Hermann Duncker 1959

Everyone Can Learn Everything

Speech at the 5th Congress of the Free German Trade Union Federation (FDGB)

First Published: in Protokoll des 5. FDGB-Kongress, hrsg. Vom FDGB-Bundesvorstand, 1959, p. 417-420.
Source: Hermann Duncker: Introduction to Marxism. Selected Speeches and Writings, VEB Edition Leipzig, Leipzig, 1963, 2. enl. ed., pp. 270-274.
Online Version: Marxists Internet Archive 2021
Transcribed: Geoff
HTML Markup: Zdravko Saveski

Dear Colleagues, Comrades and Guests,

It is my personal wish to appear before you once more and express my pleasure that it has been given to me to live to see the wonderful developments we are experiencing in the German Democratic Republic, in the Soviet Union, in China and all the other People's Democracies. Dear Friends, I would also like to express my gratitude both to you and our leadership, in that each one of you delegates has been presented with the two volumes of my "Introduction to Marxism".

It is pleasing to me for this reason: when reading through and re-examining, I always reassure myself that, during the 65 years of my activity in the labour movement, I have been able to say and write something which is not only historical, but has remained topical, still topical in this connection, unfortunately, up to the present. I believe that you as well, in extracting something from these writings, will find that what is said there is said for the present. In the second volume on page 351 and the following pages, I have reproduced a speech which I made in the discussion at the Fourth Congress of the FDGB. I must say once more that every word which then could and should be said again today.

I spoke I am glad that I am able to tell you this straight: Re-read those few pages, because you will find on page 354 of the second volume the great quotation from Lenin which to me is tremendously important. It shows how our Lenin, at that time, a few months after the victorious October Revolution, in a time of the greatest stress and difficulty, emphasized so strongly and boldly that the great final aim of a communist society must always stand before us.

Here I would like to add a small supplementary remark, for in the meantime, another marvellous quotation from Lenin has come to my mind, which I would like to think is addressed to each one of you.

You can find it in Lenin's works. Three years after the revolution, in 1920, in an article about the destruction of an ancient social order and the erection of a new one, our Lenin said the following about communist labour - words well worth taking to heart, I think.

"Communist labour in the narrow and stricter sense of the words is labour performed gratis for the benefit of society, labour performed, not as a definite duty, not for the purpose of obtaining a right to certain products, not according to previously established and legally fixed rates, but voluntary labour irrespective of rates, labour performed without expectation of reward, without the condition of reward, labour performed out of a habit of working for the common good and out of conscious realisation (become a habit) of the necessity of working for the common good, labour as the requirement of a healthy body. It must be clear to everybody that we, i. e. our society, our social system are still a very long way from the broad, genuinely mass application of this form of labour. But the very fact that this problem has been raised by the whole of the advanced proletariat (the Communist Party and the Trade Unions) and by the state is a step in this direction."[1]

You see, my friends, Lenin has pointed out in 1920 that we must put this question again and again that we must have this aim before our eyes.

I believe we should also remember that we must not only set our sight on the extremely important short-term object of the realisation of our Seven Year Plan, but that also beyond that shines the great aim of communist society in the sense that Lenin expressed so clearly in the passage I just quoted. But, dear friends, there is yet another thought that I would like to express here. You see, in the past when we were still living under capitalism and tried to appeal to the working class, to arouse it, then our great aim was, as Marx and Engels taught us in the Communist Manifesto, to awaken proletarian class consciousness. Proletarian class consciousness was decisive, the alpha and omega. I believe that in this epoch into which we have now entered, the epoch of the achievement of socialism, it must be yet clearer that the decisive aim is the expansion of proletarian class consciousness into a socialist public-consciousness.

This is intended to convey that not only must we have the working class behind us, but that in a socialist national administration, which is really entitled to call itself "national administration" since it is the administration of the whole nation, everyone who uses his hands to work in it must also be in it with both his head and his heart.

That means that we must develop a genuine socialist public consciousness embracing the whole people, and we can do it because we already live under a socialist national administration. It means, dear friends, that we must not be content with being able to gather around us a staunch vanguard. We must really be clear about this because now it is decisive that with the help of this vanguard, precisely with their help, we must succeed in attracting everybody in our factory, everyone working within the socialist national administration. We must enthuse them, induce them to improve their qualifications in their own interest and that of society as a whole. That is an immense task, not fulfilled in a day, but needing much patience, since there is naturally a section of the working people, of the masses, who still do not have the confidence in themselves that they can grapple with this or that job or this or that branch of scientific knowledge. But they must have confidence in themselves. And for this reason, I would like you all to pass on the following theses which everyone should reflect on and take to heart.

The first thesis runs like this: Everyone can learn everything. Oh yes, everyone can learn everything, given enough time and persistence, if the right method of studying is found and employed. Then everyone can learn everything. Do away with the idea - Oh, I can't do that I can't learn mathematics or I can't learn languages - I have no talent for it. That is so much twaddle. Everyone in the socialist social order can do everything, decide everything and learn everything necessary. That is the first thesis.

The second thesis is: Anybody can learn to master any job. Once he realises the enormous importance and need, then he can learn to master anything that the socialist community demands of him.

And the third thesis: Each one is responsible for and indispensable to material and cultural advance under socialism and communism. I believe that these three theses really should apply to all of us and be borne in mind in all our work. Everybody can learn everything.

So, little by little, we will certainly achieve a powerful uplift in socialist public consciousness. We shall succeed in creating and developing a people that really forms a civilised community, in which culture is not the monopoly of a top stratum of society, but in which each one will be moulded into a spiritually conscious man of culture. That is the most wonderful thing of all, dear friends, that we all work on this undertaking of creating a cultured humanity.

We should never forget that peace and culture are indivisible. When only some have peace, then there is no peace. When only some have culture, then it is not the culture of humanity. But we can succeed in forming a cultured humanity, and we shall succeed. I believe that this is an aim which will help you again and again, over all difficulties on the way. And there will be difficulties enough, for it is damned difficult to bring everybody to the knowledge that they can qualify themselves, that they can develop culture in themselves. But it must and can be done. We want a people provided with a cultural basis by their all-round education. We want a people in whom basic Marxist knowledge and basic technical knowledge have taken root. When we have succeeded in bringing that about then we have crossed the mountain top.

Dear friends. All of you here are fortunately much younger than I am and so I can say to you - you will experience it - the fulfilment of our work in building a communist society and in creating a life-community of all peoples. And you understand, when I spoke earlier about the noble aim we must reach you will reach it. Believe me, for us old ones who obviously can no longer be with you in taking the final steps to achieve our great goal, it is a wonderful feeling to know: it will be reached and it is you who will reach it.


[1] V. I. Lenin, Selected Works, vol. 9, p. 447, London 1946.