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The Threatening Catastrophe and How to Fight It
Lenin, VI, “The Threatening Catastrophe and How to Fight it.” International Publishers, New York, 1932. 64 pages.
Serious activists do not study Lenin so that we can mindlessly copy his every move, nor do we study him to see who can memorize the most passages. We study Lenin because he was a master strategist. He is the best example we have of being able to correctly match proposed tactics with the prevailing situation of time and place.
The situation in Petrograd in September, 1917, was revolutionary. The Tsar's rule had been overthrown in February, but the capitalist government replacing Tsardom sought to continue policies benefitting the owning class. They continued the Tsar's war. Rather than instituting land reform and controls over the economy, they put their faith in "the market" and capitalist rule. Tens of thousands of soldiers died, and the economy was close to famine. Lenin began this pamphlet by asserting that it was common knowledge that the main arteries of transportation, trains, were about to stop functioning.
And yet, Lenin pointed out, there were plenty of resources, including food, if they were being distributed according to a reasonable plan under a truly democratic government. He said that the war could be ended and the economy restored, provided democratic control could be wrested away from the capitalists and given to the people.
A big part of the problem was that certain misleaders continued to support the capitalist government. Some of them were minority faction members of Lenin's own party, and others were members of another large, radical but non-Marxist, political party. Using unassailable logic, the sharp knife of truth, and his amazing literary ability, Lenin cut the arguments from under the capitalist-leaning misleaders.
Lenin says on page 6: “...a very small amount of attention and reflection is sufficient to convince one that there are means of fighting the catastrophe and the famine, that the means of struggle are perfectly clear and simple, perfectly reliable, perfectly within reach of the people’s forces, and that those measures are not being undertaken only and solely because their realization would infringe upon the immense profits of a handful of landowners and capitalists.
'This means is control, supervision, accounting, state regulation, the establishment of a correct distribution of labor forces in the production and distribution of products, husbanding the resources of the people, elimination of any waste of forces, the utmost economy. Control, supervision, accounting – this is the first word in the fight against catastrophe and famine.”
He makes his central theme clear on page 47: "Only a decisively consistent break with the capitalists both in internal and foreign politics can save our revolution and our country, held in the iron grasp of imperialism."
Like almost any other political situation, the best understanding comes through the lens of the class struggle. Lenin says, "‘Strictly speaking, the entire question of control reduces itself to the point of who controls whom, i.e., which class is the controlling and which is the controlled one.”
Throughout the pamphlet, Lenin argues for true democracy. Page 34: “For this purpose a revolutionary dictatorship of the democracy headed by the revolutionary proletariat is necessary, i.e., for this purpose democracy must become revolutionary in deeds.”
Pg 35: “The question still reduces itself to this; the rule of the bourgeoisie is incompatible with true democracy that is truly revolutionary. It is impossible to be a revolutionary democrat in the twentieth century and in a capitalist country if one is afraid to march towards Socialism.”
Pg36: “Everybody talks about imperialism. But imperialism is nothing but monopoly capitalism.”
Pg 37: ‘For Socialism is nothing but the next step forward from state capitalist monopoly. In other words, Socialism is nothing but state capitalist monopoly made to benefit the whole people; by this token it ceases to be capitalist monopoly.”
P49: “The chief fortress of finance capital must be seized. Unless this is done, all phrases , all projects of how to avert disaster are sheer deception.”
Lenin’s opponents, of course, said that a transfer of power had to be avoided because it would “lead to civil war.” Lenin replied that the workers and peasants would quickly win any such war because the capitalists had no actual mass support. He quoted big increases in his political party's votes and fund-raising power to show that his party was on the increase.
"We can and must get down to business immediately without losing a day, in order to save the country from an otherwise unavoidable and gruesome disaster. The crux of the matter 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 designed to safeguard the interests of capital.
'We can and must, in one day, call upon the people to commence to work; in one day we can publish a decree which would immediately convoke the following:
'1. Soviets and congresses of bank employees in individual bans as well as on a national scale; they are to be directed to work out (it once practical measures for insuring the merger of all banking and credit establishments into one general state bank, and for etablishing the most scrupulous control over all banking operations; the results of such control to be published forthwith;
'2. Soviets and congresses of employees of all syndicates and trusts, with instructions to work out measures for control and accounting; the results of such control to be published forthwith
'3. This decree is to grant the right of control not only to. All Soviets of Workers', Soldiers', and Peasants' Deputies, but also to the Soviets of workers in every big factory, as well as to the representatives of every large political party (by a large party we mean, for example, a party that had on May 25 independent electoral tickets in not less than two Petrograd boroughs); all books, all documents to be open to such control;
'4. The decree must call upon all shareholders, directors and members of the managing boards of all concerns to publish the names of all shareholders who own no less, than 10,000 (or 5,000) rubles' worth of stocks; the various shares and the various companies in which the listed individuals are interest, to be indicated; in correct statements (discovered through the control of banking and other employees) to be punished by the confiscation of the guilty party's entire property, and by imprisonment for not less than five years;
'5. The decree must call upon the whole people to establish immediately, through the local organs of self-government, universal obligatory labor duty, for the control and realization of which there must be established a universal people's militia (in the villages directly; in the cities through the workers' militia). Without such universal, obligatory labor duty, the country cannot be saved from ruin. And without a people's militia, universal obligatory labor duty cannot be established. This can be grasped by any one who has not fallen into ministerial, lunacy or been hypnotized into credulity by ministerial eloquence. He who actually wants to save from ruin tens of millions of people, must come to the defense of such measures.... "
During the next month, Lenin's predictions and tactics for Russia bore fruit. The socialist revolution in Russia dates from October, 1917. His predictions were completely solid, except where he predicts what will happen within other nations.
Page 60: “...the armies of the most advanced workers in other countries, where the break of Russia with imperialism and the imperialist war will inevitable accelerate the rising workers’ Socialist revolution.”
Pg 62: ‘On the other hand, the existence of revolutionary and Socialist proletarian masses within all the European states is a fact; the maturing and the inevitability of the world-wide Socialist revolution is beyond doubt...”
I include Lenin’s error in predicting the response in other nations to lead to this opinion: The clever experts combing through Soviet history to determine what great errors they must have made to have come to a downfall are looking in the wrong place. The errors leading to the setback of socialism occurred in our countries, not theirs! If there was a lack of heroism, it was ours, not theirs. Had we, the progressive peoples of the imperialist powers, succeeded as Lenin was sure we would, the USSR would still be in existence as part of a world of socialist peace and prosperity!
"The Impending Catastrophe and How to Combat It," Apparently a different translation but virtually the same work, can be downloaded from:
This pamphlet is Lenin's argument against certain misleaders of his time and place. If you decide to read the original, be advised that he doesn’t give an historical overview of the situation, and it is easy to get bogged down over details; consequently, here is a short list of some of the important names that Lenin writes about:
Bolsheviks: The majority of the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party, led mostly by Lenin
Cadets: a capitalist political party
Kerensky: head of the capitalist government that replace the Tsar
Kornilov: a Russian general committed to the capitalists who tried to overthrow the soviets and establish a dictatorship of capitalists
Mensheviks: the minority of Lenin’s own party, the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party. Lenin names a number of misleaders from this faction.
Petrograd Soviet of workers and soldiers: the main democratic committee challenging the government for power
Socialist Revolutionaries: a radical political party based on the very large Russian population of small farmers, or peasants, rather than on the working class.
In Political Affairs, March 2009: http://www.politicalaffairs.net/article/articleview/8209/
Nationalization, Socialism and the Banks, By Jim Genova.
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