Posted 9 марта 2021,, 08:11

Published 9 марта 2021,, 08:11

Modified 24 декабря 2022,, 22:38

Updated 24 декабря 2022,, 22:38

To the 100th anniversary of the NEP: where did underground millionaires appear from in the USSR

To the 100th anniversary of the NEP: where did underground millionaires appear from in the USSR

9 марта 2021, 08:11
Bolshevik propaganda tried in every possible way to create in the Soviet man - worker, peasant, office worker - an extremely negative and caricatured image of a wealthy entrepreneur.

Valery Perkhavko

A hundred years ago, with the transition in March 1921 to the New Economic Policy (NEP), in our country, after the extremes of "war communism" during the Civil War, joint-stock companies (Eksportkhleb, etc.), and financial and credit institutions (to for example, the Commercial and Industrial Bank of the USSR), and commodity exchanges, and state trade, and cooperative shops, and private stores.

Nepman image

Merchants, like small producers, were obliged to buy patents and pay a progressive tax. Depending on the nature of the activity (trade with hands, in stalls and kiosks, shops, retail or wholesale trade, the number of employees), they were initially divided into three, and then into five categories. The organs of Soviet power attached great importance to the use or absence of hired labor on the farms of the Nepmen. In the statistical summaries of the NEP period, according to social characteristics, the following were distinguished: 1) owners with hired workers; 2) hosts with helping family members; single owners; helping family members; rentiers. However, the official gradation of private entrepreneurs was not clear, therefore, in the works of different historians, the numbers of NEPmen both in the country as a whole and in the regions vary greatly.

In accordance with the Civil Code, any Soviet citizen who reached the age of 16 could obtain a license to trade in shops, public places, markets and bazaars, any items and products (except weapons, drugs), to open shops, cafes, restaurants, enterprises consumer services for the population, for the rental of buildings and utility rooms, production equipment, means of transport.

True, the owners of licenses for commercial and entrepreneurial activities had to provide all invoices and accounting documentation at the first request of the authorities. Of course, the participation of the Nepmen in illegal trade and financial transactions was prosecuted.

In those dashing years for trade, the most enterprising and grasping representatives of various social and professional groups rushed into the market sphere: peasants, artisans, office workers, housewives, and former "bagmen" of the times of "war communism", and some of the former Red Army men and red partisans. At the same time, in 1922, among the owners of private trading establishments in Petrograd, there were only 26.2% of former businessmen. What percentage of the Nepmen were representatives of the pre-revolutionary guild merchants, in the country as a whole, however, it is difficult to say. Only small and medium-sized merchants, who came from the petty-bourgeois strata, were able to temporarily feel market freedom again during the NEP years.

New entrepreneurs began to be called Nepmen. As the theater critic Yelizaveta Uvarova found out, the word "Nepman" was first heard in the pop review "Olympians in Moscow" (author - feuilletonist R. Mech (Mendelevich) of the Petrograd miniature theater "Korobochka" and immediately entered the colloquial and political language of Soviet Russia.

According to the observations of a former shipping company employee, memoirist Nikolay Petrovich Okunev, there were two categories of entrepreneurs among the business people of that time: 1) Nepmen of the old formation, former businessmen who passed through Butyrka's chambers and became consultants to the Supreme Council of the National Economy Council and Soviet trusts; 2) Nepmen of the new formation - small predators, people of various professions who engaged in trade in order to get rich quickly. The latter, uniting in companies of 3-5 people, sell everything that comes at hand (from manufactory and nails to chemicals and buckwheat). Without large capital of their own, such enterprising people, with the help of loans from the State Bank, made billions of dollars in trade turnover. “Burning through” their lives, they lost billions at the roulette table, became regulars of races and sweepstakes. Others on Ilyinka in front of the building of the Moscow exchange bought and resold gold.

By the mid-1920s. the number of large private traders in the country has reached 180,000. Nepman wholesalers actively influenced the process of market pricing. Depending on the prevailing trade conditions, they contributed to the rise and fall of prices. Their business was more efficient than government and cooperative trade organizations. So, at the turn of 1922-1923. overhead costs of private entrepreneurs usually did not exceed 5–7% of the turnover in monetary terms, while in trade cooperation they reached 18.2%, and in state trade - even 28.6%.

Bolshevik propaganda tried in every possible way to create an extremely negative and caricatured image of a wealthy entrepreneur in Soviet people - workers, peasants, and civil servants. On posters, in satirical rhymes, humorous stories and newspaper essays, he was portrayed as a greedy exploiter-"bloodsucker", a class enemy, a limited bourgeoisie with noble manners.

There was no more hated person for the Nepman than the financial inspector. Taxes sometimes took away from private entrepreneurs up to half of all income. According to the Law on Income Tax of November 12, 1923, all taxpayers of the country who lived in cities were divided into three categories: A, B and C. So, in category C, in particular, owners, co-owners, tenants, shareholders and investors of commercial and industrial enterprises, as well as persons engaged in commission, brokerage, forwarding, credit and exchange operations. They were charged with higher taxes and utility bills, they were deprived of the right to live in municipal buildings, the right to social security, the right to free education, and civil rights. Category B included Nepmen whose annual income, for example, in the cities of Siberia was above 400–450 rubles. Under the new Law of September 24, 1926, the lower limit of the annual income of category B taxpayers was raised to 700 rubles.

The proportion of Nepmen among the urban population of Siberia, never exceeding 7%, had a tendency to a constant decline since the second half of the 1920s. Most of the private entrepreneurs during the NEP years lived in Omsk and Irkutsk, which in terms of this indicator was much inferior to Krasnoyarsk. In 1924, on the pages of the newspaper Sovetskaya Sibir, an unknown author characterized the composition of the new Soviet bourgeoisie as follows: “Our bourgeoisie are divided into three classes: the Nepman shark, the Nepman middle peasant, and the Nepman“ hipster ”. The Napman shark is a comparatively weaker species than the others, found in Siberia. And if it were not for the hospitable wing of our trades, then there would be no question of her. The "hippie" Napman is more interested in the agents of the criminal investigation department than in the Siberian economy. On the other hand, the middle-class NEP man rather strongly strengthened his position as Siberian merchant capital. He spread his shops in all the villages and villages of immense Siberia. The class struggle is noticeable in our domestic bourgeoisie ... The middle-class Napman does not particularly like the gubernia financial departments (oh, those taxes), but he has an immeasurably greater hatred of the “NEP aristocrats” who snatch the lion's share of his income. Therefore, the middle Nepman is not averse to helping the authorities to squeeze the Nepman shark. " As we can see, one cannot discount the social and property contradictions within the NEP milieu itself, which was characterized by extreme heterogeneity and economic pragmatism.

On March 2, 1925, the worker-carpenter Pavel Tretyakov, who lived at the Vavilovo station of the Samara-Zlatoustinskaya railway, sent a letter to I.V. Stalin, in which, declaring his adherence to the ideas of communism, he sharply criticized the socio-economic and tax policies of the authorities: “Why are the taxes on peasants and artisans and merchants very high?... to pay off the goods, private trade stops, the state loses profitability, it would be better to take less than nothing... To reduce the prices of cooperatives, it is necessary to open state retail trade in all brisk trading places. Why in all cooperatives with state trade there is every little thing, like: perfume, brass soap, powder, lace, ribbons and all sorts of trinkets, but there are no necessary for peasants, artisans and other carpentry and locksmith tools, we need them like bread...".

But instead of creating more favorable conditions for the activities of private entrepreneurs, which to a large extent contributed to the revival of the country's economy after the revolutionary upheavals and devastation, the Bolshevik leadership, headed by Stalin, took over in the mid-1920s. course to accelerate the construction of socialism, began to systematically oust the Nepmen from the sphere of commodity exchange. In 1928-1929. contrary to the interests of consumers, a campaign was launched to oust wholesale Nepmen from the market of other agricultural products (meat, vegetables, fruits, dairy products).

From the end of 1926, without the permission of local auctions, private traders could not receive wholesale shipments of industrial products from state syndicates and trusts, then private traders were generally prohibited from selling scarce manufactured goods. And many NEPmen had to unwillingly wind up their business and close trade establishments.

Along with the tax press, restrictions on the acquisition of equipment and the confiscation of means of production, raw materials and personal valuables, the NEP merchant, who was not covered by part of his civil rights, was in the position of a political "dispossessed", an incomplete member of Soviet society.

The reaction to the oppressive policy of the Bolshevik authorities was the departure of businessmen underground, the spread of the shadow sector of the economy. The most colorful literary and artistic image of the shadow businessman of that time is one of the heroes of the novel by I. Ilf and E. Petrov, The Golden Calf: “ Koreiko realized that now only underground trade is possible, based on the strictest secrecy. All the crises that shook the young farm benefited him, everything the state lost on brought him income. He broke through every commodity gap and carried away his hundred thousand from there. He traded in bakery products, cloth, sugar, textiles - everything. And he was alone, completely alone with his millions. In different parts of the country, big and small rogues worked for him, but they did not know who they were working for. Koreiko acted only through dummies. And only he himself knew the length of the chain along which the money went to him". Shadow entrepreneurship could not but contribute to the spread of bribery, including among a part of the Soviet economic and administrative apparatus, who did not hesitate to “skim the cream off” both from registered merchants and from secret tycoons of the commercial business to replenish the family budget. Among the shadow Nepmen there were even members of the Bolshevik Party.

The year 1929 was a turning point in the final curtailment of the NEP and market relations. Under the conditions of the unfolded offensive of socialism on all fronts, the authorities not only ousted, but actually destroyed the so-called exploiting elements, including enterprising merchants, instead of using their rich experience in the field of commodity exchange. In my youth, brought up on Soviet school history textbooks, which spoke about the need to destroy the exploiting class, I once had a chance in the market of the Belarusian city of Slutsk to talk with very elderly women, whose youth fell on the years of the New Economic Policy. And, to my surprise, they recalled with regret the liquidation in the late 1920s. private shops and the oppression of the Nepmen (in their words, "strong owners") - the owners of shops, sawmills, mills, who provided the local population with a variety of goods and jobs. The fates of the former NEP traders in the 1930s developed differently: someone was repressed, sent into exile in remote regions of Siberia or even in forced labor camps, and someone had to go into the shadows, hide and join the image the life of ordinary Soviet inhabitants, having gone to work in state trade shops or institutions of consumer and sales cooperation.

Valery Borisovich Perkhavko, Candidate of Historical Sciences, Leading Researcher at the Institute of Russian History of the Russian Academy of Sciences