|Written||17 March 1912|
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1974, Moscow, Volume 17, pages 527-528
Again famine—as in the past, in the old, pre-1905, Russia. Crops may fail anywhere, but only in Russia do they lead to such grave calamities, to the starvation of millions of peasants. The present disaster, as even the supporters of the government and the landowners are compelled to admit, surpasses in extent the famine of 1891.
Thirty million people have been reduced to the direst straits. Peasants are selling their allotments, their live stock, everything saleable, for next to nothing. They are selling their girls—a reversion to the worst conditions of slavery. The national calamity reveals at a glance the true essence of our allegedly “civilised” social order. In different forms, in a different setting, and with a different “civilisation”, this system is the old slavery, it is the slavery of millions of toilers for the sake of the wealth, luxury and parasitism of the “upper” ten thousand. On the one hand there is hard labour, always the lot of slaves, and on the other the absolute indifference of the rich to the fate of the slaves. In the past, slaves were openly starved to death, women were openly taken into the seraglios of the masters, slaves were openly tortured. In our day, the peasants have been robbed—by means of all the tricks and achievements, all the progress of civilisation—robbed to such an extent that they are starving, eating goosefoot, eating lumps of dirt in lieu of bread, suffering from scurvy, and dying in agony. At the same time the Russian landlords, with Nicholas II at their head, and the Russian capitalists are raking in money wholesale—the proprietors of places of amusement in the capital say that business has never been so good. Such barefaced, unbridled luxury as that now flaunted in the big cities has not been seen for many years.
Why is it that in Russia alone, of all countries, we still witness these medieval spells of famine alongside of the progress of modern civilisation? Because in the conditions under which the new vampire, capital, is stealing upon the Russian peasants the latter are bound hand and foot by the feudal landowners, by the feudal, landowning, tsarist autocracy. Robbed by the landowner, crushed by the tyranny of officials, entangled in the net of police restrictions, harassed and persecuted, and placed under the surveillance of village policemen, priests, and rural superintendents, the peasants are just as defenceless in the face of the elements and of capital, as the savages of Africa. Nowadays it is only in savage countries that one meets with cases of people dying from hunger in huge numbers as they do in twentieth-century Russia.
But famine in present-day Russia, after so many boastful speeches by the tsarist government on the benefits of the new agrarian policy, on the progress of the farms that have left the village commune, etc., is sure to teach the peasants a great deal. The famine will destroy millions of lives, but it will also destroy the last remnants of the savage, barbarian, slavish faith in the tsar, which has prevented the peasants from seeing that there must inevitably be a revolutionary fight against the tsarist monarchy and the landowners. The peasants can find a way out of their condition only by abolishing the landed estates. Only the overthrow of the tsarist monarchy, that bulwark of the landlords, can lead to a life more or less worthy of human beings, to deliverance from starvation and hopeless poverty.
It is the duty of every class-conscious worker and every class-conscious peasant to make this clear. This is our main task in connection with the famine. The organisation, wherever possible, of collections among the workers for the starving peasants and the forwarding of such funds through the Social-Democratic members of the Duma—that, of course, is also one of the necessary jobs.