V. I. Lenin

Reply To An Open Letter By A Bourgeois Specialist

Written: 28 March, 1918
First Published: Pravda No. 67, March 28, 1919; Published according to the Pravda text
Source: Lenin’s Collected Works, 4th English Edition, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1972 Volume 29, pages 228-232
Translated: George Hanna
Transcription/HTML Markup: David Walters & Robert Cymbala
Copyleft: V. I. Lenin Internet Archive (www.marx.org) 2002; Permission is granted to copy and/or distribute this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License.

Today I received the following:

”An open letter of a ’specialist’ to Comrade Lenin.

“I read in Izvestia your report on the specialists, and I cannot suppress a cry of indignation. Don’t you really understand that not a single honest specialist, if he has retained the least shred of self-respect, can agree to go to work merely for the sake of the animal comforts with which you are offering to provide him? Have you retired so deeply into the seclusion of the Kremlin that you fail to see the life that is going around you, that you do not see how many of the Russian specialists, though not government Communists, are real workers, who acquired their special knowledge at the cost of extreme effort not from the capitalists and not for the purpose of making money but in persistent struggle against the deadly conditions of student and academic life under the old system? These conditions have not been improved for them under the communist government (to me this does not coincide with my conception of the communist system) Against these absolutely genuine proletarians—even though they come from different classes—who have served the working people by word, deed and thought from the very first days of their conscious life—against these, whom you lump together in a single contaminated heap of ‘intellectuals’, you incite ignorant, upstart Communists, former policemen, minor officials and shopkeepers, who in the provinces often constitute a large section of the ‘local authorities’, and it is difficult to describe the horrors of the humiliation and suffering they are experiencing. Continuous denunciation and accusations of the absurdest description, fruitless but extremely humiliating house searches, threats of shooting, requisitions and confiscations, invasion of the most private sides of personal life (a commander of a unit quartered in an educational establishment at which I teach actually ordered me to sleep in one bed with my wife), these are the conditions under which many specialists in establishments of higher learning were compelled to work until very lately. But all these ‘petty-bourgeois’ have remained at their posts and faithfully fulfilled the moral obligations they undertook to preserve, no matter at what sacrifice, culture and knowledge for those who humiliated and insulted them at the instigation of their leaders. They realised that their personal misfortunes and sorrows must not be confused with the question of building a new and better life; and this helped, and is helping them now, to bear it, and continue with their work.

“But believe me, from among these people whom you, without discrimination, have christened bourgeois, counter-revolutionaries, saboteurs, and so forth, only because they conceive of the approach to the future socialist and communist system differently from the way you and your disciples conceive of it, you will not buy a single man at the price that you think of offering. After all, the ’specialists’ who go to work for you in order to save their skins will not benefit the country in any way. A specialist is not a machine. He cannot be simply wound up and set going. Without inspiration, without the internal spark of life, without the urge to create, not a single specialist, will produce anything, no matter how highly he is paid. But a volunteer, working and creating among comrades and collaborators who respect him and regard him as a guide who knows his business, and not as a suspect to be kept under the surveillance of a communist commissar of the 1919 crop, will put his heart and soul into his work.

“If you don’t want to have ’specialists’ working merely for the sake of their salary, if you want new, honest volunteers to join the specialists who are already co-operating with you in some places, not out of fear, but conscientiously, in spite of the fact that they disagree with you on principle on many questions, in spite of the humiliating conditions into which your tactics often place them, in spite of the unprecedented bureaucratic chaos that reigns in many Soviet offices and which sometimes wrecks even most vital undertakings—if you want all this, then first of all purge your Party and your government offices of the unscrupulous Mitlaüfer,[Casual fellow-travellers.—Editor] comb out these self-seekers, adventurers, scoundrels and bandits who, sheltering under the banners of communism, are either, owing to their despicable natures, grabbing public property, or, owing to their stupidity, are cutting at the roots of public life by their absurd, disruptive fussiness.

“If you want to ’use’ the specialists, do not buy them, but learn to respect them as men, and not as livestock and machines that you need for a certain time.

M. Dukelsky

“Professor at Voronezh Agricultural Institute. President of the Central Board of State Enterprises in the Leather Industry.”

This is a wrathful letter, but I think it is sincere, and one I would like to answer.

After all is said and done, I think the author is governed mainly by personal irritation, which has robbed him of the ability to discuss events from the mass point of view, and from the point of view of their actual consecutiveness.

According to the author, we Communists repelled the specialists by “christening” them with all sorts of bad names.

This was not the case.

The workers and peasants set up the Soviet government after overthrowing the bourgeoisie and bourgeois parliamentarism. It is not difficult to see today that this was not a “gamble”, not an “act of folly” on the part of the Bolsheviks, but the beginning of a world-wide change of two eras in world history—the era of the bourgeoisie and the era of socialism, the era of capitalist parliamentarism and the era of the Soviet state institutions of the proletariat. If, a year or so ago, the majority of the intellectuals would not (and partly could not) see this, are we to blame?

The sabotage was started by the intelligentsia and the government officials, the bulk of whom are bourgeois and petty bourgeois. These terms are a class characterisation, a historical appraisal, which may be right or wrong, but which must not be regarded as terms of abuse, or vituperation. It was inevitable that the workers and peasants should be enraged by the sabotage of the intelligentsia, and if anybody is to “blame” for this, it can only be the bourgeoisie and their willing and unwilling accomplices.

Had we “incited” anybody against the “intelligentsia”, we would have deserved to be hanged for it. Far from inciting the people against the intelligentsia, we on the contrary, in the name of the Party, and in the name of the government, urged the necessity of creating the best possible working conditions for the intelligentsia. I have been doing this since April 1918, if not earlier. I do not know which issue of Izvestia the author refers to, but it is very strange for a man who is accustomed to study politics, that is to say, to analyse events, from the mass and not from the personal point of view, to hear that to advocate higher pay necessarily expresses the unworthy, or generally evil, desire to “buy”. I hope the respected author will forgive me for saying so, but, on my word of honour, this reminded me of that literary character the “Muslin Miss”.[1]

Let us assume that the question is one of paying high salaries to a special, hand-picked group, that is, a group which formerly, for general social reasons, did not, and could not receive higher salaries. In that case, there might be grounds for assuming that the government’s object is to “buy” this group. But when we are discussing hundreds of thousands, if not millions, who always received higher salaries, how is it possible to regard the proposal that it is necessary, for a time, to pay a lower, but higher than the average, salary as a snare, or an “insult” unless one wishes to adopt a tone of furious irritation and carping criticism of everything.

Not only is his whole argument incongruous, but the author defeats himself when he relates, as of some great wrong done to him, as of some deep humiliation, the case when the commander of a unit quartered in a certain educational establishment ordered the professor to sleep in one bed with his wife.

Firstly, to the extent that the desire of intellectual people to have two beds, a bed for the husband and one for the wife, is legitimate (and it is undoubtedly legitimate), to that extent, it is necessary to have a salary higher than the average to satisfy that desire. The author of the letter cannot but know that on the “average” the number of beds in Russia was always less than one per Russian citizen.

Secondly, was the commander of the unit wrong in this case? If he was not rude, offensive, and did not deliberately humiliate the professor, and so forth (which might have been the case, and for which he should have been punished), if, I repeat, this was not the case, then, in my opinion, he was right. The men were worn out, they had not seen a bed, or probably a decent lodging in general, for months on end. They are defending the Socialist Republic under incredible difficulties, under inhuman conditions; did they not have a right to take a bed for a short time to rest in? The soldiers and their commander were right.

We do not want to reduce the general conditions of life of the intellectuals to the average, at one stroke, and consequently we are opposed to reducing their salaries to the average. But everything must be subordinated to the needs of the war, and intellectuals must put up with some inconvenience so that the soldiers may be able to rest. This is not a humiliating, but a just demand.

The author demands that intellectuals should be treated like comrades. He is right. We demand that too. The programme of our Party contains such a demand clearly, plainly and precisely formulated. If, on the other hand, groups of non-Party intellectuals, or of intellectuals who because of their party allegiance are politically hostile to the Bolsheviks, as clearly formulate the demand to their adherents, “be comradely towards weary soldiers, and towards over-worked workers who are enraged by centuries of exploitation”, then manual and non-manual workers will draw closer together at an extremely rapid rate.

The author demands that we should purge our Party and government offices of “unscrupulous, casual fellow-travellers, of self-seekers, adventurers, scoundrels and bandits”.

That is a just demand. We ourselves put it forward long ago, and are fulfilling it. We are not giving a free run to “newcomers” in our Party. The Party Congress even decided on a re-registration of members.[2] We shoot all bandits, self-seekers and adventurers that we catch, and will continue to do so. But if this process of purging is to proceed more thoroughly and quickly, sincere non-Party intellectuals must help us. When they form groups of people personally acquainted with each other, and in their name call for loyal service in Soviet offices, call upon them to “serve the working people”, to use the term of the open letter, then the birth pangs of the new social order will be much shortened and eased.

N. Lenin

March 27, 1919


[1] This expression was current in Russia in the nineteenth century; it was applied to young girls with limited interests brought up on patriarchal country estates.

[2] The Eighth Congress ordered the re-registration of all Party members throughout Russia; it was carried out between May and October 1919.