Thursday, August 14, 2008
Obama's NEP
September 8, 2010
Obama’s NEP
by Karl Ushanka

On Monday, CNN’s Ed Henry published Obama to lay out new economic plan Wednesday.  He leads, “With less than two months to go until a critical midterm election likely to turn on the economy, President Obama this week will lay out a new plan...”  

What more lacks the journalistic discretion we have come to expect?  Using the phrase ‘new economic plan’, (acronym NEP), or linking the president’s policy motivations solely on an upcoming election?

NEP, of course, is the common abbreviation for Lenin’s 1921 New Economic Policy.  An accident, or does CNN want to further inflate the number of Americans who are now referring to their president as a socialist, statist, Marxist, or even a communist.  Is it not the media’s self-defined role to stifle these labels, smear their users, and protect their president?  

“So what,” you say? The initials, NEP, are the same.  There cannot be any other common traits between Obama’s new economic plan and Lenin’s New Economic Policy, right? Well yes, if you ignore the self-preservation instincts of deceptive leaders who overlook the popular wishes of citizens and their employers who are suffering because they cannot predict their economic future.

The winter of 1920-21 was a critical time for the Bolsheviks.  Three years after the Revolution, they had just brought the Civil War to an end. The economic destruction of War Communism had reached its peak as forced grain requisitions were taking a horrid toll on the cities, including the former capital of Petrograd, a coastal city on the Gulf of Finland. 

A funny thing about Communists - they love it when workers strike and agitate when they are out of power, but not so much when they have the reins.  This can be confusing for the loyal followers like the factory workers in Petrograd.  Exhausted from civil war, angry about their small rations, discouraged by the exodus of city workers back to the peasant farms in search of food, and angry at hearing of the War Communism tactics in the countryside, the Petrograd workers did what was acceptable in the past - they protested.  

The crackdowns there were followed closely by the sailors based at the Baltic Fleet headquarters on Kotlin Island about 20 miles away.  The base, Kronstadt, had a reputation for hair-trigger revolutionaries, so much so they were singled out for praise by Lenin for their role in the 1917 Revolution.  The Civil War ends, sailors take leave to visit their families, most of which were peasant farmers.  These sailors see the suffering under War Communism, and are asked by family members “Why do you fight for the oppressors?”  

Even the Bolsheviks knew they had gone too far.  In late 1920 Lenin starts considering the peasant pleas to replace forced grain requisitions with a fixed tax.  ‘Just give us a way to predict what we keep and what we pay’ was the peasant rationale. Trotsky claims he too was for significant loosening, and Baltic Fleet Commissar Nikolai Kuzmin even warned of potential mutiny. Despite the Petrograd strikes and all the talk in Moscow, nothing is done.   Bolshevik power was not yet threatened.  

As the Petrograd strikes waned, the sailors formalized their rebellion with the Political Charter of Kronstadt on February 28, 1921.  The leader, 30 year old Stepan Petrichenko of peasant origin, did not call for the overthrow of Lenin’s government.  Their demands centered on the restoration of the Revolution’s stated goals at its founding.  

Their demands could not be published.  One cannot rally the Red Army against a mutiny when the sailors are making sensible requests, such as: “...the present soviets do not represent the will of the workers and peasants, to re-elect the soviets immediately by secret voting, with free canvassing among all workers and peasants before the elections”.  

Lenin responds with disinformation: the Kronstadt rebels were a resurgence of Civil War enemies bent on the destruction of the Soviet Union and overthrow of the regime.

It was Kronstadt which led to Lenin’s NEP, albeit months later to show there was no connection between the two.  Kronstadt had the characteristics of an inspirational movement.  Had the rebellion occurred a few weeks later when the Red Army could not charge the fort over the frozen Gulf, and when supplies could have been brought in from France and elsewhere, the Bolsheviks risked Kronstadt-inspired uprisings throughout the Soviet Union.  As Lenin later justified NEP, “We must have the courage to look the bitter truth in the face.  The party is sick.  The party is shaking with fever.”

Today, America’s economy is shaking with fever. Our leader will announce his NEP today.  How do the NEP’s compare?

From the Democrats’ perspective, their rule is very similar to Bolshevik rule in 1921 - hanging by a thread.  Yes the Democrats won hefty majorities in their 2008 Revolution, and have had carte blanche for any policy they desired.  ‘War Liberalism’ is a fair term to use to encompass the unpopular Obamacare, auto-maker and student-loan takeovers, TARP funds forced on healthy banks, czars - pay and otherwise, massive tax increases coming this January, and the creation of our new internal enemy: right wing extremists.  Rumors of the DNC’s demise in the upcoming elections are forcing policies that would otherwise not be considered.  

Like our predecessors in Petrograd and Kronstadt, we thought it was ok to protest as we watched 6 years of protests against Bush.  We were told speaking truth to power was admirable, that freedom of speech sacred, that dissent patriotic.  Our tea party movement gained traction with the theme of returning to our Revolution’s founding principles. We have not called for the overthrow of Obama’s Administration. Attend a tea party to confirm this. Tune into CNN if you don’t.

Our Constitution, scarred as it is, is still intact.  There are no repressions beyond massive deficit spending and destructive redistributive policies. Media elites tried to deflate the tea party groups first with crude gay semantic references, then charges of ‘AstroTurf’ funding, then racism, then greed, then bigotry, then... all to no avail.  The tea party groups seem resistant to smears.

The unstated problem this November is that Obama voters in 2008 will be voting against Obama candidates in 2010.  They went too far.  War Liberalism has backfired.  One can imagine the president telling his Michelle in hushed tones, “We must have the courage to look the bitter truth in the face.”  

The Petrograd workers dropped their protests and returned to work after a can of meat was added to their weekly rations.  Will a temporary investment tax credit be our can of meat?

Obama is no Lenin.  Lenin ended War Communism, replaced grain confiscation with a predictable tax, and allowed some free market activities. With some help from the Cheka, it was enough to satisfy the masses and lead to long term stabilization.   As for Obama’s NEP, any benefit to our economy will be like his tax credits - temporary.  


Quotes are from Kronstadt 1921, by Paul Avrich. Amazon

Map photo from
Poster picture from Mad Blasts of Chaos

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