struck in 1921 and 1922. A summer drought and peasants reduction of sown acreage led to massive crop failure in 1921. Almost 5 million people died during the famine. Peasants were unhappy and poor. After the famine, the economy managed to pick itself up thanks to the NEP. There was a short period of time that some Soviet citizens felt prosperity, but that was temporary. The industry had problems because it was too poor to modernize plants and machinery. This slowed the progress of NEP and presented a real problem for future progress.
If not for Lenin’s death in 1924, the NEP might well have developed into a progressive policy. Since the party leaders who set it up saw the NEP as temporary, it had little hope to succeed in the first place. Lenin began to see the NEP as a way to build socialism. If it was not for his untimely death, the NEP may well have lasted and built reel prosperity eventually.
In looking at the NEP as an alternative I think that it was the only alternative that Soviet leaders had that would inspire any economic growth at the time. Poverty was flourishing and people were not inspired. Force did not inspire peasants/famers/workers to produce any more, it just made them angry. Maybe if the NEP was able to continue with some changes over time, the economy may have been able to pick itself up entirely. Of course the Soviet state would not seem very communist with a long term NEP set in place, but it may have stimulated foreign trade. At the time few foreign investors wanted to risk trading with a Soviet state. Without foreign trade, and without long-term implications of the NEP, the economy in Soviet Russia would never fully recover from the NEP. So it was very significant in it’s implications, but lacked an overall cohesiveness. Could be seen as a viable alternative in Soviet History, but it did not last.
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