The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

September 1917:
Faced with the Impending Catastrophe

Sep 18, 2017

This article continues our series on the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution.

More than six months after February 1917, the crisis had become generalized in Russia, especially at the economic level. At the same time that the influence of the Bolsheviks’ policy was growing in the Soviets, the capitalists were sabotaging the economy, assisted by the inaction of the Provisional Government. In this situation of an intensifying struggle between social classes, Lenin wrote The Impending Catastrophe and How to Combat It. In this work, he affirmed that the revolutionary proletariat, confronted with the passivity of the government and the maneuvers of the bourgeoisie, should impose its control and surveillance of the economy. This was the only way to avoid a generalized crisis, while at the same time rallying the mass of poor peasants to the cause of the revolution.

“Unavoidable catastrophe is threatening Russia. The railways are incredibly disorganized and the disorganization is progressing. … The capitalists are deliberately and unremittingly sabotaging production, hoping that an unparalleled catastrophe will mean the collapse of the republic and democracy, and of the Soviets and proletarian and peasant associations generally, thus facilitating the return to a monarchy and the restoration of the unlimited power of the bourgeoisie and the landowners. …

Yet the slightest attention and thought will suffice to satisfy anyone that the ways of combating catastrophe and famine are available, that the measures required to combat them are quite clear, simple, perfectly feasible, and fully within reach of the people’s forces, and that these measures are not being adopted only because, exclusively because, their realization would affect the fabulous profits of a handful of landowners and capitalists. …

This measure is control, supervision, accounting, regulation by the state, introduction of a proper distribution of labor-power in the production and distribution of goods, conserving the people’s forces, the elimination of all wasteful effort, economy of effort. Control, supervision, and accounting are essential for combating catastrophe and famine. …

To explain this most important question more clearly (a question which is essentially equivalent to that of the program of any truly revolutionary government that would wish to save Russia from war and famine), let us enumerate these principal measures of control and examine each of them.

We shall see that all a government would have had to do, if its name of revolutionary-democratic government were not merely a joke, would have been to decree, in the very first week of its existence, the adoption of the principal measures of control, to provide for strict and severe punishment to be meted out to capitalists who fraudulently evaded control, and to call upon the population itself to exercise supervision over the capitalists and see to it that they scrupulously observed the regulations on control – and control would have been introduced in Russia long ago.”

Lenin then listed and explained the principal measures that would allow the masses to have this control over the economy, among which were the fusion of all banks into a single bank whose operations would be controlled by the state, the nationalization of the largest monopolistic capitalist associations, and the abolition of commercial secrecy.

On the question of the banks, he emphasized: “Only control over the banks, over this center, over the pivot and chief mechanism of capitalist circulation, would make it possible to organize real and not fictitious control over all economic life, over the production and distribution of staple goods, and organize that ‘regulation of economic life’ which otherwise is inevitably doomed to remain a politician’s phrase designed to fool the common people.”

He ended the text in this way: “To be really revolutionary, the democrats of Russia today must march in very close alliance with the proletariat, supporting it in its struggle as the only thoroughly revolutionary class.

Such is the conclusion prompted by an analysis of the means of combating an impending catastrophe of unparalleled dimensions.

The war has created such an immense crisis, has so strained the material and moral forces of the people, has dealt such blows at the entire modern social organization, that humanity must now choose between perishing or entrusting its fate to the most revolutionary class for the swiftest and most radical transition to a superior mode of production.”