Was Lenin’s initiation of the NEP an exercise in “closet capitalism” equivalent to Europe’s crisis based acceptance of increased governmental authority during the “Great War”, or a “sellout” of socialism?
Some historians characterize Lenin's New Economic Program (NEP), taxation on food that replaced requisition of food, as a program with fundamental opposition to socialism. This is because the economic basis of the program was (limited) autonomy for the "smallholders" of the peasant class since they could sell at market the excess of what they produced, excess after paying the tax and feeding themselves.
The NEP was a desperate attempt to bolster the failures of communism with capitalistic ideas; the more it became obvious that communism could not work in practice, the more its leaders defended it, but with the NEP, we can see clearly that the pure communist society simply cannot function as intended. Utopian ideals always fall short in reality, and you can't breed jealousy, greed, envy, or resentment out of human nature. The general success of the NEP where the earlier economic model had failed is the greatest indictment of Lenin's ideals possible.
I agree with #3. It is much more of a sellout in my opinion, as the NEP involved Soviet Russia adopting a completely different and new approach that took it away from its communist roots and meant that it embraced capitalist values, albeit to a limited extent.
Lenin was desperate, was beginning to realize that his theory did not work well in practice, and probably saw the NEP as a necessary but perhaps temporary evil (from his point of view, that is). I doubt that he would ever have allowed true liberalism either politically or economically.
It is an interesting way to think about the NEP. I would say it was analogous to western capitalist economies experimenting with government control, except that most western governments had already exercised a great deal of control over industrial growth throughout the nineteenth century, so it was perhaps less of a departure for them than the NEP was for Lenin. Basically, it was just accepting what had already happened. We forget today what the Bolsheviks learned in the wake of the Civil War- that when peasants rallied to Bolsheviks promising "peace, land, and bread" they meant that they wanted to own land, and in the wake of the war, they took it. Tragically, the NEP contributed to the already rising kulak class that were completely annihilated by Stalin.
I guess I would call it more of a sellout. What happened in Europe saw governments taking a greater role in the economy. By contrast, the NEP had the Soviet government actually taking less of a role and allowing more capitalism. So I guess you can say they're similar in that both have governments changing their ways in response to crisis, but the changes are in different "directions."
I think Lenin was grasping at straws trying to come up with a way to placate people. Capitalism requires a lack of control on the government's side. At that time, there was both economic and political unrest not just in Russia but throughout Europe.