The Assembly of Nobles of Orel Gubernia has adopted an interesting project, but more interesting is the debate which it occasioned.
The issue is the following. The gubernia Marshal of the Nobility, M. A. Stakhovich, proposed in his report the conclusion of a contract with the Finance Department, under which the Orel nobles would be appointed to the posts of excise-collectors. With the introduction of the liquor monopoly forty collectors are to be appointed to gather the moneys from the government liquor shops. Their remuneration will amount to 2,180 rubles per annum (900 rubles salary, 600 rubles travelling expenses, and 680 rubles for hiring a guard). The nobles thought it would be a good thing to get these posts, and for this purpose it was suggested that they form a guild and enter into a contract with the Treasury. Instead of the required deposit (from 3,000 to 5,000 rubles), they suggested that at first 300 rubles per annum be deducted from the pay of each collector, which sums could serve to establish a nobles’ guaranty fund to be deposited with the liquor department.
The proposal—certainly a practical one—proves that our higher estate possesses a highly developed flair for grabbing slices of the state pie wherever possible. But it is precisely this business acumen that seemed to many of the high-born landlords to be excessive, disreputable, and unworthy of nobility. A heated discussion flared up on the question, in the course of which three distinct points of view came to light.
The first is the practical point of view. A man must live, the nobility is in straitened circumstances ... here is an opportunity to earn money ... surely they cannot refuse to help the poor nobles. Besides, the collectors could help to encourage sobriety among the people. The second is the point of view of the romantics. To trade in liquor, to be in a position only slightly above that of a bar tender, subordinate to common store managers, “very often persons of the lower orders”!?... and there followed a hot stream of words about the high calling of the nobility. We intend to deal with these speeches, but first let us mention the third point of view—that of the statesmen. On the one hand, there is no denying that the thing seems some what discreditable, but, on the other, it must be admitted that it is lucrative. But we can make money and at the same time preserve our virtue. The chief excise officer may even hand out appointments without deposits, and all the forty nobles may obtain posts at the request of the gubernia Marshal of the Nobility without forming a guild or entering into contracts, otherwise “the Minister of Internal Affairs may refuse to endorse the decision in order to safeguard the proper functioning of the existing state system.” In all probability, this wise opinion would have prevailed, had not the Marshal of the Nobility made two important statements: first, that the contract had already been submitted to the Council of the Ministry of Finance, which had recognised its feasibility and approved it in principle; and, secondly, that “it was impossible to obtain such posts merely at the request of the gubernia Marshal of the Nobility.” The report was approved.
Poor romantics! They suffered defeat. But how eloquently they had pleaded!
“Hitherto the nobility has provided people for leading positions only. The report suggests the formation of some sort of guild. Is this compatible with the past, the present, and the future of the nobility? According to the law, if a bartender embezzles funds, the nobleman will have to step behind the bar. Death is preferable to such a position !"
Good Lord! How noble man is! Death is preferable to selling vodka! To trade in corn is quite a noble occupation, particularly in years of bad harvest, when high profits can be made out of the starvation of the people. A still more noble occupation is usury in grain, the lending of grain to the starving peasants in the winter with the stipulation that they will work in the summer at one-third of the usual wage-rate. In the central black earth zone, in which Orel Gubernia is situated, the landlords have always engaged in this noble form of usury with particular zeal. And in order to draw a distinction between noble and ignoble usury, it is necessary, of course, to proclaim as loudly as possible that the position of a bartender is a degrading occupation for a nobleman.
“We must carefully cherish our calling which is expressed in the celebrated imperial manifesto by the words, unselfishly to serve the people. To serve for selfish motives would contradict this.... A social-estate that has to its credit such services as the valiant martial deeds of its ancestors and that had to bear the brunt of the great reforms of Emperor Alexander II still possesses opportunities for the future fulfilment of its duties to the state.”
Yes, unselfish service! The distribution of lands, the granting of inhabited estates, i.e., gifts of thousands of dessiatines of land, together with thousands of serfs; the establishment of a class of big landowners possessing hundreds, thousands, and tens of thousands of dessiatines and by exploitation reducing millions of peasants to poverty—these are the manifestations of this unselfishness. The reference to the “great” reforms of Alexander II is particularly charming. Take, for example, the emancipation of the peasants. How unselfishly our noble aristocracy fleeced these peasants, compelling them to pay for their own land, at a price three times its real value; robbing them by cutting off various parts of their land; exchanging their own sandy wastes, gullies, and uncultivable land for the peasants’ good land;— and now they have the insolence to boast of these exploits!
“There is nothing patriotic in the liquor trade.... Our traditions are not based on rubles, but on service to the state. The nobility must not become stockbrokers.”
Sour grapes! The nobility “must not” become stock brokers because large capital is required on the Stock Exchange, and our quondam slaveowners have squandered their fortunes. In the eyes of the broad masses they have long ago become, not stockbrokers, but the slaves of the Stock Exchange, the slaves of the ruble. And in their pursuit of the ruble, the “highest social-estate” has long been engaged in such highly patriotic occupations as the manufacture of raw brandy, the installation of sugar-refineries and other enterprises, participation in sundry dubious commercial and industrial undertakings, begging at the doors of high Court circles, grand dukes, cabinet ministers, etc., etc., in order to obtain concessions and government guarantees for such enterprises, in order to entreat for doles in the form of privileges for the Nobles’ Bank, sugar-export bonuses, slices (thousands of dessiatines in extent!) of Bashkirian or other land, soft, lucrative jobs, etc.
“The ethics of the nobility bear the traces of history, of social position..."—as well as traces of the stable in which the nobles were trained to practise violence and indignities on the muzhiks. The age-long habit of command has bred in the nobles something even more subtle: the ability to clothe their exploiting interests in pompous phrases, calculated to deceive the ignorant “common people.” Listen further:
“Why accelerate the vicissitude of the times? It may be a prejudice, but old traditions forbid us to help bring these things upon ourselves....”
These words, uttered by Mr. Naryshkin (one of the members of the council that advocated the state point of view), express a true class sense. 0f course, to hesitate to accept the position of a collector (or even of a bartender) is, in these times, mere prejudice. But does not the unparalleled and shameless exploitation of the peasantry by the landlords in our rural districts rest on the prejudices of the benighted masses of the peasantry? Prejudices are dying out anyhow; why then hasten their death by openly bringing together the noble and the bartender, and in this way help the peasant to understand (which he is beginning to do, anyway) the simple truth that the noble landlord is a usurer and robber, a beast of prey, like any village blood sucker, only immeasurably more powerful because of the lands he owns, his ancient privileges and his close relations with the tsarist government, his habit to command, and his ability to conceal his Judas nature under a doctrine of romanticism and magnanimity?
Yes, Mr. Naryshkin is certainly a counsellor from whose lips political wisdom drops. I am not surprised that the Marshal of the Orel Nobility replied to him in terms so refined that they would do honour to an English lord. He said:
“It would be mere boldness on my part to object to the authorities whom we have heard here, were I not convinced that in arguing against their opinions, I am not arguing against their convictions.”
Now, this is true, and, moreover, in a much wider sense than Mr. Stakhovich, who indeed accidentally let the truth slip, imagined. All the nobles, from the most practical to the most romantic, share the same convictions. All are fully convinced of their “sacred right” to possess the hundreds and thousands of dessiatines of land their ancestors grabbed or had granted to them by land-grabbers, the right to exploit the peasants and play the dominant role in the state, the right to enjoy the biggest (and if the worst comes to the worst, even smaller) slices of the state pie, i.e., the people’s money. Their opinions differ only in regard to the expediency of undertaking this or that enterprise, and their discussions of these divergent opinions are as instructive for the proletariat as are all other domestic quarrels in the camp of the exploiters. Such disputes bring out the differences between the common interests of the capitalist or landlord class as a whole, and the interests of individual persons or separate groups. Not infrequently in the course of such disputes, one blabs what one has sought ever so carefully to conceal.
Besides this, however, the Orel episode throws some light upon the character of the notorious liquor monopoly. What benefits our official and semi-official press expected from it! Increased revenues, improved quality, and less drunkenness! But instead of increased revenues, all we actually have so far is an increase in the price of spirits, confusion in the budget, and the impossibility of determining the exact financial results of the whole operation. In stead of improvement in quality, we have deterioration; and the government is hardly likely to impress the public with its reports, displayed in the entire press, of the successful results of the “degustation” of the new “government vodka.” Instead of less drunkenness, we have more illicit trading in spirits, augmented police incomes from this trading, the opening of liquor shops over the protests of the population, which is petitioning against their being opened, and increased drunkenness in the streets. But above all, what a new and gigantic field is opened for official arbitrariness, tyranny, favour-currying and embezzlement by the creation of this new state enterprise, with a turnover of many millions of rubles, and the creation of a whole army of new officials! It is the invasion of a locust-swarm of officials, boot-licking, intriguing, plundering, wasting seas of ink and reams upon reams of paper. The Orel project is nothing but an attempt to cloak in legal forms the striving to grab the fattest possible slices of the state pie, a desire which is so prevalent in our provinces, and which, in view of the unrestrained power of the officials and the gagging of the people, threatens to intensify the reign of tyranny and plunder. A simple illustration: last autumn the newspapers reported “a building incident in connection with the liquor monopoly.” In Moscow, three warehouses are being built for storing vodka to supply the whole of Moscow Gubernia. The government appropriated a sum of 1,637,000 rubles for this purpose. It now appears that “it has been found necessary to make a supplementary appropriation of two-and-a-half millions.” Apparently the officials who had charge of this state property pinched a little more than fifty pairs of trousers and a few pairs of boots!
 For example, it was recently reported in the newspapers that as far back as 1899 a number of villages in Archangel Gubernia adopted resolutions against the opening of liquor shops in their localities. The government, which at this very moment is introducing the liquor monopoly into that district, of course answered with a refusal, no doubt out of regard for the sobriety of the people! —Lenin
 This is quite apart from the enormous amount of money the peasant communes have lost as a result of the liquor monopoly. Hitherto they obtained a revenue from liquor shops. The Treasury has deprived them of this source of revenue without a kopek compensation! In his interesting book, Das hungernde Russland (Reiseeindrücke, Beobochtungen und Untersuchungen [Starving Russia (Travel Impressions, Observations, and Inquiries).—Ed.] by C. Lehmann and Parvus, Stuttgart, Dietz Verlag, 1900), Parvus justly describes this as robbing the rural commune funds. He states that according to the calculations of the Samara Gubernia Zemstvo, the losses incurred by the peasant communes in the three years 1895-97 as a result of the introduction of the liquor monopoly amounted to 3,150,000 rubles! —Lenin
 Author’s italics, see S. Peterburgskiye Vedomosti (St. Petersburg Recorder), No. 239, September 1, 1900. —Lenin
 Lenin refers to Porphyry (nicknamed Judas) Golovlyov, a sanctimonious, hypocritical landlord serf-owner described in M. Saltykov-Shchedrin’s The Golovlyov’ Family.