How Can per Capita Consumption in Russia be Increased?

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Author(s) Lenin
Written 3 August 1913


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Severnaya Pravda No. 3, August 3, 1913. Signed: W. Frey. Published according to the Severnaya Pravda text.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1977, Moscow, Volume 19, pages 292-294.
Collection(s): Severnaya Pravda

A few days ago the organ of our satraps of industrial capital, Promyshlennost i Torgovlya, published a leading article under the above heading. The question they raise is basic, that of the causes of Russia’s economic (and every other) backwardness. It deserves the most serious attention.

Our industrial and commercial satraps declare that “it is at first glance paradoxical” for Russia to he among the great and advanced powers as far as her output of iron, oil and a number of other items is concerned, while her level of per capita consumption (i.e., the total amount of important items produced per head of the population) “makes her the neighbour of Spain”, one of the most backward countries.

In 1911, for instance, the amount of iron consumed per head of the population was: 233 kilograms in the United States of America, 136 in Germany, 173 in Belgium and 105 in England, while in Russia it was a mere 26 kilograms (one and a half poods). In the half century since the liberation of the peasants the consumption of iron in Russia has increased fivefold, but Russia still remains an unbelievably, unprecedentedly backward country, poverty-stricken and half-savage, four times worse-off than Britain, five times worse-off than Germany and ten times worse-off than America in terms of modern means of production.

What is the reason? The journal is forced to admit that the reason lies wholly in rural living conditions. The rural areas consume a mere quarter of a pood of iron per head of the population and “the peasant, rural population constitutes five-sixths of the population of Russia”.

“A certain statistician has calculated that if the Chinese were to lengthen their national costume by the width of one finger it would be sufficient to provide work for all the cotton mills in England for a whole year.”

An apt and eloquent remark!

What must be done to make the tens of millions of Russian peasants “lengthen their national costume”, or, putting all metaphors aside, increase their consumption, cease being beggars and become, at long last, just a little bit like human beings?

Our industrial satraps answer with empty phrases—”the general cultural development of the country”, the growth of industry, of towns, etc., “increased productivity of peasant labour”, etc.

Empty phrase-mongering, pitiful excuses! This development, this “increase” has been going on in Russia for more than half a century, no one doubts it has been going on. All classes are shouting their heads off about “culture”. Even the Black Hundreds and the Narodniks are taking their stand on the side of capitalism. For a long time the question to raise has been a different one—why is the development of capitalism and culture proceeding at a snail’s pace? Why are we falling farther and farther behind? Why does this increasing backwardness make exceptional speed and “strikes” necessary?

Our industrial satraps are afraid to answer this question, which is quite clear to any politically conscious worker, because they are satraps. They are not the representatives of capital that is free and strong, like that of America; they are a handful of monopolists protected by state aid and by thousands of intrigues and deals with the very Black-Hundred landowners whose medieval land tenure (about 70 million dessiatines of the best land) and oppression condemn five-sixths of the population to poverty, and the entire country to stagnation and decay.

“We must work,” exclaims Mr. I. B—n in the journal of the satraps, “to approximate the rate of per capita consumption to that of the United States of America and not that of Spain.” This hired scribbler of the satraps does not want to see that subservience to the Black-Hundred landowners inevitably “approximates Russia to Spain” and that approximation to America requires a ruthless, devoted struggle against that class all along the line.