V. I.   Lenin

Signs of Bankruptcy

Published: Iskra No. 17, February 15, 1902. Published according to the Iskra text.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, ???, Moscow, Volume 6, pages 79-85.
Translated: ??? ???
Transcription\Markup: R. Cymbala
Public Domain: Lenin Internet Archive (1901). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.
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Only a year has elapsed since Bogolepov[1] was struck by Karpovich’s bullet, which cleared the way for a “new course” in the government’s policy towards the universities. During this year we have observed successively an unusual surge of social indignation, an unusually gentle note in speeches by our rulers, a regretfully all-too-usual infatuation of society with these new speeches, an infatuation which has extended to a certain section of the students as well, and, lastly, following on the fulfilment of Vannovsky’s florid promises, a new outburst of students’ protests. To those who last spring expected a “new era” and seriously believed that the tsarist drill sergeant would fulfil but a modicum of the hopes harboured by students and society–in short, to the Russian liberals, it should now be clear how mistaken they were in once again giving credence to the government, how little justification there was for halting the movement for reform which in the spring had begun to assume impressive forms, and for allowing themselves to be lulled by the sweet strains coming from the government sirens. After the promise to reinstate at the universities all last year’s victims had been broken, after a series of new reactionary measures had flung a challenge to all those who demanded a real reform of the educational system, after a series of fresh and violent reprisals against demonstrators who demanded that the fraudulent bankrupt should make good his promises–after all this the government of “cordial concern” has published “provisional regulations”,[2] for student organisations as means of “pacification”, and... instead of "pacification is confronted with a general conllagration of “disorders” again involving all educational institutions.

We, revolutionaries, have never for a moment believed that Vannovsky’s promised reforms were meant in earnest. We kept on telling the liberals that the circulars of this “cordial” general and the rescripts of Nicholas Obmanov[3] were just another manifestation of the liberal policy the autocracy has become so adept in during forty years of struggle against the “internal enemy”, i.e., against all progressive elements in Russia. We warned the liberals against the “pipe dreams” they began to indulge in following the government’s very first steps in the spirit of the “new course”. We exposed the deliberate falsity of the government’s promises, and warned society: “If your opponent has been stunned by the first serious assault, keep on showering fresh blows at him, redoubling their strength and frequency....” That travesty of the right to organise which the “provisional regulations” are now offering the students was predicted by the revolutionaries from the very beginning of the talk about this new gift from the government. We knew what could and should have been expected of the autocracy and its miserable attempt at reform. We knew that Vannovskv would “pacify” nobody and nothing, that he would not fulfil any progressive hopes, and that the “disorders” would inevitably recur in one form or another.

A year has passed, but society is still marking time. The higher educational institutions that are supposed to exist in any well-ordered state have again stopped functioning. Tens of thousands of young people have again had the tenor of their life upset, and society is again faced with the old question: “What next?”

A considerable majority of the students have refused to recognise the “provisional regulations” and the organisations allowed by them. With greater determination than they usually show, the professors are expressing obvious dissatisfaction with this gift of the government. And, indeed, one does not have to be a revolutionary, one does not have to be a radical, to recognise that this so-called “reform” not only fails to give the students anything resembling freedom, but is also worthless as a means of bringing any tranquility into university life. Is it not immediately ohvious that these “provisional regulations” create in advance a series of causes for conflict between the students and the authorities?   Is it not obvious that the introduction of these regulations threatens to turn any students’ meeting, lawfully called for the most peaceful purpose, into a starting-point for fresh “disorders”? Can it be doubted, for example, that by presiding at such meetings the inspectors, who exercise police functions, will constantly annoy some, evoke protest in others, and intimidate and gag yet others? And is it not clear that Russian students will not allow the character of the discussions at such meetings to be forcibly determined at the “discretion” of the authorities?

Yet the “right” of assembly and organisation granted by the government in the absurd form established by the “provisional regulations” is the maximum that the autocracy can give the students, if it is to remain an autocracy. Any further step in this direction would amount to a suicidal disturbance of the equilibrium on which the government’s relations with its “subjects” rest. Reconciling themselves to this maximum that the government can offer, or intensifying the political, revolutionary character of their protest–such is the dilemma the students are facing. The majority are adopting the latter alternative. More clearly than ever before, a revolutionary note rings in the students’ appeals and resolutions. The policy of alternating brutal repression with Judas kisses is doing its work and revolutionising the mass of students.

Yes, in one way or another, the students have settled the question confronting them and have declared that they are again prepared to take up the weapon they laid aside (under the influence of the lullabies). But what does society, which seems to have dozed off to these treacherous lullabies, intend to do? Why does it persist in maintaining silence and in “sympathising on the quiet”? Why is nothing heard of society’s protests, its active support for the renewed unrest? Is it really prepared to wait “calmly” for the inevitable tragic events by which every student movement has been attended hitherto? Does it really intend to confine itself to the wretched role of teller of the number of victims in the struggle and passive observer of its shocking scenes? Why do we not hear the voice of the “fathers”, when the “children” have unequivocally declared their intention to offer up new sacrifices on the altar of   Russian freedom? Why does our society not support the students at least in the way the workers have already supported them? After all, the higher educational institutions are attended not by the proletarians’ sons and brothers, and yet the workers in Kiev, Kharkov, and Ekaterinoslav have already openly declared their sympathy with the protesters, despite a uumber of “precautionary measures” taken by the police authorities and despite their threats to use armed force against demonstrators. Is it possible that this manifestation of the revolutionary idealism of the Russian proletariat will not influence the behaviour of society, which is vitally and directly interested in the fate of the students, and will not urge it to energetic protest?

The student “disorders” this year are beginning under fairly favourable portents. They are assured the sympathy of the “crowd”, “the street”. It would be a criminal mistake on the part of liberal society not to make every effort to completely demoralise the government by giving timely support to the students, and to wrest real concessions from it.

The immediate future will show how far our liberal society is capable of such a role. The outcome of the present student movement largely depends on the answer to this question. But whatever that outcome may be, one thing is certain: the recurrence of general student disorders after so brief a lull is a sign of the political bankruptcy of the present system. For three years the universities have been unable to settle down to normal life, studies are conducted by fits and starts, one of the cogs of the state machine is ceasing to function and, after turning uselessly for a time, is again coming to a standstill for a long while. There can be no doubt that under the present political regime there is no radical cure for this disease. The late Bogolepov sought to save the fatherland by a “heroic” method borrowed from the outmoded medicine prescribed by Nicholas I. We know what that led to. It is obvious that there can be no furthur progress in this direction. The policy of flirting with the students has now suffered a fiasco. But there is no other way besides violence and flirtation, and each new manifestation of this unquestionable bankruptcy of the existing regime will undermine its   foundations more and more, depriving the government of all prestige in the eyes of the indifferent philistines, and increasing the number of people who realise the need to struggle against it.

Yes, the bankruptcy of the autocracy is beyond doubt, and it is hurrying to announce the fact to the world at large. Is it not a declaration of bankruptcy that “a state of emergency” has been proclaimed in a good third of the Empire, and local authorities in all parts of Russia have come out simultaneously with “compulsory decrees” forbidding, under pain of severe penalties, acts that Russian laws do not allow as it is? By their very nature, all emergency regulations, which suspend the operation of ordinary laws, are meant to operate for only a limited time and in a limited area. The assumption is that extraordinary circumstances demand the temporary application of emergency measures in definite localities for the purpose of restoring the equilibrium necessary for the unimpeded operation of ordinary laws. That is the argument used by representatives of the existing regime. Twenty odd years have elapsed since the introduction of the emergency law. Twenty years of its operation in the principal centres of the Empire have not brought about the “pacification” of the country, or restored public order. After this powerful remedy has been in use for twenty years, it appears that the disease of “unreliability”, which it was devised to combat, has become so widespread and struck such deep roots as to make it necessary to extend it to all towns and factory centres of any importance! Is this not bankruptcy, openly declared by the bankrupt himself? Confirmed adherents of the present order (undoubtedly such do exist) must be horrified by the fact that the population is gradually becoming inured to this potent medicine, and is ceasing to react to fresh injections of it.

The bankruptcy of the government’s economic policy is also coming to light, this time against its will. The autocracy’s repacious methods of running the economy have rested on the monstrous explotation of the peasantry. These methods have taken for granted, as an inevitable consequence, recurrent famines among the peasants in one locality or another. At such times the predatory state has attempted   to parade before the population in the noble role of considerate provider for the very people it has robbed. Beginning with 1891, famines have taken an enormous toll of victims, and from 1897 they have followed one another almost without interruption. In 1892 Tolstoi bitterly derided the fact that “the parasite is preparing to feed the plant upon whose juices it thrives”.[4] It was, indeed, an absurd idea. Times have changed, and with famine having turned into a normal state of affairs in the countryside, our parasite is not so much taken up with the utopian idea of feeding the plundered peasantry, as with declaring that very same idea an offence against the state. The aim has been achieved–the huge famine of today is taking place in an atmosphere of dead silence that is unusual even in our country. The groans of the starving peasants are not heard; there is no attempt on the part of the public to take the initiative in combating the famine; the newspapers say nothing about the situation in the villages. An enviable silence, but do not Messrs. the Sipyagins feel that this quiet is highly reminiscent of the calm before a storm?

The state system, which for ages has rested on the passive support of millions of peasants, has reduced the latter to a state in which year in year out they are unable to provide food for themselves. This social bankruptcy of the monarchy of Messrs. the Obmanovs is no less instructive than its political bankruptcy.

When will the affairs of our fraudulent bankrupt be wound up? Will he manage to carry on much longer, living from day to day, and patching up the holes in his political and financial budget with skin taken from the living body of the national organism? The greater or lesser period of grace that history will allow our bankrupt will depend on many factors; but one of the most important will be the degree of revolutionary activity displayed by those who have become aware of the existing regime’s complete bankruptcy. Its decay is in an advanced stage, and is far ahead of the political mobilisation of the social elements destined to be its gravediggers. This political mobilisation will be carried out most effectively by revolutionary Social-Democracy, which alsone will be capable of dealing a a mortal blow al the autocracy. The new clash between the   students and the government enables and obliges us all to accelerate this mobilisation of all social forces hostile to the autocracy. Months of hostilities in political life are accounted by history as the equivalent of years. The times we live in are indeed times of hostilities.


[1] This refers to the assassination of Bogolepov, Minister of Public Education, in February 1901 by a student named Karpovich. General Vannovsky, former Minister of War, was appointed Minister of Public Education in Bogolepov’s place.

[2] The reference is to the “Provisional Regulations for the Organisation of Student Bodies in Higher Educational Institutions under the Ministry of Public Education,” adopted on December 22, 1901 (January 4, 1902) by Vannovsky, Minister of Public Education. Dissatisfied with the “provisional regulations,” which put their organisations under constant administrative control, the students protested against this fresh act of governmental arbitrariness and refused to recognise these “regulations.” Even liberal professors protested against the “provisional regulations,” which imposed on them the duty of police surveillance over the students.

[3] Nicholas (Nika-Milusha) Obmanov—a character in A. V. Amfiteatrov’s feuilleton, “Messrs. the Obmanovs,” published in the news paper Rossiya (Russia) on January 13(26), 1902. In veiled form the feuilleton gave a satirical character sketch of the last Romanovs: Nicholas I, Alexander II, Alexander III and his wife Maria Fyodorovna, and the then reigning Emperor Nicholas II. For publication   of this feuilleton the newspaper was suppressed and Amfiteatrov exiled to Minusinsk. The article, “Messrs. the Obmanovs,” was widely distributed throughout Russia in illegal editions and handwritten copies.

[4] V. I. Lenin is quoting Lev Tolstoi’s article, “Concerning Starvation.”

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