1922 - Fedor Dan on the New Economic Policy

Translator's note: The following passage is from the closing pages of F I Dan' s memoir Dva goda skitaniy ("Two Years of Wandering", Berlin 1922 ). Dan had been one of the most prominent Mensheviks for almost two decades. He had opened the 2nd Congress of Soviets in October 1917, at which the Bolsheviks had used their majority among the delegates to approve their overthrow of the Provisional Government. At the beginning of 1921 the Bolshevik authorities had arrested him and several other leading Mensheviks. After holding him for a year without trial or charge, he was released for a week before being sent abroad into permanent exile. Shortly after his arrival in Germany, Dan published an account of his experiences in Soviet Russia. In this excerpt, he describes the economic conditions he found in Moscow on his release from jail in January 1922, ten months into the New Economic Policy. - FK

I remained in Moscow, using the opportunity not only to take part in arranging our party affairs, but also to take a look at the new appearance the communist capital had acquired in the year since I last saw it. My observations gave me little cause for comfort. Trade was now going on in almost every building. But, alas, these were almost entirely "colonial"-type foodstores, bakers, confectioners, cafés - i.e. shops and establishments catering to very well-off people. The queues at the confectioners' counters were not long at all, and people were paying millions of rubles for a bun. This new trade was evidently mainly selling luxury items to the "new rich", who stood out shamelessly against the background of general impoverishment and the monstrous famine. Confused reports of this famine were reaching Moscow in the form of news about mass mortality, appalling cases of cannibalism and so on. But this was all received as if it were news from another planet, and Moscow made merry, treating itself to buns, fine sweets, fruits and delicacies. The theatres and concert halls were packed, and the ladies began again to flaunt their luxurious dresses, furs and diamonds. Yesterday the "speculator" ran the risk of being shot, and lurked quietly in corners hoping that nobody would notice him. Today he feels happy, and proudly shows off all his wealth and luxury. This is reflected in all the ways people relate to each other. For the first time in many years I heard carriage drivers, waiters in cafés and porters at the station use the servile expression barin ("sir"), which had previously disappeared completely.

In many conversations I heard about colossal salaries ("in gold-backed currency"), about breath-taking "commissions" on purchases and sales carried out by state agencies, on unprecedented corruption and so on. I was in the office of a good acquaintance, a man of tested honesty, who was now heading one of the state's "economic" enterprises. While I was there all sorts of employees with reports, suppliers, commissioners and so on came in and out. I joked to my friend that it felt less like a state enterprise and more like the office of a shady trading company of ill repute, such was the atmosphere of money-grubbing and palm-greasing, without which nothing would happen at all.

Moreover, even the most superficial observation was enough to convince me that as far as organising and strengthening production was concerned, nothing had been done in that year. Essentially it was just the same redistribution of existing stocks left over from the former times, with just one difference: the number of participants in the carve-up had fallen significantly. As consumption now had to be paid for, the participants were just the "top ten thousand" - those who had something to pay with. The great bulk of the population, workers and employees, had had their direct food allocations replaced by money wages which were insufficient for survival even on starvation rations. Moreover, "economic accounting" had resulted everywhere in staff cuts. Unemployment appeared, and a mass of young women who had previously filled Soviet offices were thrown out onto the streets without any hope of any kind of wage. And the result could be seen on the streets: Tverskaya was again filled with young women and girls, making use of "freedom to trade" in order to sell the only thing that remained to them - their own bodies.

The "gastronomic" nature of Moscow trade was very striking. Very rarely did I find shops with any other kinds of goods, with the exception of women's hats, which were on sale in the shops in pretty good quantities. I went into MUM, the Interdepartmental Universal Store, which occupied a few shops in the Central Trading Rows. I needed the most basic coat-lining and some bone buttons, but neither were to be found in the shop - the place where all the central economic institutions of the Muscovite state brought all their riches! The stalls had just small items of haberdashery of the sort of low quality that previously was only sold in the most run-down village stores.

I only managed to have a brief look at "New Economic Policy" Moscow. But what I saw left me with the most depressing impression: not one iota of economic progress, and rapidly developing moral and political disintegration.

Source: F I Dan, Dva goda skitaniy, Berlin, 1922, pp. 252 - 255.