Graft: A Franco-Russian Custom
|Written||30 March 1905|
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1962, Moscow, Volume 8, pages 304-305.
Under this headline the German Social-Democratic news paper Vorwärts recently published an extremely valuable document—the original text of a letter written by M. Jules Gouin, the manager of a large machine works in Batignolles (a suburb of Paris), to a ministry official in St. Peters burg. Through the medium of this gentleman the French works received an order for 114 locomotives. The total value of the order (at 27,700 francs per locomotive) is some 3,000,000 francs, or about 1,200,000 rubles. For his good offices in this transaction the honourable ministerial official (who, we may add, probably occupies a fairly high post) receives for a start, as we see from the letter, two per cent of the purchase price. This amounts to about 25,000 rubles. It further appears from the letter (which we do not quote in full for lack of space) that of this sum 13,000 francs have already been received by the go-between; the rest is payable in instalments. Moreover, alterations in the standard type of locomotives to the specifications of the Russian railways are to be paid for separately. The St. Petersburg representative of the Paris firm undertakes to inform this official in advance what this extra charge demanded by the works will amount to. If the official can “get” from the Russian Government a higher price than that fixed by the works, the difference too will be placed to his credit as the “go between”. In the German translation of the letter (written in French) this is called Vermittlungsgebühr, “broker’s commission”. Actually, of course, this expression is merely a veil to cover a most brazen swindle, an embezzlement of public funds, committed by a French capitalist and a Russian ministry official working under a collusive contract.
Vorwärts rightly says that the letter casts a lurid light on Russian venality and the advantage that foreign capital takes of it. The letter is documentary proof of the usual “business” practices prevailing in civilised, capitalist countries. These things are done everywhere in Europe, too, but no where in such a shameless manner as in Russia; and nowhere is there such “political safety” (safety from exposure) for corruption as in autocratic Russia. No wonder, conclude the German Social-Democrats, that European industry is interested in preserving the Russian autocracy with its irresponsible officials and their shady practices. No wonder Russian officials fight tooth and nail against a constitution that threatens to establish public control over the administration. One can gather from this exposure what the Russian officialdom is “making” on the war with Japan, what sums have found their way into the pockets of officials employed in the St. Petersburg ministries from, say, the sale of German marine shipping to Russia! The national calamity is a gold mine for the war contractors and venal officials.