The Food And War Situation
|Written||30 July 1919|
Source: Lenin Collected Works, 4th English Edition, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1972, Volume 29, pages 520-531
Speech At A Moscow Conference Of Factory Committees, Trade Unions And Representatives Of The Moscow Central Workers’ Co-Operative[edit source]
(Applause.) Comrades, I should like to give you a brief, summarised explanation of the food situation and the war situation. I expect that you are all familiar with the main facts in these spheres and my job seems to be to throw some light on the significance of those facts.
At this very moment when you have to settle problems of the co-operatives we are experiencing a moment of difficulty similar to that of last summer, especially in regard to food. You know that our food policy has been a great success during the past year as compared with that of the previous year. It is hardly likely that we can measure the success of our Soviet activities in other fields as accurately as we can in the field of food supplies. During the first year of Soviet power—it included the last period of the Kerensky regime—state procurements amounted to only 30 million poods. In the following year we procured 107 million poods despite a worse war situation and worse conditions of access to the best grain-growing regions, since Siberia, the Ukraine and the greater part of the distant South were out of reach. Despite this our grain procurements were, as you see, trebled. Viewed from the standpoint of the food supply apparatus, this was an important success, but from the standpoint of actual food supplies for the non-agricultural districts it is very little; when the food conditions of the non-agricultural population, especially those of the urban working population, were given a thorough study, it was found that this spring and summer the urban worker obtained about a half his food from the Commissariat of Food and had to buy the rest on the open market, at Sukharevka, and from the profiteers; furthermore, the first half accounts for one-tenth of the worker’s expenditure on food, while for the second half he has to pay nine-tenths. The profiteering gentry, as is to be expected, get nine times as much out of the worker as the state does for grain procured. If we examine the exact figures of our food situation we shall have to admit that we are standing with one foot in the old capitalism, that we have clambered only half-way out of that morass, out of that swamp of profiteering, on to the road of genuine socialist grain procurement, where grain ceases to be a commodity, ceases to be the object of profiteering, the object of and reason for squabbles, for struggle and for the impoverishment of the many. As you see very little has been done insofar as concerns the needs of the non-agricultural and working-class population, but you have only to imagine the difficult conditions under which the work had to be done, with the Civil War going on, when the greater part of the grain-growing regions was not in our hands, to realise that the food supply apparatus has been built up at unusually high speed. I think that everybody will agree with me that in this respect the organisational task, the task of collecting grain from the peasantry in a noncapitalist manner has been an extremely difficult one that cannot be carried out by any change of institutions—to say nothing of a change of government—because it is a task that requires organisational changes, it requires the reorganisation of the basis of farm life that has been built up in the course of hundreds, if not thousands, of years. If, in conditions of absolute peace’, we were to be given, say, five years to build up an organisational apparatus that would be capable of gathering all the grain into the hands of the state and keeping it out of the hands of profiteers, we would say that such speed of social and economic reorganisation is something unprecedented, something unheard of. If we, however, have been able to solve half the problem in less than two years we have done a lot. This is indisputable proof that Soviet power has taken the right line on the food problem, the most difficult and burdensome of problems, and is on the right road. In any case, I can tell you that Soviet power has decided with the greatest firmness to continue only in this way and not to be put off by the waverings, doubts and criticisms and, sometimes, even the despair we see around us. It is no wonder that we witness the most terrible, tormenting despair among people in the hungry places. It is no wonder, because the figures I have quoted on the food obtained by workers in the non-agricultural and urban regions show that they are dependent on profiteers, on chance, and so on, for half their food.
You know that food profiteering in our country has taken on the character of a fierce struggle and sheer plunder on the part of those who have had an opportunity of getting produce to the market. It is not surprising that we meet with despair among those who have gone under in this savage struggle between the profiteers and the hungry. It is obvious that under prevailing conditions, when the railways are working badly, when typical of the chief grain-growing districts is what is happening in the Ukraine, where we have not succeeded in getting an apparatus going, where the remnants of guerrilla methods prevent any possibility of organisational work, where the population has not yet been able to abandon guerrilla methods—obviously all this is to the advantage of Denikin who has scored his easiest victories there, and makes it more difficult for us to make use of the rich grain markets where there are stocks of grain that could easily get us out of our difficulties, I repeat, that under these circumstances it is no wonder that all around we meet expressions of despair from those who have suffered the greatest loss in this battle for bread. If we take the development of Soviet work in its totality and not in individual cases, and compare what was provided by Soviet power with what was provided by the free market, we shall have to admit that the half of the food supply business in the hands of the profiteers Is still the source of fierce oppression and the most fantastic, most disgraceful, absolutely uncontrolled profit for the speculators, and this in circumstances when there are, on the one hand, hungry people, and, on the other hand, opportunities for some people to make a profit—it is a source of the most infamous corruption.
It can be understood that people who are unable to grasp this process in all its aspects should, in many cases, instead of thinking about how to solve this new problem in the struggle against capitalism—the organised procurement of grain at fixed prices due to confidence in the workers’ state—instead of giving thought to this they say to us, “Look, if the worker spends nine-tenths of his money on Sukharevka that shows that you exist only owing to food profiteers and speculators. And so you have to conform to it.” We sometimes hear this from people who think they have their wits about them arid have a profound understanding of events. Actually they are indulging in sophistry. The experience of the revolution shows that changes in the form of government are not difficult, that it is possible to oust the ruling class of landowners and capitalists in a short time, if the revolution develops successfully it may he done in a few weeks, but the reorganisation of the fundamental conditions of economic life, the struggle against habits that in the course of hundreds and thousands of years have become second nature to every petty proprietor is something that requires many long years of persistent organisational work after the exploiting classes have been completely overthrown. And when they point out that alongside us Sukharevka is thriving, and tell us how much Soviet power depends on that market, we ask them what they are surprised at. Could the problem possibly have been solved in a period of less than two years with Russia cut off from the best agricultural regions? Those people who most of all object from the standpoint of principle and who even at times assert that they are speaking from a socialist angle—but God save us from such socialism—accuse the Bolsheviks of utopianism and adventurism because the Bolsheviks said that they could and should not only smash the monarchy and landed proprietorship in a revolutionary manner, but they could and should smash the capitalist class as well, and sweep them and the remnants of the imperialist war away so as to clear the ground for organisational work which will require a lengthy period of working-class rule, the only form of rule capable of giving a lead to the peasant masses. Those people who accuse us of utopianism because we recognised the possibility of smashing the capitalist and landowning classes in a revolutionary manner, are themselves imposing a utopian task upon us by wanting the organisational questions of the new socialist system and the struggle against old customs that cannot be overcome by any abolition of institutions—by wanting these problems settled at a moment when our hands are tied by the Civil War and wanting them settled in a period too brief for their solution by any earthly forces.
Yes, it is the food policy that demonstrates most clearly that the struggle between socialism and capitalism in its latest form is being fought out right here where we not only have to overcome old institutions, not only the landowners and capitalists, but all the habits and economic conditions, created by capitalism, affecting millions of petty proprietors. We have to make reason stronger than their prejudices. Any peasant who is at all class-conscious will agree that freedom to trade in grain and the sale of grain on the open market when the people are hungry means war between people and the enrichment of the profiteers, while for the masses of the people it means hunger. This class-consciousness, however, is not enough because all the peasant’s prejudices and all his habits tell him that it is more profitable to sell grain to a profiteer for several hundred rubles than to give it to the state for a few dozen paper rubles that he cannot get anything for at the moment. We say that since the country is ruined, since there is no fuel and the factories are at a standstill, you, the peasant, must help the workers’ state, you must give up your grain as a loan, The paper money you are being given for your grain certifies that you have made the state a loan. And if you, the peasant, make the state a loan and give up your grain, the worker will be able to rehabilitate industry. There is no other way of rehabilitating industry in a country that has been ruined by four years of imperialist war and two years of civil war—there is no other way! Any peasant who is a little bit developed and has emerged from his primordial muzhik darkness will agree that there is no other way. But the class-conscious peasant that you can convince if you speak to him as man to man is one thing and the prejudices of millions of peasants are another; they understand that they have lived under capitalism all their lives and consider they are justified in regarding the grain as their property—they have not had any experience of the new order and cannot put their trust in it. ’1 hat is ’why we say that precisely in this sphere, in the matter of food, there is the most bitter war between capitalism and socialism, a war in actual fact and not merely in words and not in the upper echelons of state organisation. Those upper echelons are easily reorganised, and the significance of such changes is not very great. But here the consciousness of the working people and of their vanguard, the working class, is fighting the last, decisive battle against the prejudices and disunity of the peasant. masses. When the advocates of capitalism—no matter whether they call themselves representatives of bourgeois parties, or Mensheviks, or Socialist-Revolutionaries—when they say, “Renounce the implementation of the state grain monopoly, the compulsory requisitioning of grain at fixed prices,” we answer them by saying, “You, dear Mensheviks and Socialist-Revolutionaries, you are perhaps sincere people, but you are defenders of capitalism, you preach nothing but the prejudices of the old, petty-bourgeois democracy that knows nothing but freedom to trade, that stands aside from the fierce war against capitalism and considers that all this can be amicably settled.” We have enough experience and we know that those who really belong to the working masses, those who have not risen to the upper echelons, those who have been exploited by the landowners and capitalists all their lives—they know that here it is a matter of the last, decisive battle against capitalism, a battle that does not allow of any conciliation. They know that there cannot be any concessions here, in this particular sphere. When Soviet power said that temporarily—as it did last summer—for so many weeks people would be allowed to carry with them one and a half poods of grain, the food apparatus that was later set working procured more than before. You know that at the present time we have had to make a similar concession and allow such an interval—let the worker during his holidays get his own supplies. By this we are giving ourselves greater opportunities to renew our work and guarantee our socialist activities. We are fighting a real battle against capitalism and we assert that no matter what concessions capitalism may force us to make we are still in favour of the struggle against it and against exploitation. We shall fight in this field as ruthlessly as we are fighting Denikin and Kolchak, because they draw fresh strength for themselves from the might of capitalism, and this might, of course, does not fall from the sky, it is based on freedom to trade in grain and other goods. We know that one of the main sources of capitalism is freedom to trade in grain in the country, and it is this source that has been the ruin of all previous republics.. Today the last, decisive battle against capitalism and against freedom to trade is being fought and for us this is a truly basic battle between capitalism and socialism. If we win in this fight there will be no return to capitalism and the former system, no return to what has been in the past. Such a return will be impossible so long as there is a war against the bourgeoisie, against profiteering and against petty proprietorship, and as long as the principle “every man for himself and God for all” is not retained. We have to forget the principle that every peasant should be for himself and Kolchak for all. We now have a new type of relations and of organisation. It must be remembered that socialism is progressing and no matter to what extent we impose remnants of the old on ourselves they will be nothing but old fragments of old ideas because the peasant must have a completely different attitude to the article of consumption he produces; if, on the other hand, he sells food to workers at uncontrolled prices he will most certainly become a bourgeois and a property-owner, but we say that food must be sold at fixed state prices so that we shall have an opportunity to get away from capitalism. And now that we have to live through this difficult period of hunger and compare the present situation with last year’s we have to admit that the situation this year is incomparably better than it was last year. It is true that we have to make certain concessions, but we can always answer for them and explain them. But still, although we have done a lot in twenty months of Soviet power we have not yet found a way out of all the difficulties of the present grave situation.
When we have got the peasant away from his property and when we have made him turn towards the work of our state we. shall be able to say that we have covered a difficult section of our road. But we shall not deviate from that road, any more than we shall deviate from the road of struggle against Denikin and Kolchak. We hear such things from those people who call themselves Socialist-Revolutionaries and Mensheviks as “the war is hopeless” , “there is no way out of the war and we must make every effort to end it” you will hear such things said everywhere. People say this who do not understand the real state of affairs. They think the Civil War is hopeless because it is too burdensome, but can they not understand that the war is being forced on us by European imperialists because they are afraid of Soviet Russia? Furthermore, they have in their palaces, today Savinkov, tomorrow Maklakov and then Breshkovskaya—and they have not got them there for gossip, they talk to them about the most rational way of sending soldiers and guns and other death-dealing weapons here, to us, how to send help to the Archangel Front, how to link it up with the Southern and Eastern fronts and even the Petrograd Front. All Europe, and all the European bourgeoisie have taken up arms against Soviet Russia. They have become so insolent that they even make such proposals to the Hungarian Government as, “You reject Soviet power and we’ll give you bread.” I am thinking that the proposal will serve as powerful propaganda in Hungary when they read about it in the Budapest newspapers! Nevertheless it is better and more frank and honest than all the chiromancy about the struggle for freedom to trade, etc. Here the issue is clear—you need bread, reject whatever is not to our advantage and we will, give you the bread.
If, therefore, the kind capitalists were to turn to the Russian peasants with the same proposal we would be very grateful to them. We should be able to say that we are short of propagandists but now Clemenceau, Lloyd George and Wilson have come to our aid and have shown themselves to be the best propagandists. There would not be any more speeches about the Constituent Assembly, about freedom of assembly, etc., everything would be above-board. But we shall ask the capitalist gentry—you have so many war debts, your bags are packed tight with promissory notes for so many thousand millions of war debts — do you think the people are going to pay them? You have so many shells, cartridges, guns, that you don’t now what to do with them—was firing at Russian workers the best thing you could think of? You bought Kolchak, why didn’t you save him? You recently passed a resolution to the effect that the international League of Nations of the Allied powers recognised Kolchak as the only authoritative Russian ruler.” ’ And after that nothing was seen of Kolchak but a pair of clean heels. Why did that happen? (Applause.) And so we see from the experience of Kolchakia what the promises of the Socialist-Revolutionary and Menshevik leaders are worth. Did not they begin the Kolchak campaign? They held power in Samara. What are their promises worth? And what are we to do if they gather against us forces that from the military point of view are, of course, immeasurably superior to ours—we cannot make even an approximate comparison? The bourgeoisie, great and small, naturally draw the relevant conclusion from this and they say to the weary, hungry masses, “You have been dragged into a civil war from which there is no way out. How can your backward, weary country fight against Britain, France and America?” We are constantly hearing this tune sung all round us—we hear it daily and hourly from the bourgeois intelligentsia. They are trying to prove that the Civil War is a hopeless business. We can find the answer in historythe history of the government in Siberia. We know that there are affluent peasants living there who have never known serfdom and who cannot, therefore, show gratitude to the Bolsheviks for liberating them from the landowners. We know that a government was organised there and that for a start some beautiful banners prepared by the Socialist-Revolutionary Chernov and the Menshevik Maisky were sent there; these banners bore such slogans as “Constituent Assembly” , “Freedom to Trade” they were willing to inscribe on them everything the ignorant peasant wanted so long as he would help them overthrow the Bolsheviks! And what happened to that government? Instead of a Constituent Assembly they got Kolchak’s dictatorship, the worst possible, worse than any tsarist dictatorship. Was that an accident? We are told that it was a mistake. Gentlemen—individuals may make mistakes in some act or another in their lives, but here you had the aid of all the best people, the best there were in your parties. Did you not have the help of the intelligentsia? Even if they were not there—and we know that they were—you still had the intelligentsia of all the advanced countries— France, Britain, America and Japan. You, had land, you had a fleet, you had an army and you had money—why, then, did everything collapse? Was it because of a mistake that was made by some Chernov or Maisky? No, it was because there cannot be any middle way in this desperate war, and in order to hold out the bourgeoisie has to shoot down by scores and hundreds the very best of the working class. This is clear from the example of Finland, and now Siberia is showing another example of it. In order to prove the rootless nature of the Bolsheviks, the Socialist-Revolutionaries and Mensheviks began organising a new power and flopped with it triumphantly directly at the feet of Kolchak’s government. That was no accident, for the same thing is happening all over the world, and if all the Bolshevik speeches were to disappear, and with them all their printed publications that are being persecuted in every country where Bolshevik pamphlets are being fished out as something infectious and dangerous to poor Wilson, Clemenceau and Lloyd George—if all that were to disappear we would point to Siberia where their henchmen have only just been operating and we would say, “Here is what works better than any agitation!” This shows that there can be no middle way between the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie and the dictatorship of the working class. This is an argument that is penetrating into the heads of the least class-conscious of the peasants to say nothing of the working class. You know that the peasants said that they did not want a Bolshevik government, they wanted freedom to trade in grain. You know that in Samara the peasantry, the middle peasants, were on the side of the bourgeoisie. Who has now driven them away from Kolchak? It seems that the peasant alone cannot create his own...[This word could not be deciphered in the shorthand notes—Editor.]. This is confirmed by the entire history of revolution, and anybody who is familiar with it and with the history of the socialist movement knows that the development of political parties in the nineteenth century leads to this.
The peasant, of course, did not know this. He has never studied the history of socialism or the history of revolution but he recognises and believes in arguments derived from his own experience. When he saw that Bolshevik imposed hardships were for the sake of victory over the exploiters, and that Kolchak’s government brought back capitalism with its old policemen, he said, fully conscious of what he was saying, “I choose the dictatorship of the working-class masses and will go so far as to help in the full defeat of the dictatorship of the bureaucratic bourgeoisie (that is what he calls Kolchak’s dictatorship) so that there will be the dictatorship of the proletariat, the dictatorship of the people.” The history of Kolchak shows that no matter how long the Civil War may last, how difficult it may be and how hopeless it may seem, it will not lead us into a blind alley. It will lead the masses of the people, those that are farthest removed from the Bolsheviks, to believe through their own experience in the need to go over to the side of Soviet power.
And that, comrades, is the war situation. Now allow me to finish up my report by some indications of the co-operative work that we have before us. Many comrades have spoken who are more competent than I to appraise the practical tasks with which you are faced. I will allow myself to express the hope that the task you have to undertake—the creation of a consumers’ co-operative society that embraces the masses of the working people—that this tremendously important task will be carried out successfully. In the conditions of capitalist society the co-operatives naturally, produced a top group that formed their leadership, and this top layer were all whiteguards. It turned out this way not only in our country; it was proved by the co-operative leaders who concluded an agreement with Kolchak. It was the same in Britain and Germany, in capitalist countries. When the war broke out, the upper strata of the co-operatives who were accustomed to a luxurious way of life, went over to the imperialists.
It is no accident that throughout the world the upper echelons of the socialist parliamentarians, the upper echelons of the socialist movement went over entirely to the imperialists during the imperialist war. They helped start the war, and they have gone so far that their friends head the government that murdered Liebknechit and Luxemburg and are helping shoot the leaders of the working class. This is not the fault of individual people. It is not the crime of any unfortunate criminal. It is the result of capitalism that has corrupted them. That is how it was everywhere in the world, and Russia is no holy land; we could not get out of capitalist society in any other way than by engaging in a serious war with those upper echelons. It is still not over today, when it embraces the masses of the people and the masses have arisen in struggle against all forms of profiteering. Those who have personally experienced exploitation will not forget it when they take the business of distribution into their own hands. It is possible that in this field we shall suffer quite a few defeats. We know that in this field there is a great deal of backwardness and ignorance and that we shall fail, first in one place and then in anotherwe know that we cannot achieve anything at a single blow. But we who are conscientiously carrying on Soviet work, we, class-conscious workers and peasants who are organising socialist Russia, shall continue that war. You will pursue this war together with us, and we shall end that war, difficult as it may be, with full victory, comrades. (Applause.)