Grain: the currency of currencies

Back to reading Stalin, which I would like to complete by the end of February. This on one grain as the currency of currencies, in the midst the intensified class struggle with the kulaks:

Grain should not be regarded as an ordinary commodity. Grain is not like cotton, which cannot be eaten and which cannot be sold to everybody. Unlike cotton, grain, under our present conditions, is a commodity which everybody will take and without which it is impossible to exist. The kulak takes this into account and holds back his grain, infecting the grain holders in general by his example. The kulak knows that grain is the currency of currencies (Works, vol 12, p. 93).

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Definitions of communism

The first task that confronts us here is to clean up Moscow, to put an end to the filth and state of neglect into which it has sunk.

Only when we have solved the problem of grain shall we have a socialist foundation.

Either the lice will defeat socialism, or socialism will defeat the lice!

Coal is the bread of socialist industry.

Electrification based on the Soviet system will mean the complete success of the foundations of communism in our country.

The age of steam is the age of the bourgeoisie, the age of electricity is the age of socialism.

Lenin, Collected Works, vol. 30, pp. 184, 224, 334, 368, 414.

Who said Lenin didn’t have a sense of humour?

The lice that almost defeated socialism

Volume 30 of Lenin’s Collected Works: what a read it has been so far! At one level, it is an extraordinary narrative that draws you in, giving you the proverbial never-ending book. At another level, it has blown away many caricatures and preconceptions concerning Lenin. One would have to be the sectarian Lenin, brooking no rival and eliminating them at the slightest provocation. Not at all, Lenin struggles between what I call ecumenism and sectarianism, voicing now one, now the other position – so I will need to call on a complex dialectic to deal with it all.

However, the best find of late is the lice. Lice!? Not on me, mind you.

Let me set the scene. It is late 1919, two years after the revolution. The place has faced six years of perpetual war, first in WWI and then in the ‘civil’ war. Of course it wasn’t ‘civil’ at all: the British, French, Americans, Canadians, Japanese et al thought they could topple the fledgling and weakened communist republic. They failed, so they sent arms, money, supplies and troops to old guard generals in the north, south, east and west – Kolchak, Yudenich, Denikin, Churchill et al (Churchill predicted he would have Moscow by Christmas of 1918). The lesson: any socialist state that wants to delink from the global capitalist system will be attacked, brutally and consistently, dubbed ‘terrorist’, a threat to civilisation, un-democratic, dictatorial and so on and on. It will also need to make sure it is well protected – the necessary evil of what is called ‘war communism’.

But defeat the lot of them the Soviets did, especially with the genius of Trotsky. So by the end of the 1919, they can finally turn to reconstruction. Three key issues have been dogging them: food, since the blockade had attempted to starve the Russians; fuel, since the same enemies had grabbed the coalfields and tried to freeze them to death. Pecisely on these issues does the question of the transition from old to new turn: how do you construct a completely different system of production, distribution and consumption in the midst of the old system.

But what about the lice? They are the third key issue for the tension between old and new. Here is Lenin at the seventh congress of Soviets in December 1919:

Comrades, we must concentrate everything on this problem. Either the lice will defeat socialism, or socialism will defeat the lice! (Collected Works, Vol. 30, p. 228)

Why lice? Easy: they spread typhus. Typhus was sweeping through a hungry, cold but  increasingly victorious Red Army and population. The outcome is now history, albeit less known than it should: socialism did defeat the lice, or at least those lice.

No wonder Lenin could proclaim, ‘it really is a miracle!’