V. I.   Lenin

Old and New (November 5, 1911)

Notes of a Newspaper Reader

Published: Zvezda, No. 28, November 5, 1911. Signed: V.F.. Published according to the Zvezda text.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, [1974], Moscow, Volume 17, pages 300-303.
Translated: Dora Cox
Transcription\Markup: R. Cymbala
Public Domain: Lenin Internet Archive (2004). 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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You take up a batch of newspapers and at once you are completely surrounded by the atmosphere of “old” Russia. You read of a trial held in connection with a pogrom in Armavir: people beaten up with the knowledge and complicity of the authorities; a trap set by the authorities; “a massacre of the Russian intelligentsia in the broad sense of the term suggested and ordered by someone” (the words of the plaintiff in the civil suit). The old but ever new picture of Russian life, a bitter ridicule of the “constitutional” illusions.

Bitter, yet useful ridicule! For it is clear, and the young generation in Russia realises it ever more clearly, that condemnations and resolutions are of no avail. It is a question of the political system as a whole. Historical truth is paving a way for itself through the haze of deceptive dreams that it is possible to pour new wine into the old bottles.

Famine.... People selling cattle, selling girls; throngs of beggars, typhus, death from starvation. “The population have but one privilege—to die quietly and unobtrusively,” writes one correspondent.

The Zemstvo authorities, to put it bluntly, are scared that they may find themselves, with their estates, surround ed by starved and embittered people who have lost all hope of any improvement.” (A report from Kazan Gubernia.)

There can hardly be anything more docile than the present-day Zemstvos; yet even they are wrangling with the government over the amount of credit appropriations. They asked for 6,000,000 rubles (in Kazan Gubernia) and the government gave them 1,000,000. They asked for 600,000 rubles (Samara) and received 25,000!

Everything as of old!

At a Zemstvo meeting in Kholm Uyezd,[1] Pskov Gubernia, even rural superintendents opposed Zemstvo agronomical aid intended only for farmers who had left the village commune! In the Kuban area, at a gathering of Cossack village elders all present unanimously opposed the Third Duma plan to make the peasants’ land allotments their private property.

In Tsaritsyn, the Uyezd Assembly resolved not to prose cute an elder who had tortured a woman (“with the object of ascertaining the whereabouts of a criminal”). The gubernia court rescinded that decision.

In the neighbourhood of St. Petersburg, workers caught the manager of Mr. Yakovlev’s factory, threw a sack over his head and dragged him towards the Neva. The police dispersed the workers. Eighteen of them were arrested.

Small wonder therefore that, faced with such pictures of real life, even Rech is obliged to speak of the “great humiliation of the public”. And Mr. Kondurushkin, in his letters from Samara on the famine,[2] complains: “Russian society seems to me as yielding as rubber, or dough. It can be knead ed and pressed by word or deed. But as soon as it is let alone, it resumes its shape as of old”.

He, this Russian average citizen and intellectual, rich or poor, is unperturbed. But when people begin to ‘swell’ from hunger, he will then exult, and rejoice with tears in his eyes. When he sets out to render aid he will absolutely insist on doing so with tears in his eyes and ‘noble’ feelings in his breast. He will not miss the splendid opportunity to do something for the salvation of his soul. Without feelings and tears, work is not real work, nor is aid real aid. Unless there is an opportunity for him to shed tears, he will not think the cause worthy of his attention and will not lift a finger. No, he must first excite his emotions, make himself cry and blow his nose into a clean handkerchief. But stern calculation, a sound and sober realisation of state necessity—that is tedious, there is no soft moodiness in that.”

To be sure, it is very much worth while preaching “sternness” in a world of “dough” and “rubber”. Only our liberal does not notice from what aspect he is doing his preaching;   “a sound and sober realisation of state necessity”—didn’t you copy that from Menshikov, Mr. Kondurushkin? Is not such talk about state necessity possible only where there is “dough” and “rubber”, only where there is a soft and lachrymose moodiness? It is just because there are dough-like people that the heralds of “sound and sober state necessity” feel so confident.

Russian society is as yielding as rubber,” says Mr. Kondurushkin as of old. There are different kinds of society. There was a time when the word “society” included everything and covered everything, when it implied the heterogeneous elements of the population that were waking to conscious activity, and it was also taken to mean only the so-called “educated” people.

But it is in this very respect that things in Russia are no longer what they used to be. At the time when we could speak of society in general, the finest representatives of that society advocated stern struggle, not “sound and sober realisation of state necessity”.

But today we can no longer speak of “society” in general. A variety of new forces have revealed themselves in old Russia. The old disasters, like famine, etc., which, as of old, are again looming up in Russia, accentuating the old questions, demand that we take stock of how these new forces have manifested themselves during the first decade of the twentieth century.

Society” is soft and lachrymose because of the impotence and irresolution of the class towards which it gravitates, and to which nine-tenths of it belong. The preaching of “stern calculation, a sound and sober realisation of state necessity” serves but to justify the domination of the “authorities” over this flabby society.

The last decade, however, has brought forward elements of the population who do not belong to “society” and are not distinguished by softness and lachrymosity....

Everything in Russia is “as of old”—at the top. But there is also something new—at the bottom. He whom “the melancholy of the universal Russian bleakness” helps to discern, find, and ascertain this hard new element which is neither lachrymose nor dough-like, will be able to discover the road that leads to deliverance from the old.

But he who intersperses his lamentations about this melancholy with talk about “sound and sober realisation of state necessity”, will surely remain forever a component part of the “dough” that permits itself to be “kneaded and pressed”. Such people are “kneaded and pressed” for the sake of that very “sound and sober state necessity”—and it serves them right.

If, out of a hundred persons who are subjected to that operation, one member of “society” grows hard, that will be a useful result. There will be nothing good without demarcation.


[1] See footnote to p. 88.—Ed.

[2] In the throes of “the melancholy of the universal Russian bleakness”. —Lenin

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