How far was Russian economic policy determined by practical requirements between 1881 and 1922

Between 1881 and 1922 Russia would see a vast amount of change under four different governments, all which brought in economic policies that they believed would benefit the country and its economy entirely. This essay will argue that even though there were practical and ideological reasons behind these economic policies, to a large extent, that war would be the main, specific practical reason as to why a majority of economic policies were put in place.

In order to assess this argument, this essay will look at how the Russo-Japanese War, First World War and the Civil War would affect the economic decisions and policies made. On the other hand, this essay will also look at other practical and ideological reasons behind the application of some economic policies in this time period. Overall, between 1881 and 1921, to a large extent, the main specific, practical, reason for economic change was Russia’s participation in three different wars.

To the largest extent, the most specific practical influence on the reforms and implementations of economic policies between 1881 and 1921 would be Russia’s participation in war. An example of this can be seen after Russia’s contribution to the Russo-Japanese war in 1904, which put immense pressure on agricultural Russia, as food was prioritised for soldiers; this caused food shortages within the countryside and in turn, general discontent which ultimately subsidized many socio-economic problems that became the reasons that led to the 1905 revolution.

In response to this, Stolypin introduced economic reforms to promote a more loyal and content peasant class; such reforms included freeing peasants from their local communes, giving them freedom of movement and abolishing redemption payments for the land that they cultivated on. These reforms ensured that the burden, the war had previously put on the peasantry class, was to be relieved in hope that another revolution would not occur.

However, it’s arguable to what extent the Russo-Japanese war really did cause the food shortages within Russia, thus Stolypin’s reasoning behind his economic policies; as the growing population within the cities, due to Sergei Witte’s rapid industrilisation, even before the war, was proving difficult to feed adequately due to outdated farming methods. Another illustration of the war influencing economic policies can be seen in the First World War, when Tsar Nicholas II and his government ensured the industrial change of factories from producing domestic goods to artillery goods in order to support the military and its war effort.

This shows that economic policies were put in place in order to encourage the success of the countries endeavors in war, no matter the impact it may have on the populace within Russia; such policies did have consequences such as food shortages, famine and general dissatisfaction. However, the Tsar’s policies do convey some ideological reasoning behind them: his government’s main motive was to see Russia as a great power and if he could prove to rivaling countries that his military was competent at war, then he would establish the respect and Russia would acquire the title of the ‘Great Power’ of Europe.

The Civil War of 1917 to 1922 in Russia caused the Communists, the ruling government, to implement economic policies to again, try and encourage the success of the war; these policies would later be brought under the title of War Communism. War Communism contained economic policies such as the requisition of grains from peasants, the re-introduction of hierarchy within the army and the nationalisation of industry that would enable the government to increase its likelihood of winning the Civil War.

These economic policies made sure that the Red Army was adequately fed, led efficiently by competent admirals and generals (including Trotsky) and finally that industry was geared in the direction of supporting the military with sufficient weapons and technology through increased production. Again, this illustration shows that behind the practical reason of implementing the economic policies due to war effort, there were ideological motives as well; for example, the nationalisation of the industry clearly elaborates on the Communist’s political stance on state possession, no private ownership and ultimately communism.

Soon after the Civil War, in 1921, famine spread across Russia and the Communist’s needed to revive the economy and the moral of the populace if they were stay far from the risk of a revolution, thus, the Communist’s introduced another set of economic policies, called the NEP, in an attempt to recover the economy as whole by re-introducing private trade. These examples show that economic policies implemented and reformed between 1881 and 1922 were to a large extent, the result of Russia’s involvement in war.

On the other hand, there were other practical reasons for some economic policies that were implemented during 1881 and 1922. For example, policies implemented by Alexander III between 1881 and 1894 had hope of increasing agriculture, which the economy relied upon heavily. Such policies included, introduction of the Peasant Land Bank applied in 1884 to give peasants the financial incentive to travel to Siberia where they could purchase cheaper land which was available for settlement and produce more sought after agricultural goods, such as dairy products.

Other policies included the creation of the Zemstvas, who were local elected councils who could provide the peasants with information on crop rotations, fertilisers and financial arrangements; this was important to increase agricultural output because peasants lacked the appropriate education to farm efficiently. Thus, Alexander III also supported education for the peasants, in church schools and later state schools, in order to produce an educated and efficient breed of peasants.

These policies were put in place in order to compensate for the lack of industry with a more efficient and productive system of agriculture. Alexander, despite the need for economic development within Russia, from ideological perspective, could of felt particularly pressured to implement such policies by other European countries, such as Britain or France, who by this time seemed to be developing their industry at a far greater pace than Russia. Sergei Witte, between 1892 and 1903 introduced many economic reforms and policies that would later be known as the ‘Great Spurt’ or the ‘Witte System’.

Witte implemented policies that encouraged the production of capital goods; promoted the state to support industry as a whole and most importantly, he secured investments from foreign countries. Russia, which was reliant on its backward, agricultural economy, needed to establish itself as a ‘Great Power’ with great military strength amongst Europe and in order to do this, they needed a flourishing economy based on a more financially beneficial economy, constructed on industry; these were the practical reasons behind Witte’s economic policies.

At this point, it would seem that economic policies, based on the practical reasoning of economic development; were not determined by war and Stolypin’s industrial reforms between 1906 and 1911 were to have the same practical reasoning’s as the economic policies of Witte’s did. Stolypin’s industrial economic policies concentrated on developing heavy industry and encouraging foreign import and export. These policies were to encourage the growth of Russia’s economy and ultimately ensure that Russia could and would become a great power with the most powerful military, thanks to its thriving economy.

However, despite following in Witte’s industrial footsteps, Stolypin had to direct most of his policies to try and relieve the industrial cities and agriculture from the strain that the Russo-Japanese war had put upon it; the strain caused food shortages, emphasised the poor working conditions and these caused general discontent that ultimately contributed to rise of the revolution in 1905. These examples show that some of the economic policies put in place between 1881 and 1904 were to be the result of practical reasoning’s, such as the desperate need for economic growth.

However, Russia’s participation in war would put tremendous strain on the country, its populace and ultimately, the economy; this would lead to war being the leading practical influence on the application of policies, particularly after 1906, attempting to try to revive the newly born industrialised economy. On the other hand, some of the economic policies between 1881 and 1922 also had ideological motivations behind them as well.

For example, between 1906 and 1911 Stolypin implemented several economic policies such as the freeing of peasants from their local communes, which lead to the freedom of movement, the abolishment of redemption payments so they no longer were financially tied down to the countryside and also the incentive of peasants moving to Siberia with cheaper loans to purchase land. These policies were the result of the ideological thinking; trying to create a more loyal and content peasantry class under the Nicholas II Tsarist Regime; this would decrease the chance of another revolution.

The April Thesis, composed by Lenin in April 1917 contained promises and economic reforms that his party had promised to implement if they came to governmental power; the policies were aimed at the populace in attempt for Lenin and his party, the Bolsheviks, to gain national support. Therefor, when they did come to power in 1917, Lenin made sure that the economic policies he implemented complied with the ideological thinking of his April Thesis. The main component of Lenin’s April Thesis was the slogan, ‘Land, Peace and Bread’; Lenin ensured that these three issues were addressed by implementing economic policies to ensure they were tackled.

For example, Lenin implemented the Land Decree of 1917 that redistributed land amongst the peasantry; this tackled the ‘Land’ part of the slogan. Lenin withdrew Russia from the war that addressed the ‘Peace’ notion and this also addressed the ‘Bread’ idea because food would not be ceased for the sake of war, but given to the peasantry instead. The War Communism of 1918 to 1921 would also contain some ideological reasoning behind its economic policies, despite the practical reasoning of the Civil War.

The Communists were a party looking to the radical ideas of Marxism that concentrated on communism and this involved characteristics such as equal wealth, the abolishment of private trade, classless and stateless social order and with common ownership of means of production. During War Communism, economic policies such as the ban of private trade and abolishment of inheritance shows that the Communists did implement some economic policies as a result of their ideological aims; communism.

The economic policies show that even though practical reasoning; particularly war resulted in the majority of economic policies that were implemented, there were some economic policies based on ideological reasoning. In conclusion, between 1881 and 1922, economic policies were to a large extent influenced by the practical reasoning of Russia’s contribution to war. However, there were other practical reasons too: to increase agricultural production in the late 19th century which Russia had relied upon heavily, to improve the country’s military and to become the ‘Great Power’ of Europe, which would be promoted by a thriving economy.

Not only were there other practical intentions behind some of the economic policies but there were ideological reasoning; to improve the happiness of the peasantry class (the majority class) in Russia under the autocratic Tsarist Regime, the economic policies of State Capitalism as a result of Lenin’s April Thesis and how War Communism, even though its policies were promoted to support Russia’s war effort, did contain several that had ideological reasoning, that supported the party’s beliefs and opinions, behind them too.

Overall, economic policies between 1881 and 1922 were to the largest extent, the result of Russia’s involvement in war, however, practical reasons and ideological motivations did contribute to the existence of certain economic policies.

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