Russian Revolution: the NEP

Exam task

Section A Question 3 – Russian Revolution


“As Lenin saw it, the New Economic Policy (NEP) was more than a temporary concession to the market in order to get a country back on its feet. It was a fundamental if rather ill-formulated effort to redefine the role of socialism in a backward peasant country where, largely as a result of his own party’s coup d’etat in 1917, the ‘bourgeoisie revolution’ had not been completed. Only ‘in countries of developed capitalism’ was it possible to make an ‘immediate transition to socialism’, Lenin had told the Tenth Party Congress. Soviet Russia was thus confronted with the task of ‘building communism with bourgeois hands’. of basing socialism on the market. Lenin of course remained full of doubts: at times he expressed fears that the regime would be drowned in a sea of petty peasant capitalism. But in the main he saw the market – regulated by the and gradually socialised through co-operatives – as the only way to socialism.”

Source: Orlando Figes, ‘A People’s Tragedy’


“Using both the source and your own ideas, explain why Lenin and the Bolshevik party introduced the New Economic Policy or NEP.” (6 marks)

Student response

“The NEP was implemented primarily to meet Russia’s urgent need for food. War Communism had resulted in a catastrophic decline in agricultural output causing widespread famine that was so severe that people resorted to cannibalism. This was because, despite the use of terror by the Cheka in grain requisitioning, peasants were not producing enough to feed the population and Lenin deciding that the Russian people must be persuaded with incentives rather than coercion.The Bolsheviks were acutely aware that the success of the revolution depended on economic stability and that Russia couldn’t rely on foreign capitalist aid to feed its people if it was trying to implement socialism and spread it to the rest of the world.”


“Explain the usefulness of this source for understanding how Lenin and the Bolsheviks responded to economic problems and challenges in the new society. In your response, refer to other views and historical perspectives.” (10 marks)

Student response

“According to historian Michael Lynch, “the adoption of the NEP showed that the Bolshevik government had been unable to create a successful economy along purely ideological lines”. After inheriting a devastated economy ruined by World War I the Bolsheviks implemented War Communism, described by the revisionist historian Sheila Fitzpatrick as “a dismal failure”. This policy only exacerbated the famine, inflation and falling production and resulted in the death of millions. However, in the face of this challenge, the Bolsheviks responded with a “strategic retreat” in the NEP which proved to be much more successful. Revisionist historian Robert Service sees the introduction of the NEP as evidence that Lenin knew when it was important to give in to practical necessities and not to be ruled by ideological principles.”

Teacher feedback

Both answers have good focus and respond effectively to the question. Both could benefit from greater detail and analysis. This is particularly true of the second response, which does not refer to the source. Together these responses would score in the region of 11-12 out of 16.

The New Economic Policy (NEP) was introduced by Lenin at the 10th Party Congress in 1921. It relaxed socialist controls on the economy, ending grain requisitioning and allowing the return of markets and petty trade. The NEP replaced War Communism, which was implemented in 1918 to supply the war effort during the Russian Civil War. As the student’s response notes, War Communism created widespread suffering, including a catastrophic famine (1920-21) and dozens of reports of cannibalism. War Communism and its implementation by the government, the Red Army and CHEKA also generated political opposition to the Bolshevik regime – for example, peasant uprisings in the Tambov region and the Kronstadt Rebellion of February 1921.

The student’s second response dives into a historiographical discussion without first assessing the source provided. Figes’ extract paints Bolshevik economic policy as “ill formulated” and “full of doubts”. The NEP, Figes suggests, was an uncertain attempt to build socialism in Russia ‘from the ground up’. This is at odds with most other Western historians, who interpret the NEP as a temporary retreat. Pipes, for example, sees the NEP as evidence that Lenin’s socialist policies had failed. CPSU histories fall in behind Lenin, suggesting the NEP provided “breathing space” while the Russian economy recovered from seven years of total war. Figes’ extract also provides no context for the NEP. It fails to mention Lenin’s earlier economic policies: ‘State Capitalism’ (a period of transition, where the state would manage parts of the economy) and War Communism (an emergency measure to supply the Red Army during the Civil War).

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