Inevitable Catastrophe and Extravagant Promises

''The most useful and indispensable job for the people at this moment of impending catastrophe is that of organisation.''

Published in Pravda No. 58 and 59, May 29 and 30 (16 and 17), 1917.

Part 1

The inevitable debacle, the catastrophe of unprecedented dimensions that is facing us is of such importance that we must dwell on this question again and again if we are to fully grasp its implications. In the last issue of Pravda we said that the programme of the Executive Committee of the Soviet of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies no longer differs in any way from that of “terrible” Bolshevism.

Today we must point out that the programme of the Menshevik Minister Skobelev goes even further than Bolshevism. Here is the programme, as reported in the ministerial paper, Rech:

“The Minister [Skobelev] declared that ’... the country’s economy is on the brink of disaster. We must intervene in all fields of economic life, as there is no money in the Treasury. We must improve the condition of the working masses, and to do that we must take the profits from the tills of the businessmen and bankers’.

--> (Voice in the audience: ‘How?’)

--> ’By ruthless taxation of property,’ replied the Minister of Labour, Skobelev. ’It is a method known to the science of finance. The rate of taxation on the propertied classes must be increased to one hundred per cent of their profits.’

--> (Voice in the audience: ’That means everything.’)

--> ‘Unfortunately,’ declared Skobelev, ’many corporations have already distributed their dividends among the share holders, and we must therefore levy a progressive personal tax on the propertied classes. We will go even further, and, if the capitalists wish to preserve the bourgeois method of business, let them work without interest, so as not to lose their clients.... We must introduce compulsory labour service for the shareholders, bankers and factory owners, who are in a rather slack mood because the incentive that formerly stimulated them to work is now lacking.... We must force the shareholders to submit to the state; they, too, must be subject to labour service.’”

We advise the workers to read and reread this programme, to discuss it and go into the matter of its practicability.

The important thing is the conditions necessary for its fulfilment, and the taking of immediate steps towards its fulfilment.

This programme in itself is an excellent one and coincides with the Bolshevik programme, except that in one particular it goes even further than our programme, namely, it promises to take the profits from the tills of the bankers “to the extent of one hundred per cent”.

Our Party is much more moderate. Its resolution demands much less than this, namely, the mere establishment of control over the banks and the “gradual [just listen, the Bolsheviks are for gradualness!] introduction of a more just progressive tax on incomes and properties”.

Our Party is more moderate than Skobelev.

Skobelev dispenses immoderate, nay, extravagant promises, without understanding the conditions required for their practical realisation.

That is the crux of the matter.

It is impossible not only to realise Skobelev’s programme, but even to make any serious efforts towards its realisation, either arm in arm with ten ministers from the party of the landowners and capitalists, or with the bureaucratic, official-ridden machine to which the government of the capitalists (plus a few Mensheviks and Narodniks) is perforce limited.

Less promises, Citizen Skobelev, and more practicalness. Less rhetoric and more understanding as to how to get down to business.

And get down to business we can and should immediately, without a day’s delay, if we are to save the country from an inevitable and terrible catastrophe. But the whole thing is that the “new” Provisional Government does not want to get down to business; and even if it wanted to, it could not, for it is fettered by a thousand chains which safeguard the interests of capital.

We can and should in a single day call upon the people to get down to business; we can and should in a single day issue a decree immediately convening:

1) Councils and congresses of bank employees, both of individual banks and on a national scale, to work out immediate practical measures for amalgamating all banks and banking houses into a single State Bank, and exercising precise control over all banking operations, the results of such control to be published forthwith;

2) Councils and congresses of employees of all syndicates and trusts to work out measures for control and accountancy; the results of such control to be published forthwith;

3) This decree should grant the right of control not only to the Soviets of Workers’, Soldiers’, and Peasants’ Deputies, but also to councils of the workers at every large factory, as well as to the representatives of every large political party (those parties should be regarded as large parties which, for example, on May 12 put forward independent lists of candidates in not less than two Petrograd districts); all ledgers and documents to he open to control;

4) The decree should call upon all shareholders, directors and members of the boards of all companies to publish the names of all shareholders owning stock to an amount of not less than 10,000 (or 5,000) rubles, together with a list of stocks and companies in which these persons are “interested”; false statements (made to the controlling bodies of the bank and other employees) shall be punished by confiscation of all property and by imprisonment for a term of not less than five years;

5) The decree should call upon the people to establish immediately, through the local organs of self-government, universal labour service, for the control and enforcement of which a universal people’s militia should be established (in the rural districts directly, in the cities through the workers’ militia).

Without universal labour service, the country cannot be saved from ruin; and without a people’s militia, universal labour service cannot be effected. This will be obvious to everyone who has not reached a state of ministerial insanity or has not had his brain turned by putting too much trust in ministerial eloquence.

Every person is bound to stand for such measures if he really wishes to save tens of millions from ruin and disaster.

In the next article we shall deal with the question of the gradual introduction of a more equitable system of taxation, and also what should be done to advance from among the people and gradually place in ministerial positions really gifted organisers (both from among the workers and the capitalists) who have given a good account of themselves in this kind of work.

Part 2

When Skobelev, with ministerial élan, [style and vigour] talked himself into taking one hundred per cent of the capitalists’ profits, he furnished us with a specimen of claptrap. This kind of phrase-mongering is always used in bourgeois parliamentary republics to hoodwink the people.

But here we have something worse than mere phrase-mongering. “If the capitalists wish to preserve the bourgeois method of business, let them work without interest, so as not to lose their clients,” Skobelev said. This sounds like a “terrible” threat to the capitalists; but in fact, it is an attempt (unconscious probably on the part of Skobelev, but certainly conscious on the part of the capitalists) to make safe the rule of almighty capital by a temporary sacrifice of profits.

The workers are taking “too much”, say the capitalists; let us make them responsible without giving them either power or the opportunity to effectively control production. Let us sacrifice our profits for a time; “by preserving the bourgeois method of business and not losing our clients”, we shall hasten the collapse of this transitory stage in industry, we shall disorganise it in every possible way and lay the blame on the workers.

That such is the plan of the capitalists is proved by the facts. The coal mine owners in the South are actually disorganising production, are “deliberately, neglecting and disorganising it” (see Novaya Zhizn for May 16 reporting statements made by a workers delegation 1). The picture is clear: Rech is lying brazenly when it puts the blame on the workers, The coal mine owners are “deliberately disorganising production”; and Skobelev sings his song: “If the capitalists wish to preserve the bourgeois method of business, let them work without interest.” The position is clear.

It is to the advantage of the capitalists and the bureaucrats to make “extravagant promises”, diverting people’s attention away from the main thing, namely, the transfer of real control to the workers.

The workers must sweep aside all high-sounding phrases, promises, declarations, project-mongering by bureaucrats in the centre, who are ever ready to draw up spectacular plans, rules, regulations, and standards. Down with all this lying! Down with all this hullabaloo of bureaucratic and bourgeois project-mongering which has everywhere ended in smoke. Down with this habit of shelving things! The workers must demand the immediate establishment of genuine control, to be exercised by the workers themselves.

That is the most important condition of success, success in averting catastrophe. If that is lacking, all else is sheer deception. If we have it, we need not be in a hurry to “take one hundred per cent of the profits”. We can and should be more moderate; we should gradually introduce a more equitable system of taxation; we shall differentiate between the small and large shareholders; we shall take very little from the former, and a great deal (but not necessarily all) from the latter only. The number of large shareholders is insignificant; but the role they play, like the wealth they possess, is tremendous. It may safely be said that if one were to draw up a list of the five or even three thousand (or perhaps even one thousand) of Russia’s wealthiest men, or if one were to trace (by means of control exercised from below, by bank. syndicate, and other employees) all the threads and ties of their finance capital, their banking connections, there would be revealed the whole complexus of capitalist domination, the vast body of wealth amassed at the expense of the labour of others, all the essential roots of “control” over the social production and distribution of goods.

It is this control that must be handed over to the workers. It is this complexity, these roots, that the interests of capital require to be concealed from the people. Better forego for a time “all” our profits, or ninety-nine per cent of our income, than disclose to the people these roots of our power—thus reason the capitalist class and its unconscious servant, the government official.

Under no circumstances shall we relinquish our right, our demand that this citadel of finance capital be disclosed to the people, that it be placed under workers’ control—thus reasons the class-conscious worker. And every passing day will prove the correctness of this reasoning to growing masses of the poor, to a growing majority of the people, to a growing number of sincere people who are honestly seeking a way to avert disaster.

This citadel of finance capital has to be taken if all those phrases and projects for averting disaster are not to remain sheer deception. As far as individual capitalists, or even most of the capitalists, are concerned, the proletariat has no intention of “taking their last shirt from them” (as Shulgin has been “scaring” himself and his friends), has no intention of taking “everything” from them. On the contrary, it intends to put them on useful and honourable jobs—under the control of the workers.

The most useful and indispensable job for the people at this moment of impending catastrophe is that of organisation. Marvels of proletarian organisation—that is our slogan now, and will become our slogan and our demand doubly so when the proletariat is in power. Without the organisation of the masses it will be absolutely impossible either to introduce universal labour service, which is absolutely essential, or establish any at all serious control over the banks and syndicates and over the production and distribution of goods.

That is why it is necessary to begin, and begin immediately, with a workers’ militia, in order that we may proceed gradually, but firmly and intelligently, to the creation of a people’s militia and the replacement of the police and the standing army by the universally armed people. That is why it is necessary to advance talented organisers from among all sections of society, from among all classes, not excepting the capitalists, who at present have more of the required experience. There are many such talents among the people. Such forces lie dormant among the peasantry and the proletariat for lack of application. They must be advanced from below in the course of practical work, such as the efficient elimination of queues in a given district, skilful organisation of house committees, domestic servants, and model farms, proper management of factories that have been taken over by the workers, and so on and so forth. When these have been advanced from below in the course of practical work, and their abilities tested in practice, they should all be promoted to “ministers”—not in the old sense of the term, not in the sense of giving them portfolios, but by appointing them national instructors, travelling organisers, assistants in the business of establishing everywhere the strictest order, the greatest economy in human labour, the strictest comradely discipline.

That is what the party of the proletariat must preach to the people as the means of averting disaster. That is what it must start carrying out now in part in those localities where it is gaining power. That is what it must carry out in full when it assumes state power.


1. This refers to statements made by a delegation of Donet workers to the Economic Department of the Petrograd Soviet. This delegation was sent to Petrograd by the April-May conference (1917) of workers of the coal and iron and steel industries in the south of Russia to ask the Ministry of Commerce and Industry and the Ministry of Labour to intercede in obtaining a rise for the lower-paid brackets from the association of Donets capitalists. The delegation submitted statements describing the intolerable conditions of the workers and gave numerous instances of sabotage on the part of the owners and mangers of the collieries and metallurgical works, who were out to crush the revolutionary-minded workers and starve them into submission.


Source: Marxist Internet Archive.