Speech at Second All-Russia Conference of Organisers Responsible for Rural Work
|Written||12 June 1920|
Source: Lenin Collected Works, 4th English Edition, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1965, Volume 31, pages 168-180
Called by the Central Committee of the RCP(b), the Second All-Russia Conference of Organisers Responsible for Rural Work was held in Moscow from June 10 to 15, 1920. It was attended by gubernia, uyezd and volost organisers for rural work, a total of over 300 delegates from 61 gubernias. The third meeting of the Conference, held on June 12, was addressed by Lenin. M. I. Kalinin greeted the delegates on behalf of the All-Russia Central Executive Committee.
A report on the activities of the Department for Rural Work under the Party’s Central Committee was made by V. I. Nevsky. The Conference adopted a resolution on this report; it dressed the importance of Party work in the countryside, and expressed the firm confidence that “the Department for Rural Work will unswervingly carry out the directive of the Party’s Ninth Congress, on improving agitation and propaganda work among the peasantry” (see Rezolutsii Vtorogo Vserossiiskogo Soveshchaniya rabotnikov v derevne. [Resolutions of the Second All-Russia Conference of Party Rural Workers ], Moscow, 1920, pp. 4-5). Reports from the various localities were also heard, and organisational and other matters discussed. The Conference adopted an appeal “To All Workers of the World” , greeting the British, Hungarian, Italian and other workers who had decided to prevent the dispatch of troops and military supplies to help bourgeois-landowner Poland in her war against Soviet Russia.
June 12, 1920
Comrades, I am very glad to be able to greet you who have come to this conference to discuss work in the rural areas. Permit me first to dwell briefly on the international position of the Soviet Republic and our tasks in connection with it, and then to say a few words about the tasks in the rural districts, which, in my opinion, should now assume prime importance to Party workers.
As regards the Republic’s international standing, you are of course well aware of the main facts about the Polish offensive. An incredible number of lies are being spread on this subject abroad, due to the so-called freedom of the press, which consists in all the most important organs of the press abroad being bought up by the capitalists, and being filled 99 per cent with articles by mercenary hacks. That is what they call freedom of the press, due to which there is no limit to the lies that are being spread. With regard to the Polish offensive in particular, they are trying to make out that the Bolsheviks presented impossible demands to Poland and launched an offensive, whereas you all know very well that we fully consented even to the immense frontiers held by the Poles before the offensive began. We set more store by the lives of our Red Army men than by a war for Byelorussia and Lithuania, which the Poles had seized. We declared in the most solemn terms—not only in the name of the Council of People’s Commissars, but also in a special manifesto of the All-Russia Central Executive Committee, the supreme body in the Soviet Republic—we declared to the Polish Government, to the bourgeois and landowner government, besides appealing to the Polish workers and peasants, that we proposed negotiations for peace on the basis of the front that existed at the time, i.e., the front that left Lithuania and Byelorussia— non-Polish territory—in the hands of the Poles. We were and still are convinced that the Polish landowners and capitalists will be unable to retain foreign territory, and that we shall gain more even from the most unfavourable peace, since we shall save the lives of our Red Army men, and every month of peace makes us ten times as strong, whereas to every other government, including the bourgeois government of Poland, every month of peace means greater and greater disintegration. Although our peace proposals were very far-reaching, and although certain very hasty and, as far as talking goes, highly revolutionary revolutionaries, even called our proposals Tolstoyan—when, as a matter of fact, the Bolsheviks’ actions have, I think, shown sufficiently that there is not a jot of Tolstoyanism in us—we considered it our duty, in the face of such a thing as war, to show that we were prepared to make the maximum possible concessions, and especially to show that we would not wage war for boundaries for which so much blood had been spilt, since to us that was a matter of little significance.
We were prepared to make concessions no other government can make; we offered Poland territory which it would be useful to compare with that described in a document published yesterday, I think, and coming from the supreme organ of the Allies, the British, French and other imperialists, in which Poland’s eastern frontiers are indicated.
These capitalists in Britain and France imagine that it is they who lay down boundaries. But, thank goodness, there are others besides them who do that—the workers and peasants have learnt to establish their boundaries themselves.
These capitalists have fixed the Polish boundaries much farther to the west than those we proposed. This document, coming from the Allies in Paris, is clear proof that they have arrived at a deal with Wrangel. They assure us that they want peace with Soviet Russia, that they support neither Poland nor Wrangel. We, however, say that it is an unscrupulous lie with which they are trying to shield themselves; for they say that they are not supplying any more arms, when as a matter of fact they are supplying them just as they did several months ago. Today’s reports state that rich trophies have been captured—a carload of new British machine guns; Comrade Trotsky reports that brand new French cartridges were captured the other day. What other confirmation do we need that Poland is acting with the aid of British and French equipment, with the aid of British and French cartridges, that she is acting with the aid of British and French money? If they now declare that Poland will herself establish her eastern borders, then that is in consequence of a direct deal with Wrangel. That is obvious to anybody. The entire situation makes it perfectly clear that the Polish landowners and bourgeoisie are fighting exclusively with the aid of the British and the French. The latter, however, are lying brazenly, just as they did when they assured us that they had not sent Bullitt, until he finally returned to America and came out and published the documents he had gathered here.
These gentlemen, these capitalist tradesmen, cannot act contrary to their nature. That is obvious. They can only reason like tradesmen. When our diplomats do not act like tradesmen, and when we say that the lives of our Red Army men are more precious to us than any vast boundary changes they, of course, with their purely tradesmen’s reasoning, cannot understand it. When, a year ago, we proposed to Bullitt a treaty which was extremely favourable to them and extremely unfavourable to us, a treaty that would have left huge territories in the hands of Denikin and Kolchak, we did so in the certainty that, if peace were concluded, the whiteguard government would never be able to retain power.
With their tradesmen’s reasoning, they could only interpret this as a confession of our weakness. “If the Bolsheviks agree to such a peace,” they argued, “it must mean that they are at their last gasp.” And the bourgeois press exulted, the diplomats rubbed their hands with glee, and millions of pounds sterling were advanced to Kolchak and Denikin. True, they did not give them hard cash, but supplied them with arms at usurious prices, fully convinced that the Bolsheviks could not cope with them at all. The upshot was that Kolchak and Denikin were routed and their hundreds of millions of pounds went up in smoke. We are now getting trainload after trainload of excellent British equipment; you can often meet entire divisions of Russian Red Army men clad in excellent British uniforms; the other day a comrade who arrived from the Caucasus told me that an entire division of Red Army men are wearing Italian bersagliere uniforms. I am very sorry that I am unable to show you photographs of these Russian Red Army men clad in bersagliere uniforms. All I can say is that, after all, the British equipment has been of some use and that Russian Red Army men are grateful to the British tradesmen who have fitted them out because they reasoned like tradesmen, and who have been thrashed, are being thrashed, and will be thrashed time and time again. (Applause.)
We find the same thing with the Polish offensive. This is another instance of God (if he exists, of course) first depriving of reason those whom he would punish. The Entente is undoubtedly headed by very shrewd men, excellent politicians, yet these people commit folly after folly. They raise up against us one country after another, enabling us to smash them one by one. Why, if only they succeeded in uniting—and they do have the League of Nations and there is no corner of the earth to which their military power does not extend. Nobody, it would seem, could unite all the enemy forces better and launch them against the Soviets. Yet they cannot unite them. They go into battle part by part. They merely threaten, boast and bluff. Six months ago they declared that they had mustered fourteen states against the Soviets, and that in a matter of months they would be in Moscow and Petrograd. But today I received a pamphlet from Finland, containing the reminiscences of a certain whiteguard officer about the offensive against Petrograd; prior to that I received a statement of protest from several Russians of the Cadet brand, members of the North-Western Government, which tells of how certain British generals invited them to a conference and suggested to them through an interpreter, and sometimes in excellent Russian, that they should form a government right away, on the spot—a Russian government, of course, a democratic government, it goes without saying, in the spirit of the Constituent Assembly—and how they were told to sign on the dotted line. And, though they were bitter enemies of the Bolsheviks, these Russian officers, these Cadets, were outraged by the brazen insolence of the British officers, who dictated to them, and ordered them, in a tone of a drill sergeant (and only like a Russian one can), to sign what they were told to—and they go on to relate how the whole affair fell through. I regret that we are unable to give extensive distribution to these documents, to these confessions of whiteguard officers who took part in the advance on Petrograd.
Why is that so? It is because their League of Nations is a league only in name; in fact it is a pack of wolves that are all the time at each other’s throats and do not trust one another in the least.
As a matter of fact, they are even now boasting that Latvia, Rumania and Finland will join Poland in the at tack; it is clear from the diplomatic negotiations that when Poland began her offensive the powers that were conducting peace negotiations with us changed their tone, and came out with statements whose insolence was sometimes amazing. They reason like tradesmen—and you can not expect anything else from a tradesman. It seemed to them that this was the time to square accounts with Soviet Russia, so they turned high and mighty. Let them do so. We have seen the same thing in the case of other states, far bigger ones, but we have paid no heed to that because, as experience has shown, all the threats from Finland, Rumania, Latvia and the other bourgeois states that are wholly dependent on the Entente, have come to nought. Poland signed a treaty only with Petlyura, a general without an army, which has evoked even greater bitterness among the Ukrainian population and has induced more and more semi-bourgeois elements to side with Soviet Russia. So, once again, instead of a general offensive, you have isolated action by Poland alone. And now we see that although our forces had to spend a lot of time on the move because they were farther away from the frontiers than the Poles were and we needed more time to bring up our troops, the latter have begun to advance. Some days ago our cavalry captured Zhitomir. Our forces have cut the last road linking Kiev with the Polish front both in the south and the north, which means that the Poles have lost Kiev irrevocably. At the same time we learn that Skólski has resigned, that the Polish Government are in a state of uncertainty and agitation and are already declaring that they will offer us new peace terms. Just as you please, you landowner and capitalist gentlemen! We will give the Polish peace terms due consideration. What we see is that their government are waging war against the wishes of their own bourgeoisie; that the Polish National Democrats, who correspond to our Cadets and Octobrists—the most bitter counter-revolutionary landowners and bourgeois—are opposed to the war, for they realise that they cannot win such a war, and that it is being run by Polish adventurers, by the Socialist-Revolutionaries, the Polish Socialist Party, people marked most by features characterising the Socialist-Revolutionaries, namely, revolutionary talk, boastfulness, patriotism, chauvinism, buffoonery and sheer claptrap. We are familiar with such people. When, after they have bitten off more than they can chew in this war, they begin to reshuffle their Cabinet and to say that they propose peace talks to us, we say: “Just as you please, gentlemen, have a try. We, however, are counting only on the Polish workers and peasants. We shall also talk peace, only not with you, the Polish landowners and bourgeois, but with the Polish workers and peasants, and we shall see what will come of such negotiations.”
Comrades, despite the successes we are gaining on the Polish front, the position at present demands every effort of us. The most dangerous thing in a war that breaks out in conditions like those in the present war with Poland is to underrate the enemy and to reassure ourselves with the thought that we are the stronger. That is a most dangerous thing, which may lead to defeat in the war; it is the worst feature in the Russian character, which expresses itself in enervation and flabbiness. It is important, not only to begin but to carry on and hold out; that is what we Russians are not good at. Only by long training, through a proletarian disciplined struggle against all wavering and vacillation, only through such endurance can the Russian working masses be brought to rid themselves of this bad habit.
We have given Kolchak, Denikin and Yudenich a sound thrashing, but we have not yet finished the job. Wrangel is still in the Crimea. We said to ourselves: “Well, now we are the stronger” —and that has led to instance after instance of slackness and slovenliness. Meanwhile, Wrangel is receiving aid from Great Britain. This is done through traders, but it cannot be proved. Only the other day he landed troops and captured Melitopol. True, according to the latest reports we have re-captured it; but in this case, too, we had let it slip from our hands most shamefully just because we were strong. Just because Yudenich, Kolchak and Denikin have been smashed, the Russian begins to reveal his nature and take things easy, with the result that we let things slide. His slovenliness leads to tens of thousands of his comrades losing their lives. Here is a fundamental Russian trait: when not a single job has been carried through to the end he is apt to let things slide unless he is prodded. This trait must be ruthlessly combated, for it leads to tens of thousands of the finest Red Army men and peasants losing their lives, and the continued sufferings of famine. And so, though we are stronger than the Poles, our slogan in the war that has been imposed on us must be—an end to all slackness! Since war has proved inevitable, everything must be devoted to the war effort; the least slackness or lack of drive must be punished by wartime laws. War means war, and let nobody in the rear or in any peaceful occupation dare shirk this duty!
The slogan must be—everything for the war effort! Otherwise we shall be unable to cope with the Polish nobles and bourgeoisie. To finish with this war, we must teach a conclusive lesson to the last of the neighbouring powers that still dares to play at this game. We must give them so severe a lesson that they will warn their children, their grandchildren and their great-grandchildren to refrain from such things. (Applause.) And so, comrades, at every meeting, assembly and business conference, in all groups at all party institutions and on all executive bodies, it is the prime duty of those who are working in the countryside, of propagandists and agitators, and all the comrades engaged in any field of peaceful labour to give top priority and full effect to the slogan: “Everything for the war effort!”
Until complete victory is won in this war, we must guarantee ourselves against the errors and follies we have been committing for years. I do not know how many mistakes a Russian has to make before he learns his lesson. We have already had an instance of our thinking that the war was over before we had crushed the enemy, and we left Wrangel in the Crimea. I repeat, the slogan, “Everything for the war effort!” must be the chief item on the agenda at every conference, at every meeting, on every executive body.
We must ask ourselves: have we bent every effort, have we made every sacrifice to bring the war to an end? This is a question of saving the lives of tens of thousands of our finest comrades, who are perishing at the front, in the foremost ranks. It is a matter of saving ourselves from the famine which is imminent just because we are not fighting the war to a finish, when we can and must do that and quickly, too. For this, discipline and subordination must be enforced at all costs and with the utmost severity. The least condonement, the least slackness displayed here, in the rear, in any peaceful pursuit, will mean the loss of thousands of lives, and starvation in the rear.
That is why faults like these must be treated with ruthless severity. That is the first and principal lesson to be drawn from the civil war in Soviet Russia. It is the first and principal lesson which every Party worker must bear in mind under all circumstances, especially if his job is one of agitation and propaganda; he must know that he will be a worthless Communist and a traitor to the Soviet state if he does not, in respect to every shortcoming, however slight, implement this slogan with inflexible firmness and with ruthless determination. If this condition is observed, an early victory will be assured, and we shall be fully guaranteed against famine.
We receive reports about the situation in the outlying regions, from comrades arriving from remote parts of the country. I have seen comrades from Siberia, and also Comrades Lunacharsky and Rykov, who have returned from the Ukraine and the North Caucasus. They speak with boundless amazement of the wealth of these regions. In the Ukraine pigs are being fed on wheat; in the Northern Caucasus the peasant women, when selling milk, rinse their cans with milk. Trainloads of wool, leather and other wealth are on their way from Siberia; tens of thousands of poods of salt are lying in Siberia. In our parts, on the other hand, the peasants have been worn down, and refuse to give grain in exchange for paper money, which, as they see it, cannot restore their farms. Here, in Moscow, we may find starving workers carrying on at their machines. The continuation of the war is the chief obstacle to our keeping the workers better fed and restoring their shattered health. Just because we have slipped up on the Crimea, tens of thousands will go short of food for another six months. This is all due to poor organisation and discipline on our part. People here are dying, while in the Ukraine, in the North Caucasus and in Siberia we have wealth untold, with which we could feed the hungry workers and restore industry. To restore our economic life, we need discipline. The proletarian dictatorship should display itself primarily in the advanced, the most class-conscious and most disciplined of the urban and industrial workers—the greatest sufferers from hunger who have made great sacrifices during these two years—educating, training and disciplining all the other proletarians, who are often not class-conscious, and all working people and the peasantry. All sentimentality, all claptrap about democracy must be scrapped. Let us leave the claptrap to the Socialist-Revolutionaries and the Mensheviks; they have spoken enough about democracy to Kolchak, Denikin and Yudenich. Let them clear out and go over to Wrangel. He will complete their schooling. But that schooling must be given to those who have not yet learnt the lesson.
We maintain that the workers who have assumed the burdens and have ensured the tranquility and strength of the Soviets through their untold sacrifices, should regard themselves as a vanguard that will raise up the rest of the working masses by education and discipline. We know that the working man, as we have inherited him from capitalism, is in a state of utter benightedness and ignorance, and does not realise that work can be done, not only under the lash of capital, but also under the guidance of the organised worker. He is, however, capable of believing all that if we demonstrate it in practice. The working man cannot learn that from books but he can learn it if we demonstrate it to him in practice: he will have either to work under the guidance of the class-conscious industrial worker, or submit to the yoke of Kolchak, Wrangel and the rest. And so, we must, at any cost, have the strictest discipline, and conscious performance of what the vanguard of the proletariat prescribes, of what it has learnt from its hard experience. If all steps are taken for the achievement of our aim, that will fully guarantee our emergence from the economic chaos and disruption caused by the imperialist war. Grain collections yielded 30,000,000 poods in the season following August 1, 1917, and 110,000,000 poods in the season following August 1918. That shows that we have begun to emerge from our difficulties. Since August 1,1919, over 150,000,000 poods have been brought in to date. That shows that we are making it. But we have not yet properly seen to the Ukraine, the North Caucasus and Siberia. If that is done we shall really be able to provide the worker with a good two pounds of bread a day.
I should also like to dwell, comrades, on a question of importance to you, rural Party workers, with whom I am in some measure acquainted from Party documents. I want to tell you that instruction, Party activities, agitation and propaganda will be your principal work. One of the main shortcomings in this work is that we do not know how to run state affairs, and that with our comrades, even with those who are in charge of work here, the habits of the old underground conditions are still too strong, i.e., habits of the time when we used to gather in small circles here or abroad, and did not have the slightest idea or inkling of how the work of the state has to be carried on. That, however, is something we have got to know, for we must remember that we have to govern millions. Any person in authority who goes to the rural districts, as delegate or representative of the Central Committee, must remember that we have a tremendous machinery of state which is still functioning poorly because we do not know how to run it properly. In the rural districts there are hundreds of thousands of teachers who are browbeaten and intimidated by the kulaks, or who have been frightened out of their wits by the old tsarist officials, and cannot understand, are not in a position to understand, the principles of Soviet government. We have a huge military apparatus. Without the military commissars we would not have had a Red Army.
We also have the apparatus of the Vsevobuch, which, together with its military functions, should be carrying on cultural work, should be educating the peasants. This state machinery functions very poorly; it contains no really devoted and convinced people, no real Communists. And you, who are going to the rural districts as Communists, must work not in isolation from this apparatus, but, on the contrary, in close conjunction with it. Every Party agitator who goes to a rural district must at the same time be an inspector of schools: not an inspector in the old sense of the word, not in the sense of meddling in educational affairs—that must not be permitted—but in the sense of co-ordinating his work with that of the People’s Commissariat of Education, with the work of the Vsevobuch, with the work of the military commissars; he must regard himself as representative of the state, as representative of a party that is governing Russia. When he comes to a rural district he must not only act as propagandist and teacher; he must at the same time see to it that the school-teachers, who have never heard a living word, and those scores and hundreds of military commissars, all play a part in the Party agitator’s work. Every school-teacher should have agitational pamphlets, and should not only have them, but read them to the peasants. He should know that he will lose his job unless he does that. The same applies to the military commissars; they should have these pamphlets and read them out to the peasants.
The Soviet government employs hundreds of thousands of office workers, who are either bourgeois or semi-bourgeois, or else have been so downtrodden that they have absolutely no confidence in our Soviet government, or feel so far removed from that government that they think it is somewhere far-off, over there in Moscow, while next to them are the kulaks, who have grain, but hold on to it and will not let them have any, so that they are starving. Here the Party worker has a double job. He must remember that he is not only a propagandist, that he must not only come to the assistance of the most downtrodden strata of the population—that is his principal job, not to do which means that he is no Party worker and has no right to call himself a Communist—but that, in addition, he must act as a representative of the Soviet government, he must establish contacts with the teachers, and co-ordinate his work with that of the People’s Commissariat of Education. He must not be an inspector in the sense of exercising control and supervision; he must act as a representative of the governing Party, which is now administering all Russia through part of the proletariat; in this capacity he must remember that his job is one of instruction, and that he must enlist and educate all the teachers and military commissars to do the same work as his. They are not familiar with this work; you must teach it to them. They are at present defenceless against the well-fed peasant. You must help them to shake off this dependence. You must firmly remember that you are not only propagandists and agitators, but also representatives of the state; you must not destroy the existing apparatus, or interfere with it and muddle its organisation, but must organise your work so that, as efficient instructors, propagandists and agitators, even after a brief period of work in the rural districts, you will leave your mark, not only in the papers of the peasant Communists you have educated, but also in the minds of the people whose work you inspect and guide, and to whom you give assignments, demanding that every teacher and military commissar should work in the Soviet spirit under all circumstances, that he should know that this is his duty, that he must remember that if he does not perform that duty, he will lose his job; they should all sense and see in every agitator a fully empowered representative of the Soviet government.
If this is done, and if you employ your forces properly, you will multiply them, with the result that every body of agitators will leave a mark behind them in the shape of an apparatus of organisation, which already exists, but as yet functions imperfectly and unsatisfactorily.
In this sphere too, as in all others, I wish you success. (Prolonged applause.)
- Lenin is referring to the Declaration by the RSFSR Council of People’s Commissars addressed to the Government of Poland and the Polish people, made on January 28, 1920, and the Appeal of the All-Russia Central Executive Committee to the Polish people on February 2, 1920.
- The reference is to the declaration of the Entente’s Supreme Council “On the Temporary Eastern Borders of Poland” , made on December 8, 1919, and published on June 11, 1920, in the newspaper Izvestia No. 125.
- National Democrats (“Narodowa Democracya ”)—the main reactionary and nationalist party of the Polish landowners and bourgeoisie, founded in 1897 and closely connected with the Catholic church. The National Democrats advanced the slogans of “class harmony” and “the national interests” , trying to influence the masses and draw them into the wake of their reactionary policy. They propagated extreme militant nationalism and chauvinism as a means of struggle against the socialist and democratic movement of the Polish people, which they strove to isolate from the Russian revolutionary movement. During the First World War (1914-18) the National Democrats unreservedly supported the Entente, counting on the victory of tsarist Russia, the unification of the Polish territories then under the yoke of Austria and Germany, and autonomy for Poland within the framework of the Russian Empire. The downfall of tsarism drove the National Democrats towards a pro-French orientation. Though bitterly opposed to the October Socialist Revolution and the Soviet state, the National Democrats, following their traditional anti-German policy, did not always support the adventurist anti-Soviet foreign policy of the Pilsudski clique, which ruled the country after 1926. At present, separate National-Democrat groups are carrying on their activities among reactionary émigré elements.
- The Polish Socialist Party (Polska Partia Socjalistyczna, the P.S.P.)—a reformist nationalist party founded in 1892. Throughout its history, Left-wing groups arose in it under the influence of the worker rank and file in the party. Some of these groups subsequently joined the revolutionary wing of the Polish working-class movement.
- Vsevobuch—the universal military training of the population of the Soviet Republic. The question of organising the Vsevobuch was raised in the resolution “On War and Peace” adopted by the Seventh Congress of the RCP(b), which was held in March 1918. The resolution said that one of the most important and urgent tasks of the Party was the all-round, systematic and universal military training of the adult population, irrespective of sex. The Decree of the All-Russia Central Executive Committee of April 22, 1918, authorised the calling up of all citizens between the ages of 18 and 40, who did not exploit the labour of others. The Vsevobuch bodies were entrusted with the registration of all working people of military age, their unified military training, and the formation army units. On June 5-25 1918, the first conference on universal military training was held; it drew up a programme for the training and testing of Vsevobuch instructor and discussed the organisation of Vsevobuch departments, the calling of conferences on the military training and the registration of the population. The conference also adopted a resolution on permanent bureaus of Vsevobuch conferences and the statute of inspections.