March 01, 2021

New Economic Policy



New Economic Policy
A “pre-holiday market” in 1920.

During the early years of perestroika, Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev often favorably cited the example of NEP, the long-forgotten New Economic Policy the Soviets had launched in 1921 and terminated in 1928. The Soviet people were not used to seeing NEP cast as anything to be emulated. In the past, if NEP was brought up at all, it was usually as a time of “debauchery” or “frenzy,” when “Nepmen” in sumptuous fur coats raced about town in horse-drawn cabs or even fancy motorcars, going from restaurant to restaurant with their giggling girlfriends, while homeless children or baffled workers looked on with sullen hostility.

NEP had always been regarded as a strange, only vaguely understood, and not very sensible chapter in Soviet history: a pause between the heroic Civil War and the no less heroic Five-Year Plans. Generally speaking, the NEP period really was a hiatus between two eras in Soviet history that were more horrific than heroic.

In Ilf and Petrov’s The Little Golden Calf, an old man comes to Ostap Bender offering to take the fall when a crooked scheme Bender is cooking up unravels. The man, who has made a career out of serving time for other people’s crimes, waxes nostalgic about how business boomed during NEP. Bender was getting ready to set up an office, Horns and Hoofs, as a front, and “Sitzchairman Funt” was prepared to serve as the fictional head, so that when the time came for the fellows actually running the operation to flee with their ill-gotten gains, or when inspectors caught wind of their machinations, the sitzchairman would be the one to go to prison in their place.


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