Lenin's New Economic Policy: Coverage of the Policy by the New York Times

By Melissa Aaronberg
2010, Vol. 2 No. 06 | pg. 2/3 |

Taylor further emphasizes the significance of this article over Duranty’s previous writing. She writes that Duranty explains the New Economic Policy “without hyperbole and without affixing blame.”19 Duranty wrote objectively about the New Economic Policy instead of “glorying in what admitted to a straightforward admission of defeat on the part of the Bolsheviks.”20 Duranty’s objectivity is best exemplified with this passage:

"In every case in which the story has come that Lenin was about to yield to the exigencies of recognized and approved industrial and commercial usage, and had abandoned or at least qualified either his ideas or his administration of communism, another story followed that he made no such concessions, to either the failure of his ideas and his administration in Russia or their lack of welcome abroad."21

This article shows a departure from Duranty’s sensational style to a more sober approach. This is also Duranty’s first article that does not demonize the Bolsheviks. When compared to his articles from only weeks before, Duranty here begins to view the Soviet regime in a different light.

In Russia, however, Lenin’s New Economic Policy was not universally met with acclaim. Alan Ball writes that to the veterans of the revolution, the advent of the New Economic Policy signaled “that the Bolsheviks had jettisoned the fundamental ideals of the Revolution.”22 Lenin therefore had to persuade his fellow part members that the New Economic Policy was a necessary step in the journey to communism.23 Duranty’s article, “Lenin Gives Reasons Why Policy Failed,” once again provides an objective description of Lenin’s plans.24 He outlines the four reasons given by Lenin, and describes the New Economic Policy in great detail.25

The article’s conclusion, however, reveals Duranty’s opinion. He claims that the New Economic Policy will centralize Russia’s government, and ultimately dissolve the local Soviets: “This presumably means that the local Soviets of workers and peasants will have their claws considerably clipped and will no longer be able to upset everything.”26 This statement does not prove that Duranty supported the Bolshevik government, but shows that he believed it to be a prominent force that would not fade in the near future.

By mid-August, with the New Economic Policy becoming a fixture in Soviet life, Duranty noted a change in Riga’s reception of the Bolshevik government. In his article, “Relief Conference in Riga Suspends,” Duranty writes

"Some sensation has been caused in Riga by Lenin’s decree restoring Russia to something like a capitalistic basis. The feeling is growing in quarters hitherto anti-Bolshevist that perhaps the leopard can change his spots after all, and that the Bolsheviki, who are the only organized Government Russia has got or is likely to have, are willing to be reasonable, it seems a pity not to give them a chance to put the new resolutions into practice."27

What is less straightforward, however, is whether or not Duranty himself believed in the legitimacy of the Soviet government at this time. In light of his previous articles on the New Economic Policy, Duranty’s opinion of the Soviet leadership is beginning to soften. Taylor argues that one cannot take Duranty’s opinions at face value. She writes that Duranty’s favorable writings about the Soviet regime were not from “genuine conviction,” much to the chagrin of other correspondents who were pro-Soviet.28

Although still sympathetic to the famine sufferers, the article “Soviet Reveals Famine Horrors; Confirms Rumors,” shows how after the advent of the New Economic Policy, Duranty no longer blamed the Soviet authorities for the famine.29 Duranty gives four reasons for the famine, three of which are natural causes. He attributes the fourth cause to destruction and pillaging. Duranty writes that “in justice to the Soviet authorities this was purely a war measure and was immediately replaced by them when the defeat of General Wrangel removed their last enemy.”30 Duranty further claims that the worst phases of the famine “occurred in May and early June, before the central authorities realized the gravity of the situation and were able to take steps to canalize emigration and fight disease.”31

When looking back to Duranty’s article “Senator France Sees Russia Going Back to ‘Capitalism,’” Duranty did not see the Soviet government surviving the famine. The New Economic Policy’s arrival marked a change in Duranty’s view, resulting in an apology for the Soviet government’s actions, but not his full support. Duranty arrived in Moscow in early September 1921.32 His arrival marks a change in attitude toward the Soviet government. In “Lenin Places New Hope in His New Policy,” Duranty describes the New Economic Policy as a unifying force.33 Duranty concedes that the New Economic Policy did cause controversy, but that the Soviet leaders have reached a consensus. He explains:

"Lenin’s new economic policy has put a severe strain on a good many members of the Communist Party. . .Yet such is the communistic discipline that there is never a word of anything but enthusiasm for the economic change. The leader’s attempts to explain its reasons or purposes may vary, but that it is a change for the best all are firmly agreed. It was decided upon at a general Congress of the Communist Party last March and that decision is binding upon every member. Finally, the change was decided upon and the opposition vanished."34

According to the evidence previously cited in Alan Ball, to say all Party members were in accord with the New Economic Policy is a sweeping generalization. Duranty’s use of the terms “communistic discipline” and “vanished opposition” echo the Stalinist rhetoric he supported years later. It is also interesting to note that Duranty adopts communist phraseology in this article, instead of clearly stating that it was said by a member of the government. This is evident in the following paragraph:

"This new policy is a concession not to capitalism, but to the peasants. Clauses in the decree embodying it that establish liberty of private trading and encourage the use of money are destined to rescue the peasant producer so that he will be able to sell food and buy manufactured goods with the proceeds. The clauses directed to the stimulation of industrial production by the lease of factories and reintroduction of the system of bonuses, etc, is destined to provide manufactured goods for the peasant to buy. Unless this can be done, virtual elimination of the urban workers will occur."35

Furthermore, Duranty disproves Senator France’s claim that any economic changes would be caused by the famine. He argues that “the proposals were carefully reviewed beforehand. Which means that said proposals were canvassed right from the beginning of the year of the famine and was expected by more than a very few. The famine did little more than bring home to the masses of the party the necessity for change which was already obvious to Lenin and other leaders.”36 Here the Bolsheviks are portrayed as competent leaders taking control of a disastrous situation, and not insincere opportunists.

Duranty experienced the consequences of the New Economic Policy firsthand during his stay in Moscow. His article “Moscow is Buying and Selling Again” relates the revitalization of Moscow under the New Economic Policy.37 He writes that “the new liberty of trade. . . (has resulted in ) a perceptible note of optimism in Moscow.” 38 Duranty was most enthusiastic over Russia’s abandonment of communism. Ball writes that a “wave of buying and selling had swept the plan aside in the summer.”39 Duranty’s relief is evident in the line: “This means to the masses concrete proof that the era of communism is definitely past, and that the individual will again have a chance to improve his condition and that of his family by his own efforts.”40

Duranty further criticizes Marxist idealists by saying that they did not understand how to properly motivate the masses. He also equates the proletariat to schoolboys who now crave authority after having too much freedom. This is found in the passage stating,

"The comparatively few who really understood that the people’s ownership of factories and universal equality did not mean the right to loaf on the job and tell the foreman to go to the blazes if he remonstrated were unable to stimulate the masses efficiently. But now the latter, like a boy weary of too much playtime, are beginning to wish school would reopen again and are ready to accept the discipline of superior knowledge which they temporarily rejected."41

Duranty saw the New Economic Policy as the much needed force to catalyze Russia out of the despair of the famine. Duranty here does not mention the Soviet government at all, and sees the New Economic Policy itself as Russia’s saving grace. He concludes that “if the present rate of production is maintained, Russia’s economic revival will astonish the world.”42

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