Nepman Nikolai Vlasov with his wife in his automobile in front of his shop at Sadovaya 28,
Leningrad. Early 1920s. (The word repeated on the inscriptions
between the windows: ДЕШЕВО – CHEAP!)

By 1921, due to the wars and the civil war, to war communism and requisitions, the Soviet economy arrived at the brink of collapse. As a temporary solution, Lenin proposed the introduction of a new economic policy – Новая экономическая политика, NEP – which allowed private venture at the lowest level of economy, that of small shops and local markets. From then on peasants had to give to the government only a small part of their products instead of the whole surplus as in the years of war communism, and the rest they could sell or change for industrial articles in the cities or in local private shops. The new policy was officially approved on 21 March 1921 on the 10th Congress of the All-Russian Communist Party, although it was severely disapproved by the orthodox left wing of the party.

Members of a consumers’ cooperative on the Day of Cooperatives, 1924

The following conjuncture called to life the figure of the nepman – НЭПман – who also received his name from the new policy. This name embraced several layers of private entrepreneurs from the peasant selling on the local market through the little shop owner to the big merchant organizing – forbidden – wholesale business and made them together the target of desire and envy. Here we can see their images from the 1920s, the brief flowering period of the NEP.

J. Steinberg: The shop of the “Goznak” Cooperative, 1925

P. Zhukov: The pavilion of the Рабочее дело Cooperative on the Lassalle (Mikhailovskaya) street, 1925

The shop of Glavspirt on 25 October (Nevsky) prospect, 1925

Queue for vodka before the Glavspirt shop, 1925

Selling fruits and vegetables in the Apraksin courtyard, 1924

V. Bulla: The “Apollon” auction house at 15 of 25 October (Nevsky) prospect, 1920s

V. Bulla: Queue in front of a grocery shop, 1920s

The organizing committee of the Aleksandrovsky market at the Red Corner, 1926

S. Magaziner: The Predtechensky market, 1929

Kolkhoz market, 1932

Entrance of the kolkhoz market at the Predtechensky market, 1932

A. Agich: Kolkhoz bazaar on the Predtechensky market, on the day of opening, 1932.
The inscription: “The members of the kolkhoz at the head of the war
for the fulfillment of the 3rd Bolshevik sowing plan.”

Kolkhoz market, 1932

Selling milk on the Kuznetsky market, 1934

Selling at the Kuznetsky market, 1934

V. Fedoseiev: Entrance of the market of the Moscow and Frunze district from the Klinskoi market,
October 1936

Stalin in 1928 finally found the time ripe for the liquidation of the new economic system. The soon beginning collectivization of peasant estates in the following ten years swept off the product surplus which was the basis of the new system, and the following repressions also the nepmen who were declared enemies of the people. Whoever of them had enough money and chance fled the country in time, but most former nepmen finished in the gulags. Their way of life would be reproduced much later, in the 1980s by the semi-legal private merchants, the цеховники. And their memory is preserved, besides the vintage photos, also by the pearls of contemporary anti-nepman agitation literature – as The golden calf by Ilf-Petrof or the Bedbug by Mayakovsky – as well as by the “nepman’s songs” of the 1920s, the Murka, the Bublichki or the most essential melody of early Soviet jazz, Jozef. We will write more about them in our series “History sung”.

A. Shaihet: Nepman at the tax investigator (1930)

Scenery of Mayakovsky’s Bedbug (1928). The signboard of the nepman selling to the left is Sukin
and Son, Sukin being the name of a pre-Revolution merchant house in Petersburg. However,
the “and” is written in so minuscule letters that it almost disappears, and
without that the inscription means “Son of a Bitch”.

Murka, arrangement by Konstantin Sokolski. One of the most famous “nepman’s songs” which spread in a dozen versions from the ballads of the Jewish gangsters of Odessa through those of the Rostov underworld to the following song of the nepman mourning for his lover.

Знаете ль вы Мурку,
Мурку дорогую?
Помнишь ли ты, Мурка, наш роман?
Как с тобой любили,
Время проводили,
И совсем не знали про обман.

Как-то было дело,
Выпить захотел я
И зашел в шикарный ресторан.
Вижу – в зале бара,
Там танцует пара:
Мурка и какой-то юный франт!

Я к ней подбегаю,
За руку хватаю:
«Мне с тобою надо говорить!»
А она смеется,
Только к парню жмется,
«Нечего, - сказала, - говорить»…

Мурка, в чем же дело?
Что ты не имела?
Разве я тебя не одевал?
Шляпки и жакеты,
Кольца и браслеты,
Разве я тебе не покупал?

Здравствуй, моя Мурка,
Здравствуй, дорогая,
Здравствуй, моя Мурка, и прощай…
Ты меня любила,
А теперь забыла,
И за это пулю получай!
Do you know Murka,
the dear Murka?
Murka, do you remember our romance?
How much we loved each other
spending our times together,
knowing nothing about treachery?

How did all that happen?
I wanted to have a drink
and entered a posh restaurant.
And I see that in the main hall
a couple is dancing:
Murka with some dandy!

I run to her
and I grasp her hands:
“I must speak to you now!”
But she is just laughing
and clinging to the guy.
“There is nothing to speak about!”

Murka, what’s the matter?
Didn’t you have everything?
Have I not clothed you?
Hats and jackets,
rings and bracelets
have I not bought for you?

Goodbye my Murka,
goodbye my dear,
goodbye, my Murka, farewell…
You loved me
but now you forgot me:
and for this now accept this bullet!

3 comentarios:

Irene dijo...

Here you may find many variants of МУРКА:

Studiolum dijo...

Thank you very much! I also discovered it when looking for the variants of this song, and would like to resume its content in a following post. Can you enrich it with any personal remembrance on the song?

Irene dijo...

I remember in my childhood the street boys sang it aloud with some cunning mimics. Of course we never knew what was the origin and the meaning of the song then. You know MURKA is a common name for a she-cat, but for a different reason. When you stroke a cat he or she makes a "mrrrr" sound. :) As to the song we sang it in my students years but surely we knew of its origin then - it was блатная песня. A lot of criminal songs were sang even by the Russian intelligentsia. The people were coming back from the camps bringing them.