Vladimir Lenin, How to Organize Competition? January 9, 1918
Original Source: First published in Pravda, 29 January 1929.
Bourgeois authors have been using up reams of paper praising competition, private enterprise, and all the other magnificent virtues and blessings of the capitalists and the capitalist system. Socialists have been accused of refusing to understand the importance of these virtues, and of ignoring “human nature”. As a matter of fact, however, capitalism long ago replaced small, independent commodity production, under which competition could develop enterprise, energy and bold initiative to any considerable extent, by large- and very large-scale factory production, joint-stock companies, syndicates and other monopolies. Under such capitalism, competition means the incredibly brutal suppression of the enterprise, energy and bold initiative of the mass of the population, of its overwhelming majority, of ninety-nine out of every hundred toilers; it also means that competition is replaced by financial fraud, nepotism, servility on the upper rungs of the social ladder.
Far from extinguishing competition, socialism, on the contrary, for the first time creates the opportunity for employing it on a really wide and on a really mass scale, for actually drawing the majority of working people into a field of labor in which they can display their abilities, develop the capacities, and reveal those talents, so abundant among the people whom capitalism crushed, suppressed and strangled in thousands and millions.
Now that a socialist government is in power our task is to organize competition.
The hangers-on and spongers on the bourgeoisie described socialism as a uniform, routine, monotonous and drab barrack system. The lackeys of the money-bags, the lickspittles of the exploiters, the bourgeois intellectual gentlemen used socialism as a bogey to “frighten” the people, who, under capitalism, were doomed to the penal servitude and the barrack-like discipline of arduous, monotonous toil, to a life of dire poverty and semi-starvation. The first step towards the emancipation of the people from this penal servitude is the confiscation of the landed estates, the introduction of workers’ control and the nationalization of the banks. The next steps will be the nationalization of the factories, the compulsory organization of the whole population in consumers’ societies, which are at the same time societies for the sale of products, and the state monopoly of the trade in grain and other necessities.
Only now is the opportunity created for the truly mass display of enterprise, competition and bold initiative. Every factory from which the capitalist has been ejected, or in which he has at least been curbed by genuine workers’ control, every village from which the landowning exploiter has been smoked out and his land confiscated has only now become a field in which the working man can reveal his talents, unbend his back a little, rise to his full height, and feel that he is a human being. For the first time after centuries of working for others, of forced labor for the exploiter, it has become possible to work for oneself and moreover to employ all the achievements of modern technology and culture in one’s work.
Of course, this greatest change in human history from working under compulsion to working for oneself cannot take place without friction, difficulties, conflicts and violence against the inveterate parasites and their hangers-on. No worker has any illusions on that score. The workers and poor peasants, hardened by dire want and by many long years of slave labor for the exploiters, by their countless insults and acts of violence, realize that it will take time to break the resistance of those exploiters. The workers and peasants are not in the least infected with the sentimental illusions of the intellectual gentlemen, of the Novaia Zhizn crowd and other slush, who “shouted” themselves hoarse “denouncing” the capitalists and “gesticulated” against them, only to burst into tears and to behave like whipped puppies when it came to deeds, to putting threats into action, to carrying out in practice the work of removing the capitalists.
The great change from working under compulsion to working for oneself, to labor planned and organized on a gigantic, national (and to a certain extent international, world) scale, also requires-in addition to “military” measures for the suppression of the exploiters’ resistance-tremendous organizational, organizing effort on the part of the proletariat and the poor peasants. The organizational task is interwoven to form a single whole with the task of ruthlessly suppressing by military methods yesterday’s slave-owners (capitalists) and their packs of lackeys-the bourgeois intellectual gentlemen. Yesterday’s slave-owners and their “intellectual” stooges say and think, “We have always been organizers and chiefs. We have commanded, and we want to continue doing so. We shall refuse to obey the ‘common people’, the workers and peasants. We shall not submit to them. We shall convert knowledge into a weapon for the defense of the privileges of the money-bags and of the rule of capital over the people.”
That is what the bourgeoisie and the bourgeois intellectuals say, think, and do. From the point of view of self-interest their behavior is comprehensible. The hangers-on and spongers on the feudal landowners, the priests, the scribes, the bureaucrats as Gogol depicted them, and the “intellectuals” who hated Belinsky,149 also found it “hard” to part with serfdom. But the cause of the exploiters and of their “intellectual” menials is hopeless. The workers and peasants are beginning to break down their resistance- unfortunately, not yet firmly, resolutely and ruthlessly enough-and break it down they will.
“They” think that the “common people”, the “common” workers and poor peasants, will be unable to cope with the great, truly heroic, in the world-historic sense of the word, organizational tasks which the socialist revolution has imposed upon the working people. The intellectuals who are accustomed to serving the capitalists and the capitalist state say in order to console themselves: “You cannot do without us.” But their insolent assumption has no truth in if, educated men are already making their appearance on the side of the people, on the side of the working people, and are helping to break the resistance of the servants of capital. There are a great many talented organizers among the peasants and the working class, and they are only just beginning to become aware of themselves, to awaken, to stretch out towards great, vital, creative work, to tackle with their own forces the task of building socialist society. One of the most important tasks today, if not the most important, is to develop this independent initiative of the workers, and of all the working and exploited people generally, develop it as widely as possible in creative organizational work. At all costs we must break the old, absurd, savage, despicable and disgusting prejudice that only the so-called “upper classes”, only the rich, and those who have gone through the school of the rich, are capable of administering the state and directing the organizational development of socialist society.
This is a prejudice fostered by rotten routine, by petrified views, slavish habits, and still more by the sordid selfishness of the capitalists, in whose interest it is to administer while plundering and to plunder while administering. The workers will not forget for a moment that they need the power of knowledge. The extraordinary striving after knowledge which the workers reveal, particularly now, shows that mistaken ideas about this do not and cannot exist among the proletariat. But every rank-and-file worker and peasant who can read and write, who can judge people and has practical experience, is capable of organizational work. Among the “common people”, of whom the bourgeois intellectuals speak with such haughtiness and contempt, there are many such men and women. This sort of talent among the working class and the peasants is a rich and still untapped source.
The workers and peasants are still “timid”, they have not yet become accustomed to the idea that they are now the ruling class; they are not yet resolute enough. The revolution could not at one stroke instill these qualities into millions and millions of people who all their lives had been compelled by want and hunger to work under the threat of the stick. But the Revolution of October 1917 is strong, viable and invincible because it awakens these qualities, breaks down the old impediments, removes the worn-out shackles, and leads the working people on to the road of the independent creation of a new life.
Accounting and control-this is the main economic task of every Soviet of Workers’, Soldiers’ and Peasants’ Deputies, of every consumers’ society, of every union or committee of supplies, of every factory committee or organ of workers’ control in general.
We must fight against the old habit of regarding the measure of labor and the means of production, from the point of view of the slave whose sole aim is to lighten the burden of labor or to obtain at least some little bit from the bourgeoisie. The advanced, class-conscious workers have already started this fight, and they are offering determined resistance to the newcomers who flocked to the factory world in particularly large numbers during the war and who now would like to treat the people’s factory, the factory that has come into the possession of the people, in the old way, with the sole aim of “snatching the biggest possible piece of the pie and clearing out”. All the class-conscious, honest and thinking peasants and working people will take their place in this fight by the side of the advanced workers.
Accounting and control, if carried on by the Soviets of Workers’, Soldiers’ and Peasants’ Deputies as the supreme state power, or on the instructions, on the authority, of this power-widespread, general, universal accounting and control, the accounting and control of the amount of labor performed and of the distribution of products-is the essence of socialist transformation, once the political rule of the proletariat has been established and secured.
The accounting and control essential for the transition to socialism can be exercised only by the people. Only the voluntary and conscientious co-operation of the mass of the workers and peasants in accounting and controlling the rich, the rogues, the idlers and the rowdies, a co-operation marked by revolutionary enthusiasm, can conquer these survivals of accursed capitalist society, these dregs of humanity, these hopelessly decayed and atrophied limbs, this contagion, this plague, this ulcer that socialism has inherited from capitalism.
Workers and peasants, working and exploited people! The land, the banks and the factories have now become the
property of the entire people! You yourselves must set to work to take account of and control the production and distribution of products-this, and this alone is the road, to the victory of socialism, the only guarantee of its victory, the guarantee of victory over all exploitation, over all poverty and want! For there is enough bread, iron, timber, wool, cotton and flax in Russia to satisfy the needs of everyone, if only labor and its products are properly distributed, if only a business-like, practical control over this distribution by the entire people is established, provided only we can defeat the enemies of the people: the rich and their hangers-on, and the rogues, the idlers and the rowdies, not only in politics, but also in everyday economic life.
No mercy for these enemies of the people, the enemies of socialism, the enemies of the working people! War to the death against the rich and their hangers-on, the bourgeois intellectuals; war on the rogues, the idlers and the rowdies! All of them are of the same brood-the spawn of capitalism, the offspring of aristocratic and bourgeois society; the society in which a handful of men robbed and insulted the people; the society in which poverty and want forced thousands and thousands on to the path of rowdyism, corruption and roguery, and caused them to lose all human semblance; the society which inevitably cultivated in the working man the desire to escape exploitation even by means of deception, to wriggle out of it, to escape, if only for a moment, from loathsome labor, to procure at least a crust of bread by any possible means, at any cost, so as not to starve, so as to subdue the pangs of hunger suffered by himself and by his near ones.
The rich and the rogues are two sides of the same coin, they are the two principal categories of parasites which capitalism fostered; they are the principal enemies of socialism. These enemies must be placed under the special surveillance of the entire people; they must be ruthlessly punished for the slightest violation of the laws and regulations of socialist society. Any display of weakness, hesitation or sentimentality in this respect would be an immense crime against socialism.
In order to render these parasites harmless to socialist society we must organize the accounting and control of the amount of work done and of production and distribution by the entire people, by millions and millions of workers and peasants, participating voluntarily, energetically and with revolutionary enthusiasm. And in order to organize this accounting and control, which is fully within the ability of every honest, intelligent and efficient worker and peasant, we must rouse their organizing talent, the talent that is to be found in their midst; we must rouse among them-and organize on a national scale-competition in the sphere of organizational achievement; the workers and peasants must be brought to see clearly the difference between the necessary advice of an educated man and the necessary control by the “common” worker and peasant of the slovenliness that is so usual among the “educated”.
This slovenliness, this carelessness, untidiness, unpunctuality, nervous haste, the inclination to substitute discussion for action, talk for work, the inclination to undertake everything under the sun without finishing anything, are characteristics of the “educated”; and this is not due to the fact that they are bad by nature, still less is it due to their evil will; it is due to all their habits of life, the conditions of their work, to fatigue, to the abnormal separation of mental from manual labor, and so on, and so forth.
Among the mistakes, shortcomings and defects of our revolution a by no means unimportant place is occupied by the mistakes, etc., which are due to these deplorable-but at present inevitable-characteristics of the intellectuals in our midst, and to the lack of sufficient supervision by the workers over the organizational work of the intellectuals.
The workers and peasants are still “timid”; they must get rid of this timidity, and they certainly will get rid of it. We cannot dispense with the advice, the instruction of educated people, of intellectuals and specialists. Every sensible worker and peasant understands this perfectly well, and the intellectuals in our midst cannot complain of a lack of attention and comradely respect on the part of the workers and peasants. Advice and instruction, however, is one thing, and the organization of practical accounting and control is another. Very often the intellectuals give excellent advice and instruction, but they prove to be ridiculously, absurdly, shamefully “unhandy” and incapable of carrying out this
advice and instruction, of exercising practical control over the translation of words into deeds.
In this very respect it is utterly impossible to dispense with the help and the leading role of the practical organizers from among the “people”, from among the factory workers and working peasants. “It is not the gods who make pots”- this is the truth that the workers and peasants should get well drilled into their minds. They must understand that the whole thing now is practical work; that the historical moment has arrived when theory is being transformed into practice, vitalized by practice, corrected by practice, tested by practice; when the words of Marx, “Every step of real movement is more important than a dozen programs”, become particularly true-every step in really curbing in practice, restricting, fully registering the rich and the rogues and keeping them under control is worth more than a dozen excellent arguments about socialism. For, “theory, my friend, is gray, but green is the eternal tree of life”.
Competition must be arranged between practical organizers from among the workers and peasants. Every attempt to establish stereotyped forms and to impose uniformity from above, as intellectuals are so inclined to do, must be combated. Stereotyped forms and uniformity imposed from above have nothing in common with democratic and socialist centralism. The unity of essentials, of fundamentals, of the substance, is not disturbed but ensured by variety in details, in specific local features, in methods of approach, in methods of exercising control, in ways of exterminating and rendering harmless the parasites (the rich and the rogues, slovenly and hysterical intellectuals, etc., etc.).
The Paris Commune gave a great example of how to combine initiative, independence, freedom of action and vigor from below with voluntary centralism free from stereotyped forms. Our Soviets are following the same road. But they are still “timid”; they have not yet got into their stride, have not yet “bitten into” their new, great, creative task of building the socialist system. The Soviets must set to work more boldly and display greater initiative. All “communes”-factories, villages, consumers’ societies, and committees of supplies-must compete with each other as practical organizers of accounting and control of labor and distribution of products. The program of this accounting and control is simple, clear and intelligible to all-everyone to have bread; everyone to have sound footwear and good clothing; everyone to have warm dwellings; everyone to work conscientiously; not a single rogue (including those who shirk their work) to be allowed to be at liberty, but kept in prison, or serve his sentence of compulsory labor of the hardest kind; not a single rich man who violates the laws and regulations of socialism to be allowed to escape the fate of the rogue, which should, in justice, be the fate of the rich man. “He who does not work, neither shall he eat”-this is the practical commandment of socialism. This is how things should be organized practically. These are the practical successes our “communes” and our worker and peasant organizers should be proud of. And this applies particularly to the organizers among the intellectuals (particularly, because they are too much, far too much in the habit of being proud of their general instructions and resolutions).
Thousands of practical forms and methods of accounting and controlling the rich, the rogues and the idlers must be devised and put to a practical test by the communes themselves, by small units in town and country. Variety is a guarantee of effectiveness here, a pledge of success in achieving the single common aim-to clean the land of Russia of all vermin, of fleas-the rogues, of bugs-the rich, and so on and so forth. In one place half a score of rich, a dozen rogues, half a dozen workers who shirk their work (in the manner of rowdies, the manner in which many compositors in Petrograd, particularly in the Party printing-shops, shirk their work) will be put in prison. In another place they will be put to cleaning latrines. In a third place they will be provided with “yellow tickets” after they have served their time, so that everyone shall keep an eye on them, as harmful persons, until they reform. In a fourth place, one out of every ten idlers will be shot on the spot. In a fifth place mixed methods may be adopted, and by probation release, for example, the rich, the bourgeois intellectuals, the rogues and rowdies who are corrigible will be given an opportunity to reform quickly. The more variety there will be, the better and richer will be our general experience, the more certain and rapid will be the success of socialism, and the easier will it be for practice to devise-for only practice can devise-the best methods and means of struggle.
In what commune, in what district of a large town, in what factory and in what village are there no starving people, no unemployed, no idle rich, no despicable lackeys of the bourgeoisie, saboteurs who call themselves intellectuals? Where has most been done to raise the productivity of labor, to build good new houses for the poor, to put the poor in the houses of the rich, to regularly provide a bottle of milk for every child of every poor family? It is on these points that competition should develop between the communes, communities, producer-consumers’ societies and associations, and Soviets of Workers’, Soldiers’ and Peasants’ Deputies. This is the work in which talented organizers should come to the fore in practice and be promoted to work in state administration. There is a great deal of talent among the people. It is merely suppressed. It must be given an opportunity to display itself. It and it alone, with the support of the people, can save Russia and save the cause of socialism.
Source: V. I. Lenin, Collected Works (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1964), Vol. XXVI, pp. 404-415.