Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Why did Stalin support keeping the NEP in 1925 but then abandoned it in 1928~9?

Stalin's decision that abandoned the NEP and supported industrialization was very significant in shaping the Communist Russia in time to come. Although the NEP was generally considered a success, clearly there were limitations; the NEP was only a means of recovery, to help Russia get up on its feet after the devastating effects of the Civil war. Stalin, at first, supported the NEP, but then in December 1927, he made The Great Turn, abandoning the NEP. Although some may say that he did this because he came to realize the limitations of the NEP, but it is also credible that he did this simply to gain power. This view is supported by a claim made by Bukharin: Stalin ‘changes his theories according to whom he needs to get rid of next.’

Stalin hated Trotsky. During the Civil war, Trotsky had removed him from his military post when Stalin disobeyed Trotsky's orders. Stalin was venomously jealous of him; Trotsky was a brilliant orator and the hero of the October Revolution and the Civil war, whereas he was a not-so-talented speaker, who had done nothing significant during the October Revolution – he was a ‘grey blur’, as Sukhanov put it. Therefore it was obvious that Stalin would oppose whatever Trotsky proposed. As Trotsky wanted to abandon the NEP, Stalin supported the NEP, and when Trotsky was removed from power, Stalin had no more incentive to defend the NEP.

Stalin understood that opposing Lenin was an unwise stance to take if one wanted to gain support. Lenin was the father of the Russian Revolution, and to oppose him would be betraying the Revolution. Trotsky had opposed him in numerous occasions, which was one of the important reasons that led to his loss of support and his consequent downfall. Stalin adhered to Lenin’s policyies on almost every occasion. Originally, he supported the policy of continuing the war, but after Lenin gained prominence in the Revolution, Stalin abandoned his policy to follow Lenin’s , which opposed the continuation of the war. He also tried to carry Lenin’s legacy by speaking as the chief speaker at Lenin’s funeral and by opposing the publication of Lenin’s Testaments, which carried unfavourable comments on Stalin. The NEP was Lenin’s brainchild, and supporting the NEP would mean that he was following Lenin’s footsteps. Stalin was able to abandon the NEP later as he had made a strong power base and as Lenin began to fade away from the people’s memories.

All the contestants of the power struggle had their own policy on how Russia should be run and followed it devotedly. Trotsky believed in the Permanent Revolution, Bukharin supported the NEP, Kamanev and Zinoviev wanted a socialist coalition, and Tomsky fought for trade union rights. However, Stalin was an exception. According to Westwood , Stalin stood back without following a clear policy, and only supporting one to eliminate others by ‘offering his spade’. Stalin only supported the NEP to eliminate Trotsky, and then abandoned it to remove Bukharin. Some may argue that Stalin did have a policy, which was Socialism in One Country. However, Stalin only followed this policy because this was the popular alternative to Permanent Revolution, as it appealed to patriotism and nationalism. Stalin was not following a policy that he believed in but a policy which would give him power.

The reason why Stalin supported industrialization in 1927 and onwards may be explained by his unlimited hunger for power. Stalin was always obsessed with gaining more power; he readily took the post of General Secretary while others rejected it as he saw how much power lied in it. Lenin realized this and stated in his testament that he was not sure whether Stalin would use his power with ‘sufficient caution’, which meant that Lenin feared Stalin using his powers to gain more power. In 1928~9, Stalin realized that he needed industrialization to secure his power. The general atmosphere among the communists was that of a building a socialist society, and the NEP was preventing this. Also, in 1928, there was a war scare that increased fears about Russia’s vulnerability to foreign attack, so that industrialization was need to arm and defend itself. Stalin obviously had to defend Russia from foreign attacks if he wanted to preserve his power.

Some may argue that Stalin abandoned the NEP because he genuinely realized the limitations it carried and because it was only a measure of recovery from the civil war. This claim is supported by his visit to the Urals where he investigated the actual effects of the NEP in the countryside, where he saw that agriculture was still very backward. However, his visit to the Urals lasted for only 3 weeks, which was an extremely short time to properly analyze the countryside, given the colossal expanses of Russian countryside. He may have just visited the Urals to make people think that he abandoned the NEP for genuine reasons, so as to dismiss the claim of him abandoning it for the sake of the power struggle.

It is clear that Stalin’s change of policy, The Great Turn, was only brought about because Stalin needed it to assure him of gaining more power. This can be seen from his malleable stance on policies and his hunger for power which mattered in every decision that Stalin made. Had the NEP been popular among the party members, Stalin would have supported it to gain the support of the party.

Note : This is an opinionated essay, and does not define the history of power struggle in Russia.

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