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The NEPmen (Russian: Нэпманы, romanizedNepmani) were businesspeople in the young Soviet Union who took advantage of the opportunities for private trade and small-scale manufacturing provided under the New Economic Policy (NEP, 1921-1928). The Famine of 1921-1922 epitomized the adverse effects of War Communism, and to remedy or mitigate such effects Vladimir Lenin took, what the communist party saw as, “a step backwards.” Lenin responded by instituting the NEP, which encouraged private buying and selling, even to, as one official (Bukharin) put it, "enrich yourselves". [1] The biggest group of the 3 million or so NEPmen were engaged in handicrafts in the countryside, but it was those who traded or ran small businesses in the city that faced the most negative attitudes, since some amassed considerable fortunes.[2]

One of the main objectives of the Communist Party was to promote socialism, and NEPmen's capitalist behavior challenged this goal; however, given the economic benefits that NEPmen provided, the government allowed their existence. As they gained a greater standard of living compared to their poor, working class counterparts, NEPmen became reviled, and stereotyped as greedy.[3] Among ordinary folk, traditional hatred of profiteers found focus in the NEPmen, some of it acquiring an anti-semitic tinge.[4] This was reinforced by the official media representation of NEPmen as vulgar nouveau riches.[5] As Joseph Stalin consolidated his power, he moved violently to end the New Economic Policy and to put NEPmen out of business, abolishing private commerce in 1931.[6]

NEPman Under Lenin[edit]

When the New Economic Policy was introduced in 1921 by Vladimir Lenin, it gave many NEPmen a chance to establish themselves in Soviet society. Lenin’s plan was to use the NEP (New Economic Policy) as a temporary measure to rebuild the devastated Soviet economy. The NEPmen’s role in this new economic climate was to help spread trade to the parts of the country the government could not reach.[7] In fact, in 1922 the NEPmen accounted for almost 75% of the Soviet Union's retail trade.[5] However, not everyone in the country was particularly happy about the NEP and the emergence of NEPmen, especially the Bolsheviks. The Bolsheviks saw the NEPmen as competition and feared that they would end up in positions of power and turn the Soviet Union into a capitalist nation.[4] Lenin was highly criticized by his party members for the NEP because it was essentially capitalism controlled by the state. The disapproval of the NEP from many members of society greatly affected a NEPman’s quality of life, they were highly scrutinized, taxed heavily, and their right to vote was revoked.[5] Socialist advertising was also produced to oppose the NEPmen's capitalistic promotions, and this war on capitalism became one of the main goals of Soviet socialist advertising producers at the time.[8] Lenin combated this slander and disapproval by asserting that the NEP was just a temporary measure required to repair the Soviet’s crumbling economy. He also pointed out that the NEPmen were helping the economy greatly because they could be heavily taxed, providing more revenue for the state. The increase in revenue helped the government to secure their plans for a socialist society, while also strengthening the economy. In the eyes of the government, NEPmen were nothing more than a stepping stone providing stability for the creation of the Soviet socialist state in this era. By the time of Vladimir Lenin’s death in 1924, the NEPmen were being phased out of society to make room for socialist values, and during the Stalin era the NEPman was a dying breed.[7]

NEPmen Under Stalin[edit]

NEP street market
Street Market

In 1922 Lenin would have his second stroke affecting his ability to lead. Before his death in 1924, a noticeable power struggle between Stalin and Leon Trotsky would be visible.[9] Given the instability in Russian leadership, NEPmen would gain a small window of opportunity. After a dramatic drop in sales directly from state industry to NEPmen (14.7% to 2.1%) in 1924, the Soviet Economy would once again rely on NEPmen for stabilization; by 1925 &1926 decrees would reduce taxes, mandatory state loans were no longer mandatory, and employee penalties were alleviated (i.e., lower number of employees, lower taxes).[7] While NEPmen would enjoy a more hospitable economic and social environment, it would not indicate that they were accepted or condoned, but rather tolerated. Stalin, on the other hand, expressed his disdain for NEPmen and NEP frequently; however, it was public knowledge that he was also frustrated with members within the Communist Party for supporting NEP.[10] Eventually, through a series of politically tactical moves, Stalin began to solidify his power. By October 1927 Zinoviev and Trotsky, Stalin's main opposition, would be removed from the Central Committee, and would no longer threaten or challenge Stalin.[11] The result, Stalin would gain the maneuverability to propose a new economic strategy, and the freedom to strategize means of eliminating private entrepreneurship. 1927 would be the be the beginning of the end for NEPmen alongside Kulaks. In 1928 Stalin would reignite attitudes of the October Revolution era, and would aggressively propagate anti-NEPmen propaganda.[12] The same year, the New Economic Plan would be replaced with Stalin's Five Year Plan, suggesting that NEPmen would also be replaced; however, some scholars argue that a modified version of NEPmen would exist into the 1930s. Nonetheless, with limitless power, tensions would escalate, and force was an acceptable means of ending the wealthier class or the "enemy of the people."[13]

Growth of Soviet National Income from 1928 to 1987 comparing the NEPmen's impact on the economy versus later regimes when NEPmen did not exist.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Avery., Hunt, Lynn (2009). The making of the West : peoples and cultures. Bedford/St. Martin's. ISBN 9780312452940. OCLC 718076151.
  2. ^ Smith, S.A. (2002). The Russian Revolution: A very short introduction. Oxford University Press. p. 131.
  3. ^ "Nepmen". Seventeen Moments in Soviet History. 2015-06-17. Retrieved 2019-02-18.
  4. ^ a b Fitzpatrick, Sheila (1991). Russia in the Era of NEP. Indiana University Press. p. 27. ISBN 978-0253322241.
  5. ^ a b c Siegelbaum, Lewis (1922). Soviet State and Society Between Revolutions. New York: Cambridge University Press.
  6. ^ Duranty, Walter (1924). "Russia is Hard Hit by War on 'NEPmen'". The New York Times.
  7. ^ a b c Ball, Alan (1990). Russia's last capitalists the Nepmen, 1921-1929. Berkeley, California: Berkeley: University of California. pp. 26–45. ISBN 978-0-520-07174-2.
  8. ^ Kiaer, Christina (2006). Everyday Life In Early Soviet Russia: Taking the Revolution Inside. Boomington: Indiana University Press. p. 126.
  9. ^ McCauley, Martin (2008). Stalin and Stalinism (Revised, third ed.). Harlow, England: Pearson Longman. ISBN 9781405874366. OCLC 191898287.
  10. ^ Duranty, Walter (July 8, 1924). "RUSSIA IS HARD HIT BY WAR ON 'NEPMEN'". The New York Times.
  11. ^ Vitalʹevich), Khlevni︠u︡k, O. V. (Oleg; Витальевич), Хлевнюк, О. В. (Олег (2015). Stalin : new biography of a dictator. Favorov, Nora Seligman. New Haven. ISBN 9780300163889. OCLC 893896537.
  12. ^ Ball, Alan (2006), "Building a new state and society: NEP, 1921–1928", The Cambridge History of Russia, Cambridge University Press, pp. 168–191, doi:10.1017/chol9780521811446.008, ISBN 9781139054096
  13. ^ Pauley, Bruce F. (2014-06-27). Hitler, Stalin, and Mussolini : totalitarianism in the twentieth century (4th ed.). Chichester, West Sussex. ISBN 9781118765869. OCLC 883570079.