ENGLISH

 


 

LENIN

ON THE CAPITALIST CRISIS

collection of quotations - arranged by Wolfgang Eggers

on occasion of Lenin's 142nd Birthday (* 22. 04. 1870)

 

 

 

B. ECONOMIC CRISIS

 

 

April 1894

 Marx did not confine himself to describing the existing system, to judging it and condemning it; he gave a scientific explanation of it, reducing that existing system, which differs in the different European and non-European countries, to a common basis—the capitalist social formation, the laws of the functioning and development of which he subjected to an objective analysis (he showed the necessity of exploitation under that system).

By this same objective analysis of the capitalist system, he proved the necessity of its transformation into the socialist system. (157 - 158)

Marx merely shows from history, and here states in a summarised form, that just as formerly petty industry by its very development, necessarily created the conditions of its own annihilation . . . so now the capitalist mode of production has likewise itself created the material conditions from which it must perish. The process is a historical and dialectical one.

It is only at this point, after Marx has completed his proof on the basis of historical and economic facts, that he proceeds: The capitalist mode of appropriation, the result of the capitalist mode of production, produces capitalist private property. This is the first negation of individual private property, as founded on the labour of the proprietor. But capitalist production begets, with the inexorability of a law of Nature, its own negation. It is the negation of the negation—and so on (as quoted above).

Thus, by characterising the process as the negation of the negation, Marx does not intend to prove that the process was historically necessary. On the contrary: only after he has proved from history that in fact the process has partially already occurred, and partially must occur in the future, he in addition characterises it as a process which develops in accordance with a definite dialectical law. (173)

[Lenin's quotations from Engels' - "Anti-Dühring"]

 

 No capitalist can get along without others. All production processes thus merge into a single social production process; yet each branch is conducted by a separate capitalist, it depends on him and the social products are his private property. Is it not clear that the form of production comes into irreconcilable contradiction with the form of appropriation? Is it not evident that the latter must adapt itself to the former and must become social, that is, socialist?

Marx based the conclusion on the facts and arguments that the socialist system is inevitable by virtue of the very laws of capitalist development. (177)

Lenin, Collected Works, Volume 1, page 157 - 177; What the 'friends of the people' are?

 

 

 

1897

This theory, that the entire product of capitalist society consists of two parts—the workers’ part (wages, or variable capital, to use modern terminology) and the capitalists’ part (surplus-value), is not peculiar to Sismondi. It does not belong to him. He borrowed it in its entirety from Adam Smith, and even took a step backward from it. The whole of subsequent political economy (Ricardo, Mill, Proudhon and Rodbertus) repeated this mistake, which was disclosed only by the author of Capital, in Part III of Volume II. We shall expound the principles underlying his views later on. At present let us observe that this mistake is repeated by our Narodnik economists. It is of special interest to compare them with Sismondi, because they draw from this fallacious theory the very same conclusions that Sismondi himself drew: the conclusion that surplus-value cannot be realised in capitalist society; that social wealth cannot be expanded; that the foreign market must be resorted to because surplus-value cannot be realised within the country; and lastly, that crises occur because the product, it is alleged, cannot be realised through consumption by the workers and the capitalists. (145)

Sismondi: "But at last the time will come when the whole civilised world forms a single market, and it will no longer be possible to acquire new purchasers in any new nation. Demand in the world market will then be a constant (précise) quantity, for which the different industrial nations will compete against each other. If one nation supplies a larger quantity of products, it will do so to the detriment of another. The total sales cannot be increased except by an increase in general prosperity, or by the transfer of commodities, formerly the exclusive possession of the rich, to the sphere of consumption by the poor” (II, 316). The reader will see that Sismondi presents the very doctrine that our romanticists have learned so well, namely, that the foreign market provides the way out of the difficulty of realising the product in general, and surplus-value in particular.

Lastly,this same doctrine that national revenue and national production are identical led to Sismondi’s theory of crises. After what has been said above, we need scarcely quote from the numerous passages in Sismondi’s work which deal with this subject. His theory that production must conform to revenue naturally led to the view that crises are the result of the disturbance of this balance, the result of an excess of production over consumption. It is evident from the passage just quoted that it is this discrepancy between production and consumption that Sismondi regarded as the main cause of crises; and in the forefront he placed the underconsumption of the masses of the people, the workers. This explains why Sismondi’s theory of crises (which Rodbertus also adopted) is known in economic science as an example of the theories which ascribe crises to underconsumption (Unterkonsumption).

Lenin, Collected Works, Volume 2, page 145 and 149 - 150, A Characterisation of Economic Romanticism (SISMONDI and OUR NATIVE SISMONDISTS)

 

 

Crisis

Sismondi’s third mistaken conclusion, drawn from the wrong theory which he borrowed from Adam Smith, is the theory of crises. Sismondi’s view that accumulation (the growth of production in general) is determined by consumption, and his incorrect explanation of the realisation of the aggregate social product (which he reduces to the workers’ share and the capitalists’ share of revenue) naturally and inevitably led to the doctrine that crises are to be explained by the discrepancy between production and consumption. Sismondi fully agreed with this theory. It was also adopted by Rodbertus, who formulated it somewhat differently: he explained crises by saying that with the growth of production the workers’ share of the product diminishes, and wrongly divided the aggregate social product, as Adam Smith did, into wages and “rent” (according to his terminology “rent” is surplus-value, i.e., profit and ground-rent together). The scientific analysis of accumulation in capitalist society[1] and of the realisation of the product undermined the whole basis of this theory, and also indicated that it is precisely in the periods which precede crises that the workers’ consumption rises, that underconsumption (to which crises are allegedly due) existed under the most diverse economic systems, whereas crises are the distinguishing feature of only one system—the capitalist system. This theory explains crises by another contradiction, namely, the contradiction between the social character of production (socialised by capitalism) and the private, individual mode of appropriation. The profound difference between these theories would seem to be self-evident, but we must deal with it in greater detail because it is the Russian followers of Sismondi who try to obliterate this difference and to confuse the issue. The two theories of which we are speaking give totally different explanations of crises. The first theory explains crises by the contradiction between production and consumption by the working class; the second explains them by the contradiction between the social character of production and the private character of appropriation. Consequently, the former sees the root of the phenomenon outside of production (hence, for example, Sismondi’s general attacks on the classical economists for ignoring consumption and occupying themselves only with production); the latter sees it precisely in the conditions of production. To put it more briefly, the former explains crises, by underconsumption (Unterkonsumption ), the latter by the anarchy of production. Thus, while both theories explain crises by a contradiction in the economic system itself, they differ entirely on the nature of the contradiction, But the question is: does the second theory deny the fact of a contradiction between production and consumption, does it deny the fact of underconsumption? Of course not. It fully recognises this fact, but puts it in its proper, subordinate, place as a fact that only relates to one department of the whole of capitalist production. It teaches us that this fact cannot explain crises, which are called forth by another and more profound contradiction that is fundamental in the present economic system, namely, the contradiction between the social character of production and the private character of appropriation. What, then, should be said of those who, while they adhere essentially to the first theory, cover this up with references to the point that the representatives of the second theory note the existence of a contradiction between production and consumption? Obviously, these people have not pondered over the essence of the difference between the two theories, and do not properly understand the second theory. Among these people is, for example, Mr. N.-on (not to speak of Mr. V. V.). That they are followers of Sismondi has already been indicated in our literature by Mr. Tugan-Baranovsky (Industrial Crises, p. 477, with the strange reservation relative to Mr. N.-on: “evidently”). But in talking about “the shrinking of the home market” and “the decline in the people’s consuming capacity” (the central points of his views), Mr. N.-on, nevertheless, refers to the representatives of the second theory who note the fact of the contradiction between production and consumption, the fact of underconsumption. It goes without saying that such references merely reveal the ability, characteristic in general of this author, to cite inappropriate quotations and nothing more. For example, all readers who are familiar with his Sketches will, of course, remember his “citation” of the passage where it says that “the labourers as buyers of commodities are important for the market. But as sellers of their own commodity—labour-power—capitalist society tends to keep them down to the minimum price” (Sketches, p. 178), and they will also remember that Mr. N.-on wanted to deduce from this both “the shrinkage of the home market” (ibid., p. 203 et. al.) and crises (p. 298 et. al.). But while quoting this passage (which, as we have explained, proves nothing), our author, moreover, leaves out the end of the footnote from which his quotation was taken. This quotation was from a note inserted in the manuscript of Part II of Volume II of Capital. It was inserted “for future amplification” and the publisher of the manuscript put it in as a footnote. After the words quoted above, the note goes on to say: “However, this pertains to the next part,”[2] i.e., to the third part. What is this third part? It is precisely the part which contains a criticism of Adam Smith’s theory of two parts of the aggregate social product (together with the above-quoted opinion about Sismondi), and an analysis of “the reproduction and circulation of the aggregate social capital,” i.e., of the realisation of the product. Thus, in confirmation of his views, which are a repetition of Sismondi’s, our author quotes a note that pertains “to the part” which refutes Sismondi: “to the part” in which it is shown that the capitalists can realise surplus-value, and that to introduce foreign trade in an analysis of realisation is absurd....

Another attempt to obliterate the difference between the two theories and to defend the old romanticist nonsense by referring to modern theories is contained in Ephrucy’s article. Citing Sismondi’s theory of crises, Ephrucy shows that it is wrong (Russkoye Bogatstvo, No. 7, p. 162); but he does so in an extremely hazy and contradictory way. On the one hand, he repeats the arguments of the opposite theory and says that national demand is not limited to articles of direct consumption. On the other hand, he asserts that Sismondi’s explanation of crises “points to only one of the many circumstances which hinder the distribution of the national product in conformity with the demand of the population and with its purchasing power.” Thus, the reader is invited to think that the explanation of crises is to be found in “distribution,” and that Sismondi’s mistake was only that he did not give a full list of the causes which hinder this distribution! But this is not the main thing . “Sismondi,” says Ephrucy, “did not confine himself to the above-mentioned explanation. Already in the first edition of Nouveaux Principes we find a highly enlightening chapter entitled ‘De la connaissance du marché.’[3] In this chapter Sismondi reveals to us the main causes that disturb the balance between production and consumption” (note this!) “with a clarity that we find among only a few economists” (ibid.). And quoting the passages which say that the manufacturer cannot know the market, Ephrucy says: “Engels says almost the same thing” (p. 163), and follows this up with a quotation saying that the manufacturer cannot know the demand. Then, quoting some more passages about “other obstacles to the establishment of a balance between production and consumption” (p. 164), Ephrucy assures us that “these give us the very explanation of crises which is becoming increasingly predominant”! Nay, more: Ephrucy is of the opinion that “on the question of the causes of crises in the national economy, we have every right to regard Sismondi as the founder of the views which were subsequently developed more consistently and more clearly” (p. 168).

But by all this Ephrucy betrays a complete failure to understand the issue! What are crises? Overproduction, the production of commodities which cannot be realised, for which there is no demand. If there is no demand for commodities, it shows that when the manufacturer produced them he did not know the demand. The question now arises: is this indication of the condition which makes crises possible an explanation of the crises? Did Ephrucy really not understand the difference between stating the possibility of a phenomenon and explaining its inevitability? Sismondi says: crises are possible, because the manufacturer does not know the demand; they are inevitable, because under capitalist production there can be no balance between production and consumption (i.e., the product cannot be realised). Engels says: crises are possible, because the manufacturer does not know the demand; they are inevitable, but certainly not because the product cannot be realised at all. For it is not true: the product can be realised. Crises are inevitable because the collective character of production comes into conflict with the individual character of appropriation. And yet we find an economist who assures us that Engels says “almost the same thing”; that Sismondi gives the “very same explanation of crises”! “I am therefore surprised,” writes Ephrucy, “that Mr. Tugan-Baranovsky . . . lost sight of this most important and valuable point in Sismondi’s doctrine” (p. 168). But Mr. Tugan-Baranovsky did not lose sight of anything.[4] On the contrary, he pointed very exactly to the fundamental contradiction to which the new theory reduces matters (p. 455 et. al.), and explained the significance of Sismondi, who at an earlier stage indicated the contradiction which reveals itself in crises, but was unable to give it a correct explanation (p. 457—Sismondi, before Engels, pointed to the fact that crises spring from the contemporary organisation of the economy; p. 491—Sismondi expounded the conditions which make crises possible, but “not every possibility becomes a fact”). Ephrucy, however, completely misunderstood this, and after lumping everything together he is “surprised” that what he gets is confusion! “True,” says the economist of Russkoye Bogatstvo, “we do not find Sismondi using the terms which have now received universal right of citizenship, such as ‘anarchy of production,’ ‘unplanned production’ (Planlosigkeit ); but the substance behind these terms is noted by him quite clearly” (p. 168). With what ease the modern romanticist restores the romanticist of former days! The problem is reduced to one of a difference in terms! Actually, the problem boils down to the fact that Ephrucy does not understand the meaning of the terms he repeats. “Anarchy of production,” “unplanned production”—what do these expressions tell us? They tell us about the contradiction between the social character of production and the individual character of appropriation. And we ask every one who is familiar with the economic literature we are examining: did Sismondi, or Rodbertus, recognise this contradiction? Did they deduce crises from this contradiction? No, they did not, and could not do so, because neither of them had any understanding of this contradiction. The very idea that the criticism of capitalism cannot be based on phrases about universal prosperity, [5] or about the fallacy of “circulation left to itself,”[6] but must be based on the character of the evolution of production relations, was absolutely alien to them.

We fully understand why our Russian romanticists exert every effort to obliterate the difference between the two theories of crises mentioned. It is because fundamentally different attitudes towards capitalism are most directly and most closely linked with the theories mentioned Indeed, if we explain crises by the impossibility of realising products, by the contradiction between production and consumption, we are thereby led to deny reality, the soundness of the path along which capitalism is proceeding; we proclaim this path to be a “false one,” and go out in quest of “different paths.” In deducing crises from this contradiction we are bound to think that the further it develops the more difficult will be the way out of the contradiction. And we have seen how Sismondi, with the utmost naïveté, expressed exactly this opinion when he said that if capital accumulated slowly it was tolerable; but if it accumulated rapidly, it would become unbearable.—On the other hand, if we explain crises by the contradiction between the social character of production and the individual character of appropriation, we thereby recognise that the capitalist road is real and progressive and reject the search for “different paths” as nonsensical romanticism. We thereby recognise that the further this contradiction develops the easier will be the way out of it, and that it is the development of this system which provides the way out.

As the reader sees, here, too, we meet with a difference in “points of view.” . . .

It is quite natural that our romanticists should seek theoretical confirmation of their views. It is quite natural that their search should lead them to the old rubbish which Western Europe has discarded long, long ago. It is quite natural that, feeling this to be so, they should try to renovate this rubbish, some times by actually embellishing the romanticists of Western Europe, and at others by smuggling in romanticism under the flag of inappropriate and garbled citations. But they are profoundly mistaken if they think that this sort of smuggling will remain unexposed.

With this we bring to a close our exposition of Sismondi’s basic theoretical doctrine, and of the chief theoretical conclusions he drew from it; but we must make a slight addition, again relating to Ephrucy. In his other article about Sismondi (a continuation of the first), he says: “Still more interesting (than the theory on revenue from capital) are Sismondi’s views on the different kinds of revenue” (Russkoye Bogatstvo, No. 8, p. 42). Sismondi, he says, like Rodbertus, divides the national revenue into two parts: “one goes to the owners of the land and instruments of production, the other goes to the representatives of labour” (ibid.). Then follow passages in which Sismondi speaks of such a division, not only of the national revenue, but of the aggregate product: “The annual output, or the result of all the work done by the nation during the year, also consists of two parts,” and so forth (Nouveaux Principes, I, 105, quoted in Russkoye Bogatstvo, No. 8, p. 43). “The passages we have quoted,” concludes our economist, “clearly show that Sismondi fully assimilated (!) the very same classification of the national revenue which plays such an important role in the works of the modern economists, namely, the division of the national revenue into revenue from labour and non-labour revenue—arbeitsloses Einkommen. Although, generally speaking, Sismondi’s views on the subject of revenue are not always clear and definite, we nevertheless discern in them a consciousness of the difference that exists between private revenue and national revenue” (p. 43).

The passage quoted, say we in answer to this, clearly shows that Ephrucy has fully assimilated the wisdom of the German textbooks, but in spite of that (and, perhaps, just because of it), he has completely overlooked the theoretical difficulty of the question of national revenue as distinct from individual revenue. Ephrucy expresses himself very carelessly. We have seen that in the first part of his article he applied the term “modern economists” to the theoreticians of one definite school. The reader would be right in thinking that he is referring to them this time too. Actually, however, the author has something entirely different in mind. It is now the German Katheder Socialists [7] who figure as the modern economists. The author’s defence of Sismondi consists in closely identifying his theory with theirs. What is the theory of these “modern” authorities that Ephrucy quotes? That the national revenue is divided into two parts.

But this is the theory of Adam Smith and not of the “modern economists”! In dividing revenue into wages, profit and rent (Book I, chap. VI of The Wealth of Nations; Book II, chap. II), Adam Smith opposed the two latter to the former precisely as non-labour revenue; he called them both deductions from the produce of labour (Book I, chap. VIII) and challenged the opinion that profit is also wages for a special kind of labour (Book I, chap. VI). Sismondi, Rodbertus and the “modern” authors of German textbooks simply repeat Smith’s doctrine. The only difference between them is that Adam Smith was aware that he was not quite successful in his efforts to separate the national revenue from the national product; he was aware that by excluding constant capital (to use the modern term) from the national product after having included it in the individual product, he was slipping into a contradiction. The “modern” economists, however, in repeating Adam Smith’s mistake, have merely clothed his doctrine in a more pompous phrase (“classification of the national revenue”) and lost the awareness of the contradiction which brought Adam Smith to a halt. These methods may be scholarly, but they are not in the least scientific.


Notes

[1] The mistaken conception of “accumulation of individual capital” held by Adam Smith and the economists who came after him is connected with the theory that the total product in capitalist economy consists of two parts. It was they who taught that the accumulated part of profit is spent entirely on wages, whereas actually it is spent on: 1) constant capital and 2) wages. Sismondi repeated this mistake of the classical economists as well. —Lenin

[2] Das Kapital, II. Band, S. 304.[8] Russ. trans., p. 232. Our italics. —Lenin

[3] “About Knowledge of the Market.”—Ed.

[4] In The Development of Capitalism (pp. 16 and 19) (see present edition, Vol. 3, The Development of Capitalism in Russia, chap. I , section VI.—Ed.) I have already noted Mr. Tugan-Baranovsky’s inexactitudes and errors which subsequently led him to go right over to the camp of the bourgeois economists. (Author’s footnote to the 1908 edition.—Ed.) —Lenin

[5] Cf. Sismondi, loc. cit., I, 8. —Lenin

[6] Rodbertus. Incidentally, let us mention that Bernstein, who in general is restoring the prejudices of bourgeois political economy, has introduced confusion into this problem too by asserting that Marx’s theory of crises does not differ very much from the theory of Rodbertus (Die Voraussetzungen, etc. Stuttg. 1899, S. 67) (E. Bernstein, The Premises of Socialism and the Tasks of Social-Democracy. Stuttgart, 1899, p. 67.—Ed.), and that Marx contradicts himself by recognising the ultimate cause of crises to be the limited consumption of the masses. (Author’s footnote to the 1908 edition.—Ed.) —Lenin

[8] [PLACEHOLDER.]

[7] Katheder-Socialists—representatives of a trend in bourgeois political economy of the 1870s and 1880s who, under the guise of socialism, advocated bourgeois-liberal reformism from university chairs. (Katheder in German). The fear aroused among the exploiting classes by the spread of Marxism in the working-class movement and the growth of that movement brought Katheder-Socialism into being; it united the efforts of bourgeois ideologists to find fresh means of keeping the working people in subjugation.

Amongthe Katheder-Socialists were A. Wagner, G. Schmoller, L. Brentano, and V. Sombart who asserted that the bourgeois state is above classes, can reconcile mutually hostile classes, and can gradually introduce “socialism” without affecting the interests of the capitalists but at the same time taking the demands of the working people as far as possible Into consideration. They suggested the legalisation of police-regulated wage-labour, and the revival of the medieval guilds. Marx and Engels exposed Katheder-Socialism, showing how essentially reactionary it was. Lenin called the Katheder-Socialists the bed bugs of “police-bourgeois university science” who hated Marx’s revolutionary teachings. In Russia the views of the Katheder-Socialists. were advocated by the “legal Marxists.”

Lenin, Collected Works, Volume 2, pages 166 - 174, A Characterisation of Economic Romanticism (SISMONDI and OUR NATIVE SISMONDISTS)

 

 

This true proportion between supply and demand, which is beginning once more to be the object of so many wishes, ceased long ago to exist. It has passed into the stage of senility. It was possible only at a time when the means of production were limited, when the movement of exchange took place within very restricted bounds. With the birth of large-scale industry this true proportion had to (musste ) come to an end, and production is inevitably compelled to pass in continuous succession through vicissitudes of prosperity, depression, crisis, stagnation, renewed prosperity, and so on.

“Those who, like Sismondi, wish to return to the true proportion of production, while preserving the present basis of society, are reactionary, since, to be consistent, they must also wish to bring back all the other conditions of industry of former times.

“What kept production in true, or more or less true, proportions? It was demand that dominated supply, that preceded it. Production followed close on the heels of consumption.   Large-scale industry, forced by the very instruments at its disposal to produce on an ever-increasing scale, can no longer wait for demand. Production precedes consumption, supply compels demand.

“In existing society, in industry based on individual exchange, anarchy of production, which is the source of so much misery, is at the same time the source of all progress.

“Thus, one or the other: either you want the true proportions of past centuries with present-day means of production, in which case you are both reactionary and utopian.

“Or, you want progress without anarchy: in which case, in order to preserve the productive forces, you must abandon individual exchange” (Das Elend der Philosophie, S. 46–48).

The last words apply to Proudhon, with whom the author is polemising, thus formulating the difference between his own viewpoint and the views both of Sismondi and of Proudhon. Mr. N.–on would not, of course, approximate to either one or the other in all his views. But look into the content of the passage given. What is the main thesis of the author we have quoted, his basic idea, which brings him into irreconcilable opposition to his predecessors? Undoubtedly, it is that he places the question of the instability of capitalism (which all these three authors admit) on a historica plane and regards this instability as a progressive factor. In other words: he recognises, firstly, that existing capitalist development, which proceeds through disproportion, crises, etc., is necessary development, and says that the very character of the means of production (machines) gives rise to the desire for an unlimited expansion of production and the constant anticipation of demand by supply. Secondly, he recognises elements of progress in this development, which are: the development of the productive forces, socialisation of labour within the bounds of the whole of society, increased mobility of the population and the growth of its consciousness, and so forth. These two points exhaust   the difference between him and Sismondi and Proudhon, who agree with him in indicating the “instability” of capitalism and the contradictions it engenders, and in their sincere desire to eliminate these contradictions Their failure to understand that this “instability” is a necessary feature of all capitalism and commodity economy in general brought them to utopia. Their failure to understand the elements of progress inherent in this instability makes their theories reactionary.

Lenin, Collected Works, Volume 2, pages 215 -217, A Characterisation of Economic Romanticism (SISMONDI and OUR NATIVE SISMONDISTS)


 

1897

We have seen that both romanticism and the modern theory indicate the same contradictions existing in contemporary social economy. The Narodniks take advantage of this when they point to the fact that modern theory recognises the contradictions which manifest themselves in crises, in the quest for a foreign market, in the growth of production simultaneously with a decline in consumption, in protective tariffs, in the harmful effects of machine industry, and so on, and so forth. And the Narodniks are quite right: modern theory does indeed recognise all these contradictions, which romanticism also recognised. But the question is: has a single Narodnik ever asked wherein lies the difference between the scientific analysis of these contradictions, which reduces them to the different interests that spring from the present system of economy, and the utilisation of these references to contradictions merely in order to utter good wishes? No, we do not find a single Narodnik who has examined this question of the difference between the modern theory and romanticism. The Narodniks likewise utilise their references to contradictions merely in order to utter good wishes.

The next question is: has a single Narodnik ever asked wherein lies the difference between the sentimental criticism of capitalism and the scientific, dialectical criticism of it? Not one of them has raised this question of the second major difference between modern theory and romanticism. Not one of them has considered it necessary to use the present development of social and economic relations as the criterion of his theories (yet it is the   application of this criterion that constitutes the chief distinguishing feature of scientific criticism).

And the last question is: has a single Narodnik ever asked wherein lies the difference between the viewpoint of romanticism, which idealises small production and bewails the “break-up” of its foundations by “capitalism,” and the viewpoint of the modern theory, which takes large-scale capitalist machine production as its point of departure and proclaims this “break-up of foundations” to be progressive? (We employ this generally accepted Narodnik term. It vividly describes the process of change in social relations resulting from the influence of large-scale machine industry which everywhere, and not only in Russia, has taken place with an abruptness and sharpness that have astonished public opinion.) Again no. Not a single Narodnik has asked himself this question, not one of them has attempted to apply to the Russian “break-up” those yardsticks which made people acknowledge the West-European “break up” as progressive. They all weep about the foundations, advise that this break-up be stopped, and assure us through their tears that this is the “modern theory.”. . .

The comparison of Sismondi’s theory and their “theory,” which they have presented as a new and independent solution of the problem of capitalism based on the last word of West European science and life, clearly demonstrates to what a primitive stage of the development of capitalism and public thought the origin of that theory belongs. But the point is not that this theory is old. There are quite a few very old European theories that would be very new for Russia. The point is that even when that theory appeared, it was a petty-bourgeois and reactionary theory.

Lenin, Collected Works, Volume 2, pages 251 - 252, A Characterisation of Economic Romanticism (SISMONDI and OUR NATIVE SISMONDISTS)

 

 

1908

Messrs. V. V. and N.–on imagined that they were giving a profound appraisal of the contradictions of capitalism by pointing to the difficulties of realising surplus-value. Actually, however, they were giving an extremely superficial appraisal of the contradictions of capitalism, for if one speaks of the “difficulties” of realisation, of the crises, etc., arising therefrom, one must admit that these “difficulties” are not only possible but are necessary as regards all parts of the capitalist product, and not as regards surplus-value alone. Difficulties of this kind, due to disproportion in the distribution of the various branches of production, constantly arise, not only in realising surplus-value, but also in realising variable and constant capital; in realising not only the product consisting of articles of consumption, but also that consisting of means of production. Without “difficulties” of this kind and crises, there cannot, in general, be any capitalist production, production by isolated producers for a world market unknown to them.

Lenin, Collected Works, Volume 3, page 47, "The development of capitalism in Russia".

 

 

1908

The development of production (and, consequently, of the home market) chiefly on account of means of production seems paradoxical and undoubtedly constitutes a contradiction. It is real “production as an end in itself”—the expansion of production without a corresponding expansion of consumption. But it is a contradiction not of doctrine, but of actual life; it is the sort of contradiction that corresponds to the very nature of capitalism and to the other contradictions of this system of social economy. It is this expansion of production without a corresponding expansion of consumption that corresponds to the historical mission of capitalism and to its specific social structure: the former consists in the development of the productive forces of society; the latter rules out the utilisation of these technical achievements by the mass of the population. There is an undoubted contradiction between the drive towards the unlimited extension of production inherent in capitalism, and the limited consumption of the masses of the people (limited because of their proletarian status). It is this contradiction that Marx records in the propositions so readily quoted by the Narodniks and which are supposed to corroborate their views on the shrinkage of the home market, the non-progressive character of capitalism, etc., etc. Here are some of these propositions: “Contradiction in the capitalist mode of production: the labourers as buyers of commodities are important for the market. But as sellers of their own commodity—labour-power—capitalist society tends to keep them down to the minimum price” (Das Kapital, II, 303).

“...The conditions of realisation are limited by the proportional relation of the various branches of production and the consumer power of society....But the more productiveness develops, the more it finds itself at variance with the narrow basis on which the conditions of consumption rest” (ibid., III, 1, 225-226).“The limits within which the preservation and self-expansion of the value of capital resting on the expropriation and pauperisation of the great mass of producers can alone move—these limits come continually into conflict with the methods of production employed by capital for its purposes, which drive towards unlimited extension of production, towards production as an end in itself, towards unconditional development of the social productivity of labour....The capitalist mode of production is, for this reason, a historical means of developing the material forces of production and creating an appropriate world market, and is, at the same time, a continual conflict between this its historical task and its own corresponding relations of social production.” (III, 1, 232. Russ. trans., p. 194). “The ultimate reason for all real crises always remains the poverty and restricted consumption of the masses as opposed to the drive of capitalist production to develop the productive forces as though only the absolute consuming power of society constituted their outer limit” (III, 2, 21. Russ. trans., p. 395). These propositions all speak of the contradiction we have mentioned, namely, the contradiction between the unrestricted drive to expand production and limited consumption—and of nothing else. Nothing could be more senseless than to conclude from these passages in Capital that Marx did not admit the possibility of surplus-value being realised in capitalist society, that he attributed crises to under-consumption, and so forth. Marx’s analysis of realisation showed that the circulation between constant capital and constant capital is definitely limited by personal consumption; but this same analysis showed the true character of this “limitedness,” it showed that, compared with means of production, articles of consumption play a minor role in the formation of the home market. And, furthermore, there is nothing more absurd than to conclude from the contradictions of capitalism that the latter is impossible, non-progressive, and so on—to do that is to take refuge from unpleasant, but undoubted realities in the transcendental heights of romantic dreams. The contradiction between the drive towards the unlimited expansion of production and limited consumption is not the only contradiction of capitalism, which cannot exist and develop at all without contradictions. The contradictions of capitalism testify to its historically transient character, and make clear the conditions and causes of its collapse and transformation into a higher form; but they by no means rule out either the possibility of capitalism, or its progressive character as compared with preceding systems of social economy.

Lenin, Collected Works, Volume 3, page 56 - 58, "The development of capitalism in Russia".

 

1908

The various branches of industry, which serve as “markets” for one another, do not develop evenly, but outstrip one another, and the more developed industry seeks a foreign market.

But for capital to abandon one sphere of industry and pass into another there must be a crisis in that sphere; and what can restrain the capitalists threatened by such a crisis from seeking a foreign market, from seeking subsidies and bonuses to facilitate exports, etc.?

Under the old modes of production, economic units could exist for centuries without undergoing any change either in character or in size, and without extending beyond the landlord’s manor, the peasant village or the small neighbouring market for the rural artisans and small industrialists (the so-called handicraftsmen). The capitalist enterprise, on the contrary, inevitably out grows the bounds of the village community, the local market, the region, and then the state. Since the isolation and seclusion of the states have already been broken down by commodity circulation, the natural trend of every capitalist industry brings it to the necessity of “seeking a foreign market.”

Thus, the necessity of seeking a foreign market by no means proves that capitalism is unsound, as the Narodnik economists like to picture matters. Quite the contrary. This necessity demonstrates the progressive historical work of capitalism, which destroys the age-old isolation and seclusion of systems of economy (and, consequently, the narrowness of intellectual and political life), and which links all countries of the world into a single economic whole. [ underlined and bolded - by the Comintern (SH) ]

Lenin, Collected Works, Volume 3, page 66 - 67, "The development of capitalism in Russia".

 

 

1908

The present agricultural crisis is a capitalist crisis. Like all capitalist crisis, it ruins capitalist farmers and peasants in one locality, in one country, in one branch of agriculture, and at the same time gives a tremendous impulse to the development of capitalism in another locality, in another country, in other branches of agriculture. It is the failure to understand this fundamental feature of the present crisis and of its economic nature that constitutes the main error in the reasoning on this theme of Messrs. N.-on, Kablukov, etc., etc. (229)

The emergence of separate types of commercial agriculture renders possible and inevitable capitalist crises in agriculture and cases of capitalist overproduction, but these crises (like all capitalist crises) give a still more powerful impetus to the development of world production and of the socialisation of labour. (314 - 315)

Lenin, Collected Works, Volume 3, page 229 (foot note), and 314 - 315, - "The development of capitalism in Russia".

 

1908

The development of capitalism in the young countries is greatly accelerated by the example and the aid of the old countries. Of course, the last decade (1888-1898) has been a period of exceptional boom, which, like all capitalist prosperity, will inevitably lead to a crisis; but capitalist development cannot proceed at all except in spurts.

Lenin, Collected Works, Volume 3, page 490, - "The development of capitalism in Russia".

 

 

1908

Large-scale machine industry can only develop in spurts, in alternating periods of prosperity and of crisis. The ruin of small producers is tremendously accelerated by this spasmodic growth of the factory; the workers are drawn into the factory in masses during a boom period, and are then thrown out. The formation of a vast reserve army of unemployed, ready to undertake any kind of work, becomes a condition for the existence and development of large-scale machine industry. In Chapter II we showed from which strata of the peasantry this army is recruited, and in subsequent chapters we indicated the main types of occupations for which capital keeps these reserves ready. The “instability” of large-scale machine industry has always evoked, and continues to evoke, reactionary complaints from individuals who continue to look at things through the eyes of the small producer and who forget that it is this “instability” alone that replaced the former stagnation by the rapid transformation of methods of production and of all social relationships.

Lenin, Collected Works, Volume 3, page 545, - "The development of capitalism in Russia".

 

 

1908

We say:

the maximum demand, because capitalism can only develop spasmodically, and consequently, the number of producers who need to sell their labour-power must always exceed capitalism’s average demand for workers. We have now estimated the total number of the various categories of wage-workers, but in doing so do not wish to say that capitalism is in a position to give regular employment to them all. There is not, nor can there be, such regularity of employment in capitalist society, whichever category of wage-worker we take. Of the millions of migratory and resident workers a certain section is constantly in the reserve army of unemployed, and this reserve army now swells to enormous dimensions—in years of crisis, or if there is a slump in some industry in a particular district, or if there is a particularly rapid extension of machine production, which displaces workers— and now shrinks to a minimum, even causing that “shortage” of labour which is often the subject of complaint by employers in some industries, in some years, in some parts of the country.

Lenin, Collected Works, Volume 3, page 584, - "The development of capitalism in Russia".

 

 

 

 

March 1899

Thescientific value of Marx’s theory is its explanation of the process of the reproduction and circulation of the aggregate social capital. Further, Marx’s theory showed how the contradiction, inherent in capitalism, comes about, how the tremendous growth of production is definitely not accompanied by a corresponding growth in people’s consumption. Marx’s theory, therefore, not only does not restore the apologetic bourgeois theory (as Struve fancies), but, on the contrary, provides a most powerful weapon against apologetics. It follows from the theory that, even with an ideally smooth and proportional reproduction and circulation of the aggregate social capital, the contradiction between the growth of production and the narrow limits of consumption is inevitable. But in reality, apart from this, realisation does not proceed in ideally smooth proportions, but only amidst “difficulties,” “fluctuations,” “crises,” etc.

 

Lenin, Collected Works, Volume 4, page 87, - "Once more on the theory of realisation".

 

 

April - May 1899

The conception of the agrarian crisis inevitably follows from the general conception of agrarian evolution which Marx presented and on which Kautsky enlarges in detail. Kautsky sees the essence of the agrarian crisis in the fact that, owing to the competition of countries which produce very cheap grain, agriculture in Europe has lost the opportunity of shifting to the masses of consumers the burdens imposed on it by the private ownership of land and capitalist commodity production. From now on agriculture in Europe “must itself bear them [these burdens], and this is what the present agrarian crisis amounts to” (S. 239, Kautsky’s italics). Ground rent is the main burden. In Europe, ground rent has been raised by preceding historical development to an extremely high level (both differential and absolute rent) and is fixed in the price of land. On the other hand, in   the colonies (America, Argentina, and others), insofar as they remain colonies, we see free land occupied by new settlers, either entirely gratis or for an insignificant price; more over, the virginal fertility of this land reduces production costs to a minimum. Up to now, capitalist agriculture in Europe has quite naturally transferred the burden of excessively high rents to the consumer (in the form of high grain prices); now, however, the burden of these rents falls upon the farmers and the landowners themselves and ruins them. Thus, the agrarian crisis has upset, and continues to upset, the prosperity which capitalist landed property and capitalist agriculture formerly enjoyed. Hitherto capitalist landed property has exacted an ever-increasing tribute from social development; and it fixed the level of this tribute in the price of land. Now it has to forego this tribute. Capitalist agriculture has now been reduced to the state of instability that is characteristic of capitalist industry and is compelled to adapt itself to new market conditions. Like every crisis, the agrarian crisis is ruining a large number of farmers, is bringing about important changes in the established property relations, and in some places is leading to technical retrogression, to the revival of medieval relations and forms of economy. Taken as a whole, however, it is accelerating social evolution, ejecting patriarchal stagnation from its last refuge, and making necessary the further specialisation of agriculture (a principal factor of agricultural progress in capitalist society), the further application of machinery, etc. On the whole, as Kautsky shows by data   for several countries, in Chapter IV of his book, even in Western Europe, instead of the stagnation in agriculture in the period 1880-90, we see technical progress. We say even in Western Europe, because in America, for example, this progress is still more marked.

In short, there are no grounds for regarding the agrarian crisis as an obstacle to capitalism and capitalist development.

Lenin, Collected Works, Volume 4, page 157 - 159, - "Capitalism in agriculture".

 

 

May 1899

The irregular production of a surplus-product (crises) is inevitable in capitalist society as a result of the disturbance in proportion between the various branches of industry. (161 - foot note)

The contradiction between production and consumption that is inherent in capitalism is due to the tremendous rate at which production is growing, to the tendency to unlimited expansion which competition gives it, while consumption (individual), if it grows at all, grows very slightly; the proletarian condition of the masses of the people makes a rapid growth of individual consumption impossible. It seems to me that any one reading carefully pages 20 and 30 of my Studies (the article on the Sismondists cited by Mr. P. Nezhdanov) and page 40 of Nauchnoye Obozreniye (1899, No. 1) can convince himself that, from the outset, I gave only this meaning to the contradiction between production and consumption in capitalism. Indeed, no other meaning can be ascribed to this contradiction by one who adheres strictly to Marx’s theory. The contradiction between production and consumption that is inherent in capitalism consists only in this, that the growth of the national wealth proceeds side by side with the growth of the people’s poverty; that the productive forces of society increase without a corresponding increase in consumption by the people, without the employment of these productive forces for the benefit of the working masses. The contradiction   under discussion, understood in this sense, is a fact that does not. admit of any doubt and that is confirmed by the daily experience of millions of people, and it is the observation of this fact that leads the working men to the views that have found a full scientific expression in Marx’s theory. This contradiction does not, by any means, lead inevitably to the regular production of a surplus-product (as Mr. Nezhdanov would like to think). We can quite well imagine (if we argue from a purely theoretical standpoint about an ideal capitalist society) the realisation of the entire product in a capitalist society without any surplus-product, but we cannot imagine capitalism without a disparity between production and consumption. This disparity is expressed (as Marx has demonstrated clearly in his Schemes) by the fact that the production of the means of production can and must out strip the production of articles of consumption. (161 - 162)

The difference is that the petty-bourgeois economists considered this connection between production and consumption to be a direct one, that they thought production follows consumption. Marx showed that this connection is an indirect one, that it only makes itself felt in the final analysis, because in capitalist society consumption follows production. But the connection nevertheless exists, even if it is indirect; consumption must, in the final analysis, follow production, and. if the productive forces are driving towards an unlimited growth of production, while consumption is restricted by the proletarian condition of the masses of the people, there is undoubtedly a contradiction present. This contradiction does not signify the impossibility of capitalism, but it does signify that its transformation to a higher form is a necessity: the stronger this contradiction becomes, the more developed become the objective conditions for this transformation, as well as the subjective conditions, i.e., the workers’ consciousness of this contradiction. (164)

It is known that in any capitalist society exceptionally low wages (=the low level of consumption by the masses of the people) often hinder the employment of machinery. What is more, it even happens that machines acquired by entrepreneurs are in disuse because the price of labour drops so low that manual labour becomes more profitable to the owner! The existence of a contradiction between consumption and production, between the drive of capitalism to develop the productive forces to an unlimited extent and the limitation of this drive by the proletarian condition, the poverty and unemployment of the people, is, in this case, as clear as daylight. But it is no less clear that it is correct to draw one single conclusion from this contradiction—that the development of the productive forces themselves must, with irresistible force, lead to the replacement of capitalism by an economy of associated producers. (165)

Lenin, Collected Works, Volume 4, page 161 - 165, - "Reply to Mr. Nezhdanov".

 

 

At the end of May 1899

Kautsky deals with the so-called Zusammenbruchstheorie, the theory of collapse, of the sudden crash of West-European capitalism, a crash that Marx allegedly believed to be inevitable and connected with a gigantic economic crisis. Kautsky says and proves that Marx and Engels never propounded a special Zusammenbruchstheorie, that they did not connect a Zusammenbruch necessarily with an economic crisis. This is a distortion chargeable to their opponents who expound Marx’s theory one-sidedly, tearing out of con text odd passages from different writings in order thus triumphantly to refute the “one-sidedness” and “crudeness” of the theory. Actually Marx and Engels considered the transformation of West-European economic relations to be dependent on the maturity and strength of the classes brought to the fore by modern European history. (197)

Bernstein declares that everyone has abandoned Marx’s “theory of misery” or “theory of impoverishment.” Kautsky demonstrates that this is again a distorted exaggeration on the part of the opponents of Marx, since Marx propounded no such theory. He spoke of the growth of poverty, degradation, etc., indicating at the same time the counteracting tendency and the real social forces that alone could give rise to this tendency. Marx’s words on the growth of poverty are fully justified by reality: first, we actually see that capitalism has a tendency to engender and increase poverty, which acquires tremendous proportions when the above-mentioned counteracting tendency is absent. Secondly, poverty grows, not in the physical but in the social sense, i.e., in the sense of the disparity between the increasing level of consumption by the bourgeoisie and consumption by society as a who]e, and the level of the living standards of the working people. Bernstein waxes ironical over such a conception of “poverty,” saying that this is a Pickwickian conception. In reply Kautsky shows that people like Lassalle, Rodbertus, and Engels have made very definite statements to the effect that poverty must be understood in its social, as well as in its physical, sense. As you see—he parries Bernstein’s irony—it is not such a bad company that gathers at the “Pickwick Club”! Thirdly and lastly, the passage on increasing impoverishment remains perfectly true in respect of the “border regions” of capitalism, the border regions being understood both in the geographical sense (countries in which capitalism is only beginning to penetrate and frequently not only gives rise to physical poverty but to the outright starvation of the masses) and in the political-economic sense (handicraft industries and, in general, those branches of economy in which backward methods of production are still retained). (201)

In the chapter on the theory of crises Kautsky shows that Marx did not at all postulate a “theory” of the ten- year cycle of industrial crises, but merely stated a fact. The change in this cycle in recent times has been noted by Engels himself. It is said that cartels of industrialists can counteract crises by limiting and regulating production. But America is a land of cartels; yet instead of a limitation we see there a tremendous growth of production. Further, the cartels limit production for the home market but expand it for the foreign market, selling their goods abroad at a loss and extracting monopoly prices from consumers in their own country. This system is inevitable under protectionism and there are no grounds for anticipating a change from protectionism to Free Trade. The cartels close small factories, concentrate and monopolise production, introduce improvements, and in this way greatly worsen the condition of the producers. Bernstein is of the opinion that the speculation which gives rise to crises weakens as the conditions on the world market change from unforeseeable to foreseeable and known conditions; but he forgets that it is the “unforeseeable” conditions in the new countries that give a tremendous impetus to speculation in the old countries. (202 - 203)

Lenin, Collected Works, Volume 4, page 197 - 203, - "Reviwe of Karl Kautskys book".

 

 

At the end of May 1899

As capitalism develops, as big factories are more rapidly opened, as the petty capitalists are more and more ousted by the big capitalists, the more urgent becomes the need for the joint resistance of the workers, because unemployment increases, competition sharpens between the capitalists who strive to produce their wares at the cheapest (to do which they have to pay the workers as little as possible), and the fluctuations of industry become more accentuated and crises more acute.

Lenin, Collected Works, Volume 4, page 313, - "On strikes".

 

 

June 1901

There was a time, and not very long ago at that, when workers’ revolts were a rare exception, called forth only by some special circumstances. Now things have changed. A few years ago industry was flourishing, trade was brisk, and the demand for workers was great. Nevertheless, the workers organised a number of strikes to improve their working conditions; they realised that they must not let the moment slip by, that they must take advantage of the time when the employers were making particularly high profits and it would he easier to win concessions from them. The boom, however, has given way to a crisis. The manufacturers cannot sell their goods, profits have declined, bankruptcies have increased, factories are cutting production, and workers are being discharged and turned into the streets in masses without a crust of bread. The workers now have to fight desperately, not to improve their conditions, but to maintain the old standards and to reduce the losses the employers impose on them. And so the working-class movement develops in depth and extent: at first, struggle in exceptional and isolated cases; then, unceasing and stubborn battles during industrial prosperity and the trade boom; finally, similar unceasing and stubborn struggle in the period of crisis. We may now say that the working-class movement has become a permanent feature of our life and that it will grow whatever the conditions.

The change-over from boom to crisis will not only teach our workers that united struggle is a permanent necessity, it will also destroy  the harmful illusions that began to take shape at the time of industrial prosperity. By means of strikes, the workers were able in some places to force concessions from the employers with comparative ease, and this “economic” struggle assumed an exaggerated significance; it was forgotten that trade unions and strikes can, at best, only win slightly better terms for the sale of labour-power as a commodity  Trade unions and strikes cannot help in   times of crisis when there is no demand for this “commodity”, they cannot change the conditions which, convert labour-power into a commodity and which doom the masses of working people to dire need and unemployment. To change these conditions, a revolutionary struggle against the whole existing social and political system is necessary; the industrial crisis will convince very many workers of the justice of this statement.

Lenin, Collected Works, Volume 5, pages 26 - 27, - "Another Massacre".

 

 

The Lessons of the Crisis

No. 7, Iskra, August 1901.

Collected Works, Volume 5, pages 89-94.

 

 

 

October 1901

Attitude Towards the Crisis and the Famine

While we are faced with a fresh outbreak of famine, the old and protracted commercial and industrial crisis, which still drags on, has thrown on to the streets tens of thousands of workers unable to find employment. Distress is very great among these workers, and all the more revealing is the fact that both the government and educated “society” adopt an attitude towards the distress of the workers that is entirely different from their attitude towards the distress of the peasants. The public institutions and the press make no effort to determine the number of workers in distress, or the degree of that distress, even to the extent to which this is done in the case of the peasants. No systematic measures are adopted to organise aid for the starving workers.

Why this difference? It is, in our opinion, least of all because the distress among the workers is less apparent, or reveals itself in less acute forms. True, the city dwellers who do not belong to the working class know very little about the conditions of the factory workers, that they live now even more congested in cellars, attics, and hovels, that they are more undernourished than ever before and are pawning their last sticks and rags. True, the increasing number of tramps and beggars, who frequent doss-houses and fill the prisons and hospitals, do not attract any particular attention, because, well, “everyone” is accustomed to the idea that doss-houses and dens of hopeless wretchedness are always packed in large cities. True, unlike the peasants, unemployed workers are not tied down to a single place, and either of their own accord roam the country in quest of employment or are banished to “their native places” by authorities afraid of concentrations of large numbers of unemployed workers. Nevertheless, anyone who has any contact at all with industrial life knows from experience, and any one who interests himself in public affairs knows from the newspapers, that unemployment is steadily increasing.

No, the reasons for this difference in attitude lie much deeper; they are to be sought in the fact that famine in the rural districts and unemployment in the towns belong to two altogether different types of economic life and are due to altogether different relations between the exploiting and the exploited classes. In the rural districts, the relations between these two classes are extremely confused and complicated by a multiplicity of transitional forms, as, for example, when farming is combined with usury, or with the exploitation of hired labour, etc., etc. It is not the agricultural hired labourer—the antagonism of whose interests to the interests of the landlord and wealthy peasant is clearly apparent and is largely understood by the labourer himself—who is starving, but the small peasant, who is usually regarded (and regards himself) as an independent farmer, who only now and again falls accidentally into some “temporary” dependence. The immediate cause of the famine—the failure of the harvest—is spontaneous in the eyes of t.he masses, it is the will of God. And as poor harvests accompanied by famine have occurred from time immemorial, legislation has long been compelled to reckon with them. For years codes upon codes of laws have existed (principally on paper) providing for the distribution of food among the people and prescribing an involved system of “measures”. Although these measures, borrowed largely from the period of serfdom and the period of prevailing patriarchal, self-sufficing economy, correspond very little to the requirements of modern times, every famine sets in motion the whole government and Zemstvo administrative machine. And, however greatly the powers that he may desire it, this machine finds it difficult, almost impossible, to avoid resorting to all manner of aid from the hated “third persons”, the intellectuals, who are striving to “raise a clamour”. On the other hand, the connection of the famine with the poor harvest, together with the wretched state of the peasants, who do not understand (or but vaguely understand) that it is the increasing exploitation of capital in conjunction with the predatory policy of the government and of the landlords which has reduced them to this ruinous condition, has caused the famine-stricken to feel so absolutely helpless that, far from putting forward exacting demands, they put forward no “demands” at all.

The less conscious the oppressed class is of its oppression and the less exacting it is in its demands upon its oppressors, the larger the number of individuals among the propertied classes who will be inclined towards philanthropy, and the less, relatively, will resistance be offered to this philanthropy by the local landlords, who are directly interested in keeping the peasants in a state of poverty. If this indisputable fact is borne in mind, it will be clear that the increased opposition of the landlords, the loud cries raised about the “demoralisation” of the peasants, and, finally, the purely military measures against the famine-stricken and against the benefactors, adopted by a government actuated by such a spirit, are symptoms of the complete decline and decay of that ancient, supposedly immutable and time-hallowed, patriarchal rural life over which the ardent Slavophils, the reactionaries most conscious of their aim, and the most naive of the old-fashioned Narodniks, wax so enthusiastic. The Narodniks have always accused us Social-Democrats of artificially applying the concept of the class struggle to conditions which do not admit of its application, while the reactionaries have always accused us of sowing class hatred and of inciting “one section of the population against another”. Without reiterating the answer to these charges, which has been given time and time again, we shall state merely that the Russian Government excels us all in the judgement of the profundity of the class struggle, and in the energetic force of the measures that must logically follow from such a judgement. Every one who has in one way or another come in contact with people who in famine years have gone to the village to “feed” the peasants—and who has not come in contact with them?—knows that they were prompted by pure sentiments of pity and humane sympathy, and that “political” plans of any kind were totally alien to them; that the propaganda of the ideas of the class struggle left such people cold, and that the arguments of the Marxists in heated battles against the views of the Narodniks on the village left them unconvinced. What has the class struggle to do with it? they said; the peasants are starving and we must help them —that is all.

But those who could not be convinced by the arguments of the Marxists may perhaps be convinced by the “arguments” of the Minister of the Interior. No, it is not simply that “the peasants are starving”, he warns the philanthropists, and they must not “simply” go to help the peasants without the permission of the authorities, for that spreads demoralisation and stimulates unjustifiable demands. To interfere in the food campaign means to interfere in the plans of God and the police to provide the landlords with workmen willing to work for next to nothing, and the Treasury with taxes collected by force. He who ponders over Sipyagin’s circular must say to himself—Yes, social war is going on in our countryside, and, as in all wars, the belligerents cannot be denied their right to inspect the cargoes of vessels sailing to enemy ports, even if the vessels sail under neutral flags. The only difference between this and other wars is that in this case one side, obliged perpetually to work and perpetually to starve, is not even fighting, it is only being fought—for the present.

In factory industry, however, it has long been evident that this war is being carried on, and there is no need for government circulars to explain to the “neutral” philanthropists that it is unwise to ford the river without first sounding its depth (that is, without first obtaining the permission of the authorities and the factory owners). As early as 1885, when there was as yet no noticeable socialist agitation amongst the workers, even in the central gubernias, where the workers are closer to the peasantry than are the workers in the capital, the industrial crisis caused the factory atmosphere to become so electrically charged that storms broke out continuously, now in one place and now in another. Under such circumstances, philanthropy is doomed to impotence from the outset and for that reason remains a casual and purely individual affair, without acquiring even a shadow of social significance.

We shall note yet one other peculiar feature in the attitude of the public towards famines. It may be said without exaggeration that until very recently the opinion prevailed that the whole of the Russian economic, and even political, system rested upon the mass of independent land owning peasant farmers. The extent to which this opinion had penetrated the minds of even the most advanced thinking people, least susceptible to the wiles of official flattery, was strikingly illustrated by Nikolai —on in his work published after the famine of 1891–92. The ruin of an enormous number of peasant farms seemed to every one to be so absurd, to be such an impossible leap into the void, that the necessity to extend the widest possible aid that would effectively “heal the wounds” was almost generally recognised. And again it was none other than Mr. Sipyagin who undertook the task of dispelling the last shreds of illusion. What does “Russia” rest upon, what do the landowners and the commercial and industrial classes live on, if not on the ruination and impoverishment of the people? To attempt to heal this “wound” otherwise than on paper—why, that would be a political crime!

Mr. Sipyagin will, without doubt, contribute to the dissemination and the confirmation of the truth that there neither is nor can be any other means of combating unemployment and crises, as well as the Asiatic-barbarian and cruel forms the expropriation of the small producers has assumed in Russia, than the class struggle of the revolutionary proletariat against the entire capitalist system. The rulers of the capitalist state are no more concerned about the vast numbers of famine and crisis victims than a locomotive is concerned about those whom it crushes in its path. Dead bodies stop the wheels, the locomotive halts, it may (with a too energetic driver) jump the rails, but, in any case, after a delay, long or short, it will continue on its way. We hear of death from starvation, and of the ruin of tens and hundreds of thousands of small farmers, but, at the same time, we hear accounts of the progress of agriculture in our country, of the acquisition of foreign markets by the Russian landlords, who have sent an expedition of Russian farmers to England; we hear of increased sales of improved implements and of the extension of cultivated grass land, etc. For the masters of Russian agriculture (as well as for all capitalist masters), intensified ruination and starvation are nothing more than a slight and temporary hitch, to which they pay almost no attention whatever, unless compelled by the famine-stricken. Everything goes on as usual—even speculation in the sale of lands belonging to the section of the proprietors which consists of the well-to-do peasantry.

Thus, Buguruslan Uyezd, Samara Gubernia, has been declared an “affected area”. This means that famine and the ruination of the mass of the peasantry have reached the highest point. But the misfortune of the masses does not hinder, but on the contrary appears to facilitate, the consolidation of the economic position of the bourgeois minority of the peasantry. In the September correspondence of Russkiye Vedomosti (No. 244) we read the following concerning the uyezd referred to:

“Buguruslan Uyezd, Samara Gubernia. The most important subject of discussion in this uyezd is the rapid rise in the price of land everywhere and the enormous speculation in land as a result. Only some fifteen or twenty years ago, excellent valley land could be bought at from ten to fifteen rubles per dessiatine. There were districts remote from the railway where, only three years ago, thirty-five rubles per dessiatine was regarded as a high price, and only on one occasion was as much as sixty rubles per dessiatine paid for first-rate land, with an excellent farm-house, situated near a market. Now, however, from fifty to sixty rubles per dessiatine is paid for the poorest land, while the price of good land has risen as high as eighty and even one hundred rubles per dessiatine. The speculation caused by this rise in land prices assumes two forms: First, the purchase of land for the purpose of immediate resale (there have been instances in which land was bought at forty rubles per dessiatine and resold within a year to the local peasants at fifty-five rubles). In such cases usually the land lords, not having either the time or the desire to bother with all the red tape and the formalities of selling the land to the peasants through the Peasant Bank, sell to the capitalist land speculators, who in their turn resell to the selfsame local peasants. In the second form, numerous land agents are engaged in foisting upon peasants from remote provinces (mostly from the Ukraine) all kinds of worthless land for which they obtain handsome commissions from the owners (from one to two rubles per dessiatine). From what has been said, it should be clear that the main victim of this land speculation is the peasant, whose land hunger serves as the basis for this unimaginable and, by economic causes unexplainable, jump in the price of land. Of course, the building of railways has had something to do with this, but not a great deal, for the principal buyer of land in our country remains the peasant, who by no means regards the railway as a factor of prime importance.”

These tenacious “enterprising muzhiks”, who so greedily invest their “savings” (and their plunder) in the purchase of land, will inevitably cause the ruin of even those poor peasants who have still managed to survive the present famine.

While bourgeois society resorts to land-purchasing schemes for the well-to-do peasant as a means of counteracting the ruination and starvation of the poor peasants, the search for new markets is resorted to as a means of counteracting crises and the glutting of the markets with the products of industry. The servile press (Novoye Vremya, No. 9188) waxes enthusiastic over the successes of the new trade with Persia and discusses glowingly the prospects of commerce with Central Asia and, particularly, with Manchuria. The iron magnates and other industrial leaders rub their hands in glee when they hear of proposals for further railway expansion. It has been decided to build the following major lines: St. Petersburg-Vyatka, Bologoye-Sedlets, Orenburg-Tashkent; the government has guaranteed a rail way loan of 37,000,000 rubles (to the Moscow-Kazan, Lodz, and South-Eastern Railway companies); and other lines are planned: Moscow-Kyshtym, Kamyshin-Astrakhan and Black Sea lines. The starving peasants and unemployed workers may console themselves with the thought that the state money (if the state can raise it) will not, of course, be spent “unproductively” on famine relief (see Sipyagin’s circular), but will be poured into the pockets of engineers and contractors, like those virtuosi in the art of embezzlement who year by year stole large sums during the construction of the Sormovo Dam, and who were only recently convicted (by way of exception) by the Moscow Assizes in Nizhni-Novgorod. 

Lenin, Collected Works, Volume 5, pages 274 - 280, - "Review of home affairs".

 

 

1902

Hitherto we thought (with Plekhanov, and with all the leaders of the international working class movement) that the propagandist, dealing with, say, the question of unemployment, must explain the capitalistic nature of crises, the cause of their inevitability in modern society, the necessity for the transformation of this society into a socialist society, etc. In a word, he must present “many ideas”, so many, indeed, that they will be understood as an integral whole only by a (comparatively) few persons. The agitator, however, speaking on the same subject, will take as an illustration a fact that is most glaring and most widely known to his audience, say, the death of an unemployed worker’s family from starvation, the growing impoverishment, etc., and, utilising this fact, known to all, will direct his efforts to presenting a single idea to the “masses”, e.g., the senselessness of the contradiction between the increase of wealth and the increase of poverty; he will strive to rouse discontent and indignation among the masses against this crying injustice, leaving a more complete explanation of this contradiction to the propagandist. Consequently, the propagandist operates chiefly by means of the printed word; the agitator by means of the spoken word.

Lenin, Collected Works, Volume 5, pages 409 - 410; "What is to be done?"

 

 

January 1902

The basic cause of crises = planlessness, private appropriation under social production.

Consequences of a crisis - unemployment, poverty of the workers and the small producers.

Lenin, Collected Works, Volume 6, page 20; "Notes on Plekhanov's first draft programme"

 

 

 

January - February 1902

[A]

I. Commodity production is ever more rapidly developing in Russia, the capitalist mode of production becoming increasingly dominant in it.

II. As the result of continuous technical progress, small-scale production is being ousted to an ever greater degree by large-scale production. The most important part of the means of production (of the land and factories, tools and machinery, railways and other means of communication) is becoming concentrated in the hands of a relatively in significant number of capitalists and big landowners as their private property. The independent small producers (peasants, handicraftsmen, and artisans) are being ruined in growing numbers, losing their means of production and thus turning into proletarians, or else becoming servants and tributaries of capital. Increasing numbers of working people are compelled to sell their labour-power and become wage-workers, who are dependent on the property-owners and by their labour create the wealth of the latter.

III. The greater the degree of technical progress, the more the growth of the demand for labour-power lags behind the growth of its supply, and the greater are the opportunities for the capitalists to intensify exploitation of the workers. Insecurity of existence and unemployment, the yoke of   exploitation, and humiliation of every kind are becoming the lot of ever wider sections of the working population.

IV. This process is being still more aggravated by industrial crises, which are the inevitable outcome of the basic contradictions of capitalism. Poverty and destitution among the masses exist side by side with wastage of social wealth in consequence of the impossibility of finding markets for commodities produced.

V. Thus, the gigantic development of the productive forces of social labour, which is constantly becoming more socialised labour, is attended by monopolisation of all the principal advantages of this development by a negligible minority of the population. The growth of social wealth proceeds side by side with the growth of social inequality; the gulf between the class of property-owners (the bourgeoisie) and the class of the proletariat is growing.

[B]

VI. But as all these inevitable contradictions of capitalism increase and develop, the number and the solidarity of the proletarians, their discontent and indignation also grow, the struggle between the working class and the capitalist class becomes sharper, and the urge to throw off the intolerable yoke of capitalism mounts.

VII. The emancipation of the workers must be the act of the working class itself. All the other classes of present-day society stand for the preservation of the foundations of the existing economic system. The real emancipation of the working class requires a social revolution—which is being prepared by the entire development of capitalism—i.e., the abolition of private ownership of the means of production, their conversion into public property, and the replacement of capitalist production of commodities by the socialist organisation of the production of articles by society as a whole, with the object of ensuring full well-being and free, all-round development for all its members.

VIII. This proletarian revolution will completely abolish the division of society into classes and, consequently, all social and political inequality arising from that division.

IX. To effect this social revolution the proletariat must win political power, which will make it master of the situation   and enable it to remove all obstacles along the road to its great goal. In this sense the dictatorship of the proletariat is an essential political condition of the social revolution.

X. Russian Social-Democracy undertakes the task of disclosing to the workers the irreconcilable antagonism between their interests and those of the capitalists, of explaining to the proletariat the historical significance, nature, and prerequisites of the social revolution it will have to carry out, and of organising a revolutionary class party capable of directing the struggle of the proletariat in all its forms.

XI. But the development of international exchange and of production for the world market has established such close ties among all nations of the civilised world, that the present-day working-class movement had to become, and has long become, an international movement. That is why Russian Social-Democracy regards itself as one of the detachments of the world army of the proletariat, as part of international Social-Democracy.

Lenin, Collected Works, Volume 6, page 25 - 27; "Draft programme of the R.S.D.L.P."

 

 

not later than April 3 (16), 1908

The position of revisionism was even worse as regards the theory of crises and the theory of collapse. Only for a very short time could people, and then only the most short-sighted, think of refashioning the foundations of Marx’s theory under the influence of a few years of industrial boom and prosperity. Realities very soon made it clear to the revisionists that crises were not a thing of the past: prosperity was followed by a crisis. The forms, the sequence, the picture of particular crises changed, but crises remained an inevitable component of the capitalist system. While uniting production, the cartels and trusts at the same time, and in a way that was obvious to all, aggravated the anarchy of production, the insecurity of existence of the proletariat and the oppression of capital, thereby intensifying class antagonisms to an unprecedented degree. That capitalism is heading for a break-down—in the sense both of individual political and economic crises and of the complete collapse of the entire capitalist system—has   been made particularly clear, and on a particularly large scale, precisely by the new giant trusts. The recent financial crisis in America and the appalling increase of unemployment all over Europe, to say nothing of the impending industrial crisis to which many symptoms are pointing—all this has resulted in the recent “theories” of the revisionists having been forgotten by everybody, including, apparently, many of the revisionists themselves. But the lessons which this instability of the intellectuals had given the working class must not be forgotten.

Lenin, Collected Works, Volume 15, page 35 - 36; "Marxism and Revisionism"

 

November 1 (14), 1908

Let us now consider the conditions for an offensive by this leading and advanced class in our bourgeois-democratic revolution, the proletariat. When the Moscow comrades were discussing this question, they quite rightly underlined the root importance of the industrial crisis. They collected extremely interesting material about this crisis, took into account the significance of the struggle between Moscow and Lodz, and amended in several respects certain conceptions which had hitherto prevailed. It re mains only to he wished that this material should, not.wither away in the subcommittees of the Moscow Committee or the Moscow Area Committee, but should be worked over and published in the press for the whole Party to discuss. For our part we shall confine ourselves to a few remarks on the presentation of the question. The direction in which the crisis is moving is, by the way, a moot question (it is generally admitted- that a very severe depression, bordering on a crisis, once more reigns in our industry after a very brief and slight boom). Some say that offensive economic struggles by the workers are as impossible as before, and consequently a revolutionary upswing is impossible in the near future. Others say that the impossibility of economic struggle impels a turn t& a political struggle, and therefore a revolutionary upswing is inevitable in the near future.

We think that both arguments have at their foundation the same error, which consists in simplifying a complex issue. Undoubtedly the detailed study of the industrial crisis is of the greatest importance. But it is also beyond doubt that no data about the crisis, even if they were ideally accurate, can in reality decide the question of whether a rise of the revolutionary tide is at hand or not: because such a rise depends on a thousand additional factors which it is impossible to measure beforehand. It is indubitable that without the general groundwork of an agrarian crisis in the country, and depression in industry, profound political crises are impossible. But if the general groundwork exists, that does not permit us to conclude whether the depression will for a time retard the mass struggle of the workers in general, or whether at a certain stage of events the same depression will not push new masses and fresh forces into the political struggle. To answer such a question there is only one way: to keep a careful finger on the pulse of the country’s whole political life, and especially the state of the movement and of the mood of the mass of the proletariat. Recently, for example, a number of reports from Party workers in different parts of Russia, in both industrial and agricultural areas, point to an undoubted revival of interest, an influx of fresh forces, a growing interest in agitation, etc. Comparing with this the beginning of mass unrest among the students, on the one hand, and the attempts to revive the Zemstvo congresses, on the other, we can record a certain turn in events, something that is breaking up the complete stagnation of the last eighteen months. how strong that turn is, whether it means the opening stage for a new epoch of open struggle, etc., facts will show. All that we can do now, and all that we must do in any case, is to intensify our efforts to strengthen the illegal Party organisation and multiply tenfold our agitation among the mass of the proletariat. Only agitation can reveal on a broad scale the real state of mind of the masses, only agitation can make for close co-operation between the Party and the whole working class, only making use for the purposes of political agitation of every strike, of every important event or issue in working-class life, of all conflicts within the ruling classes or between one section   of those classes or another and the autocracy, of every speech by a Social-Democrat in the Duma, of every new expression of the counter-revolutionary policy of the government, etc.—only work like this can once again close the ranks of the revolutionary proletariat, and provide accurate material for judging the speed with which conditions for new and more decisive battles are coming to a head.

Lenin, Collected Works, Volume 15, page 277 - 278; "The assessment of the present situation"

 

 

 

December 21–27, 1908

(f) On the whole it is beyond doubt that the objective problems of a bourgeois-democratic revolution in Russia remain unsolved. The continuing economic crisis, unemployment and famine prove that the latest policy of the autocracy cannot provide the conditions for the capitalist development of Russia. This policy inevitably leads to the deepening of the conflict between the democratic masses and the master classes, the growth of discontent among new sections of the population, the sharpening and deepening   of the political struggle between the different classes. In such an economic and political situation a new revolutionary crisis is inevitably coming to a head.

(g) The general sharpening of struggle on the world market due mainly to the changes in the industrial situation of Western Europe in the direction of a crisis, which has in 1908 taken the form of a depression, and due to the revolutionary movements in the East which herald the formation of national capitalist states, is intensifying competition, leading to more frequent international conflicts, thereby sharpening the class contradiction between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, and making the general international situation more and more revolutionary.

Lenin, Collected Works, Volume 15, page 322 - 323; "The Fifth (Allrussian) Conference of the R.S.D.L.P."

 

 

 

May 7, 1911.

Every crisis reveals the real nature of phenomena or processes, sweeps away the superficial, the trivial, the external, and demonstrates the more profound fundamentals of what is taking place. Take, for instance, the most common and least complicated of crises in the sphere of economic phenomena, a strike. Nothing serves to reveal more clearly the actual relationships between classes, the real nature of contemporary society, the fact that the vast majority of the population has to submit to the power of hunger, and that the propertied minority resorts to organised violence in order to maintain its rule. Take commercial and industrial crises. Nothing refutes so glaringly the various speeches of the champions and apostles of “harmony of interests”, nothing reveals so vividly and so fully the entire mechanism of the contemporary, capitalist system, the “anarchy of production”, the disunity of the producers and the struggle of each against all and of all against each. Take, lastly, such a crisis as war. All the political and social institutions are, tested and verified “by fire and sword”. The strength or weakness of the institutions and social system of every nation are determined by the outcome of the war and its consequences. The essential nature of international relations under capitalism—the open robbery of the weaker—is fully and clearly exposed by war.

The significance of our notorious “parliamentary” crisis lies also in its revelation of the deep-rooted contradictions of the entire social and political system of Russia. Most of those participating in and acting out this crisis are, unfortunately, not attempting to explain it, to indicate its real causes and real significance but are doing their best to obscure it by words, words and more words—some of them   are doing so deliberately, others because of their warped judgement or in deference to routine and tradition.

Lenin, Collected Works, Volume 15, page 189 - 190; "Regret" and "Shame."

 

 

 

March 1913.

The doctrine of surplus-value is the corner-stone of Marx’s economic theory.

Capital, created by the labour of the worker, crushes the worker, ruining small proprietors and creating an army of unemployed. In industry, the victory of large-scale production is immediately apparent, but the same phenomenon is also to be observed in agriculture, where the superiority of large-scale capitalist agriculture is enhanced, the use of machinery increases and the peasant economy, trapped by money-capital, declines and falls into ruin under the burden of its backward technique. The decline of small-scale production assumes different forms in agriculture, but the decline itself is an indisputable fact.

By destroying small-scale production, capital leads to an increase in productivity of labour and to the creation of a monopoly position for the associations of big capitalists. Production itself becomes more and more social—hundreds of thousands and millions of workers become bound together in a regular economic organism—but the product of this collective labour is appropriated by a handful of capitalists. Anarchy of production, crises, the furious chase after markets and the insecurity of existence of the mass of the population are intensified.

By increasing the dependence of the workers on capital, the capitalist system creates the great power of united labour.

Marx traced the development of capitalism from embryonic commodity economy, from simple exchange, to its highest forms, to large-scale production.

And the experience of all capitalist countries, old and new, year by year demonstrates clearly the truth of this Marxian doctrine to increasing numbers of workers.

Capitalism has triumphed all over the world, but this triumph is only the prelude to the triumph of labour over capital.

Marx’s economic theory alone has explained the true position of the proletariat in the general system of capitalism.

Lenin, Collected Works, Volume 19, page 26 - 27; "Three sources and three component parts of Marxism."

 

 

March 13, 1914.

Capitalism cannot be at a standstill for a single moment. It must forever be moving forward. Competition, which is keenest in a period of crisis like the present, calls for the invention of an increasing number of new devices to reduce the cost of production. But the domination of capital converts all these devices into instruments for the further exploitation of the workers.

The Taylor system is one of these devices.

All these vast improvements are introduced to the detriment of the workers, for they lead to their still greater oppression and exploitation. Moreover, this rational and efficient distribution of labour is confined to each factory.

The question naturally arises: What about the distribution of labour in society as a whole? What a vast amount of labour is wasted at present owing to the disorganised and chaotic character of capitalist production as a whole! How much time is wasted as the raw materials pass to the factory through the hands of hundreds of buyers and middlemen, while the requirements of the market are unknown! Not only time, but the actual products are wasted and damaged. And what about the waste of time and labour in delivering the finished goods to the consumers through a host of small middlemen who, too, cannot know the requirements of their customers and perform not only a host of superfluous movements, but also make a host of superfluous purchases, journeys, and so on and so forth!

Capital organises and rationalises labour within the factory for the purpose of increasing the exploitation of the workers and increasing profit. In social production as a whole, however, chaos continues to reign and grow, leading to crises when the accumulated wealth cannot find purchasers, and millions of workers starve because they are unable to find employment.

The Taylor system—without its initiators knowing or wishing it—is preparing the time when the proletariat will take over all social production and appoint its own workers’ committees for the purpose of properly distributing and rationalising all social labour. Large-scale production, machinery, railways, telephone—all provide thousands of opportunities to cut by three-fourths the working time of the organised workers and make them four times better off than they are today.

And these workers’ committees, assisted by the workers’ unions, will be able to apply these principles of rational distribution of social labour when the latter is freed from its enslavement by capital.

Lenin, Collected Works, Volume 20, page 152 - 154; "The Taylorsystem - man's enslavement by the machine."

 

 

 

July - November 1914

It is common knowledge that, in any given society, the striving of some of its members conflict with the strivings of others, that social life is full of contradictions, and that history reveals a struggle between nations and societies, as well as within nations and societies, and, besides, an alternation of periods of revolution and reaction, peace and war, stagnation and rapid progress or decline. Marxism has provided the guidance —i.e., the theory of the class struggle—for the discovery of the laws governing this seeming maze and chaos. It is only a study of the sum of the strivings of all the members of a given society or group of societies that can lead to a scientific definition of the result of those strivings. Now the conflicting strivings stem from the difference in the position and mode of life of the classes into which each society is divided.

The socialization of labor, which is advancing ever more rapidly in thousands of forms and has manifested itself very strikingly, during the half-century since the death of Marx, in the growth of large-scale production, capitalist cartels, syndicates and trusts, as well as in the gigantic increase in the dimensions and power of finance capital, provides the principal material foundation for the inevitable advent of socialism.

Marx:

“The expropriation of the immediate producers is accomplished with merciless vandalism, and under the stimulus of passions the most infamous, the most sordid, the pettiest, the most meanly odious. Self-earned private property [of the peasant and handicraftsman], that is based, so to say, on the fusing together of the isolated, independent laboring-individual with the conditions of his labor, is supplanted by capitalistic private property, which rests on exploitation of the nominally free labor of others.... That which is now to be expropriated is no longer the laborer working for himself, but the capitalist exploiting many laborers. This expropriation is accomplished by the action of the immanent laws of capitalistic production itself, by the centralization of capital. One capitalist always kills many. Hand in hand with this centralization, or this expropriation of many capitalists by few, develop, on an ever extending scale, the co-operative form of the labor process, the conscious technical application of science, the methodical cultivation of the soil, the transformation of the instruments of labor into instruments of labor only usable in common, the economizing of all means of production by their use as the means of production of combined, socialized labor, the entanglement of all people in the net of the world market, and with this the international character of the capitalistic regime. Along with the constantly diminishing number of the magnates of capital, who usurp and monopolize all advantages of this process of transformation, grows the mass of misery, oppression, slavery, degradation, exploitation; but with this too grows the revolt of the working class, a class always increasing in numbers, and disciplined, united, organized by the very mechanism of the process of capitalist production itself. The monopoly of capital becomes a fetter upon the mode of production, which has sprung up and flourished along with, and under, it. Centralization of the means of production and socialization of labor at last reach a point where they become incompatible with their capitalist integument. The integument is burst asunder. The knell of capitalist private property sound. The expropriators are expropriated.” (Capital, Volume I)

Lenin; Collected Works; Volume 21, pages - 43 - 91; "Karl Marx"

 

 

August 23, 1915

Under capitalism the smooth economic growth of individual enterprises or individual states is impossible. Under capitalism, there are no other means of restoring the periodically disturbed equilibrium than crises in industry and wars in politics.

Uneven economic and political development is an absolute law of capitalism. Hence, the victory of socialism is possible first in several or even in one capitalist country alone. After expropriating the capitalists and organising their own socialist production, the victorious proletariat of that country will arise against the rest of the world—the capitalist world—attracting to its cause the oppressed classes of other countries, stirring uprisings in those countries against the capitalists, and in case of need using even armed force against the exploiting classes and their states.

Lenin; Collected Works; Volume 21, page 341; "Slogan for a united states of Europe".

 

 

August 23, 1915

Agriculture lags behind industry in development; this is a feature of all capitalist countries constituting one of the most profound causes of disproportion between the various branches of the economy, of crises and soaring prices. (94)

The contradiction between industry and agriculture, far from being eliminated by capitalism, is, on the contrary, further extended and sharpened by it. The oppression of capital, seen primarily in the sphere of trade and industry, weighs more and more heavily on agriculture.

Because of their monopolist position, they are able to take advantage of the backwardness of agriculture, which does not keep pace with industry, and to fill their pockets with millions and millions of dollars.(95)

It is impossible to imagine any improvement of the condition of wage-earners as a class, without an improvement in the living standard of the masses, or without a sharpening of the antagonism between them and capital, which rules contemporary society, the antagonism between them and the entire class of capitalists. (96)

Lenin; Collected Works; Volume 22, page 94 - 96; "Data on development of capitalism in agriculture".

 

 

 

 

December 1915

These main trends, which have been in evidence all over the world for centuries, are the growth of exchange and the growth of large-scale production. At a definite stage in the development of exchange, at a definite stage in the growth of large-scale production, namely, at the stage which was attained towards the turn of the century, exchange so internationalised economic relations and capital, and large-scale production assumed such proportions that monopoly began to replace free competition.   Monopoly associations of entrepreneurs, trusts, instead of enterprises, “freely” competing with each other—at home and in relations between the countries—became typical. Finance capital took over as the typical “lord” of the world; it is particularly mobile and flexible, particularly interknit at home and internationally, and particularly impersonal and divorced from production proper; it lends itself to concentration with particular ease, and has been concentrated to an unusual degree already, so that literally a few hundred multimillionaires and millionaires control the destiny of the world. (104 - 105)

There is no doubt that the trend of development is towards a single world trust absorbing all enterprises without exception and all states without exception. But this development proceeds in such circumstances, at such a pace, through such contradictions, conflicts and upheavals—not only economic but political, national, etc.—that inevitably imperialism will burst and capitalism will be transformed into its opposite long before one world trust materialises, before the “ultra-imperialist”, world-wide amalgamation of national finance capitals takes place. (107)

Lenin; Collected Works; Volume 22, page 94 - 96; "Data on development of capitalism in agriculture".

 

 

January - June 1916

The statement that cartels can abolish crises is a fable spread by bourgeois economists who at all costs desire to place capitalism in a favourable light. On the contrary, the monopoly created in certain branches of industry increases and intensifies the anarchy inherent in capitalist production as a whole. The disparity between the development of agriculture and that of industry, which is characteristic of capitalism in general, is increased. The privileged position of the most highly cartelised, so-called heavy industry, especially coal and iron, causes “a still greater lack of co-ordination” in other branches of industry—as Jeidels, the author of one of the best works on “the relationship of the German big banks to industry”, admits. (208)

“The more developed an economic system is,” writes Liefmann, an unblushing apologist of capitalism, “the more it resorts to risky enterprises, or enterprises in other countries, to those which need a great deal of time to develop, or finally, to those which are only of local importance.” The increased risk is connected in the long run with a prodigious increase of capital, which, as it were, overflows the brim, flows abroad, etc. At the same time the extremely rapid rate of technical progress gives rise to increasing elements of disparity between the various spheres of national economy, to anarchy and crises. Liefmann is obliged to admit that: “In all probability mankind will see further important technical revolutions in the near future which will also affect the organisation of the economic system”... electricity and aviation.... “As a general rule, in such periods of radical economic change, speculation develops on a large scale.”...

Crises of every kind—economic crises most frequently, but not only these—in their turn increase very considerably the tendency towards concentration and towards monopoly. In this connection, the following reflections of Jeidels on the significance of the crisis of 1900, which, as we have already seen, marked the turning-point in the history of modern monopoly, are exceedingly instructive:

“Side by side with the gigantic plants in the basic industries, the crisis of 1900 still found many plants organised on lines that today would be considered obsolete, the ‘pure’ (non-combined) plants, which were brought into being at the height of the industrial boom. The fall in prices and the falling off in demand put these ‘pure’ enterprises in a precarious position, which did not affect the gigantic combined enterprises at all or only affected them for a very short time. As a consequence of this the crisis of 1900 resulted in a far greater concentration of industry than the crisis of 1873: the latter crisis also produced a sort of selection of the best-equipped enterprises, but owing to the level of technical development at that time, this selection could not place the firms which successfully emerged from the crisis in a position of monopoly. Such a durable monopoly exists to a high degree in the gigantic enterprises in the modern iron and steel and electrical industries owing to their very complicated technique, far-reaching organisation and magnitude of capital, and, to a lesser degree, in the engineering industry, certain branches of the metallurgical industry, transport, etc.” (209)

"It was the crisis of 1900 that enormously accelerated and intensified the process of concentration of industry and of banking, consolidated that process, for the first time transformed the connection with industry into the actual monopoly of the big banks, and made this connection much closer and more active.” [Jeidels, op. cit., S 183-84 —Lenin]

Thus, the twentieth century marks the turning-point from the old capitalism to the new, from the domination of capital in general to the domination of finance capital. (209)

During periods of industrial boom, the profits of finance capital are immense, but during periods of depression,During periods of industrial boom, the profits of finance capital are immense, but during periods of depression, small and unsound businesses go out of existence, and the big banks acquire “holdings” in them by buying them up for a mere song, or participate in profitable schemes for their “reconstruction” and “reorganisation”. In the “reconstruction” of undertakings which have been running at a loss, “the share capital is written down, that is, profits are distributed on a smaller capital and continue to be calculated on this smaller basis. Or, if the income has fallen to zero, new capital is called in, which, combined with the old and less remunerative capital, will bring in an adequate return.” “Incidentally,” adds Hilferding, “all these reorganisations and reconstructions have a twofold significance for the banks: first, as profitable transactions; and secondly, as opportunities for securing control of the companies in difficulties.” (234)

A monopoly, once it is formed and controls thousands of millions, inevitably penetrates into every sphere of public life, regardless of the form of government and all other “details”. (237)

It is characteristic of capitalism in general that the ownership of capital is separated from the application of capital to production, that money capital is separated from industrial or productive capital, and that the rentier who lives entirely on income obtained from money capital, is separated from the entrepreneur and from all who are directly concerned in the management of capital. Imperialism, or the domination of finance capital, is that highest stage of capitalism in which this separation reaches vast proportions. The supremacy of finance capital over all other forms of capital means the predominance of the rentier and It is characteristic of capitalism in general that the ownership of capital is separated from the application of capital to production, that money capital is separated from industrial or productive capital, and that the rentier who lives entirely on income obtained from money capital, is separated from the entrepreneur and from all who are directly concerned in the management of capital. Imperialism, or the domination of finance capital, is that highest stage of capitalism in which this separation reaches vast proportions. The supremacy of finance capital over all other forms of capital means the predominance of the rentier and of the financial oligarchy; it means that a small number of financially “powerful” states stand out among all the rest. (238)

Of these four countries, two, Britain and France, are the oldest capitalist countries, and, as we shall see, possess the most colonies; the other two, the United States and Germany, are capitalist countries leading in the rapidity of development and the degree of extension of capitalist monopolies in industry. Together, these four countries own 479,000 million francs, that is, nearly 80 per cent of the world’s finance capital. In one way or another, nearly the whole of the rest of the world is more or less the debtor to and tributary of these international banker countries, these four “pillars” of world finance capital. (240)

The principal feature of the latest stage of capitalism is the domination of monopolist associations of big employers. These monopolies are most firmly established when all the sources of raw materials are captured by one group, and we have seen with what zeal the international capitalist associations exert every effort to deprive their rivals of all opportunity of competing, to buy up, for example, ironfields, oilfields, etc. Colonial possession alone gives the monopolies complete guarantee against all contingencies in the struggle against competitors, including the case of the adversary wanting to be protected by a law establishing a state monopoly. The more capitalism is developed, the more strongly the shortage of raw materials is felt, the more intense the competition and the hunt for sources of raw materials throughout the whole world, the more desperate the struggle for the acquisition of colonies. (260)

Since we are speaking of colonial policy in the epoch of capitalist imperialism, it must be observed that finance capital and its foreign policy, which is the struggle of the great powers for the economic and political division of the world, give rise to a number of transitional forms of state dependence. Not only are the two main groups of countries, those owning colonies, and the colonies themselves, but also the diverse forms of dependent countries which, politically, are formally independent, but in fact, are enmeshed in the net of financial and diplomatic dependence, typical of this epoch. (263)

Kautsky’s obscuring of the deepest contradictions of imperialism, which inevitably boils down to painting imperialism in bright colours, leaves its traces in this writer’s criticism of the political features of imperialism. Imperialism is the epoch of finance capital and of monopolies, which introduce everywhere the striving for domination, not for freedom. Whatever the political system, the result of these tendencies is everywhere reaction and an extreme intensification of antagonisms in this field. Particularly intensified become the yoke of national oppression and the striving for annexations, i.e., the violation of national independence (for annexation is nothing but the violation of the right of nations to self-determination). Hilferding rightly notes the connection between imperialism and the intensification of national oppression. “In the newly opened-up countries,” he writes, “the capital imported into them intensifies antagonisms and excites against the intruders the constantly growing resistance of the peoples who are awakening to national consciousness; this resistance can easily develop into dangerous measures against foreign capital. The old social relations become completely revolutionised, the age-long agrarian isolation of ‘nations without history’ is destroyed and they are drawn into the capitalist whirlpool. Capitalism itself gradually provides the subjugated with the means and resources for their emancipation and they set out to achieve the goal which once seemed highest to the European nations: the creation of a united national state as a means to economic and cultural freedom. This movement for national independence threatens European capital in its most valuable and most promising fields of exploitation, and European capital can maintain its domination only by continually increasing its military forces.” (296 - 297)

Monopolies, oligarchy, the striving for domination and not for freedom, the exploitation of an increasing number of small or weak nations by a handful of the richest or most powerful nations—all these have given birth to those distinctive characteristics of imperialism which compel us to define it as parasitic or decaying capitalism. More and more prominently there emerges, as one of the tendencies of imperialism, the creation of the “rentier state”, the usurer state, in which the bourgeoisie to an ever-increasing degree lives on the proceeds of capital exports and by “clipping coupons”. It would be a mistake to believe that this tendency to decay precludes the rapid growth of capitalism. It does not. In the epoch of imperialism, certain branches of industry, certain strata of the bourgeoisie and certain countries betray, to a greater or lesser degree, now one and now another of these tendencies. On the whole, capitalism is growing far more rapidly than before; but this growth is not only becoming more and more uneven in general, its unevenness also manifests itself, in particular, in the decay of the countries which are richest in capital (Britain). (300)

From all that has been said in this book on the economic essence of imperialism, it follows that we must define it as capitalism in transition, or, more precisely, as moribund capitalism. (302)

What then does this catchword “interlocking” express? It merely expresses the most striking feature of the process going on before our eyes. It shows that the observer counts the separate trees, but cannot see the wood. It slavishly copies the superficial, the fortuitous, the chaotic. It reveals the observer as one who is overwhelmed by the mass of raw material and is utterly incapable of appreciating its meaning and importance. Ownership of shares, the relations between owners of private property “interlock in a haphazard way”. But underlying this interlocking, its very base, are the changing social relations of production. When a big enterprise assumes gigantic proportions, and, on the basis of an exact computation of mass data, organises according to plan the supply of primary raw materials to the extent of two-thirds, or three-fourths, of all that is necessary for tens of millions of people; when the raw materials are transported in a systematic and organised manner to the most suitable places of production, sometimes situated hundreds or thousands of miles from each other; when a single centre directs all the consecutive stages of processing the material right up to the manufacture of numerous varieties of finished articles; when these products are distributed according to a single plan among tens and hundreds of millions of consumers (the marketing of oil in America and Germany by the American oil trust)—then it becomes evident that we have socialisation of production, and not mere “interlocking”, that private economic and private property relations constitute a shell which no longer fits its contents, a shell which must inevitably decay if its removal is artificially delayed, a shell which may remain in a state of decay for a fairly long period (if, at the worst, the cure of the opportunist abscess is protracted), but which will inevitably be removed. (302 - 303)

Lenin; Collected Works; Volume 22, page 185 - 304; "Imperialism - the highest stage of capitalism".

 

 

August - September 1916

He ties crises to “imperialist” “policy”: our expert on political economy has forgotten that there were crises before imperialism!

[ Note - ed.: Bukharin, Pyatakov and Bosh opposed Lenin’s theory of socialist revolution, rejected the struggle for democracy in the imperialist era and insisted on the Party withdrawing its demand for national self-determination.]

Lenin; Collected Works; Volume 23, page 17; "The Nascent Trend of Imperialist Economism".

 

 

 

Oktober 1916

We have to begin with as precise and full a definition of imperialism as possible. Imperialism is a specific historical stage of capitalism. Its specific character is threefold: imperialism is monopoly capitalism; parasitic, or decaying capitalism; moribund capitalism. The supplanting of free competition by monopoly is the fundamental economic feature, the quintessence of imperialism. Monopoly manifests itself in five principal forms: (1) cartels, syndicates and trusts—the concentration of production has reached a degree which gives rise to these monopolistic associations of capitalists; (2) the monopolistic position of the big banks—three, four or five giant banks manipulate the whole economic life of America, France, Germany; (3) seizure of the sources of raw material by the trusts and the financial oligarchy (finance capital is monopoly industrial capital merged with bank capital); (4) the (economic) partition of the world by the international cartels has begun. There are already over one hundred such international cartels, which command the entire world market and divide it “amicably” among themselves—until war redivides it. The export of capital, as distinct from the export of commodities under non-monopoly capitalism, is a highly characteristic phenomenon and is closely linked with the economic and territorial-political partition of the world; (5) the territorial partition of the world (colonies) is completed.

Imperialism, as the highest stage of capitalism in America and Europe, and later in Asia, took final shape in the period 1898–1914. The Spanish-American War (1898), the Anglo-Boer War (1899–1902), the Russo-Japanese War (1904–05) and the economic crisis in Europe in 1900 are the chief historical landmarks in the new era of world history.

The fact that imperialism is parasitic or decaying capitalism is manifested first of all in the tendency to decay, which is characteristic of every monopoly under the system of private ownership of the means of production. The difference between the democratic-republican and the reactionary-monarchist imperialist bourgeoisie is obliterated precisely because they are both rotting alive (which by no means precludes an extraordinarily rapid development of capitalism in individual branches of industry, in individual countries, and in individual periods). Secondly, the decay of capitalism is manifested in the creation of a huge stratum of rentiers, capitalists who live by “clipping coupons”. In each of the four leading imperialist countries—England, U.S.A., France and Germany—capital in securities amounts to 100,000 or 150,000 million francs, from which each country derives an annual income of no less than five to eight thousand million. Thirdly, export of capital is parasitism raised to a high pitch. Fourthly, “finance capital strives for domination, not freedom”. Political reaction all along the line is a characteristic feature of imperialism. Corruption, bribery on a huge scale and all kinds of fraud. Fifthly, the exploitation of oppressed nations—which is inseparably connected with annexations—and especially the exploitation of colonies by a handful of “Great” Powers, increasingly transforms the “civilised” world into a parasite on the body of hundreds of millions in the uncivilised nations. The Roman proletarian lived at the expense of society. Modern society lives at the expense of the modern proletarian. Marx specially stressed this profound observation of Sismondi.Imperialism somewhat changes the situation. A privileged upper stratum of the proletariat in the imperialist countries lives partly at the expense of hundreds of millions in the uncivilised nations.

It is clear why imperialism is moribund capitalism, capitalism in transition to socialism: monopoly, which grows out of capitalism, is already dying capitalism, the beginning of its transition to socialism. The tremendous socialisation of labour by imperialism (what its apologists-the bourgeois economists-call “interlocking”) produces the same result. (105 - 107)

Imperialism is monopoly capitalism. Every cartel, trust, syndicate, every giant bank is a monopoly Superprofits have not disappeared; they still remain. The exploitation of all other countries by one privileged, financially wealthy country remains and has become more intense. A handful of wealthy countries—there are only four of them, if we mean independent, really gigantic, “modern” wealth: England, France, the United States and Germany—have developed monopoly to vast proportions, they obtain superprofits running into hundreds, if not thousands, of millions, they “ride on the backs” of hundreds and hundreds of millions of people in other countries and fight among themselves for the division of the particularly rich, particularly fat and particularly easy spoils.

This, in fact, is the economic and political essence of imperialism, the profound contradictions (115)

Lenin; Collected Works; Volume 23, page 105 -115; "Imperialism and the split in socialism".

 

 

March 7 (20), 1917

For the first great Revolution of 1905, which the Guchkovs and Milyukovs and their hangers-on denounced as a “great rebellion”, led after the lapse of twelve years, to the “brilliant”, the “glorious” Revolution of 1917—the Guchkovs and Milyukovs have proclaimed it “glorious” because it has put them in power (for the time being). But this required a great, mighty and all-powerful “stage manager”, capable, on the one hand, of vastly accelerating the course of world history, and, on the other, of engendering world-wide crises of unparalleled intensity—economic, political, national and international. Apart from an extraordinary acceleration of world history, it was also necessary that history make particularly abrupt turns, in order that at one such turn the filthy and blood-stained cart of the Romanov monarchy should be overturned at one stroke.

This all-powerful “stage manager”, this mighty accelerator was the imperialist world war.

Lenin; Collected Works; Volume 23, page 298 -299; "Letters from afar". [1st letter]

 

 

 

April - May 1917

As now worded, the preamble contains a description and analysis of the main and essential features of capitalism as a social and economic system. Fundamentally, these features have not been changed by imperialism, by the era of finance capital. Imperialism is a continuation of the development of capitalism, its highest stage—in a sense, a transition stage to socialism.

I cannot therefore see how the addition of an analysis of imperialism to the general analysis of the basic features of capitalism can be regarded as “mechanical”. Imperialism, in fact, does not and cannot transform capitalism from top to bottom. Imperialism complicates and sharpens the contradictions of capitalism, it “ties up” monopoly with free competition, but it cannot do away with exchange, the market, competition, crises, etc.

Imperialism is moribund capitalism, capitalism which is dying but not dead. The essential feature of imperialism, by and large, is not monopolies pure and simple, but monopolies in conjunction with exchange, markets, competition, crises.

It is therefore theoretically wrong to delete an analysis of exchange, commodity production, crises, etc., in general and to “replace” it by an analysis of imperialism as a whole. There is no such whole. There is a transition from competition to monopoly, and therefore the programme would be much more correct, and much more true to reality, if it retained the general analysis of exchange, commodity production, crises, etc., and had a characterisation of the growing monopolies added to it. In fact it is this combination of antagonistic principles, viz., competition and monopoly, that is the essence of imperialism, it is this that is making for the final crash, i.e., the socialist revolution. [464 - 465)

The ascendancy of capitalist production relations extends its area more and more with the steady improvement of technology, which, by enhancing the economic importance of the large enterprises, tends to eliminate the small independent producers, converting some of them into proletarians and narrowing the role of others in the social and economic sphere, and in some places making them more or less completely, more or less obviously, more or less painfully dependent on capital.

Moreover, this technical progress enables the employers to make growing use of female and child labour in the process of production and exchange of commodities. And since, on the other hand, it causes a relative decrease in the employers’ demand for human labour-power, the demand for labour-power necessarily lags behind its supply, as a result of which the dependence of wage-labour on capital is increased and exploitation of labour rises to a higher level.

This state of affairs in the bourgeois countries and the steadily growing competition among them in the world market make it more and more difficult for them to sell the goods which are produced in ever increasing quantities. Over-production, manifesting itself in more or less acute industrial crises followed by more or less protracted periods of industrial stagnation, is an inevitable consequence of the development of the productive forces in bourgeois society. Crises and periods of industrial stagnation, in their turn, still further ruin the small producers, still further increase the dependence of wage-labour on capital, and lead still more rapidly to the relative and sometimes to the absolute deterioration of the condition of the working class.

Thus, improvement in technology, signifying increased labour productivity and greater social wealth, becomes in bourgeois society the cause of greater social inequality, of widening gulfs between the rich and poor, of greater insecurity, unemployment, and various hardships of the mass of the working people.

However, in proportion as all these contradictions, which are inherent in bourgeois society, grow and develop, so also does the discontent of the toiling and exploited masses with the existing order of things grow; the numerical strength and solidarity of the proletarians increase and their struggle against their exploiters is sharpened. At the same time, by concentrating the means of production and exchange and socialising the process of labour in capitalist enterprises, the improvement in technology more and more rapidly creates the material possibility of capitalist production relations being superseded by socialist relations, i.e., the possibility of bringing about the social revolution, which is the ultimate aim of all the activities of international Social-Democracy as the conscious exponent of the class movement.

By introducing social in place of private ownership of the means of production and exchange, by introducing planned organisation of social production to ensure the well-being and many-sided development of all the members of society, the proletarian social revolution will do away with the division of society into classes and thereby emancipate the whole of oppressed humanity, for it will put an end to all forms of exploitation of one section of society by another.

A necessary condition for this social revolution is the dictatorship of the proletariat, i.e., the conquest by the proletariat of such political power as will enable it to suppress all resistance on-the part of the exploiters. Aiming at making the proletariat capable of fulfilling its great historic mission, international Social-Democracy organises the proletariat in an independent political party opposed to all the bourgeois parties, guides all the manifestations of its class struggle, reveals to it the irreconcilable antagonism between the interests of the exploiters and those of the exploited, and explains to the proletariat the historical significance of and the necessary conditions for the impending social revolution. At the same time it reveals to all the other toiling and exploited masses the hopelessness of their position in capitalist society and the need for a social revolution if they are to free themselves from the yoke of capital. The Social-Democratic Party, the party of the working class, calls upon all section of the toiling and exploited population to join its ranks insofar as they adopt the standpoint of the proletariat.

World capitalism has at the present time, i.e., about the beginning of the twentieth century, reached the stage of imperialism. Imperialism, or the epoch of finance capital, is a high stage of development of the capitalist economic system, one in which monopolist associations of capitalists—syndicates, cartels, and trusts—have assumed decisive importance; in which enormously concentrated banking capital has fused with industrial capital; in which the ex port of capital to foreign countries has assumed vast dimensions; in which the whole world has been divided up territorially among the richer countries, and the economic carve-up of the world among international trusts has begun.

Imperialist wars, i.e., wars for world domination, for markets for banking capital and for the subjugation of small and weaker nations, are inevitable under such a state of affairs. The first great imperialist war, the war of 1914–17, is precisely such a war.

The extremely high level of development which world capitalism in general has attained, the replacement of free competition by monopoly capitalism, the fact that the banks and the capitalist associations have prepared the machinery for the social regulation of the process of production and distribution of products, the rise in the cost of living and increased oppression of the working class by the syndicates due to the growth of capitalist monopolies, the tremendous obstacles standing in the way of the proletariat’s economic and political struggle, the horrors, misery, ruin, and brutalisation caused by the imperialist war—all these factors transform the present stage of capitalist development into an era of proletarian socialist revolution.

That era has dawned.

Only a proletarian socialist revolution can lead humanity out of the impasse which imperialism and imperialist wars have created. Whatever difficulties the revolution may have to encounter, whatever possible temporary setbacks or waves of counter-revolution it may have to contend with, the final victory of the proletariat is inevitable.

Objective conditions make it the urgent task of the day to prepare the proletariat in every way for the conquest of political power in order to carry out the economic and political measures which are the sum and substance of the socialist revolution. (467 - 470)

Lenin; Collected Works; Volume 24, page 459 - 470; "Revision of the party programme".

 

 

 

October 6-8 (19-21), 1917

III

Comrade Sokolnikov "subjects to a general revision" the fifth section of the programme, the one dealing with crises. He finds that the old programme "sins in theory to win popularity" and "deviates from Marx's theory of crises".

Comrade Sokolnikov suggests that the word "overproduction" is made "the basis of the explanation" of crises in the old programme and that "such a view is more in keeping with the theory of Rodbertus who explains crises as being due to under-consumption by the working class".

A comparison of the old text with the new one proposed by Comrade Sokolnikov will show how unsuccessful his hunt for theoretical heresy has been, and how Rodbertus has been dragged in by the hair.

The old text contains the following, after mention (in the fourth section) of "technical progress", intensified exploitation of labour, and relatively lower consumption by the workers: "This state of affairs in the bourgeois countries, etc., makes it more and more difficult for them to market commodities produced in ever-increasing quantities. Overproduction, manifesting itself in . . . crises . . . and periods of stagnation . . . is an inevitable consequence. . . ."

It is clear that here overproduction is by no means used as the "basis of the explanation" of crises, but that this is only a description of the origin of crises and periods of stagnation. In Comrade Sokolnikov's draft we read the following:

"The development of the productive forces assuming these contradictory forms, in which the conditions of production come into conflict with the conditions of consumption and the conditions for the realisation of capital with those for its accumulation—this development, whose sole motive force is the pursuit of profit, has as its inevitable consequence acute industrial crises and depressions which signify the cessation of the sale of commodities, anarchically produced in ever-increasing quantities."

Comrade Sokolnikov said exactly the same thing, because "the cessation of the sale of commodities" produced in "ever increasing quantities", is exactly what we call overproduction. There is no need for him to fear this word, there is nothing inaccurate in it. It is useless for Comrade Sokolnikov to write that instead of "overproduction", "underproduction might be used, with much the same or even more reason" (page 15 of the Moscow pamphlet).

Well, just try calling the "cessation of the sale of commodities", "produced in ever-increasing quantities", "underproduction"! It cannot be done.

Rodbertus's theory is not merely a matter of using the word "overproduction" (which alone exactly describes one of the profoundest contradictions of capitalism), but of explaining crises merely as the result of insufficient consumption by the working class. The old programme does not deduce crises from insufficient consumption. It bases its explanation on "this state of affairs in the bourgeois countries", as has been described in the preceding section of the programme and which consists in "technical progress" and "the relatively lower demand for human labour-power". Alongside of this the old programme speaks of "the ever-growing competition on the world market".

Here something basic is said about the conflict between the conditions for accumulation and the conditions for realisation, and is said much more clearly. The theory has not been "changed" here at all, "to win popularity", as Comrade Sokolnikov erroneously thinks, but is presented clearly and popularly, which is a good point.

Of crises, to be sure, one could write volumes, one might give a more concrete analysis of the conditions of accumulation, mention the role of the means of production, of the exchange of surplus value and variable capital expressed in the means of production for constant capital expressed in articles of consumption, of the depreciation of constant capital due to new inventions, and so on, and so forth. But Comrade Sokolnikov makes no attempt to do this! His supposed correction of the programme consists only in the following:

1. Having preserved the plan of transition from the fourth to the fifth section, from the reference to technical progress, etc., to crises, he weakened the connection between the two sections by leaving out the words, "this state of affairs".

2. He added theoretical-sounding phrases about the conflict between the conditions of production and the conditions of consumption, and between the conditions for realisation and the conditions for accumulation—phrases which are quite correct but which do not express any new idea, for the preceding section gives the substance of all this more clearly.

3. He adds "the pursuit of profit"—an expression hardly suited to the programme, and which is used here, we suspect, precisely "to win popularity", for the same idea is expressed several times in the phrases about "conditions for realisation", commodity production, etc.

4. He substitutes "depression" for "stagnation"; an unfortunate change.

5. He adds the word "anarchically" to the old text ("commodities, anarchically produced in ever-increasing quantities"). This addition is theoretically wrong, for "anarchy" or "absence of planning" using an expression from the Erfurt Programme and contested by Engels, does not exactly characterise trusts.[Engels criticised the expressions "private production" and "absence of planning" in the draft of the Erfurt Programme. He wrote: "If we go over from stock companies to trusts, which dominate and mononolise whole branches of industry, not only private production, but also the absence of planning comes to an end."]

Here is how Comrade Sokolnikov puts it:

"Commodities are anarchically produced in ever-increasing quantities. Efforts of capitalist associations (trusts and the like) to prevent crises by limiting production end in failure," etc.

But it is by trusts that commodities are not produced anarchically, but according to a plan. Trusts do not merely "limit" production. They do not make any efforts to prevent crises, nor can they make any such "efforts". Comrade Sokolnikov is guilty of a number of inaccuracies. What he should have said was: although trusts produce commodities not anarchically but according to a plan, crises nevertheless cannot be averted because of the above-mentioned characteristics of capitalism which are also inherent in the trusts. And if trusts, in periods of the greatest prosperity and speculation, limit production in the sense of being careful "not to go too far", then at best they only succeed in saving the largest enterprises; but crises come just the same.

Summarising all that has been said on the question of crises, we come to the conclusion that Comrade Sokolnikov has not improved upon the old programme. On the contrary, the new draft contains inaccuracies. The need to correct the old programme has not been proved.

 

V

The struggle for colonies (for "new lands"), and the struggle for "the possession of territories of weaker countries", all existed before imperialism. Modern imperialism is characterised by something else, namely, by the fact that at the beginning of the twentieth century the whole earth was divided up and occupied by various countries. That is why, under capitalism, the re-partitioning of "world domination" could only take place at the price of a world war. "Internationally organised associations of capitalists" existed before imperialism. Every joint-stock company with a membership of capitalists from various countries is an "internationally organised association of capitalists".

The distinguishing feature of imperialism is something quite different, something which did not exist before the twentieth century—the economic partitioning of the world among international trusts, the partitioning of countries, by agreement, into market areas. This particular point has not been expressed in Comrade Sokolnikov's draft, the power of imperialism is, therefore, represented as much weaker than it really is.

Finally, it is theoretically incorrect to speak of dumping a vast accumulation of surplus value on to the world market. This reminds one of Proudhon's theory of realisation, according to which capitalists may easily realise both fixed and variable capital, but find it difficult to realise surplus value. As a matter of fact capitalists cannot realise without difficulties and crises either surplus value or variable and fixed capital. Commodities dumped on to the market are not only accumulated value, but also value reproducing variable capital and fixed capital. For instance, stocks of rails or iron are thrown into the world market, and should be exchanged for articles consumed by the workers, or for other means of production (wood, oil, etc.).

Lenin; Collected Works; Volume 26, page 158 - 161 and page 167 - 168; "Revision of the party programme".

 

 

February 25, 1919

(1) The era of the world proletarian, communist revolution has begun.

(2) The causes, significance and aims of this revolution can be correctly understood, first, by making clear the real nature, the fundamental character of capitalism and of bourgeois society, and the inevitability of their development towards communism; and secondly, by making clear the nature of imperialism and of imperialist wars, which have accelerated the collapse of capitalism and have placed the proletarian revolution on the order of the day.

*     *
*

(3) The nature of capitalism and of the bourgeois society which still dominates in most civilised countries and the development of which inevitably leads, and has been leading, to the world communist revolution of the proletariat, was described in our old Marxist programme in the following terms.

(4) “The principal specific feature of this society is commodity production based on capitalist production relations, under which the most important and major part of the means of production and exchange of commodities belongs to a numerically small class of persons while the vast majority of the population is made up of proletarians and semiproletarians, who, owing to their economic position, are compelled permanently or periodically to sell their labourpower, i.e., to hire themselves out to the capitalists and to create by their labour the incomes of the upper classes of society.

(5) “The ascendancy of capitalist production relations extends its area more and more with the steady improvement of technology, which, by enhancing the economic importance of the large enterprises, tends to eliminate the small independent producers, converting some of them into proletarians and narrowing the role of others in the social and economic sphere, and in some places making them more or less completely, more or less obviously, more or less painfully dependent on capital.

(6) “Moreover, this technical progress enables the employers to make growing use of female and child labour in the process of production and exchange of commodities. And since, on the other hand, it causes a relative decrease in the employers’ demand for human labour-power, the demand for labour-power necessarily lags behind its supply, as a result of which the dependence of wage-labour on capital is increased and exploitation of labour rises to a higher level.

(7) “This state of affairs in the bourgeois countries and the steadily growing competition among them in the world market make it more and more difficult for them to sell the goods which are produced in ever-increasing quantities. Over-production, manifesting itself in more or less acute industrial crises followed by more or less protracted periods of industrial stagnation, is an Inevitable consequence of the development of the productive forces in bourgeois society. Crises and periods of industrial stagnation, in their turn, still further ruin the small producers, still further increase the dependence of wage-labour on capital, and lead still more rapidly to the relative and sometimes to the absolute deterioration of the condition of the working class.

(8) “Thus, improvement in technology, signifying increased labour productivity and greater social wealth, becomes in bourgeois society the cause of greater social inequality, of widening gulfs between the rich and poor, of greater insecurity, unemployment, and various hardships of the mass of the working people.

(9) “However, in proportion as all these contradictions, which are inherent in bourgeois society, grow and develop, so also does the discontent of the toiling and exploited masses with the existing order of things grow; the numerical strength and solidarity of the proletarians increase and their struggle against their exploiters is sharpened. At the same time, by concentrating the means of production and exchange and socialising the process of labour in capitalist enterprises, the improvement in technology more and more rapidly creates the material possibility of capitalist production relations being superseded by communist relations, i.e., the possibility of bringing about the social revolution, which is the ultimate aim of all the activities of the international communist party as the conscious exponent of the class movement of the proletariat.

(10) “By introducing social in place of private ownership of the means of production and exchange, by introducing planned organisation of social production to ensure the well-being and many-sided development of all the members of society, the proletarian social revolution will do away with the division of society into classes and thereby emancipate the whole of oppressed humanity, for it will put an end to all forms of exploitation of one section of society by another.

(11) “A necessary condition for this social revolution is the dictatorship of the proletariat, i.e., the conquest by the proletariat of such political power as will enable it to suppress all resistance on the part of the exploiters. Aiming at making the proletariat capable of fulfilling its great historic mission, the international communist party organises the proletariat in an independent political party opposed to all the bourgeois parties, guides all the manifestations of its class struggle, reveals to it the irreconcilable antagonism between the interests of the exploiters and those of the exploited, and explains to the proletariat the historical significance of and the necessary conditions for the impending social revolution. At the same time it reveals to all the other toiling and exploited masses the hopelessness of their position in capitalist society and the need for a social revolution if they are to free themselves from the yoke of capital. The Communist Party, the party of the working class, calls upon all sections of the working and exploited population to join its ranks insofar as they adopt the standpoint of the proletariat.”

(12) World capitalism has at the present time, i.e., about the beginning of the twentieth century, reached the stage of imperialism. Imperialism, or the epoch of finance capital, is a high stage of development of the capitalist economic system, one in which monopoly associations of capitalists, syndicates, cartels, and trusts—have assumed decisive importance; in which enormously concentrated banking capital has fused with industrial capital; in which the export of capital to foreign countries has assumed vast dimensions; in which the whole world has been divided up territorially among the richer countries, and the economic carve-up of the world among international trusts has begun.

(13) Imperialist wars, i.e., wars for world domination, for markets for banking capital and for the subjugation of small and weaker nations, are inevitable under such a state of affairs. The first great imperialist war, the warof 1914-18, is precisely such a war.

(14) The extremely high level of development which world apitalism in general has attained, the replacement of free competition by monopoly capitalism, the fact that the banks and the capitalist associations have prepared the machinery for the social regulation of the process of production and distribution of products, the rise in the cost of living and increased oppression of the working class by the syndicates due to the growth of capitalist monopolies, the tremendous obstacles standing in the way of the proletariat’s economic and political struggle, the horrors, misery, ruin, and brutalisation caused by the imperialist war—all these factors transform the present stage of capitalist development into an era of proletarian socialist revolution.

That era has dawned.

(15) Only a proletarian socialist revolution can lead humanity out of the impasse which imperialism and imperialist wars have created. Whatever difficulties the revolution may have to encounter, whatever possible temporary setbacks or waves of counter-revolution it may have to contend with, the final victory of the proletariat is inevitable.

Lenin; Collected Works; Volume 29, page 100 - 103; "Draft programme of the R.C.P. (B.)".

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lenin

on the capitalist crisis