V. I. Lenin

Letter To J. V. Stalin For Members Of The C.C., R.C.P.(B.) Re

The Foreign Trade Monopoly[1]

Written: 12 and 13 October , 1922
First Published: Published for the first time according to the manuscript
Source: Lenin’s Collected Works, 2nd English Edition, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1965, Volume 33, pages 375-378
Translated: David Skvirsky and George Hanna
Transcription\HTML Markup: David Walters & R. 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

To Comrade Stalin, Secretary of the C.C.

October 13, 1922

The decision of the Plenary Meeting of the C.C. of October 6 (Minutes No. 7, Point 3) institutes what seems to be an unimportant, partial reform: "implement a number of separate decisions of the Council of Labour and Defence on temporary permission for the import and export of individual categories of goods or on granting the permission for specific frontiers".

In actual fact, however, this wrecks the foreign trade monopoly. Small wonder that Comrade Sokolnikov has been trying to get this done and has succeeded. He has always been for it; he likes paradoxes and has always undertaken to prove that monopoly is not to our advantage. But it is surprising that people, who in principle favour the monopoly, have voted for this without asking for detailed information from any of the business executives.

What does the decision that has been adopted signify?

Purchasing offices are being opened for the import and export trade. The owner of such an office has the right to buy and sell only specially listed goods.

Where is the control over this? Where are the means of control?

In Russia flax costs 4 rubles 50 kopeks, in Britain it costs 14 rubles. All of us have read in Capital how capitalism changes internally and grows more daring when interest rates and profits rise quickly. All of us recall that capitalism is capable of taking deadly risks and that Marx recognised this long before the war and before capitalism began its "leaps".

What is the situation now? What force is capable of holding the peasants and the traders from extremely profitable deals? Cover Russia with a network of overseers? Catch the neighbour in a purchasing office and prove that his flax has been sold to be smuggled out of the country?

Comrade Sokolnikov’s paradoxes are always clever, but one must distinguish between paradoxes and the grim truth.

No "legality" on such a question is at all possible in the Russian countryside. No comparison with smuggling in general ("All the same," they say, "smuggling is also flourishing in spite of the monopoly") is in any way correct; it is one thing to deal with the professional smuggler on the frontier and another with all the peasantry, who will all defend themselves and fight the authorities when they try to deprive them of the profit "belonging to them".

Before we have had an opportunity to test the monopoly system, which is only just beginning to bring us millions (and will give us tens of millions and more), we are introducing complete chaos; we are shaking loose the very supports that we have only just begun to strengthen.

We have begun to build up a system; the foreign trade monopoly and the co-operatives are both only in the process of being built up. Some results will be forthcoming in a year or two. The profit from foreign trade runs into hundreds per cent, and we are beginning to receive millions and tens of millions. We have begun to build up mixed companies; we have begun to learn to receive half of their (monstrous) profits. We can already see signs of very substantial state profits. We are giving this up in the hope of duties which cannot yield any comparable profit; we are giving every thing up and chasing a spectre!

The question was brought up at the Plenary Meeting hastily. There was no serious discussion worth mentioning. We have no reason for haste. Our business executives are only just beginning to go into things. Is there anything like a correct approach to the matter when major questions of trade policy are decided in a slapdash manner, without collecting the pertinent material, without weighing the pros and cons with documents and figures? Tired people vote in a few minutes and that’s the end of it. We have weighed less complicated political questions over and over again and frequently it took us several months to reach a decision.

I regret it very much that illness prevented me from attending the meeting on that day and that I am now compelled to seek an exception to the rule.

But I think that the question must be weighed and studied, that haste is harmful.

I propose that the decision on this question be deferred for two months, i.e., until the next Plenary Meeting; in the interim information and verified documents on the experience of our trade policy should be collected.

V. UIyanov (Lenin)

P.S. In the conversation I had with Comrade Stalin yesterday (I did not attend the Plenary Meeting and tried to get my information from the comrades who were there), we spoke, incidentally, of the proposal temporarily to open the Petrograd and Novorossiisk ports. It seems to me that both examples show the extreme danger of such experiments even for a most restricted list of goods. The opening of the Petrograd port would intensify the smuggling of flax across the Finnish frontier to prodigious proportions. Instead of combating professional smugglers we shall have to combat all the peasantry of the flax-growing region. In this fight we shall almost assuredly be beaten, and beaten irreparably. The opening of the Novorossiisk port would quickly drain us of surplus grain. Is this a cautious policy at a time when our reserves for war are small? When a series of systematic measures to increase them have not yet had time to show results?

Then the following should be given consideration. The foreign trade monopoly has started a stream of gold into Russia. It is only just becoming possible to calculate; the first trip of such-and-such a merchant to Russia for six months has given him, say, hundreds per cent of profit; he increases his price for this right from 25 to 50 per cent in favour of the Commissariat of Foreign Trade. Furthermore, it has become possible for us to learn and to increase this profit. Everything will at once collapse, the whole work will stop, because if here and there various ports are opened for a time, not a single merchant will pay a penny for this kind of "monopoly" . That is obvious. Before taking such a risk things have to be thought over and weighed several times. Besides there is the political risk of letting through not foreign merchants by name, which we check, but the entire petty bourgeoisie in general.

With the start of foreign trade we have begun to reckon on an influx of gold. I see no other settlement except for a liquor monopoly, but here there are very serious moral considerations, and also some business-like objections from Sokolnikov.


P.P.S. I have just been informed (1.30 hours) that some business executives have applied for a postponement. I have not yet read this application, but I whole-heartedly support it. It is only a matter of two months.



[1] This letter was written after the Plenary Meeting of the C.C., R.C.P.(B.), at its October 6, 1922 sitting, which Lenin did not attend, acted on a report by G. Y. Sokolnikov and passed a decision to relax the monopoly of foreign trade. Lenin disagreed with this decision, holding that it would wreck that monopoly.

In his letter to the C.C., R.C.P. (B.), the first part of which was written on October 12 and the postscript on October 13, he showed that the decision on foreign trade was wrong and proposed postponing a decision on this question for two months, until the next Plenary Meeting of the Central Committee.

On October 13, the Central Committee Secretariat sent the members of the C.C. the letter from Lenin and also the Theses of the People’s Commissariat of Foreign Trade on the Foreign Trade System drawn up by L. B. Krasin. The members of.the C.C., with few exceptions, supported Lenin’s recommendations. N. I. Bukharin, for example, wrote to Stalin on October 15, trying to give grounds for the demand to annul the foreign trade monopoly. Stalin wrote to members of the Central Committee: "Comrade Lenin’s letter has not persuaded me that the decision of the C.C. Plenary Meeting of October 6 on foreign trade was wrong. . . . Nonetheless, in view of Comrade Lenin’s insistence that fulfilment of the C.C. Plenary Meeting decision be delayed, I shall vote for a postponement so that the question may be again raised for discussion at the next Plenary Meeting which Comrade Lenin will attend." On October 16, on the basis of a questionnaire proposed by Lenin, the members of the Central Committee, by fourteen votes against one, decided to postpone a decision on this question until the next Plenary Meeting.