V. I.   Lenin

European Capital and the Autocracy

Published: Vperyod, No. 13, April 5 (March 23), 1905. Published according to the text in Vperyod.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1962, Moscow, Volume 8, pages 267-274.
Translated: Bernard Isaacs and The Late Isidor Lasker
Transcription\Markup: R. Cymbala
Public Domain: Lenin Internet Archive (2003). 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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The Social-Democratic press has repeatedly pointed out that European capital is the saviour of Russian autocracy. Without foreign loans Russian autocracy would not be able to survive. It was advantageous to the French bourgeoisie to support its military ally, so long, especially, as payments on the loans were punctually forthcoming. And the French bourgeoisie lent the autocratic government the round little sum of ten milliard francs (about 4,000 million rubles).

However ... there is nothing eternal under the moon. The war with Japan revealed the utter rottenness of the autocracy and ultimately undermined Russia’s credit even with the French bourgeoisie, its “friend and ally”. In the first place, the war showed up Russia’s military weakness; secondly, a continuous chain of reverses, one more crushing than the other, has shown the hopelessness of the war and the inevitability of the complete downfall of the whole absolutist system of government; thirdly, the formidable growth of the revolutionary movement in Russia has inspired the European bourgeoisie with a mortal dread of an explosion that might set all Europe ablaze. Mountains of inflammable material have piled up within the last few decades. And now all these factors, taken together, have led ultimately to the refusal of further loans. The recent attempt of the autocratic government to borrow from France, as it had done in the past, ended in failure. On the one hand, capital no longer has confidence in the autocracy; on the other, fearing a revolution, capital wants to put pressure on the autocracy to have it conclude peace with Japan and to come to terms with the Russian liberal bourgeoisie.

European capital is speculating on peace. The bourgeoisie in Europe as well as in Russia has begun to see the connection between war and revolution, to fear a really popular and victorious movement against tsarism. The bourgeoisie wants to preserve the “social order” of a society based on exploitation against excessive shocks; it wants to preserve the Russian monarchy as a constitutional, or pseudo-constitutional. monarchy, and is therefore speculating on peace in pursuance of anti-proletarian and anti-revolutionary interests. This indubitable fact clearly shows us that even so “simple” and plain an issue as that of war and peace cannot properly be posed if the class antagonisms of modern society are lost sight of, if the fact is overlooked that the bourgeoisie in everything it does, howsoever democratic or humanitarian it may appear, defends first and foremost the interests of its own class, the interests of “social peace”, viz., the suppression and disarming of all oppressed classes. The proletarians’ way of presenting the question of peace, there fore, differs and must inevitably differ from that of the bourgeois democrats, as it does on the questions of free trade, anti-clericalism, etc. The proletariat struggles against war and will always struggle against it unremittingly, without, how ever, forgetting for a moment that war can be abolished only with the complete abolition of society’s division into classes; that while class rule continues to exist war cannot be regarded only from the sentimentally democratic stand point; that in a war between exploiting nations one must distinguish between the roles of the progressive and of the reactionary bourgeoisie of each nation. Russian Social-Democracy has had to apply these general principles of Marxism concretely to the war with Japan. In dealing with the significance of this war (see Vperyod, No. 2, the article “The Fall of Port Arthur”[1] ), we pointed out that not only our Socialists-Revolutionaries (who blamed Guesde and Hyndman for sympathising with Japan), but also the new-Iskrists, had adopted a false, bourgeois-democratic standpoint. With the latter this found expression, first, in considerations of “peace at any price”, and, secondly, in the contention that it is impermissible “to speculate on a victory of the   Japanese bourgeoisie”. Both these considerations were worthy only of a bourgeois democrat, who deals with political questions on sentimental grounds. Reality has now shown that “peace at any price” has become the slogan of the European financiers and reactionaries (Prince Meshchersky in Grazhdanin[2] now speaks clearly of the need for peace for the salvation of the autocracy). It is now perfectly clear that speculation on peace for the purpose of suppressing the revolution is a speculation of reactionaries, in contrast to the speculation of the progressive bourgeoisie on a victory of the Japanese bourgeoisie. The new Iskra’s phrase-mongering against “speculation” in general is actually mere sentimental balderdash, far from the class standpoint and from any consideration of the various social forces.

The events that have exposed the new visage of the reactionary bourgeoisie were so glaring that now even Iskra has begun to see its error. Whereas in issue No. 83 it “snapped back” at our article in Vperyod, No. 2, we now read with pleasure in issue No. 90 (leader): “We should not demand only peace; for if the autocracy continues to exist, peace will spell ruin to the country.” Exactly: we should not demand only peace; for a tsarist peace is no better (and is some times worse) than a tsarist war. We should not put for ward the slogan of “peace at any price”, but only of peace with the fall of the autocracy, of peace concluded by a liberated nation, by a free Constituent Assembly, i.e., peace not at any price, but solely at the price of overthrowing absolutism. Let us hope that Iskra, having realised this, will also realise the inappropriateness of its highly moral tirades against speculation on a victory of the Japanese bourgeoisie.

Let us return, however, to European capital and its political “speculations”. How much tsarist Russia quails before this capital may be seen, for instance, from the following highly instructive incident. The Times, organ of the conservative English bourgeoisie, published an article entitled “Is Russia Solvent?” The article described in detail the “sub tie mechanism” of the financial manipulations of Messrs. Witte, Kokovtsev & Co. They are always running their business at a loss. They muddle through only by getting deeper and deeper into debt. In between loans the proceeds of the preceding loan are placed in the Treasury, and the “gold   reserve” is then triumphantly proclaimed a “free cash balance”. The gold obtained as a loan is shown to everybody as proof of Russia’s wealth and solvency! Small wonder that the English merchant compared this hanky-panky to the tricks of the Humbeds, the famous impostors, who used to display borrowed or swindled money (or even a safe purporting to contain money) in order to obtain new loans. The Times writes: “The frequent appearances of the Russian Government as a borrower in the Continental money market are due, not to capital requirements—that is to say, to reproductive enterprises or exceptional and transitory expenses— but almost exclusively to the normal deficiency of national income. This means that, as she is situated today, Russia is marching direct to insolvency. Her national balance-sheet leaves her every year deeper in debt. Her liabilities to the foreigner are more than her people can bear, and she has practically nothing to show for them. Her gold reserve is a colossal Humbert safe, the vaunted millions of which are unconsciously lent by her dupes for their own further deception.”

How artful! To pick a dupe, borrow money from him, then show him this very money as evidence of your wealth, in order to wheedle further loans from him!

The comparison with those notorious swindlers, the Humbert family, was so apt and the “gist” and purpose of the famous “free cash balance” were so neatly nailed that that article in such a respectable conservative newspaper created a sensation. Kokovtsev, the Minister of Finance, personally sent a telegram to The Times, which it printed forthwith (March 23 [10]). In his telegram the insulted Kokovtsev invited the editors of The Times to come to St. Petersburg and verify the gold reserve in person. The editors thanked him for the kind invitation, but declined it, on the simple grounds that the article which had hurt the feelings of the tsar’s servant did not in the least deny the existence of a gold reserve. The comparison with the Humberts implied, not that Russia did not have the gold reserve to which it referred, but that this reserve was actually made up of other people’s money, of wholly unsecured borrowings which did not in the least testify to Russia’s wealth, and to which it would be ridiculous to refer as security for fresh loans!

Mr. Kokovtsev missed the point of this witty but malicious   comparison, and set the whole world laughing by his telegram. Investigating gold reserves in banks was not in the range of duties of journalists, The Times said in its reply to the Minister of Finance. Indeed, it was the duty of the press to expose the trick played with the aid of these really existing “gold reserves” fictitiously displayed as evidence of the country’s wealth. The question is not whether you have this gold reserve or not, the newspaper lectured the Russian Minister of Finance in an article dealing with this comic telegram. We believe that you have it. The question is, what are your assets and your liabilities? What is the amount of your debts and what security have you? Or, more plainly put, is your stored reserve your property, or is it borrowed and liable to be refunded, which you cannot do in full because you do not possess so much? The English bourgeois, making fun of the simple Minister, tried to explain to him this none-too-subtle thing in a variety of ways, adding for his edification: If you are looking for someone to investigate your assets and liabilities, why not call on the representatives of the Russian people? As it happens, the people’s representatives are keen to get together in a representative assembly, be it called Zemsky Sobor or by some other name. Surely they will not refuse to investigate properly, not only the famous “gold reserve”, but all the finances of the autocracy. And they will certainly be able to make a thorough job of it.

“Possibly”, The Times sarcastically concludes, “the knowledge that the representative assembly would claim this office as a right” makes the tsarist government fear the con vocation of such an assembly, “at least in any shape in which it could exercise real power.”

An insidious assertion. It is all the more insidious, all the more significant, for being made, in reality, not by The Times, but by the entire European bourgeoisie—made, not as a polemical manoeuvre, but as an open expression of its distrust of the autocracy, of its unwillingness to lend it money, of its desire to deal with the lawful representatives of the Russian bourgeoisie. It is not an assertion, but a warning. It is not a sneer, but an ultimatum, the ultimatum of European capital to the Russian autocracy. While Japan’s allies, the English, word this ultimatum in the form   of sarcasm, Russia’s allies, the French, in their most conservative, most bourgeois paper, Le Temps, say the same thing, only a little more mildly—sugar-coating the pill, but virtually nonetheless refusing to lend any more, and advising the autocracy to make peace with Japan and with the Russian bourgeois liberals. Here is another voice, that of a no less respectable English magazine, The Economist: “The truth about Russian finance is at length coming to be appreciated in France. We have pointed out again and again that Russia has long been living on borrowed money, that, despite glowing statements issued by succeeding Ministers of Finance, the budgets have shown a large deficit year after year, though these have been cunningly concealed by a book-keeping device, and that the much-vaunted ’free cash balances’ of the Treasury consist principally of the proceeds of loans and partly of the deposits of the State Bank.” After telling the Russian autocracy these home truths, this financial magazine finds it necessary, however, to add some bourgeois consolations to the effect that if you can man age to make peace immediately and to make some paltry concessions to the liberals, Europe will doubtlessly begin again to lend you millions upon millions.

We are witnessing what is virtually a speculative gamble of the international bourgeoisie to save Russia from revolution and tsarism from utter ruin. The speculators are putting pressure on the tsar by refusing to grant loans. They are making use of their power, the power of the money-bag. They want a moderate and tidy bourgeois-constitutional (or pseudo-constitutional) regime in Russia. The rapid march of events unites them ever more closely into a single counter revolutionary bourgeois alliance, regardless of differences of nationality—French financiers and English business magnates, German capitalists, and Russian merchants. Osvobozhdeniye has acted in the spirit of this mildly moderate bourgeois party. In issue No. 67, where he sets forth the “programme of the Democratic Party” and even recognises (for how long?) universal, direct, and equal suffrage by secret ballot (passing over in modest silence the arming of the people!), Mr. Struve ends his new profession de foi with the following characteristic statement, printed in bold type “for the sake of importance”: “At the present moment the demand for the immediate   cessation of the war should stand outside and above the programme of every progressive party in Russia. In practice this means that the government now existing in Russia should, through the medium of France, begin peace negotiations with the Japanese Government.” The distinction between the bourgeois-democratic and the Social-Democratic demands to end the war could hardly be stated more trenchantly. The revolutionary proletariat does not put this demand “above the programme’; it addresses it, not to “the government now existing”, but to the free, truly sovereign popular Constituent Assembly. The revolutionary proletariat does not “speculate” on the mediation of the French bourgeoisie, which is seeking peace for avowedly anti-revolutionary and anti-proletarian purposes.

Finally, it is essentially with this same international party of the moderate bourgeoisie that Mr. Bulygin is now bargaining—skilfully playing for time, wearing his opponent down, feeding him with promises, but giving absolutely nothing definite, and leaving everything, absolutely everything, in Russia as it was before, beginning with the use of troops against strikers, continuing with the arrest of political suspects and repressive measures against the press, and ending with a dastardly incitement of the peasants against the intellectuals and the brutal flogging of rebel peasants. And the liberals rise to the bait; some are already beginning to believe ’Bulygin, while in the Lawyers’ Association Mr. Kuzmin-Karavayev tries to persuade the liberals to sacrifice universal suffrage for the sake of ... Mr. Bulygin’s blue eyes![3]

There is only one force that can stand up to the international alliance of the moderate conservative bourgeoisie, and that is the international alliance of the revolutionary proletariat. With respect to political solidarity, this alliance is already fully formed. As for the practical side and the revolutionary initiative, everything depends on Russia’s working class and the success of its joint democratic action for the decisive struggle in conjunction with the millions of the urban and rural poor.


[1] See p. 52 of this volume.—Ed.

[2] Grazhdanin (The Citizen)—a reactionary newspaper published in St. Petersburg between 1872 and 1914. Founded by Prince Meshchersky. From the eighties of the last century it was the organ of the extreme monarchists. It existed mainly on government subsidies. From 1906 it appeared as a weekly.

[3] Bulygin—tsarist Minister of the Interior; author of a draft law on the State Duma, which was a caricature of popular representation (see pp. 351-55 of this volume).

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