First All-Russia Congress on Adult Education
|Written||6 May 1919|
First Published in the pamphlet: N. Lenin, Two Speeches at the First All-Russia Congress on Adult Education, Moscow, 1919; Published according to the pamphlet
Source: Lenin Collected Works, 4th English Edition, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1972, Volume 29, pages 333-376
May 6-19, 1919
1. Speech Of Greeting[edit source]
Comrades, it gives me pleasure to greet the Congress on adult education. You do not, of course, expect me to deliver a speech that goes deeply into this subject, like that delivered by the preceding speaker, Comrade Lunacharsky, who is well-informed on the matter and has made a special study of it. Permit me to confine myself to a few words of greeting and to the observations I have made and thoughts that have occurred to me in the Council of People’s Commissars when dealing more or less closely with your work. I am sure that there is not another sphere of Soviet activity in which such enormous progress has been made during the past eighteen months as in the sphere of adult education. Undoubtedly, it has been easier for us and for you to work in this sphere than in others. Here we had to cast aside the old obstacles and the old hindrances. Here it was much easier to do something to meet the tremendous demand for knowledge, for free education and free development, which was felt most among the masses of the workers and peasants; for while the mighty pressure of the masses made it easy for us to remove the external obstacles that stood in their path, to break up the historical bourgeois institutions which bound us to imperialist war and doomed Russia to bear the enormous burden that resulted from this war, we nevertheless felt acutely how heavy the task of re-educating the masses was, the task of organisation and instruction, spreading knowledge, combating that heritage of ignorance, primitiveness, barbarism and savagery that we took over. In this field the struggle had to be waged by entirely different methods; we could count only on the prolonged success and the persistent and systematic influence of the leading sections of the population, an influence which the masses willingly submit to, but often we are guilty of doing less than we could do. I think that in taking these first steps to spread adult education, education, free from the old limits and conventionalities, which the adult population welcomes so much, we had at first to contend with two obstacles. Both these obstacles we inherited from the old capitalist society, which is clinging to us to this day, is dragging us down by thousands and millions of threads, ropes and chains.
The first was the plethora of bourgeois intellectuals, who very often regarded the new type of workers’ and peasants’ educational institution as the most convenient field for testing their individual theories in philosophy and culture, and in which, very often, the most absurd ideas were hailed as something new, and the supernatural and incongruous were offered as purely proletarian art and proletarian culture. (Applause.) This was natural and, perhaps, pardonable in the early days, and the broad movement cannot be blamed for it. I hope that, in the long run, we shall try to get rid of all this and shall succeed.
The second was also inherited from capitalism. The broad masses of the petty-bourgeois working people who were thirsting for knowledge, broke down the old system, but could not propose anything of an organising or organised nature. I had opportunities to observe this in the Council of People’s Commissars when the mobilisation of literate persons and the Library Department were discussed, and from these brief observations I realised the seriousness of the situation in this field. True, it is not quite customary to refer to something bad in a speech of greeting. I hope that you are free from these conventionalities, and will not be offended with me for telling you of my somewhat sad observations. When we raised the question of mobilising literate persons, the most striking thing was the brilliant victory achieved by our revolution without immediately emerging from the limits of the bourgeois revolution. It gave freedom for development to the available forces, but these available forces were petty bourgeois and their watch- word was the old one—each for himself and God for all—the very same accursed capitalist slogan which can never lead to anything but Kolchak and bourgeois restoration. If we review what we are doing to educate the illiterate, I think we shall have to draw the conclusion that we have done very little, and that our duty in this field is to realise that the organisation of proletarian elements is essential. It is not the ridiculous phrases which remain on paper that matter, but the introduction of measures which the people need urgently and which would compel every literate person to regard it his duty to instruct several illiterate persons. This is what our decree says; but in this field hardly anything has been done.
When another question was dealt with in the Council of People’s Commissars, that of the libraries, I said that the complaints we are constantly hearing about our industrial backwardness being to blame, about our having few books and being unable to produce enough—these complaints, I told myself, are justified. We have no fuel, of course, our factories are idle, we have little paper and we cannot produce books. All this is true, but it is also true that we cannot get at the books that are available. Here we continue to suffer from peasant simplicity and peasant helplessness; when the peasant ransacks the squire’s library he runs home in the fear that somebody will take the books away from him, because he cannot conceive of just distribution, of state property that is not something hateful, but is the common property of the workers and of the working people generally. The ignorant masses of peasants are not to blame for this, and as far as the development of the revolution is concerned it is quite legitimate, it is an inevitable stage, and when the peasant took the library and kept it hidden, he could not do otherwise, for he did not know that all the libraries in Russia could be amalgamated and that there would be enough books to satisfy those who can read and to teach those who cannot. At present we must combat the survivals of disorganisation, chaos, and ridiculous departmental wrangling. This must be our main task. We must take up the simple and urgent matter of mobilising the literate to combat illiteracy. We must utilise the books that are available and set to work to organise a network of libraries which will help the people to gain access to every available book; there must be no parallel organisations, but a single, uniform planned organisation. This small matter reflects one of the fundamental tasks of our revolution. If it fails to carry out this task, if it fails to set about creating a really systematic and uniform organisation in place of our Russian chaos and inefficiency, then this revolution will remain a bourgeois revolution because the major specific feature of the proletarian revolution which is marching towards communism is this organisation—for all the bourgeoisie wanted was to break up the old system and allow freedom for the development of peasant farming, which revived the same capitalism as in all earlier revolutions.
Since we call ourselves the Communist Party, we must understand that only now that we have removed the external obstacles and have broken down the old institutions have we come face to face with the primary task of a genuine proletarian revolution in all its magnitude, namely, that of organising tens and hundreds of millions of people. After the eighteen months’ experience that we all have acquired in this field, we must at last take the right road that will lead to victory over the lack of culture, and over the ignorance and barbarism from which we have suffered all this time. (Stormy applause.)
2. Deception Of The People With Slogans Of Freedom And Equality[edit source]
Comrades, instead of an appraisal of the current situation, which I think some of you expect today, permit me to answer the most important political questions—not only theoretical, of course, but also practical—which now loom before us, characterise the entire stage of the Soviet revolution and give rise to most controversy; they give rise to most of attacks by people who think they are socialists, and they cause most confusion in the minds of people who think they are democrats and who are particularly fond of accusing us of violating democracy. It seems to me that these general political questions are too often, even constantly, to be found in all present-day propaganda and agitation, and in all anti-Bolshevik literature—when, of course, this literature rises slightly above the level of the downright lying, slander and vituperation of all organs of the bourgeois press. If we take the literature of a slightly higher level I think we shall find that the fundamental questions are the relations between democracy and dictatorship, the tasks of the revolutionary class in a revolutionary period, the tasks of the transition to socialism in general, and the relations between the working class and the peasantry; I think that these questions serve as the main basis for all present-day political controversies, and although it may sometimes seem to you that it is something of a digression from the immediate topics af the day, the explanation of these issues should be our chief duty. I can not, of course, undertake to cover all these questions in a short lecture. I have chosen some, which I should like to talk to you about.
The first point I have chosen is that of the difficulties of every revolution, of every transition to a new system. If you examine the attacks that are made against the Bolsheviks by people who think that they are socialists and democrats—and as examples of such I can quote the groups of writers in Vsegda Vperyod! and Dyelo Naroda, newspapers which in my opinion have quite rightly been suppressed in the interests of the revolution, and the representatives of which most often resort to theoretical criticism in attacks of the type natural for organs which our authorities regard as counter-revolutionary—if you examine the attacks on Bolshevism made by this camp, you will find that a constant accusation is the following: “The Bolsheviks promised you, the working people, bread, peace and freedom; but they have not given you bread, or peace, or freedom, they have deceived you, and they have deceived you by abandoning democracy.” I shall deal with the departure from democracy separately. At present I will take the other side of this accusation—“The Bolsheviks promised bread, peace and freedom, but the Bolsheviks gave you a continuation of the war, an exceptionally fierce and stubborn struggle, a war of all the imperialists, of the capitalists of all the Entente countries—which means of the most civilised and advanced countries—against tormented, tortured, backward and weary Russia.” And these accusations, I repeat, you will find in both the newspapers I have mentioned; you will hear them made in conversation with every bourgeois intellectual who, of course, thinks that he is not bourgeois; you will constantly hear them in conversation with every philistine. And so I ask you to give some thought to this sort of accusation.
Yes, the Bolsheviks did set out to make a revolution against the bourgeoisie, to overthrow the bourgeois government violently, to break away from all the traditional customs, promises and commandments of bourgeois democracy; they did set out to wage a most desperate and violent struggle and war to crush the propertied classes; they did this to extricate Russia, and then the whole of mankind, from the imperialist slaughter and to put an end to all war. Yes, the Bolsheviks did set out to make a revolution in order to achieve all this, and, of course, they have never thought of abandoning this fundamental and main object. Nor is there any doubt that the attempts to emerge from this imperialist slaughter, to smash the rule of the bourgeoisie, prompted all the civilised countries to attack Russia; for such is the political programme of France, Britain and America, no matter how much they insist that they have abandoned the idea of intervention. No matter how much the Lloyd Georges, Wilsons and Clemenceaus may assure us that they have abandoned the idea of intervention, we know that they are lying. We know that the Allied warships which left, and were compelled to leave, Odessa and Sevastopol, are now blockading the Black Sea coast, and are even giving artillery cover to that part of the Crimean Peninsula, near Kerch, where the volunteers are concentrated. They say: “We cannot surrender this to you. Even if the volunteers fail to cope with you, we cannot surrender this part of the Crimean Peninsula, because, if we did, you would be masters of the Azov Sea, you will cut us off from Denikin and prevent us from sending supplies to our friends.” Or take the offensive now developing against Petrograd. Yesterday one of our destroyers fought against four enemy destroyers. Is it not clear that this is intervention? Is not the British navy taking part in it? Is not the same thing happening in Archangel and Siberia? The fact is that the whole civilised world is now fighting against Russia.
The question is, did we contradict ourselves when we called upon the working people to make a revolution, promising them peace, and brought things to the pitch that the whole civilised world is now attacking weak, weary, backward and ruined Russia? Or are those who have the presumption to hurl such a reproach at us acting in contradiction to the elementary concepts of democracy and socialism? That is the question. To present this question in its theoretical, general form, I shall draw an analogy. We talk about the revolutionary class, the revolutionary policy of the people, but I suggest you take an individual revolutionary. Take, for example, Chernyshevsky, and appraise his activities. What would be the appraisal of an absolutely ignorant man? Probably he would say: “Well, the man wrecked his own life, found himself in Siberia, and achieved nothing.” This is a sample. If we were to hear an argument like this from some unknown person we would say: “At best it comes from a man who is hopelessly ignorant and who is, perhaps, not to blame for being so ignorant that he cannot understand the importance of the activities of an individual revolutionary in the general chain of revolutionary events; or else it comes from a scoundrel, a supporter of reaction, who is deliberately trying to frighten the working people away from the revolution.” I took the example of Chernyshevsky because, no matter which trend the people who call themselves socialists may belong to, there cannot be any serious disagreement in their appraisal of this individual revolutionary. Everybody will agree that if an individual revolutionary is appraised from the point of view of the outwardly useless and often fruitless sacrifices he has made and the nature of his activities and their connection with the activities of preceding and succeeding revolutionaries is ignored—if the importance of his activities is appraised from this point of view, it is due either to complete ignorance, or to a vicious and hypocritical defence of the interests of reaction, oppression, exploitation and class tyranny. On this point there can be no disagreement.
Now I ask you to carry your thoughts from the individual revolutionary to the revolution of a whole nation, of a whole country. Has any Bolshevik ever denied that the revolution can be finally victorious only when it embraces all, or at all events, some of the most important advanced countries? We have always said that. Did we ever say that it was possible to emerge from the imperiarist war simply by the men sticking their bayonets into the ground? I deliberately use this expression which, in the Kerensky period, I personally, and all our comrades, constantly used in resolutions, speeches and newspaper articles. We said: The war cannot be brought to a close by the men sticking their bayonets into the ground. If there are Tolstoyans who think otherwise, they must be pitied as people who have taken leave of their senses, and you can expect nothing better from them.
We said that emergence from this war may involve us in a revolutionary war. We said this from 1915 onwards, and then later, in the Kerensky period. Of course, revolutionary war is also war, just as arduous, sanguinary and painful. And when the revolution develops on a world scale it inevitably arouses resistance on the same world scale. The situation now being such that all the civilised countries in the world are fighting against Russia, we must not be surprised that extremely ignorant peasants are accusing us of failing to keep our promises. Nothing else is to be expected from them. In view of their absolute ignorance, we cannot blame them. Indeed, how can you expect a very ignorant peasant to understand that there are different kinds of wars, that there are just and unjust wars, progressive and reactionary wars, wars waged by advanced classes and wars waged by backward classes, wars waged for the purpose of perpetuating class oppression and wars waged for the purpose of eliminating oppression? To understand this one must be familiar with the class struggle, with the principles of socialism, and at least a little bit familiar with the history of revolution. You cannot expect this from an ignorant peasant.
But when a man who calls himself a democrat, or a socialist, gets up on a platform to make a public statement— irrespective of what he calls himself, Menshevik, Social-Democrat, Socialist-Revolutionary, true socialist, adherent of the Berne International, there are lots of titles of this sort, titles are cheap—when such an individual gets up and charges us with having promised peace and called forth war, what answer should be made to him? Are we to assume that he is as ignorant as the ignorant peasant who cannot distinguish one kind of war from another? Are we to assume that he does not see the difference between the imperialist war, which was a predatory war, and which has now been utterly exposed as such—since the Treaty of Versailles only those who are totally incapable of reasoning and thinking, or who are totally blind, can fail to see that it was a predatory war on both sides—are we to assume that there is even one literate person who fails to see the difference between that predatory war and the war we are waging and which is assuming world-wide dimensions, because the world bourgeoisie have realised that they must fight their last decisive battle? We cannot assume any of this. And that is why we say that anybody who claims to be a democrat, or a socialist, of whatever shade, is a supporter of the bourgeoisie if he in one way or another, directly or indirectly, spreads among the people the accusation that the Bolsheviks are dragging out the Civil War, which is an arduous and painful war, whereas they promised peace; and this is how we shall answer him, and we shall take our stand against him just as we do against Kolchak. Such is our answer. Such is the entire issue.
The gentlemen of Dyelo Naroda express astonishment and say: “But we are opposed to Kolchak; what terrible injustice to persecute us!”
It is a great pity, gentlemen, that you refuse to be logical and do not wish to understand the simple ABC of politics from which certain definite deductions must be made. You say that you are opposed to Kolchak. I take up the newspapers Vsegda Vperyod! and Dyelo Naroda and read the philistine arguments of this type, these moods that are so numerous and that prevail among the intelligentsia. I say that every one of you who spreads such accusations among the people is supporting Kolchak, because he does not understand the elementary, fundamental difference, which every literate person sees, between the imperialist war which we smashed, and the Civil War in which we have become involved. We never concealed from the people the fact that we were taking this risk. We are straining every nerve to defeat the bourgeoisie in this Civil War and to prevent all possibility of class oppression. There has never been, nor can there ever be, a revolution that was guaranteed against a long and arduous struggle, and perhaps filled with the most desperate sacrifices. Those who are unable to distinguish between the sacrifices made in the course of a revolutionary struggle for the sake of its victory, when all the propertied, all the counter-revolutionary classes are fighting against the revolution, those who cannot distinguish between these sacrifices and the sacrifices involved in a predatory war waged by the exploiters, are either abysmally ignorant—and such people ought to be made to learn their ABC, before giving them adult education they ought to be given the most elementary.education—or they are out-and-out Kolchak-supporting hypocrites, whatever they may call themselves, or under whichever title they may try to disguise themselves. And these accusations against the Bolsheviks are the most common and widespread. They are really linked up with the broad masses of the working people, because the ignorant peasants find it difficult to understand; they suffer from all war, no matter what the war is about. I am not surprised when I hear an ignorant peasant say: “We had to fight for the tsar, we fought for the Mensheviks, and now we have to fight for the Bolsheviks.” This does not surprise me. Indeed, war is war, and entails endless heavy sacrifices. “The tsar said that it was a war for freedom and liberation from a yoke; the Mensheviks said that it was a war for freedom and liberation from a yoke. And now the Bolsheviks say the same thing. They all say the same thing; how can we sort this all out?”
Indeed, how can an ignorant peasant sort it all out? Such a man still has to learn elementary politics. But what can we say about a man who uses such words as “revolution”, “democracy”, and “socialism”, and claims that these words should be used with understanding. He cannot juggle with such words unless he wants to be a political faker, for the difference between a war between two groups of robbers and a war waged by an oppressed class which has risen in revolt against all robbery is an elementary, radical and fundamental difference. The issue is not one of a certain party, class or government justifying war—the real point at issue is the nature of the war, its class content, which class is waging it, and what policy is embodied in it.
I shall now leave the question of appraising the arduous and difficult period we are now passing through, and which is inevitably connected with the revolution, for another political issue, which also comes up in all debates, and also gives rise to confusion. This is the question of a bloc with the imperialists, of an alliance, an agreement with the imperialists.
Probably you have read in the newspapers the names of the Socialist-Revolutionaries Volsky and, I believe, Svyatitsky, who recently wrote in Izvestia, and issued their manifesto. They regard themselves as Socialist-Revolutionaries who cannot possibly be accused of having supported Kolchak. They left Kolchak, they suffered at the hands of Kolchak, and on coming over to us they rendered us a service against Kolchak. That is true. But examine the arguments these citizens advance. See how they appraise the question of a bloc with the imperialists, of an alliance, or agreement, with the imperialists. I had occasion to read their arguments when the authorities combating counter-revolution confiscated their writings, and when I had to examine their papers to be able to judge correctly the extent of their association with Kolchak. These are undoubtedly the best of the Socialist-Revolutionaries. In their writings I found the following argument, “What do you mean? You want us to repent; you are waiting for us to repent. Never! We have nothing to repent of! You accuse us of having entered into a bloc, an agreement with the Entente, with the imperialists. But did you Bolsheviks not enter into an agreement with the German imperialists? What is the Brest peace? Is not the Brest peace an agreement with imperialism? You entered into an agreement with German imperialism at Brest; we entered into an agreement with French imperialism; we are quits, we have nothing to repent of!”
This argument, which I found in the writings of the persons I have mentioned and of their colleagues, is one that I also find when I call to mind the newspapers I mentioned and when I try to sum up my impressions of philistine conversations. We constantly hear arguments of this kind, it is one of the chief political arguments we have to deal with. I therefore ask you to examine and analyse this argument, and to study it theoretically. What does it amount to? Are those right who say: “We democrats and socialists were in a bloc with the Entente; you were in a bloc with Wilhelm, you concluded the Brest peace. We have no grounds for mutual reproach. We are quits”? Or are we right when we say that those who not merely in words but in deeds are in agreement with the Entente against the Bolshevik revolution are supporters of Kolchak? Although they may deny it a thousand times, although they have personally deserted Kolchak and have proclaimed to the whole people that they are opposed to him, their very roots, the whole nature and significance of their arguments and their deeds make them Kolchak supporters. Who is right? This is the fundamental question of the revolution; and some thought must be given to this.
To explain this point, permit me to draw another analogy, this time, however, not with an individual revolutionary, but with an individual man in the street. Let us suppose that you were riding in an automobile and suddenly your car is surrounded by bandits who point a revolver at your head. Let us suppose that after this you surrender your money and weapons to the bandits, and even let them take the car and ride off. Well? You have given the bandits weapons and money. That is a fact. Now let us suppose that another citizen gave these bandits weapons and money so as to take part in their attacks on peaceful citizens.
In both cases an agreement is reached, whether written or verbal makes no difference. We can picture to ourselves a man giving up his revolver, his weapons and his money, without uttering a word. The nature of the agreement is clear: “I give you my revolver, my weapons and money, and you give me the opportunity to rid myself of your pleasant company.” (Laughter.) The agreement is a fact. It is also possible for a tacit agreement to be concluded by the man who gives the bandits weapons and money to enable them to rob other people and afterwards give him part of the loot. This, too, is a tacit agreement.
Now I ask you, could any literate person fail to distinguish between these two agreements? You will say that if a man is unable to distinguish between these two agreements and says, “You gave the bandits money and weapons and so don’t accuse other people of banditism; what right have you to accuse other people of banditism?”—such a man must be a cretin. If you were to meet such a literate person you would have to admit, or at least 999 out of 1,000 would admit, that he had taken leave of his senses, and that it is useless to discuss political, or even criminal, subjects with such a man.
I now ask you to carry your thoughts from this example to the comparison between the Brest peace and the agreement with the Entente. What was the Brest peace? Was it not an act of violence on the part of bandits who had at tacked us when we were honestly proposing peace and were calling upon all nations to overthrow their own bourgeoisie? It would have been ridiculous had we started by trying to overthrow the German bourgeoisie! We denounced this treaty before the whole world as a most predatory, plundering treaty, we condemned it and at first even refused to sign it, as we counted on the assistance of the German workers. But when the robbers put a revolver to our heads we said, take the weapons and the money, we will settle accounts with you later on by other means. We know that German imperialism has another enemy, whom blind people have not noticed, namely, the German workers. Can this agreement with imperialism be put on a par with the agreement entered into by democrats, socialists and Socialist-Revolutionaries—don’t laugh, the more radical the title the more resonant it sounds—with the agreement they entered into with the Entente to fight against the workers of their own country? But that is what they did, and are doing to this day. The most influential Mensheviks and Socialist-Revolutionaries, those with European reputations, are living abroad even today, and they are in alliance with the Entente. I do not know whether this is a written agreement; probably not, clever people do such things on the quiet. But it is obvious that such an agreement exists, since they are being made such a fuss of, are given passports, and wireless messages are being sent all over the world stating that Axelrod delivered a speech today, that Savinkov, or Avksentyev, will deliver a speech tomorrow, and that Breshkovskaya will speak the day after tomorrow. Is this not an agreement, even if a tacit one? But is it the same kind of agreement with the imperialists as we concluded? Outwardly it resembles ours as much as the act of a man who gives weapons and money to bandits resembles any act of this nature, irrespective of its object and character, at all events, irrespective of the object for which I give the bandits money and weapons: whether it is to get rid of them when they attack me and I find myself in a position where if I do not give them my revolver they will kill me; or I give the bandits money and weapons for the purpose of robbery, of which I am aware, and in the proceeds of which I am to share.
“I, of course, call this liberating Russia from the dictatorship of tyrants. I, of course, am a democrat, because I support the famous Siberian or Archangel democracy, and am fighting, of course, for a Constituent Assembly. Don’t dare to suspect that I am pursuing some evil object. And even if I am rendering assistance to those bandits, the British, French and American imperialists, I am doing so only in the interests of democracy, of the Constituent Assembly, of government by the people, of the unity of the working classes of the population, and in order to overthrow those tyrants and usurpers, the Bolsheviks!”
Noble aims, no doubt. But has not everybody who engages in politics heard that politics are not judged by bare statements but by real class content? Which class do you serve? If you are in agreement with the imperialists, are you participating in imperialist banditism or not?
In my “Letter to American Workers”, I spoke, among other things, about the American revolutionary people fighting to liberate themselves from England in the eighteenth century, when they were waging one of the first and greatest wars for real liberation in human history, one of the few really revolutionary wars in human history—and this great revolutionary American people, in fighting for their liberation, entered into agreements with the bandits of Spanish and French imperialism, who at that time had colonies in neighbouring parts of America. In alliance with these bandits, the American people fought the English and liberated themselves from them. Have you ever met any literate person anywhere in the world, have you seen any socialists, Socialist-Revolutionaries, representatives of democracy, or whatever it is they call themselves—even the Mensheviks—have you ever heard that any of these have the temerity publicly to blame the American people for this, to say that they violated the principle of democracy, freedom, and so forth? Such a crank has not yet been born. But today, we get people here who call themselves by these titles, and even claim a right to belong to the same International that we belong to, and say that it is merely a piece of Bolshevik mischievousness—and everybody knows that the Bolsheviks are mischievous—to organise their own International and refuse to join the good, old, common to all, united, Berne International!
And there are people who say: “We have nothing to repent of. You entered into an agreement with Wilhelm, we entered into an agreement with the Entente, we are quits!”
I say that if these people have even an elementary knowledge of politics they are Kolchak supporters, no matter how much they personally may have denied this, no matter how much they personally are sick and tired of Kolchak, no matter how much they have suffered at his hands and in spite of their having come over to our side. They are Kolchak supporters because it is impossible to imagine that they do not see the difference between an agreement one is compelled to make in the course of the struggle against the exploiters—and which the exploited classes have been compelled to make over and over again throughout the history of the revolution—and the conduct of our most influential alleged democrats, representatives of our”socialist” intelligentsia, some of whom yesterday and some today entered into agreements with the bandits and robbers of international imperialism against a section—as they say—a section of the working classes of their own country. These are Kolchak people, and the only relations possible with them are those between conscious revolutionaries and Kolchak supporters.
I now come to the next question, that of our attitude towards democracy in general.
I have already said that the democrats and socialists plead democracy as the most common justification, the most common defence of the political stand taken against us. The most emphatic supporter of this point of view in European literature is, as you, of course, know, Kautsky, the ideological leader of the Second International, and to this day a member of the Berne International. “The Bolsheviks have chosen a method which violates democracy; the Bolsheviks have chosen the method of dictatorship. Hence, their cause is unjust,” he says. This argument has been repeated a thousand and a million times, it occurs constantly in all periodicals, including the newspapers I have mentioned. It is being constantly repeated by all intellectuals, and sometimes the ordinary man in the street sub-consciously repeats it in his arguments. “Democracy means freedom, it means equality, it means settling questions by a majority. What can be higher than freedom, equality, and majority decisions? Since you Bolsheviks have departed from this, and even have the presumption to say publicly that you stand above freedom, equality and majority decisions, you must not be surprised, nor must you complain, when we call you usurpers and tyrants!”
We are not in the least surprised at this, for what we desire most of all is clarity; and the only thing we rely on is that the advanced section of the working people should really be conscious of its position. Yes, we said, and say it all the time in our programme, in the programme of our Party, that we shall not allow ourselves to be deceived by such high-sounding slogans as freedom, equality and the will of the majority, and that we shall treat as aiders and abettors of Kolchak those who call themselves democrats, adherents of pure democracy, adherents of consistent democracy and who, directly or indirectly, oppose it to the dictatorship of the proletariat.
Get this clear—you must get it clear. Are the pure democrats guilty of merely preaching pure democracy, defending it from the usurpers, or are they guilty of being on the side of the propertied classes, on the side of Kolchak?
We shall begin our examination with the question of freedom. Needless to say, for every revolution, socialist or democratic, freedom is a very, very important slogan. But our programme says that if freedom runs counter to the emancipation of labour from the yoke of capital, it is a deception. And every one of you who has read Marx—and, I think, even every one who has read at least one popular exposition of Marx’s theories—knows that Marx devoted the greater part of his life, the greater part of his literary work, and the greater part of his scientific studies to ridiculing freedom, equality, the will of the majority, and all the Benthams who wrote so beautifully about these things, and to proving that these phrases were merely a screen to cover up the freedom of the commodity owners, the freedom of capital, which these owners use to oppress the masses of the working people.
At the present time, when things have reached the stage of overthrowing the rule of capital all over the world, or at all events in one country; in this historical epoch, when the struggle of the oppressed working people for the complete overthrow of capital and the abolition of commodity production stands in the forefront, we say that all those who in such a political situation talk about “freedom in general”, who in the name of this freedom oppose the dictatorship of the proletariat are doing nothing more nor less than aiding and abetting the exploiters, for unless freedom promotes the emancipation of labour from the yoke of capital, it is a deception, as we openly say in our Party programme. Perhaps this is superfluous from the point of view of the outward structure of the programme, but it is most fundamental from the point of view of our propaganda and agitation, from the point of view of the principle of the proletarian struggle and proletarian power. We know perfectly well that we have to contend against world capital; we know perfectly well that at one time it was the task of world capital to create freedom, that it overthrew feudal slavery, that it created bourgeois freedom. We know perfectly well that this was epoch-making progress. And yet we say that we are opposing capitalism in general, republican capitalism, democratic capitalism, free capitalism; and, of course, we know that it will raise tho standard of liberty against us. But to this we have our answer, and we deemed it necessary to give this answer in our programme—all freedom is deception if it runs counter to the emancipation of labour from the yoke of capital.
But, perhaps, this is not the case? Perhaps there is no contradiction between freedom and the emancipation of labour from the yoke of capital? Take the West-European countries that you have visited, or at least have read about. Every book you read describes their system as the freest system. And now, these civilised countries of Western Europe—France and Britain—and America have raised this standard, are marching against the Bolsheviks “in the name of freedom”. Only the other day—we now get French newspapers but rarely because we are completely surrounded, but we do get wireless information, because, after all, they cannot blockade the air, and we intercept foreign wireless messages—the other day I had the opportunity of reading a wireless message that was sent out by the predatory government of France to the effect that in fighting the Bolsheviks and supporting their opponents, France was remaining true to her “lofty ideals of freedom”. We hear this sort of thing at every step, it is the general tone of their polemics against us.
But what do they mean by freedom? By freedom these civilised Frenchmen, Englishmen and Americans mean, say, freedom of assembly. The constitution should contain the clause: “Freedom of assembly for all citizens.” “This,” they say, “is the substance, this is the principal manifestation of freedom. But you Bolsheviks have violated freedom of assembly.”
To this we answer indeed, the freedom that you British, French and American gentlemen preach is a deception if it runs counter to the emancipation of labour from the yoke of capital. You have forgotten a detail, you civilised gentlemen. You have forgotten that your freedom is inscribed in a constitution which sanctions private property. That is the whole point.
In your constitution you have freedom side by side with private property. The fact that you recognise freedom of assembly, of course, marks vast progress compared with the feudal system, with medievalism, with serfdom. All socialists admitted this when they took advantage of the freedom of bourgeois society to teach the proletariat how to throw off the yoke of capitalism.
But your freedom is only freedom on paper, but not in fact. By that I mean that the large halls that are to be found in big cities—like this hall, for example—belong to the capitalists and landowners, and are sometimes called “Assembly Rooms for the Gentry”. You may freely assemble in these halls, citizens of the Russian Democratic Republic, but remember that they are private property and, pardon me for saying so, you must respect private property, otherwise you will be Bolsheviks, criminals, murderers robbers and mischief-makers. But we say: “We shall change all this. We shall first convert these Assembly Rooms into premises for workers’ organisations and then begin to talk about freedom of assembly.” You accuse us of violating freedom. But we say that all freedom is deception if it is not subordinated to the task of emancipating labour from the yoke of capital. The freedom of assembly inscribed in the constitutions of all bourgeois republics is a deception because in order to assemble in a civilised country, which after all has not abolished winter, has not changed its climate, it is necessary to have premises in which to assemble, and the best of these premises are private property. First, we shall confiscate the best premises and then begin to talk about freedom.
We say that to grant freedom of assembly to the capitalists would be a heinous crime against the working people; it would mean freedom of assembly for counter-revolutionaries. We say to the bourgeois intellectual gentlemen, to the gentlemen who advocate democracy—you lie when you throw in our face the accusation of violating freedom. When your great bourgeois revolutionaries made a revolution in England in 1649, and in France in 1792-93, they did not grant freedom of assembly to the royalists. The French revolution is called great because it did not suffer from the flabbiness, half-heartedness and phrase mongering which distinguished many of the revolutions of 1848, but was an effective revolution which, after overthrowing the royalists, completely crushed them. And we shall do the same thing with the capitalist gentlemen; for we know that in order to emancipate the working people from the yoke of capital we must deprive the capitalists of freedom of assembly; their “freedom” must be abolished, or curtailed. This will help to emancipate labour from the yoke of capital; it will help the cause of that true freedom under which there will be no buildings inhabited by single families, and which belong to private individuals, such as landowners, capitalists, or to joint-stock companies. When that time comes, when people have forgotten that it was possible for public buildings to be somebody’s property, we shall be in favour of complete “freedom”. When the world is inhabited only by those who work, and when people have forgotten that it was possible for idlers to have been members of society—this will not be very soon, and the bourgeois and bourgeois intellectual gentlemen are to blame for the delay—we shall then be in favour of freedom of assembly for all. At the present time, however, freedom of assembly would mean freedom of assembly for the capitalists, for counter-revolutionaries. We are fighting against them, we are resisting them, and we say that we deprive them of this freedom.
We are marching into battle—this is the meaning of the dictatorship of the proletariat. Gone is the time of naïve, utopian, fantastic, mechanical and intellectual socialism, when people imagined that it was sufficient to convince the majority, that it was sufficient to paint a beautiful picture of socialist society to persuade the majority to adopt socialism. Gone, too, is the time when it was possible to entertain oneself and others with these children’s fairy-tales. Marxism, which recognises the necessity for the class struggle, asserts that mankind can reach the goal of socialism only through the dictatorship of the proletariat. The word dictatorship is a cruel, stern, bloody and painful one; it is not a word to play with. Socialists advance this slogan because they know that the exploiters will surrender only after a desperate and relentless struggle, and that they will try to cover up their own rule by means of all sorts of high-sounding words.
Freedom of assembly—what can be loftier, what can be finer than this term? Is the development of the working people and of their mentality conceivable without freedom of assembly? Are the principles of humanity conceivable without freedom of assembly? But we say that the freedom of assembly inscribed in the constitution of Great Britain and the United States of America is a deception because it ties the hands of the masses of the working people during the whole period of their transition to socialism; it is a deception because we know perfectly well that the bourgeoisie will do all in their power to overthrow this new government, which is so unusual, and which seems so “monstrous” at first. Those who have thought about the class struggle and have anything like a clear and definite idea of the relations between the workers in revolt and the bourgeoisie, who have been overthrown in one country, but have not yet been overthrown in all countries, and who, because they have not been overthrown everywhere, are rushing into the struggle with greater ferocity than ever, will agree that it cannot be otherwise.
It is precisely after the bourgeoisie is overthrown that the class struggle assumes its acutest forms. And we have no use for those democrats and socialists who deceive themselves and deceive others by saying: “The bourgeoisie have been overthrown, the struggle is all over.” The struggle is not over, it has only just started, because, to this day, the bourgeoisie have not reconciled themselves to the idea that they have been overthrown. On the eve of the October Revolution they were very nice and polite, and Miiyukov, Chernov and the Novaya Zhizn people said jestingly: “Now, please, Bolshevik gentlemen, form a Cabinet, take power yourselves for a few weeks, that would be a great help to us!” This is exactly what Chernov wrote on behalf of the Socialist-Revolutionaries, what Milyukov wrote in Rech, and what the semi-Menshevik Novaya Zhizn wrote. They spoke in jest because they did not take matters seriously. But now they see that matters are serious, and the British, French and Swiss bourgeoisie, who thought that their “democratic republics” were armour which protected them, see and realise that matters have become serious, and now they are all arming. If only you could see what is going on in free Switzerland, how, literally, every bourgeois is arming, how they are forming a White Guard, because they know that it is now a matter of preserving the privileges which enable them to keep millions of people in a state of wage-slavery. The struggle has now assumed world-wide dimensions, and therefore, anybody who opposes us with such catchwords as “democracy”, and “freedom”, takes the side of the propertied classes, deceives the people, for he fails to understand that up to now freedom and democracy have meant freedom and democracy for the propertied classes and only crumbs from their table for the propertyless.
What is freedom of assembly when the working people are crushed by slavery to capital and by toil for the benefit of capital? It is a deception; and in order to achieve freedom for the working people it is first of all necessary to overcome the resistance of the exploiters, and since I am faced with the resistance of a whole class, it is obvious that I cannot promise this class either freedom, equality, or majority decisions.
I shall now pass from freedom to equality. This is a much more profound subject. This brings us to a still more serious, a more painful question, one that gives rise to considerable dlsagreement.
The revolution in its course sweeps away one exploiting class after another. First, it swept away the monarchy, and by equality implied an elected government, a republic. Proceeding further it swept away the landowners; and you know that the keynote of the entire struggle against the medieval system, against feudalism, was the slogan “equality”. All are equal irrespective of social-estate; all are equal, millionaires and paupers alike. This is what the great revolutionaries of the period that has gone into history as the period of the great French Revolution said, thought and sincerely believed. The slogan of the revolution against the landowners was equality, and by equality was meant that the millionaires and the workers should have equal rights. The revolution developed. It said that “equality”—we did not specify this in our programme, for one cannot go on repeating the same thing endlessly; it is as clear as what we said about freedom—that equality is a deception if it runs counter to the emancipation of labour from the yoke of capital. That is what we say, and it is absolutely true. We say that a democratic republic with present-day equality is a fraud, a deception; here there is no equality, nor can there be. It is prevented by the private ownership of the means of production and money, capital. It is possible, at one stroke, to confiscate privately owned mansions and fine buildings, it is possible in a relatively short period to confiscate capital and the means of production. But try to abolish the private ownership of money.
Money is congealed social wealth, congealed social labour. Money is a token which enables its owner to take tribute from all the working people. Money is a survival of yesterday’s exploitation. That is what money is. Can it be abolished at one stroke? No. Even before the socialist revolution the socialists wrote that it is impossible to abolish money at one stroke, and our experience corroborates this. There must be very considerable technical and, what is much more difficult and much more important, organisational achievement before we can abolish money; and until then we must put up with equality in words, in the constitution; we must put up with a situation in which everybody who possesses money practically has the right to exploit. We could not abolish money at one stroke. We say that for the time being money will remain and remain for a fairly long time in the transition period from the old capitalist system to the new socialist system. Equality is a deception if it runs counter to the emancipation of labour from the yoke of capital.
Engels was a thousand times right when he said that the concept of equality is a most absurd and stupid prejudice if it does not imply the abolition of classes. Bourgeois professors attempted to use the concept equality as grounds for accusing us of wanting all men to be alike. They themselves invented this absurdity and wanted to ascribe it to the socialists. But in their ignorance they did not know that the socialists—and precisely the founders of modern scientific socialism, Marx and Engels—had said: equality is an empty phrase if it does not imply the abolition of classes. We want to abolish classes, and in this sense we are for equality. But the claim that we want all men to be alike is just nonsense, the silly invention of an intellectual who sometimes conscientiously strikes a pose, juggles with words, but says nothing—I don’t care whether he calls himself a writer, a scholar, or anything else.
But we say that our goal is equality, and by that we mean the abolition of classes. Then the class distinction between workers and peasants should be abolished. That is exactly our object. A society in which the class distinction between workers and peasants still exists is neither a communist society nor a socialist society. True, if the word socialism is interpreted in a certain sense, it might be called a socialist society, but that would be mere sophistry, an argument about words. Socialism is the first stage of communism; but it is not worth while arguing about words. One thing is clear, and that is, that as long as the class distinction between workers and peasants exists, it is no use talking about equality, unless we want to bring grist to the mill of the bourgeoisie. The peasantry constitute a class of the patriarchal era, a class which has been reared by decades and centuries of slavery; and throughout all these decades the peasants existed as small proprietors, first, under the heel of other classes, and later, formally free and equal, but as property-owners and the owners of food products.
This brings us to the question which most of all rouses the ire of our enemies, which most of all creates doubt in the minds of inexperienced and thoughtless people, and which separates us most of all from those would-be democrats and socialists who are offended because we do not recognise them as such, but call them supporters of the capitalists, perhaps due to their ignorance, but supporters of the capitalists all the same.
Their social conditions, production, living and economic conditions make the peasant half worker and half huckster.
This is a fact. And you cannot get away from this fact until you have abolished money, until you have abolished exchange. And for this years and years of the stable rule by the proletariat is needed; for only the proletariat is capable of vanquishing the bourgeoisie. We are told: “You are violators of equality, you have violated eguality not only with the exploiters—’with this I am inclined to agree’, some Socialist-Revolutionary or Menshevik who does not know what he is talking about may say—but you have violated equality between the workers and the peasants, you have violated the equality of ’labour democracy’, you are criminals!” In answer to this we say: “Yes, we have violated equality between the workers and peasants, and we assert that you who stand for this equality are supporters of Kolchak.” Recently I read a splendid article by Comrade Germanov, in Pravda, in which he deals with the theses drawn up by Citizen Sher, one of the most “socialistic” of the Menshevik Social-Democrats. These theses were submitted to one of our co-operative organisations, and they are of such a nature that they deserve to be engraved on a tablet and hung up in every volost executive committee with an inscription underneath stating: “This is Kolchak’s man.”
I know perfectly well that Citizen Sher and his friends will call me a slanderer for this, and perhaps something worse. Nevertheless, I invite those people who have learned the ABC of political economy and of politics to make a very careful study to see who is right and who is wrong. Citizen Sher says that the Soviet government’s food policy, and its econonlic policy in general, is all wrong; that it is necessary, gradually at first, and then to an increasing degree, to grant freedom to trade in food products, and to safeguard private property.
I say that this is Kolchak’s economic programme, his economic basis. I assert that anybody who has read Marx, especially the first chapter of Capital, anybody who has read at least Kautsky’s popular outline of Marx’s theories entitled The Economic Theories of Karl Marx, must come to the conclusion that in the midst of a proletarian revolution against the bourgeoisie, at a time when landowner and capitalist property is being abolished, when the country that has been ruined by four years of imperialist war is starving, freedom to trade in grain would mean freedom for the capitalists, freedom to restore the rule of capital. This is Kolchak’s economic programme, for Kolchak does not rest on air.
It is rather silly to denounce Kolchak only because of the atrocities he committed against the workers, or even because he flogged schoolmistresses for sympathising with the Bolsheviks. This is a vulgar defence of democracy, a silly accusation against Kolchak. Kolchak operates with the means he has at hand. But what is his economic basis? His basis is freedom of trade. This is what he stands for; and this is why all the capitalists support him. But you say: “I have left Kolchak, I do not support him.” This stands to your credit, of course; but it does not prove that you have a head on your shoulders and are able to think. This is the answer we give to these people, without casting any slur on the honour of the Socialist-Revolutionaries and the Mensheviks who deserted Kolchak when they realised that he is a tyrant. But if such people, in a country which is fighting a desperate struggle against Kolchak, continue to fight for the “equality of labour democracy”, for freedom to trade in grain, they are still supporting Kolchak, the only trouble being that they do not understand this and cannot reason logically.
Kolchak—it does not matter whether his name is Kolchak or Denikin, their uniforms may be different, but their natures are the same—is able to hold out because, having captured a region rich in grain, he grants freedom to trade in grain and permits the free restoration of capitalism. This was the case in all revolutions, and this will be the case in this country if we abandon the dictatorship of the proletariat for the sake of the “freedom” and “equality” of the democratic, Socialist-Revolutionary, Left Menshevik and other gentlemen, sometimes including the anarchists—the number of titles is infinite. In the Ukraine at the present time, every gang chooses a political title, each more free and democratic than the other, and there is a gang to every uyezd.
The “advocates of the interests of the working peasantry”, mainly the Socialist-Revolutionaries, propose equality between the workers and the peasants. Others, like Citizen Sher, have studied Marxism, but they still do not understand that there can be no equality between the workers and the peasants in the period of transition from capitalism to socialism, and that those who promise this should be regarded as advocating Kolchak’s programme, even if they do so unwittingly. I assert that anybody who gives some thought to the actual conditions prevailing in this completely ruined country will understand this.
The “socialists” who assert that in this country we are in the period of the bourgeois revolution, constantly accuse us of having introduced “consumers’” communism. Some of them say it is communism for soldiers, and imagine that they are superior to this, imagine that they have risen above this “base” form of communism. But these are simply people who juggle with words. They have seen books, studied hooks, repeat what is in books, but they understand nothing about what the books say. There are scholars, and even very learned scholars, like that. They have read in books that socialism represents the highest development of production. Kautsky does nothing else but repeat this sort of thing even now. The other day I read in a German newspaper, which got here by accident, a report of the last Congress of Workers’ Councils in Germany. Kautsky was one of the rapporteurs at this Congress, and in his report he emphasised—not he personally, but his wife; he was sick, and so his wife read the report—in this report he emphasised that socialism represents the highest development of production, that without production neither capitalism nor socialism was possible, and that this the German workers did not understand.
Poor German workers. They are fighting Scheidemann and Noske, fighting against the butchers, striving to overthrow the power of Scheidemann and Noske, the butchers who continue to call themselves Social-Democrats, and they think civil war is going on! Liebknecht was murdered, and so was Rosa Luxemburg. All the Russian bourgeois say—and this was stated in an Ekaterinodar newspaper: “This is what ought to be done to our Bolsheviks!” This is exactly what this paper stated. Those who understand what is going on know perfectly well that this is the opinion of the entire world bourgeoisie. We must defend ourselves. Scheidemann and Noske are waging civil war against the proletariat. War is war. The German workers think that they are in a state of civil war and all other questions are of minor importance. The first task is to feed the workers. Kautsky thinks that this is “soldiers’” or “consumers’” communism, and that it is necessary to develop production! . . .
Oh, how clever you are, gentlemen! But how can production be developed in a country that is being plundered and ruined by the imperialists, and which lacks coal, raw materials and machinery? “Develop production!” There is not a meeting of the Council of People’s Commissars, or of the Council of Defence that does not share out the last millions of poods of coal or oil, and find ourselves in a terrible fix when the commissars take the last scraps and even then no one has enough, and we have to decide which factory to close down, in which place to leave the workers without work—a painful question, but one we are compelled to decide because we have no coal. The coal is in the Donets Basin; the coal has been destroyed by the German invaders. This is a typical state of affairs. Take Belgium or Poland. The same thing is happening everywhere as a consequence of the imperialist war. Hence, unemployment and starvation are likely to last many years, for some flooded mines take many years to restore. And yet we are told that socialism means increasing output. You have read books, good, kind gentlemen, you have written books, but you don’t understand a scrap of what is in the books. (Applause.)
Of course, if it were a case of capitalist society in peace time, peacefully developing into socialism, there would be no more urgent task before us than that of increasing output. But the little word “if” makes all the difference. If only socialism had come into being peacefully, in the way the capitalist gentlemen did not want to see it born. But there was a slight hitch. Even if there had been no war, the capitalist gentlemen wonld have done all in their power to prevent such a peaceful evolution. Great revolutions, even when they commence peacefully, as was the case with the great French Revolution, end in furious wars which are instigated by the counter-revolutionary bourgeoisie. Nor can it be otherwise, if we look at it from the point of view of the class struggle and not from the point of view of philistine phrase-mongering about liberty, equality, labour democracy and the will of the majority, of all the dull-witted, philistine phrase-mongering to which the Mensheviks, Socialist-Revolutionaries and all these “democrats” treat us. There can be no peaceful evolution towards socialism. In the present period, after the imperialist war, it is ridiculous to expect peaceful evolution, especially in a ruined country. Take France. France is one of the victors, and yet the production of grain there has dropped to half. In Britain they are saying that they are now paupers—I read this in an English bourgeois newspaper. And yet the Communists in a ruined country are blamed because industry is at a standstill! Whoever says this is either an utter idiot—even if he thrice calls himself a leader of the Berne International—or else a traitor to the workers.
The primary task in a ruined country is to save the working people. The primary productive force of human society as a whole, is the workers, the working people. If they survive, we shall save and restore everything.
We shall have to put up with many years of poverty, retrogression to barbarism. The imperialist war has thrown us back to barbarism; but if we save the working people, if we save the primary productive force of human society—the workers—we shall recover everything, but if we fail to save them, we shall perish, so that those who are now shouting about “consumers’”, or “soldiers’”, communism, who look down upon others with contempt and imagine that they are superior to these Bolshevik Communists, are, I repeat, absolutely ignorant of political economy, and pick out passages from books like a scholar whose head is a card index box filled with quotations from books, which he picks out as he needs them; but if a new situation arises which is not described in any book, he becomes confused and grabs the wrong quotation from the box.
At the present time, when the country is ruined, our main and fundamental task is to save the lives of the workers, to save the workers, for the workers are dying because the factories are at a standstill, and the factories are at a standstill because there is no fuel, and because our production is all artificial, industry is isolated from raw material sources. It is the same thing all over the world. Raw materials for the Russian cotton mills must be transported from Egypt, America, or the nearer Turkestan. Try to obtain these when the counter-revolutionary gangs and the British forces have captured Ashkhabad and Krasnovodsk. Try to obtain them from Egypt or America when the railways lie in ruins, when they are at a standstill because there is no coal.
We must save the workers even if they are unable to work. If we keep them alive for the next few years we shall save the country, save society and socialism. If we don’t, we shall slip back into wage-slavery. This is how things stand with the socialism that springs not from the imagination of a peaceful simpleton who calls himself a Social-Democrat, but from actual reality, from the fierce, desperately fierce class struggle. This is a fact. We must sacrifice everything to save the lives of the workers. And in the light of this, when people come to us and say they are in favour of the equality of labour democracy, whereas the Communists do not even allow equality between the workers and peasants, our answer is: the workers and peasants are equal as working people, but the well-fed grain profiteer is not the equal of the hungry worker. This is the only reason why our Constitution says that the. workers and peasants are not equal.
Do you say that they ought to be equal? Let us weigh and count it up. Take sixty peasants and ten workers. The sixty peasants possess surplus stocks of grain. They are clothed in rags, but they have bread. Take the ten workers. After the imperialist war they, too, are in rags, but they are also exhausted, they have no bread, fuel or raw materials. The factories are idle. Well, are they equal? Should the sixty peasants have the right to decide and the ten workers be obliged to obey? The great principle of equality, unity of labour democracy and deciding by a majority vote!
That is what they tell us. And we tell them that they are mere clowns who confuse the hunger problem and obscure it with their high-sounding phrases.
We ask you whether the workers in a ruined country where the factories are idle ought to submit to the decision of the majority of peasants when the latter refuse to deliver their surplus stocks of grain. Have they the right to take these surplus stocks, by force, if necessary, if there is no other way? Give us a straightforward answer! But when we get right down to brass tacks they begin to twist and wriggle.
Industry is ruined in all countries, and it will remain in that state for several years, because it is easy to set fire to factories or to flood mines, it is easy to blow up railway wagons and to wreck locomotives—any fool can do that, even if he calls himself a German or French officer, and is very efficient, especially when he has good instruments for causing explosions, good fire-arms, and so forth. But it is a very difficult matter to restore it all. That will take years.
The peasantry constitute a special class. As working people they are hostile to capitalist exploitation; but at the same time they are property-owners. For centuries the peasant has been brought up to believe that the grain is his and he is at liberty to sell it. “This is my right,” each one thinks, “because it is the fruit of my labour, my sweat and blood.” This mentality cannot be changed overnight. It can be changed only as a result of a long and stern struggle. Whoever imagines that socialism can be achieved by one person convincing another, and that one a third, is at best an infant, or else a political hypocrite; and, of course, the majority of those who speak on political platforms belong to the latter category.
The whole point is that the peasants are accustomed to having the right to trade in grain. After we had abolished the capitalist institutions we found that there was still another force which kept capitalism going—the force of habit. And the more resolutely we abolished the institutions on which capitalism was based, the more strongly we felt the effects of this other force on which capitalism was based—the force of habit. Under favourable circumstances, institutions can be smashed at one stroke; but habit, never, no matter how favourable circumstances may be. Although we have given all the land to the peasants, have liberated them from landed proprietorship, and have swept away everything that held them in bondage, they nevertheless continue to think that “freedom” means freedom to trade in grain; and they regard as tyranny the compulsory surrendering of surplus stocks of grain at fixed prices. Why, what do you mean by “surrender”? they ask indignantly, especially since our grain supply apparatus is still defective because the entire bourgeois intelligentsia is on the side of Sukharevka. Naturally, this machinery has to rely on people who are only just learning, at best—if they are conscientious and devoted to their task—will learn their business in a few years, and until that time the machinery will be defective, and sometimes all sorts of rascals who call themselves Communists will find their way into it. This danger threatens every ruling party, the victorious proletariat of every country, for it is impossible either to break the resistance of the bourgeoisie or to build up efficient machinery overnight. We know perfectly well that the machinery of the Commissariat of Food is still bad. Recently a scientific statistical investigation was made into the food conditions of the workers in the non-agricultural gubernias. The investigation showed that the workers obtain half their food from the Commissariat of Food and the other half from the profiteers; for the first half they pay one-tenth of their total expenditure on food, and for the other half they pay nine-tenths.
The first half of the food supplies, collected and delivered by the Commissariat of Food, is badly collected, of course, but it is collected on socialist and not on capitalist lines. It is collected by defeating the profiteers, and not by compromising with them; it is collected by sacrificing all other interests in the world, including the interests of the formal “equality” which the Mensheviks, Socialist-Revolutionaries and Co. make so much fuss about, to the interests of the starving workers. You keep your “equality”, gentlemen, and we shall keep our hungry workers we have saved from starvation. No matter how much the Mensheviks may accuse us of violating “equality”, the fact is that we have solved half our food problem in spite of unprecedented and incredible difficulties. And we say that if sixty peasants have surplus stocks of grain and ten workers are starving, we must not talk about “equality” in general, or about “the equality of working people”, but say that it is the bounden duty of the sixty peasants to submit to the decisions of the ten workers and to give them, or at least to loan them, their surplus stocks of grain.
The science of political economy, if anybody has learned anything from it, the history of revolution, the history of political evolution throughout the whole of the nineteenth century show that the peasants follow the lead of either the workers or the bourgeoisie. Nor can they do otherwise. Some democrats may, of course, take exception to this, others may think that, being a malicious Marxist, I am slandering the peasants. They say the peasants constitute the majority, they are working people, and yet cannot follow their own road. Why?
If you don’t know why, I would say to such citizens, read the elements of Marx’s political economy in Kautsky’s popular exposition, think about the evolution of any of the great revolutions of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, about the political history of any country in the nineteenth century, and you will learn why. The economics of capitalist society are such that the ruling power can be only capital or the proletariat which has overthrown capital.
There are no other forces in the economics of this society.
A peasant is half worker and half huckster. He is a worker because he earns his bread by the sweat of his brow and is exploited by the landowners, capitalists and merchants. He is a huckster because he sells grain, an article of necessity, an article for which a man will give up all his possessions if there is a shortage of it. Hunger is no man’s friend. People will pay a thousand rubles, any sum of money, will give up all their property, for bread.
The peasant cannot be blamed for this; he is living under a commodity economy and has been for scores and hundreds of years, and is accustomed to exchange grain for money. You cannot change a habit or abolish money overnight. To abolish money you must organise the distribution of products for hundreds of millions of people, and this is something that must take many years. And so, as long as the commodity system exists, as long as there are starving workers side by side with well-fed peasants who are concealing their surplus stocks of grain, the antagonism of workers’ and peasants’ interests will persist. And whoever attempts to use phrases like “freedom”, “equality” and “labour democracy” to brush aside this real antagonism created by the actual state of affairs, is at best a mere phrase-monger, and at worst a hypocritical champion of capitalism. If capitalism defeats the revolution it will do so by taking advantage of the ignorance of the peasants, by bribing them and luring them with the prospect of a return to freedom of trade. Actually, the Mensheviks and Socialist-Revolutionaries side with capitalism against socialism.
The economic programme of Kolchak, Denikin and all the Russian whiteguards is freedom to trade. They understand this, and it is not their fault that Citizen Sher does not. The economic facts of life do not change because a certain party does not understand them. The slogan of the bourgeoisie is freedom to trade. Efforts are made to beguile the peasants by asking them whether it would not be better to live in the good old way? Whether it would not be better to live freely by the free sale of the fruits of farm labour? What could be fairer? This is what those who consciously support Kolchak say, and they are right from the point of view of the interests of capital. To restore the power of capital in Russia it is necessary to rely on tradition—on the prejudices of the peasants as against their common sense, on their old habits of trading on the open market, and it is necessary forcibly to crush the resistance of the workers. There is no other way. The Kolchaks are right from the point of view of capital; their economic and political programme ties up neatly, there are no loose ends; they know there is a connection between freedom for peasants to trade and shooting down the workers. They are connected even though Citizen Sher is unaware of it. Freedom to trade in grain is the economic programme of Kolchak; the shooting of tens of thousands of workers—as occurred in Finland—is a necessary means of realising this programme, because the workers will not voluntarily surrender their gains. The connection cannot be broken, yet the Mensheviks and Social-Revolutionaries, who are totally ignorant of economic science and politics, who, being terrified philistines, have forgotten the ABC of socialism, are trying to make us forget this connection by talking about “equality” and “freedom”, by shouting about our violating the principle of equality of “labour democracy” and saying that our Constitution is “unfair”.
The vote of one worker is equal to several peasant votes. Is that unfair?
No, in the period when it is necessary to overthrow capital it is quite fair. I know where you have borrowed your conception of fairness from; you have borrowed it from yesterday’s capitalist era. The equality, the freedom of commodity owners—that is your conception of fairness. A petty-bourgeois survival of petty-bourgeois prejudices—that is what your fairness, your equality, your labour democracy amount to. We, however, subordinate fairness to the interests of defeating capital. And capital can be defeated only by the united efforts of the proletariat.
Can tens of millions of peasants be firmly united against capital, against freedom of trade, overnight? No, economic conditions would prevent it even if the peasants were quite free and much more cultured. It cannot be done because different economic conditions and long years of preparation are needed for this. And who will make these preparations? Either the proletariat or the bourgeoisie.
Owing to their economic status in bourgeois society the peasants must follow either the workers or the bourgeoisie. There is no middle way. They may waver, become confused, conjure up all sorts of things; they may blame, swear, curse the “bigoted” representatives of the proletariat and the “bigoted” representatives of the bourgeoisie and say that they are the minority. You may curse them, talk loud about the majority, about the broad universal character of your labour democracy, about pure democracy. There is no end to the number of words you can string together, but they will only serve to obscure the fact that if the peasants do not follow the lead of the workers they will follow the lead of the bourgeoisie. There is not, nor can there be, a middle course. And those people who in this most difficult period of transition in history, when the workers are hungry and their industry is at a standstill, do not help the workers to take grain at a fairer but not a “free” price, not at a capitalist, hucksters’ price, are carrying out the Kolchak programme no matter how much they may deny this to themselves, and no matter how sincerely they may be convinced that they are carrying out their own programme conscientiously.
I will now deal with the last question on my list, that of the defeat and victory of the revolution. Kautsky, whom I mentioned to you as the chief representative of the old, decayed socialism, does not understand the tasks of the dictatorship of the proletariat. He reproached us, saying that a decision taken by a majority might have ensured a peaceful issue. A decision by a dictatorship is a decision taken by military means. Hence, if you do not win by force of arms you will be vanquished and annihilated, because in civil war no prisoners are taken, it is a war of extermination. This is how terrified Kautsky tried to “terrify” us.
Quite right. What you say is true. We confirm the correctness of your observation and there is nothing more to be said. Civil war is more stern and cruel than any other war. This has been the case throughout history since the time of the civil wars in ancient Rome; wars between nations always ended in a deal between the propertied classes, and only during civil war does the oppressed class exert efforts to exterminate the oppressing class, to eliminate the economic conditions of this class’s existence.
I ask you, what is the “revolutionary” worth who tries to scare those who have started the revolution with the prospect that it might suffer defeat? There has never been, there is none, there will not be, nor can there be a revolution which did not stand some risk of defeat. A revolution is a desperate struggle of classes that has reached the peak of ferocity. The class struggle is inevitable. One must either reject revolution altogether or accept the fact that the struggle against the propertied classes will be sterner than all other revolutions. Among socialists who are at all intelligent there was never any difference of opinion on this point. A year ago, when I analysed the apostasy that lay behind Kautsky’s statements I wrote the following. Even if—this was in September last year—even if the imperialists were to overthrow the Bolshevik government tomorrow we would not for a moment repent that we had taken power. And not a single class-conscious worker who represents the interests of the masses of the working people would repent, or have any doubt that, in spite of it all, our revolution had triumphed; the revolution triumphs if it brings to the forefront the advanced class which strikes effectively at exploitation. Under such circumstances, the revolution triumphs even if it suffered defeat. This may sound like juggling with words; but to prove the truth of it, let us take a concrete example from history.
Take the great French Revolution. It is with good reason that it is called a great revolution. It did so much for the class that it served, for the bourgeoisie, that it left its imprint on the entire nineteenth century, the century which gave civilisation and culture to the whole of mankind. The great French revolutionaries served the interests of the bourgeoisie although they did not realise it for their vision was obscured by the words “liberty, equality and fraternity”; in the nineteenth century, however, what they had begun was continued, carried out piecemeal and finished in all parts of the world.
In a matter of eighteen months our revolution has done ever so much more for our class, the class we serve, the proletariat, than the great French revolutionaries did.
They held out in their own country for two years, and then perished under the blows of united European reaction, under the blows of the united hordes of the whole world, who crushed the French revolutionaries, reinstated the legitimate monarch in France, the Romanov of the period, reinstated the landowners, and for many decades later crushed every revolutionary movement in France. Nevertheless, the great French Revolution triumphed.
Everybody who studies history seriously will admit that although it was crushed, the French Revolution was nevertheless triumphant, because it laid down for the whole world such firm foundations of bourgeois democracy, of bourgeois freedom, that they could never be uprooted.
In a matter of eighteen months our revolution has done ever so much more for the proletariat, for the class which we serve, for the goal towards which we are striving—the overthrow of the rule of capital—than the French Revolution did for its class. And that is why we say that even if we take the hypothetically possible worst contingency, even if tomorrow some lucky Kolchak were to exterminate the Bolsheviks to the last man, the revolution would still be invincible. And what we say is proved by the fact that the new type of state organisation produced by this revolution has achieved a moral victory among the working class all over the world and is already receiving its support. When the prominent French bourgeois revolutionaries perished in the struggle they were isolated, they were not supported in other countries. All the European states turned against them, chief among them England, although it was an advanced country. After only eighteen months of Bolshevik rule, our revolution succeeded in making the new state organisation which it created, the Soviet organisation, comprehensible, familiar and popular to the workers all over the world, in making them regard it as their own.
I have shown you that the dictatorship of the proletariat is an inevitable, essential and absolutely indispensable means of emerging from the capitalist system. Dictatorship does not mean only force, although it is impossible without force, but also a form of the organisation of labour superior to the preceding form. That is why in my brief speech of greeting at the opening of the Congress I emphasised this fundamental, elementary and extremely simple task of organisation; and that is why I am so strongly opposed to all these intellectual fads and “proletarian cultures”. As opposed to these fads I advocate the ABC of organisation. Distribute grain and coal in such a way as to take care of every pood—this is the object of proletarian discipline. Proletarian discipline is not discipline maintained by the lash, as it was under the rule of the serf-owners, or discipline maintained by starvation, as it is under the rule of the capitalists, but comradely discipline, the discipline of the labour unions. If you solve this elementary and extremely simple problem of organisation, we shall win, for then the peasants—who vacillate between the workers and the capitalists, who cannot make up their minds whether to side with the people of whom they are still suspicious, but can not deny that these people are creating a more just organisation of production under which there will be no exploitation, and under which “freedom” of trade in grain will be a crime against the state, who cannot make up their minds whether to side with these people or with those who, as in the good old days, promise freedom to trade which is alleged to mean also freedom to work in any way one pleased—the peasants, I say, will whole-heartedly side with us. When the peasants see that the proletariat is organising its state power in such a way as to maintain order—and the peasants want this and demand it, and they are right in doing so, although this desire for order is connected with much that is confused and reactionary, and with many prejudices—they, in the long run, after considerable vacillation, will follow the lead of the workers. The peasants-cannot simply and easily pass from the old society to the new overnight. They are aware that the old society ensured “order” by ruining the working people and making slaves of them. But they are not sure that the proletariat can guarantee order. More cannot be expected of these downtrodden, ignorant and disunited peasants. They will not believe words and programmes. And they are quite right not to believe words, for otherwise there would be no end to frauds of every kind. They will believe only deeds, practical experience. Prove to them that you, the united proletariat, the proletarian state, the proletarian dictatorship, are able to distribute grain and coal in such a way as to husband every pood, that you are able to arrange matters so that every pood of surplus grain and coal is distributed not by the profiteers, shall not profit the heroes of Sukharevka, but shall be fairly distributed, supplied to starving workers, even to sustain them during periods of unemployment when the factories and workshops are idle. Prove that you can do this. This is the fundamental task of proletarian culture, of proletarian organisation. Force can be used even if those who resort to it have no economic roots, but in that case, history will doom it to failure. But force can be applied with the backing of the advanced class, relying on the loftier principles of the socialist system, order and organisation. In that case, it may suffer temporary failure, but in the long run it is invincible.
If the proletarian organisation proves to the peasants that it can maintain proper order, that labour and bread are fairly distributed and that care is being taken to husband every pood of grain and coal, that we workers are able to do this with the aid of our comradely, trade union discipline, that we resort to force in our struggle only to protect the interests of labour, that we take grain from profiteers and not from working people, that we want to reach an understanding with the middle peasants, the working peasants, and that we are ready to provide them with all we can at present—when the peasants see all this, their alliance with the working class, their alliance with the proletariat, will be indestructible. And this is what we aim at.
But I have digressed somewhat from my subject and must return to it. Today, in all countries, the word “Bolshevik” and the word “Soviet” have ceased to be regarded as queer terms, as they were only recently, like the word “Boxer”, which we repeated without understanding what it meant. The word “Bolshevik” and the word “Soviet” are now being repeated in all the languages of the world. Every day the class-conscious workers see that the bourgeoisie of all countries release a flood of lies about Soviet power in the millions of copies of their newspapers, but they learn from this vituperation. Recently I read some American newspapers. I read the speech of a certain American parson who said that the Bolsheviks were immoral, that they had nationalised women, that they are robbers and plunderers. And I also read the reply of the American Socialists. They are distributing at five cents a copy the Constitution of the Soviet Republic of Russia, of this “dictatorship”, which does not provide “equality of labour democracy’’. They reply by quoting a clause of the Constitution of these “usurpers”, “robbers” and “tyrants” who disrupt the unity of labour democracy. Incidentally, in welcoming Breshkovskaya on the day she arrived in America, the leading capitalist newspaper in New York carried a headline in letters a yard long stating: “Welcome, Granny!” The American Socialists reprinted this and wrote: “She is in favour of political democracy—is there anything surprising, American workers, in the fact that the capitalists praise her?” She stands for political democracy. Why should they praise her? Because she is opposed to the Soviet Constitution. “Well,” said the American Socialists, “here is a clause from the Constitution of these robbers.” And they always quote the same clause which says that those who exploit the labour of others shall not have the right to elect or be elected. This clause from our Constitution is known all over the world. And it is because Soviet power frankly states that all must be subordinated to the dictatorship of the proletariat, that it is a new type of state organisation—it is precisely for this reason that it has won the sympathies of the workers all over the world. This new state organisation is being born in travail because it is far more difficult, a million times more difficult, to overcome our disruptive, petty-bourgeois laxity than to suppress the tyrannical landowners or the tyrannical capitalists, but the effort bears a million times more fruit in creating the new organisation which knows no exploitation. When proletarian organisation solves this problem, socialism will triumph completely. And it is to this that you must devote all your activities both in the schools and in the field of adult education. Notwithstanding the extremely difficult conditions that prevail, and the fact that the first socialist revolution in history is taking place in a country with a very low level of culture, notwithstanding this, Soviet power has already won the recognition of the workers of other countries. The phrase “dictatorship of the proletariat” is a Latin phrase, and the working people who heard it for the first time did not know what it meant, and did not know how it could be instituted. Now this Latin phrase has been translated into the modern languages and we have shown that the dictatorship or the proletariat is Soviet power, the government under which the workers organise themselves and say that their organisation is superior to every other. No idler, no exploiter can belong to this organisation. This organisation has but one object, and that is, to overthrow capitalism. No false slogans, no fetishes like “freedom”, and “equality”, will deceive us. We recognise no freedom, no equality, no labour democracy if it conflicts with the cause of emancipating labour from the yoke of capital. This is what we incorporated in the Soviet Constitution, and we have already won for it the sympathies of the workers of all countries. They know that in spite of the difficulty with which the new order is being born, and in spite of the severe trials and even defeats which may fall to the lot of some of the Soviet republics, no power on earth can compel mankind to turn back. (Stormy applause.)
- This refers to the views of A. Bogdanov and others that had been implanted in the Proletcult (Proletarian Culture) literary and art organisations. Bogdanov and his supporters propagandised the philosophical views (Machism) in the guise of “proletarian culture”, denied the leading role of the Party and the Soviet state in cultural development, separated the development of Soviet culture from the general tasks of socialist construction and denied the need to make use of cultural achievements of the past. They tried to give the Proletcult organisations a position that made them independent of the Party and of Soviet power. Lenin spoke resolutely against attempts to implant these theories in the Proletcult organisations. The Central Committee of the RCP(b) and the Communist group at the First All-Russia Congress of Proletcult Organisations in October 1920 took a decision to subordinate Proletcult organisations to the People’s Commissariat of Education, making them departments of that Commissariat. The Central Committee of the RCP(b) condemned the anti-Marxist, bourgeois tendencies in the Proletcult organisations in a letter headed “On the Proletcult Organisations”. The organisations began to decline in 1922.
- This was a decree on ”The Mobilisation of the Literate and the Organisation of Propaganda of the Soviet System” issued by the Council of People’s Commissars on December 10, 1918.
- This refers to whiteguard units of officer volunteers.
- Frederick Engels, Anti-Dühring, Moscow, 1959, pp. 147-48.
- Sukharevka—the name of a market that once existed in Moscow. During the Civil War it was here that profiteers sold their goods. The word “Sukharevka” is used in the broader sense of “freedom to trade in food”.