A Little Picture In Illustration Of Big Problems

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Author(s) Lenin
Written 1918

Delivered: End of 1918 or beginning of 1919
First Published: Pravda No. 258, November 7, 1926; Published according to the manuscript
Source: Lenin Collected Works, 4th English Edition, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1972, Volume 28, pages 386-389

Comrade Sosnovsky, editor of Byednota has brought me a remarkable book. As many workers and peasants as possible should be made familiar with it. Most valuable lessons, splendidly illustrated by vivid examples, are to be drawn from it on some of the major problems of socialist construction. The book, by Comrade Alexander Todorsky, is called A Year with Rifle and Plough and was published in the little town of Vesyegonsk by the local uyezd Executive Committee to mark the anniversary of the October Revolution.

The author describes the year's experience of the men in charge of organising Soviet power in the Vesyegonsk Uyezd—first the Civil War, the revolt of the local kulaks and its suppression, and then “peaceful creative life”.The author has succeeded in giving such a simple, and at the same time such a lively, account of the course of the revolution in this rural backwater, that to attempt to retell it could only weaken its effect. This book should be distributed as widely as possible, and it would be very good if many more of those who have been working among the people and with the people, in the very thick of life, sat down to describe their experiences. The publication of several hundred, or even several dozen, such descriptions, the best, most truthfully and plainly told and containing numerous valuable facts, would be infinitely more useful to the cause of socialism than many of the newspaper and magazine articles and books by professional journalists and writers who only too often cannot see real life for the paper they write on.

Let me give a brief example from Comrade Todorsky's narrative. It was suggested that “merchant hands” should not be allowed to go “unemployed”, but should be encouraged to “set to work”.

“. . .With this end in view, three young, energetic and very businesslike manufacturers, E. Yefremov, A. Loginov and N. Kozlov, were summoned to the Executive Committee and ordered on pain of imprisonment and confiscation of all property to set up a sawmill and tannery. The work was started immediately.

“. . .The Soviet authorities were not mistaken in their choice of men, and the manufacturers, to their credit, were among the first to realise that they were not dealing with ‘casual and temporary guests’, but with real masters who had taken power firmly into their hands.

“. . .Having quite rightly realised this, they set to work energetically to carry out the orders of the Executive Committee, with the result that Vesyegensk now has a sawmill going at full swing, covering the needs of the local population and filling orders for a new railway under construction.

“. . .As to the tannery, the premises are now ready, and the engine, drums and ether machinery, obtained from Moscow, are being installed, so that in a month and a half, or two at the most, Vesyegonsk will be getting fine leather of its own make.

“. . .The building of two Soviet plants by ‘non-Soviet’ hands is a good example of how to fight a class which is hostile to us.

“. . .To rap the exploiters over the knuckles, to render them harmless or ‘finish them off’, is only half the job. The whole job will be done only when we compel them to work, and with the fruits of their labour help to improve the new life and strengthen Soviet power.”

These fine and absolutely true words should be carved in stone and prominently displayed in every Economic Council, food organisation, factory, land department and so on. For what has been understood by our comrades in remote Vesyegonsk is all too often stubbornly ignored by Soviet officials in the capitals. It is quite common to meet a Soviet intellectual or worker, a Communist, who turns his nose up at the mere mention of co-operative societies and declares with an air of profound importance—and with equally profound stupidity—that these are not Soviet hands, they are bourgeois people, shopkeepers, Mensheviks, that at such and such a time and place the co-operators used their financial manipulations to conceal aid given to whiteguards, and that in our Socialist Republic the supply and distribution apparatus must be built up by clean Soviet hands.

Such arguments are typical insofar as the truth is so mixed with falsehood that we consequently get a most dangerous distortion of the aims of communism that can do incalculable harm to our cause.

The co-operatives certainly are an apparatus of bourgeois society, an apparatus which grew up in an atmosphere of “shopkeeping” and which has trained its leaders in the spirit of bourgeois politics and in a bourgeois outlook, and has therefore been producing a large proportion of whiteguards or their accomplices. That is undeniable. But it is a bad thing when absurd conclusions are drawn from undeniable truths, by their oversimplification and slapdash application. We can only build communism out of the material created by capitalism, out of that refined apparatus which has been moulded under bourgeois conditions and which-as far as concerns the human material in the apparatus-is therefore inevitably imbued with the bourgeois mentality. That is what makes the building of communist society difficult, but it is also a guarantee that it can and will be built. In fact, what distinguishes Marxism from the old, utopian socialism is that the latter wanted to build the new society not from the mass human material produced by bloodstained, sordid, rapacious, shopkeeping capitalism, but from very virtuous men and women reared in special hothouses and cucumber frames. Everyone now sees that this absurd idea really is absurd and everyone has discarded it, but not everyone is willing or able to give thought to the opposite doctrine of Marxism and to think out how communism can (and should) be built from the mass human material which has been corrupted by hundreds and thousands of years of slavery, serfdom, capitalism, by small individual enterprise, and by the war of every man against his neighbour to obtain a place in the market, or a higher price for his product or his labour.

The co-operatives are a bourgeois apparatus. Hence they do not deserve to be trusted politically; but this does not mean we may turn our backs on the task of using them for administration and construction. Political distrust means we must not put non-Soviet people in politically responsible posts. It means the Cheka must keep a sharp eye on members of classes, sections or groups that have leanings towards the whiteguards. (Though, incidentally, one need not go to the same absurd lengths as Comrade Latsis, one of our finest, tried and tested Communists, did in his Kazan magazine, Krasny Terror. He wanted to say that Red terror meant the forcible suppression of exploiters who attempted to restore their rule, but instead, he put it this way [on page 2 of the first issue of his magazine]: “Don't search [!!?] the records for evidence of whether his revolt against the Soviet was an armed or only a verbal one”)

Political distrust of the members of a bourgeois apparatus is legitimate and essential. But to refuse to use them in administration and construction would be the height of folly, fraught with untold harm to communism. If anybody tried to recommend a Menshevik as a socialist, or as a political leader, or even as a political adviser, he would be committing a great mistake, for the history of the revolution in Russia has definitely shown that the Mensheviks (and the Socialist-Revolutionaries) are not socialists, but petty-bourgeois democrats who are capable of siding with the bourgeoisie every time the class struggle between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie becomes particularly acute. But petty-bourgeois democracy is not a chance political formation, not an exception, but a necessary product of capitalism. And it is not only the old, pre-capitalist, economically reactionary middle peasants who are the “purveyors” of this democracy. So, too, are the co-operative societies with their capitalist training that have sprung from the soil of large-scale capitalism, the intellectuals, etc. After all, even backward Russia produced, side by side with the Kolupayevs and Razuvayevs, capitalists who knew how to make use of the services of educated intellectuals, be they Menshevik, Socialist-Revolutionary or non-party. Are we to be more stupid than those capitalists and fail to use such “building material” in erecting a communist Russia?