|Assess the impact of War Communism and the New Economic Policy (NEP) on both the peasantry and proletariat in Russian society between 1918 and 1928.
War Communism had a devastating impact on both the peasantry and the proletariat in Russia in the years after the Revolution. However, the New Economic Policy that followed the Civil War had the opposite effect, raising living standards and restoring support for the Bolshevik Party.
War Communism was introduced in June 1918, to give the Bolsheviks the power they needed to mobilise all of the country’s resources during the Civil War. It involved the government controlling all aspects of production and distribution. Its main features were the nationalisation of all enterprises and the abolition of private production and trade, centralisation of all decision-making, mobilisation of the population through a series of labour armies, requisition of agricultural produce from the peasants, universal rationing and the temporary elimination of money.
These measures proved effective in helping the Bolsheviks defeat the Whites during the Civil War. However, they were disastrous for the peasantry and the proletariat. Because grain was requisitioned, the peasants reacted by cutting production to subsistence levels. This resulted in a famine during the winter of 1921-22.
The proletariat also faced significant hardships, particularly as a result of the fall in industrial output and the shortage of food. Many people in the cities died from cold, disease and malnutrition, and many others fled to the countryside in the hope of saving their lives.
Once the Civil War was over, Lenin realised that War Communism would have to be replaced by a system which would satisfy the demands of the three main pillars of Bolshevik support: peasants, workers and soldiers. The peasants wanted not only ownership of the land, but also the right to keep the majority of what they produced. The workers wanted shorter hours, higher pay and better conditions. Finally, the soldiers wanted political and economic reforms.
The system Lenin devised was the New Economic Policy (NEP). Its purpose was to provide the peasants with an incentive to increase production, and to provide the state with the agricultural surpluses needed to create a large working class.
NEP, introduced in March 1921, essentially involved a mixed economy under state supervision. At its core was a system of rural capitalism in which peasants gave 10 percent of their produce to the government, but could sell the rest on the market. To maximise output, rich peasants (kulaks) were allowed to hire labourers. In industry, there was some central planning, but production was carried out in state, private and cooperative enterprises, and these were run according to market principles.
The new system produced immediate results for the peasants and workers. Rural output increased so rapidly that by 1925, output had returned to 1913 levels. Industrial production rose less rapidly; nonetheless, living standards improved for most workers.
Even so, by the late 1920s it had become clear that industrialisation was not occurring rapidly enough to close the economic gap with the West. NEP therefore turned out to be a stop-gap measure, rather than a blueprint for the future.
Hence, while War Communism proved disastrous for the peasants and workers in Russia, NEP improved their lives significantly. However, it failed to satisfy the economic, ideological and political needs of the Bolshevik Party, and so it was abandoned in favour of the Stalinist path to development.