Speech Delivered At The Third All-Russia Food Conference

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The Conference was held in Moscow from June 16 to 24, 1921, and was attended by 499 delegates: gubernia food commissars, members of gubernia food committee collegiums, and representatives of various food agencies and githernia executive committees, co-operatives and trade unions.

The questions on the agenda were: 1) tax in kind; 2) commodity exchange; 3) relationship between the food agencies and cooperatives; 4) principles of the state supply, etc.

Lenin was elected an honorary member of the Presidium and spoke at the first sitting.

The Conference helped to improve the food situation in the country.

Comrades, first of all permit me to greet your conference on behalf of the Council of People’s Commissars and of the Central Committee of the RCP

Comrades, we all understand, of course, why such special attention should be paid to your conference-, not only by those who are engaged in food supply work, but by all Soviet and Party workers, by the whole Party, and by all those who are at all seriously concerned about the fate of the Soviet Republic and its tasks. Your conference has met at a moment of exceptional importance, and for that reason it cannot possibly be regarded as an ordinary, or regular food conference, like any you have attended in the past, and will no doubt attend again in the future.

The exceptional importance of your present conference is due to two circumstances. The first is an unavoidable one-what we feared-the fact that for the second year our country is afflicted by a disaster that entails grave hardships. We do not know whether we are in for a long cycle of drought, as has been predicted these two years, but it is now clear that the grain and hay crop will fail in a large area of the country for the second year running, and the prospects are menacing. I will not say just now how large is the area which, according to the grain and hay crop reports, is affected by the drought; at all events, it is considerable. Whatever it is, the prospect is that in many gubernias there will he a large deficit in the tax in kind, and, moreover, the condition of the population in a number of gubernias will be desperate; so that, instead of collecting a certain quantity of surplus produce from these gubernias for the maintenance of the army, the working class and industry, the food supply workers will have to assist the starving in these gubernias. The unanticipated tasks which thus devolve upon you, as food supply workers, will make your work much more arduous. This is the first circumstance.

The second circumstance, which is not as unexpected, is the moment of change, the turning point that has been reached, in our whole food policy. This is the first food campaign to be launched since the radical change in our food policy. This is the first time we have met to sum up the experience of local food supply workers and to prepare for our forthcoming tasks since the Soviet government was obliged to change, not only its food policy but, in many respects, the very principles of its economic policy; since the extremely severe hardships the peasants suffered last year, and the impossibility, as it turned out, of rapidly restoring large-scale industry, compelled us to switch all our state work to new lines.

Reckoning with the gravity of the situation in the country and the impossibility of rapidly restoring large-scale industry, means making preparations to help small-peasant farming, at all costs, at any price, pull out of its critical position to a bearable one, and for this purpose to revive small, local industry, and adopt measures which, by at once placing small production on a sound basis, would open up opportunities for local trade, thereby enlarging the sphere for the investment of capital, and also switching to new lines the whole Soviet power-its very foundations, and its entire economic policy.

You are well aware of the effort it has cost us all, and you particularly, during the past three years to build up something like a stable food supply apparatus and to run it so that it might fulfil at least the most urgent and essential tasks. Hence, there is no need to tell you, who have been in the thick of all this, what it means quickly to reorganise all our work and switch it over to new lines; what it means to organise amidst so many unknowns, and, at the same time, to solve the problem of obtaining a larger quantity of food. You know all about it. Year after year, in spite of the terrible, unprecedented, sometimes super-human difficulties created by the Civil War, our food policy has produced striking and tangible results, and the improvement has been far more rapid than in any other sphere of Soviet work. But you also know, of course, that although, as a result of the strenuous efforts of the food supply workers, we have succeeded in raising grain collections from 110 million peods in the first year to over 280 million poods, you know very well that this is net enough.

We are now, for the first time, entering on a big food supply campaign without any whiteguard troops or foreign armies on the territory of the RSFSR But to this must be added some reservations: except for the intervention started by the Japanese in the Far Eastern Republic. Which shows again that in the very first year when we can say that, on the whole, we have done with the Civil War, it becomes evident that we are surrounded by the international bourgeoisie, whom the Red Army taught a harsh lesson, but who has not by any means abandoned the idea of resuming the attack, in open or undercover, systematic or sporadic form, at the very first opportunity. So even here we have no sure guarantee. But in addition to all this you know that the very transition from war to economic development, the transition about which we talked so long, and to which we devoted several Party conferences and congresses, this transition in itself, is a transition, created fresh difficulties of vast proportions because, with a dislocated state apparatus and transport a shambles, enormous difficulties arose from the very transition from the old, large army, ranged on the frontier in battle formation, to a peacetime army. The signs are that we have overcome most of these difficulties; nevertheless, as anyone familiar with the situation will agree, quite a number of difficulties still confront us.

That is why I say that this food conference is exceptionally important, that it must settle other questions besides those specifically connected with the food supply, that your attention and efforts on behalf of the Republic are required not only in your capacity of food supply workers, and men on whom the Soviet government has placed the crucial task of supplying the population with food. T say that this is not enough. You as Party workers must exert all your efforts to fulfil a number of tasks which so far exist only in the form of instructions and decisions adopted by the supreme organs of the Soviet power and by the Party. And you know perfectly well what a wide gap there is between general decisions, general instructions, and their practical application. You are aware that this entails enormous effort, which must be exerted in order to put these principles successfully into practice, to prevent then from remaining a dead letter, as, unfortunately, often happens in Soviet Russia.

I should like to remind you of the decision adopted by the last Party Conference which dealt specifically with the question of the New Economic Policy.[1] The Party conference was called urgently for the purpose of convincing all comrades that this policy had been adopted, as was said at the conference, in earnest and for a long time and to prevent any wavering on that score in future, for there has been some wavering and uncertainty. The Party conference, as the supreme organ of the ruling, government Party, the leading authority of the working class, emphasised the importance of collecting the large food stock of 400 million poods. It laid emphasis on the point that the whole meaning of our food policy, permitting a large measure of unrestricted trade, boils down to building up a big food fund, as a large state reserve. Without it, neither the restoration of large-scale industry nor the restoration of the currency will be possible, and every socialist understands that unless large-scale industry-the only real basis.-is restored, it is no use talking about socialist construction.

No country has been so devastated as ours. It had been more backward than other countries before the imperialist war, which brought it more ruin than it did to any other country, and in addition we had to endure the untold hardships of another three years of war against the bourgeoisie and the landowners. The vanquished countries with which Russia might be compared, countries like Serbia and Austria—where industry has been ruined to an extent equal to, and in some cases even greater than, that of Russia—are in desperate straits. Counting on the assistance of the bourgeoisie—for they did not rise against it-they are crushed by a double burden: starvation, ruin and impoverishment (as in our case), plus the realisation that their position is hopeless, that they had put their stake on the bourgeoisie and are perishing without any prospects of assistance. But, in spite of all our incredible difficulties, we see and clearly realise, and the mass of workers and peasants clearly realise—in spite of our incredible difficulties fresh forces are arising. Every difficulty brought to life fresh forces, created new sources of energy and indicated new paths. The work these forces have performed proves to us that, terribly slow though it is, we are making progress, that frightfully hard though it may be to overcome difficulties at times, we are nevertheless overcoming them. There is a growing realisation that economic relationships are being built upon entirely new lines, that great as its sufferings may be, the working class is, step by step, day after day, finding solutions for all problems without the aid of the capitalists, and is fighting them, and dislodging them from one position after another.

This, comrades, seems to me to be the sum and substance of the decisions adopted by the Party conference. And with this I want particularly to emphasise that the present conference is not only a conference of specialists, but of Party and Soviet workers upon whom will devolve the practical task of building, under extremely difficult conditions, the new forms of economic policy and the foundation of the whole Soviet edifice.

We shall have to build in two ways: by collecting the tax and by reviving commodity exchange. The tax has been fixed, on the assumption of an average harvest, at 240 million poods, which is inadequate even for a short ration for the army which we need, and for the absolutely essential industrial enterprises. It will be difficult to collect this amount in full, not only in view of the threatening crop failure, but under any circumstances.

I have not got the exact figures before me showing the changes in the percentages of fulfilment of our food supply plans and assignments according to districts during the three years that we have been carrying on food supply operations. But everyone knows that the machinery we have created by our joint efforts is running far more smoothly than that of a number of other People’s Commissariats, and that our efficiency is steadily increasing. I also take it as an irrefutable fact that this year, when so much attention is being devoted to this work, we shall cope more fully with the tasks the Republic has set us. We must achieve, if not 100 per cent, then as near to that figure as possible; and we can achieve it, even amidst the difficulties created by the threatening failure of the harvest. The tax deficit may run to tens of millions of poods, but this may be balanced by the extra amount that is likely to be collected in areas where the harvest has been particularly good.

Comrades, the harvest absolutely refuses to reckon with the state of the food supply apparatus, and it has not given us the satisfaction of being particularly good where the food supply apparatus is particularly good. If we look at the chart indicating the harvest prospects we shall find that the areas of the R.S.F.S.H. and of neighbouring and fraternal republics where the harvest outlook is particularly good, or is above the average, are the very regions where the food supply apparatus is certainly not above the average, but even below it. Vigorous measures must be taken to transfer extra food supply workers to these areas, but we know too few people who are sufficiently trained and experienced to adapt themselves to the new areas quickly and get things moving at once. This is a matter that requires very close attention.

The main thing is commodity exchange, and it is this the Party conference put into the forefront and the last Party Congress decided. It is the question that is engaging most of the concern and attention of all those who are at the head of Soviet and Party work in Moscow. How well are we prepared for it? What has been actually done? What part of these plans has been carried out? You will be the first to have to answer these questions from first-hand experience. Your experience in this matter and its summing up will be of particular and vital importance.

This is a new field, and additional forces must be sent in. It demands that the food supply apparatus should be something more than it has been up to now-nothing but a more or less uniform and smoothly running machine for collecting a quantity of food products. No, here you will have to take account of the difference in the localities, in the goods demanded and the equivalents offered. You will not have to adjust yourselves to what the Soviet government wants, and to what the Soviet apparatus can carry out. No, you will have to adjust yourselves to the economic conditions of the small farmers, and will have to reckon with their satisfied and outstanding needs. You have fought the profiteers and have combated trade conducted in contravention of government orders. You will have to go on fighting them. But in order to engage in the exchange of commodities and avoid being beaten in the free market which means being beaten by unrestricted trade-you must know it thoroughly, compete with it, fight it with its own weapons and beat it at its own game, but to be able to do that you must have a thorough knowledge of it.

The old bureaucratic methods are of no use; we need precise knowledge of commercial conditions and the ability to react quickly to every change. For this purpose, food products and articles for exchange must he rapidly transported from place to place over the vast territory of the II.S.F.S.H. The difficulties ahead of us are enormous. But this will be the basis of the whole of our New Economic Policy for the period until we fully restore large-scale industry. This may take at least ten years, during which time we must create such relations between the working class and the peasantry-the only classes that can serve as a base on which to build up our economy-and such an alliance between them as will economically satisfy both sides. It must be an alliance in which the small peasant will he reckoned with as a small peasant, until we are able to provide him with all the products of large-scale industry.

We must reckon with the small proprietor who sells his surplus products. We must also reckon with the need to improve the condition of the urban population-the workers. Unless we do this, we shall fail in our further work of construction that will so consolidate the transition to socialism that there will be no turning hack. That is why commodity exchange is now the most important part of our economic policy. This is the task you, food supply workers, business managers and co-operators, will have to tackle. This is what the Soviet government, the Party, and the whole Republic expect of you, for your attitude to this work and your successes will determine the success of what the Soviet Republic is now staking everything on in the work of socialist construction.

Comrades, I must say ill conclusion that your conference has a special task before it: to consider a matter that was raised in the Political Bureau of the Party’s Central Committee in May, and settled, after discussion on the Central Committee, at the All-Russia Congress of Trade Unions. It is to set to work, with due circumspection and very gradually, but immediately, to try out the system of collective supplies. The present system of food distribution has proved to be defective, and this cannot go on. The system of distributing food on the egalitarian principle has led to equalisation, which sometimes proves to be an obstacle to increasing output. The Republic must utilise the food surpluses it collects to maintain only what is needed for industry. We cannot maintain all our factories, nor is it necessary to do so: that would be wasteful management. We cannot restore the whole of large-scale industry, and so we must select and maintain only those factories which have the best equipment and promise a greater output.

Food supply workers cannot just go on thinking that their business boils down to collecting so many millions of poods and distributing them in certain fixed rations, on the present ration cards, say, and that there is the end of it. The immediate thing is to integrate the activity of all the economic People’s Commissariats. The conscientious food supply worker must not only be interested in food supply work, but in all economic activity. More is expected of him now.

He cannot go on being only a food supply worker, lie must be an economist appraising every step in the light of the work of all the economic People’s Commissariats, and of all the results achieved by that work.

It is wrong to think that food distribution is only a matter of fairness. We must bear ill mind that it is a method, an instrument, and a means of increasing output. State food supplies must be given only to those employees who are really needed, on the condition that productivity of labour is increased to the utmost. And if the distribution of food is to he used as a political instrument, then it must be used to reduce the number of those who are not absolutely needed and to encourage those who actually are. If the distribution of food is a political instrument for restoring our industry, then we must maintain the industrial enterprises which are really needed now, and certainly stop maintaining those we do not need now, and thus economise fuel and food. For a number of years we have been managing these things very badly. This must now be rectified.

Thus, you see that the closer you look into the matter the wider you find the tasks confronting your food conference. I hope, however, that none of you will be intimidated by the complexity of these tasks, and that, on the contrary, the unusual nature of your tasks as Soviet and Party workers will stimulate you to fresh efforts to fulfil them. Our past experience of the work of other People’s Commissariats clearly proves the necessity of combining Soviet and Party work. Food supply workers have carried out a number of urgent tasks under extremely difficult conditions; and they did it successfully because in these cases the Soviet and Party bodies resorted to unconventional methods, urgent measures and shock-work campaign operations. I repeat that it is the fundamental basis of our economic policy that is the main subject of your food conference. It must engage all your attention.

In conclusion, permit me to express the conviction that our united efforts in the direction we have taken will lay a firm foundation for a successful economic policy that will create an alliance between the working class and the peasantry, the two main classes on which the Soviet power rests, the economic alliance which alone can guarantee the success of all our work of socialist construction. (Stormy applause.)

  1. The reference is to the resolution of the Tenth all-Russian Conference of the RCP(b) “On Economic Policy”. See K.P.S.S. v rezolutsiakh. . . (The CPSU in the Resolutions and Decisions of Congrresses, Conferences and CC Plenary Meetings, Part 1, 1954, pp. 574-76