V. I.   Lenin

Review of Home Affairs


II. Attitude Towards the Crisis and the Famine

While we are faced with a fresh outbreak of famine, the old and protracted commercial and industrial crisis, which still drags on, has thrown on to the streets tens of thousands of workers unable to find employment. Distress is very great among these workers, and all the more revealing is the fact that both the government and educated “society” adopt an attitude towards the distress of the workers that is entirely different from their attitude towards the distress of the peasants. The public institutions and the press make no effort to determine the number of workers in distress, or the degree of that distress, even to the extent to which this is done in the case of the peasants. No systematic measures are adopted to organise aid for the starving workers.

Why this difference? It is, in our opinion, least of all because the distress among the workers is less apparent, or reveals itself in less acute forms. True, the city dwellers who do not belong to the working class know very little about the conditions of the factory workers, that they live now even more congested in cellars, attics, and hovels, that they are more undernourished than ever before and are pawning their last sticks and rags. True, the increasing number of tramps and beggars, who frequent doss-houses and fill the prisons and hospitals, do not attract any particular attention, because, well, “everyone” is accustomed to the idea that doss-houses and dens of hopeless wretchedness are always packed in large cities. True, unlike the peasants, unemployed workers are not tied down to a single place, and either of their own accord roam the country in quest of employment or are banished to “their native places” by authorities afraid of concentrations of large numbers of unemployed workers. Nevertheless, anyone who has any contact at all with industrial life knows from experience, and any one who interests himself in public affairs knows from the newspapers, that unemployment is steadily increasing.

No, the reasons for this difference in attitude lie much deeper; they are to be sought in the fact that famine in the rural districts and unemployment in the towns belong to two altogether different types of economic life and are due to altogether different relations between the exploiting and the exploited classes. In the rural districts, the relations between these two classes are extremely confused and complicated by a multiplicity of transitional forms, as, for example, when farming is combined with usury, or with the exploitation of hired labour, etc., etc. It is not the agricultural hired labourer—the antagonism of whose interests to the interests of the landlord and wealthy peasant is clearly apparent and is largely understood by the labourer himself—who is starving, but the small peasant, who is usually regarded (and regards himself) as an independent farmer, who only now and again falls accidentally into some “temporary” dependence. The immediate cause of the famine—the failure of the harvest—is spontaneous in the eyes of t.he masses, it is the will of God. And as poor harvests accompanied by famine have occurred from time immemorial, legislation has long been compelled to reckon with them. For years codes upon codes of laws have existed (principally on paper) providing for the distribution of food among the people and prescribing an involved system of “measures”. Although these measures, borrowed largely from the period of serfdom and the period of prevailing patriarchal, self-sufficing economy, correspond very little to the requirements of modern times, every famine sets in motion the whole government and Zemstvo administrative machine. And, however greatly the powers that he may desire it, this machine finds it difficult, almost impossible, to avoid resorting to all manner of aid from the hated “third persons”, the intellectuals, who are striving to “raise a clamour”. On the other hand, the connection of the famine with the poor harvest, together with the wretched state of the peasants, who do not understand (or but vaguely understand) that it is the increasing exploitation of capital in conjunction with the predatory policy of the government and of the landlords which has reduced them to this ruinous condition, has caused the famine-stricken to feel so absolutely helpless that, far from putting forward   exacting demands, they put forward no “demands” at all.

The less conscious the oppressed class is of its oppression and the less exacting it is in its demands upon its oppressors, the larger the number of individuals among the propertied classes who will be inclined towards philanthropy, and the less, relatively, will resistance be offered to this philanthropy by the local landlords, who are directly interested in keeping the peasants in a state of poverty. If this indisputable fact is borne in mind, it will be clear that the increased opposition of the landlords, the loud cries raised about the “demoralisation” of the peasants, and, finally, the purely military measures against the famine-stricken and against the benefactors, adopted by a government actuated by such a spirit, are symptoms of the complete decline and decay of that ancient, supposedly immutable and time-hallowed, patriarchal rural life over which the ardent Slavophils, the reactionaries most conscious of their aim, and the most naive of the old-fashioned Narodniks, wax so enthusiastic. The Narodniks have always accused us Social-Democrats of artificially applying the concept of the class struggle to conditions which do not admit of its application, while the reactionaries have always accused us of sowing class hatred and of inciting “one section of the population against another”. Without reiterating the answer to these charges, which has been given time and time again, we shall state merely that the Russian Government excels us all in the judgement of the profundity of the class struggle, and in the energetic force of the measures that must logically follow from such a judgement. Every one who has in one way or another come in contact with people who in famine years have gone to the village to “feed” the peasants—and who has not come in contact with them?—knows that they were prompted by pure sentiments of pity and humane sympathy, and that “political” plans of any kind were totally alien to them; that the propaganda of the ideas of the class struggle left such people cold, and that the arguments of the Marxists in heated battles against the views of the Narodniks on the village left them unconvinced. What has the class   struggle to do with it? they said; the peasants are starving and we must help them —that is all.

But those who could not be convinced by the arguments of the Marxists may perhaps be convinced by the “arguments” of the Minister of the Interior. No, it is not simply that “the peasants are starving”, he warns the philanthropists, and they must not “simply” go to help the peasants without the permission of the authorities, for that spreads demoralisation and stimulates unjustifiable demands. To interfere in the food campaign means to interfere in the plans of God and the police to provide the landlords with workmen willing to work for next to nothing, and the Treasury with taxes collected by force. He who ponders over Sipyagin’s circular must say to himself—Yes, social war is going on in our countryside, and, as in all wars, the belligerents cannot be denied their right to inspect the cargoes of vessels sailing to enemy ports, even if the vessels sail under neutral flags. The only difference between this and other wars is that in this case one side, obliged perpetually to work and perpetually to starve, is not even fighting, it is only being fought—for the present.

In factory industry, however, it has long been evident that this war is being carried on, and there is no need for government circulars to explain to the “neutral” philanthropists that it is unwise to ford the river without first sounding its depth (that is, without first obtaining the permission of the authorities and the factory owners). As early as 1885, when there was as yet no noticeable socialist agitation amongst the workers, even in the central gubernias, where the workers are closer to the peasantry than are the workers in the capital, the industrial crisis caused the factory atmosphere to become so electrically charged that storms broke out continuously, now in one place and now in another. Under such circumstances, philanthropy is doomed to impotence from the outset and for that reason remains a casual and purely individual affair, without acquiring even a shadow of social significance.

We shall note yet one other peculiar feature in the attitude of the public towards famines. It may be said without exaggeration that until very recently the opinion prevailed that the whole of the Russian economic, and even   political, system rested upon the mass of independent land owning peasant farmers. The extent to which this opinion had penetrated the minds of even the most advanced thinking people, least susceptible to the wiles of official flattery, was strikingly illustrated by Nikolai —on in his work published after the famine of 1891–92[2]. The ruin of an enormous number of peasant farms seemed to every one to be so absurd, to be such an impossible leap into the void, that the necessity to extend the widest possible aid that would effectively “heal the wounds” was almost generally recognised. And again it was none other than Mr. Sipyagin who undertook the task of dispelling the last shreds of illusion. What does “Russia” rest upon, what do the landowners and the commercial and industrial classes live on, if not on the ruination and impoverishment of the people? To attempt to heal this “wound” otherwise than on paper—why, that would be a political crime!

Mr. Sipyagin will, without doubt, contribute to the dissemination and the confirmation of the truth that there neither is nor can be any other means of combating unemployment and crises, as well as the Asiatic-barbarian and cruel forms the expropriation of the small producers has assumed in Russia, than the class struggle of the revolutionary proletariat against the entire capitalist system. The rulers of the capitalist state are no more concerned about the vast numbers of famine and crisis victims than a locomotive is concerned about those whom it crushes in its path. Dead bodies stop the wheels, the locomotive halts, it may (with a too energetic driver) jump the rails, but, in any case, after a delay, long or short, it will continue on its way. We hear of death from starvation, and of the ruin of tens and hundreds of thousands of small farmers, but, at the same time, we hear accounts of the progress of agriculture in our country, of the acquisition of foreign markets by the Russian landlords, who have sent an expedition of Russian farmers to England; we hear of increased sales of improved implements and of the extension of cultivated grass land, etc. For the masters of Russian agriculture (as well as for all capitalist masters), intensified ruination and starvation are nothing more than a slight and temporary hitch, to which they pay almost no attention whatever, unless   compelled by the famine-stricken. Everything goes on as usual—even speculation in the sale of lands belonging to the section of the proprietors which consists of the well-to-do peasantry.

Thus, Buguruslan Uyezd, Samara Gubernia, has been declared an “affected area”. This means that famine and the ruination of the mass of the peasantry have reached the highest point. But the misfortune of the masses does not hinder, but on the contrary appears to facilitate, the consolidation of the economic position of the bourgeois minority of the peasantry. In the September correspondence of Russkiye Vedomosti[3] (No. 244) we read the following concerning the uyezd referred to:

“Buguruslan Uyezd, Samara Gubernia. The most important subject of discussion in this uyezd is the rapid rise in the price of land everywhere and the enormous speculation in land as a result. Only some fifteen or twenty years ago, excellent valley land could be bought at from ten to fifteen rubles per dessiatine. There were districts remote from the railway where, only three years ago, thirty-five rubles per dessiatine was regarded as a high price, and only on one occasion was as much as sixty rubles per dessiatine paid for first-rate land, with an excellent farm-house, situated near a market. Now, however, from fifty to sixty rubles per dessiatine is paid for the poorest land, while the price of good land has risen as high as eighty and even one hundred rubles per dessiatine. The speculation caused by this rise in land prices assumes two forms: First, the purchase of land for the purpose of immediate resale (there have been instances in which land was bought at forty rubles per dessiatine and resold within a year to the local peasants at fifty-five rubles). In such cases usually the land lords, not having either the time or the desire to bother with all the red tape and the formalities of selling the land to the peasants through the Peasant Bank, sell to the capitalist land speculators, who in their turn resell to the selfsame local peasants. In the second form, numerous land agents are engaged in foisting upon peasants from remote provinces (mostly from the Ukraine) all kinds of worthless land for which they obtain handsome commissions from the owners (from one to two rubles per dessiatine).   From what has been said, it should be clear that the main victim of this land speculation is the peasant, whose land hunger serves as the basis for this unimaginable and, by economic causes unexplainable, jump in the price of land. Of course, the building of railways has had something to do with this, but not a great deal, for the principal buyer of land in our country remains the peasant, who by no means regards the railway as a factor of prime importance.”

These tenacious “enterprising muzhiks”, who so greedily invest their “savings” (and their plunder) in the purchase of land, will inevitably cause the ruin of even those poor peasants who have still managed to survive the present famine.

While bourgeois society resorts to land-purchasing schemes for the well-to-do peasant as a means of counteracting the ruination and starvation of the poor peasants, the search for new markets is resorted to as a means of counteracting crises and the glutting of the markets with the products of industry. The servile press (Novoye Vremya, No. 9188) waxes enthusiastic over the successes of the new trade with Persia and discusses glowingly the prospects of commerce with Central Asia and, particularly, with Manchuria. The iron magnates and other industrial leaders rub their hands in glee when they hear of proposals for further railway expansion. It has been decided to build the following major lines: St. Petersburg-Vyatka, Bologoye-Sedlets, Orenburg-Tashkent; the government has guaranteed a rail way loan of 37,000,000 rubles (to the Moscow-Kazan, Lodz, and South-Eastern Railway companies); and other lines are planned: Moscow-Kyshtym, Kamyshin-Astrakhan and Black Sea lines. The starving peasants and unemployed workers may console themselves with the thought that the state money (if the state can raise it) will not, of course, be spent “unproductively” on famine relief (see Sipyagin’s circular), but will be poured into the pockets of engineers and contractors, like those virtuosi in the art of embezzlement who year by year stole large sums during the construction of the Sormovo Dam, and who were only recently convicted (by way of exception) by the Moscow Assizes[4] in Nizhni-Novgorod.[1]  



[1] Unfortunately, lack of space prevents us from dealing in de tail with this trial, which has demonstrated once again how the contractors   and engineers run the show. For us Russians this is an old story that is perennially new. Engineer Alexandrov, in company with Shnakenburg, head of the Nizhni-Novgorod branch of the Kazan region of the Ministry of Railways, and the six contractors who were brought to trial, during a period of three years (1893-95), had “built” for themselves and others thousands of rubles by presenting to the Treasury accounts, certificates, vouchers, etc., etc., for work never done and for supplies never delivered. Not only the jobs, but even the contractors, were fictitious; an ordinary clerk signed as a contractor! The amounts this fraternity pocketed can be seen from the following: Engineer Alexandrov submitted bills (from the “contractors” who found themselves in the dock) for a sum of over 200,000 rubles; in these accounts, for example, the sum of 4,400 rubles appeared instead of the actually expended sum of 400 rubles. According to the evidence of one of the witnesses, Engineer Alexandrov squandered large sums of money either on women or on his immediate superiors, the railway engineers, spending as much as from fifty to eighty rubles for a single dinner.

Most interesting of all, however, is the manner in which this case was handled and how it ended. The chief of police, to whom a detective reported the matter, “refused to take it up” (I). “This is not   our affair,” he said, “it is the business of the Ministry of Railways,” and the detective had to appeal to the public prosecutor. In the end the whole thing came to light because the thieves fell out: Alexandroy “refused to split” with one of the clerk-contractors. The case dragged on for six years. Some of the witnesses died in the meantime, and many of them managed to forget the most important points in the case. A material witness like Lokhtin, ex-chief of the Kazan region of the Ministry of Railways, could not be found (sic!): according to one version he was in Kazan, according to another in Yeniseisk on business! This is not a joke, reader—it is taken from the trial record.

The fact that others were implicated, in addition to those brought to trial, is apparent from the following: First, the commendable detective who brought the case to light is no longer in the service; he has purchased a tenement house, and is now living on the in come from it. Secondly, Engineer Makarov, chief of the Kazan Region of the Ministry of Railways (who during the construction of the Sormovo Dam acted as assistant chief), tried his utmost at the trial to shield Alexandrov. He even declared—literally!—that “ii was perfectly in order” for the dam to have been washed away in the spring of 1894. When he examined Alexandrov’s books, he found everything in perfect order: Alexandrov was distinguished for his experience, zeal, and accuracy!

The result: Alexandrov—one year’s confinement in a fortress; Shnakenburg—a severe reprimand (from which he was absolved by the Manifesto of 1896!). The rest were acquitted. The Treasury’s claim was disallowed. One can imagine how pleased the unlocated Lokhtins and the Makarovs still in the service must be. —Lenin

[2] The book referred to is Nik. —on’s (N. F. Danielson’s) Sketches on Our Post-Reform Social Economy, St. Petersburg, 1893.

[3] Russkiye Vedomosti (Russian Recorder)—a newspaper published in Moscow from 1863 onwards by liberal professors of Moscow Univer sity and Zemstvo personalities; it expressed the views of the liber al landlords and bourgeoisie. From 1905 onwards it was an organ of the Right Cadets; it was banned after the October Revolution, together with other counter-revolutionary newspapers.

[4] Assizes—an institution of the tsarist courts of justice established by the judicial reform of 1864; it examined special civil and crim inal cases and was a court of appeal for cases tried by the gubernia courts. Each assizes was established for several gubernias.

  I. Famine | III. The Third Element  

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