V. I. Lenin

Speech To The Third Workers’ Co-Operative Congress[1]

December 9, 1918

Brief Newspaper Report

Delivered: 8 December, 1918
First Published: Published in full in 1919 in the pamphlet Speeches by Lenin, Milgutin and Nogin at the Third Workers’ Co-operative Congress; Published according to the pamphlet checked with the verbatim report; Brief report published in Izvestia No. 270, December 10, 1918
Source: Lenin’s Collected Works, 4th English Edition, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1972 Volume 28, pages 329-337
Translated: Jim Riordan
Transcription/HTML Markup: David Walters & Robert Cymbala
Online Version: Lenin Internet Archive May, 2002

(Stormy ovation.) Comrades, the workers’ co-operatives are today faced with extremely important economic and political tasks. Both the one and the other are now part and parcel of the economic and political struggle. In respect of the immediate tasks I want to underline the meaning of “conciliation with the co-operatives”. This conciliation, mentioned so frequently of late in the papers, radically differs from the conciliation with the bourgeoisie, which is nothing short of treachery. This conciliation we are talking about now is conciliation of a very special kind. There is a world of difference between the Soviet Government’s conciliation with Germany which produced some results, and the conciliation-which would be harmful and even fatal to the country of the working class with the bourgeoisie. What that pretext of conciliation amounts to is the complete betrayal both of the class struggle and the fundamentals of socialism. Socialists who are well aware that their chief task is to fight the bourgeoisie and capital appreciate this distinction.

All of us very well realise that there can only be one alternative in our class struggle: recognition either of the rule of capital or of the working class. We know that all the attempts by the petty-bourgeois parties to form and pursue their policy in the country are doomed to failure before they even start.. We have clearly seen and experienced several attempts by various petty-bourgeois parties and groups to push through their policy, and we see that all attempts by intermediate forces are bound to end in failure. By virtue of the very definite conditions there are only two central forces, standing at opposite ends of the pole, that can have a hold on Russia, can decide her fate one way or the other. I will go even further and say that the whole world is being formed and directed by one or the other of these central forces. As far as Russia is concerned I can say quite definitely that, because of the specific economic conditions, only one of these forces can take control. The rest, the intermediate forces, may be numerous but they can never count for much.

Right now, the Soviet authorities must face the question of conciliation with the co-operatives. In April we departed from our vowed intention and made concessions. Naturally enough, there should be no class co-operatives in a country where all classes are being eliminated, but, I repeat, the conditions of the time demanded a certain delay and we put it off for a few months. Nevertheless, we all realise that the Soviet government will never abandon the position it now occupies. We had to make those concessions since at that time we were alone in the whole world. Our concessions were due to the difficulties we had in our work. Because of the economic tasks which the proletariat had taken on, we had to reconcile ourselves to and preserve certain petty-bourgeois habits. The point here is that in one way or another we must ensure the guidance and co-ordination of the activity of the whole mass of working and exploited people. We must all the while bear in mind what the proletariat requires of us. A popular government must remember that the various sections of the petty bourgeoisie will more and more come over to the governing working class when they eventually see there is no choice, that all their hopes of a middle way of running the country are finally ruined. All the wonderful slogans about popular will, the Constituent Assembly and the like, which were a screen for all the half-measures, were immediately swept away the moment genuine popular will asserted itself. You can see for yourselves what happened and how all these slogans, the half-measure slogans, were scattered to the winds. At the given moment, we can see this happening throughout the whole world in revolution as well as in Russia.

I want to show you the difference between the conciliation which produced such an appalling disgust throughout the working class, and the conciliation which we are now calling for, agreement with all the small peasants, all the petty bourgeoisie. At the time of the Brest-Litovsk Peace Treaty, when we accepted the harsh terms of the treaty, it was said there was no hope of a world revolution, nor could there be. We were quite alone in the world. We know that at that time many parties were repelled from us because of the treaty and joined the bourgeoisie. At that time we had to endure all sorts of terrible experiences. A few months later we saw there was and could be no choice, no middle way.

When the German revolution came, everyone realised that revolution was sweeping the whole world, that Britain, France and America were also going the same way-along our path! When our petty-bourgeois democrats followed their patrons, they did not realise where they were being led, they did not realise they were being led along the capitalist road. Now we see by the example of the German revolution that these representatives and patrons of democracy, these Wilsons and Co., are imposing worse treaties on a defeated nation than the Brest-Litovsk Treaty which was forced on us. It is quite clear to us that international demagogy is now bankrupt because of the events in the West and the new situation. Now the physiognomy of every nation is as clear as can be. Now, the masks have been torn off and all the illusions have been dispelled by the battering-ram of history.

It is natural that the Soviet government should have to use all its influence and weight with such waverers who are always around during a transition, so as to carry out tasks which we are now setting, tasks which back our policy begun in April. We then had to put off our vowed intentions for a while; then we consciously and openly made several concessions.

Someone asked about exactly where we stand on this road. Now the whole of Europe clearly sees that our revolution is no longer in the experimental stage; the attitude of the civilised nations to us has now changed. They now appreciate that in this respect we are doing something new and tremendous, that we have had so much trouble because for almost all the time we stood utterly alone and completely forsaken by the entire international proletariat. In this respect we have been guilty of many serious mistakes which we do not in any way hide. We should, of course, have endeavoured to unite the whole population and not to divide them. We may not have done it up to now and we must get down to the job sometime. We have already joined up with many organisations. Now, the workers’ co-operatives and Soviet bodies should be merged. Since this April we have been organising on the basis of experience and we have been employing the store of social and political forces that we have at our disposal. We have been organising the supply and distribution of goods among the whole population. We have checked every step we took because this organisation has been particularly difficult to carry out in our economically backward country. Agreements with the co-operatives were first made in April and the decree issued on the complete merger and organisation of supply and distribution pursues the same aim.

The previous speaker mentioned friction in a reference to Petrograd; we know there is friction almost everywhere. We also know that this friction is quite inevitable because the time has come when two utterly different types of apparatus are meeting and merging. We know too, however, that we have to pass through it because it is inevitable. In just the same way you must realise that the long resistance put up by the workers’ co-operatives has finally resulted in distrust from the Soviet government, a distrust that is perfectly natural.

You say you want independence. It is quite natural that anyone who puts forward this demand should induce distrust. If you complain of friction and want to avoid it, then you must first give up the idea of independence since anyone who insists on that is an enemy of the Soviet government at a time when we are all striving for a closer union. Once the workers’ co-operatives unite in a perfectly clearcut, honest and open way with the Soviet government, this friction will begin to disappear. I know only too well that when two groups merge the work does not proceed smoothly at first. Nevertheless, with a little time, when the one group earns the trust of the other, all the friction gradually fades away. However, constant inter-departmental friction is likely if the two groups stay apart. I don’t understand what independence has got to do with it. After all we all agree that the whole of society should be one big co-operative as far as supply and distribution are concerned. All of us agree that the co-operatives are a socialist gain. There lies the immense difficulty of socialist gains. There lie the difficulty and aim of victory. Capitalism deliberately splits the population. This split must disappear once and for all, and the whole of society must become a single workers’ co-operative. There can and must be no question of any kind of independence for individual groups.

To establish this type of co-operative I was speaking about just now is the condition for the victory of socialism. That is why we say that no matter what difference of opinion we may have over private matters, we shall never come to terms with capitalism or take any step away from the principles of our struggle. The agreement we are now going to make with sections of social classes is an agreement not with the bourgeoisie or capital, but with individual groups of workers and democrats. There is nothing to be afraid of in this agreement because the whole difference between these sections will disappear without. a trace in the fire of revolution. Now all we need is a single will to enter with an open heart that single world co-operative. What the Soviet government and the co-operatives have done up to now must be merged. That is the substance of the latest decree passed by the Soviet government. That has been the approach by Soviet representatives in many places in the absence of our decree. The tremendous good accomplished by the co-operatives must be merged with the tremendous good accomplished by the Soviet government. All sections of the population fighting for their freedom must be merged in a single strong organisation. We know we have made a lot of mistakes, especially in the first months after the October Revolution. But from now onwards, after a passage of time, we shall endeavour to attain a complete union and complete agreement among the population. To do so, everything must come under the Soviet government and all illusions about some sort of “independence", whether for individual groups or the workers’ co-operatives, must be dispelled as quickly as possible. Hopes for “independence” can only be held out where there can still be hopes for some sort of return to the past.

The Western nations once regarded us and all our revolutionary movement as a curiosity. They used to say: “Let the people have their fling; we shall wait and see how it all works out .... Queer people, those Russians!” Now the “queer Russians” have shown the world what their “fling” means. (Applause.)

Now that the German revolution has broken out, a foreign consul said to Zinoviev: “It’s hard to say at this point who has made better use of the Brest-Litovsk Peace, you or we.”

He said this because everyone was saying it. Everyone saw that this was just the beginning of the great world revolution. And this great revolution was started by the backward and “queer” Russian people .... History certainly has strange ways: that a backward country should have the honour of leading a great world movement, which is seen and understood by the bourgeoisie of the whole world. This conflagration has swept Germany, Belgium, Switzerland and Holland.

This movement is spreading from day to day, the revolutionary Soviet Government is daily gaining in strength. That is why the bourgeoisie have now taken an entirely different attitude to matters. Now that the axe is about to fall on world capitalism, there can be no question at all of any independence for individual parties. America provides the most glaring example. America is one of the most democratic countries, it is a great democratic social republic. Where else, if not in that country-which has all the electoral rights and all the rights of a free state-could we expect a correct solution to all legal questions? Yet we know what has happened to a clergyman there, in that democratic republic: he was tarred and whipped until his blood flowed in the dust. This took place in a free country, in a democratic republic. This was allowed to happen by the “humane", “philanthropic” Tiger Wilsons and Co. What are these Wilsons now doing with Germany, a defeated country? The pictures of world relations are displayed before us in full view! We see the substance of what the Wilsons offer their friends from these pictures, which carry such overwhelming conviction. The Wilsons would have instantly proved our point. These gentlemen-the free multimillionaires, the “most humane” people in the world-would have instantly broken their friends’ habit of talking, even of dreaming, of “independence” in any form. They would have squarely put before you the alternative: either you stand for the capitalist system or you stand for the Soviets. They would have said: do this, because we say so, we, your friends, the British, the Amnericans-the Wilsons, and the French Clemenceau’s friends.

That is why it is quite hopeless to expect any vestige of independence to remain. This cannot be, and it is no use dreaming of it. There can be no middle course once it is a question of protecting property on the one hand, and once the proletariat has found its way on the other. The branches of the tree of life must either be closely intertwined with capital, or even more closely with the Soviet Republic. It is absolutely clear to everyone that socialism has entered the period of its realisation. It is quite clear to everyone that it is absolutely impossible to maintain or retain petty-bourgeois positions through universal suffrage. The Wilsons may nurture such illusions, rather, they do not nurture such illusions but try to embellish their own aims by fostering such illusions, but you won’t find many people nowadays who believe these fairy-tales. If such people do exist, they are a historical rarity or a museum piece. (Applause.)

The differences you have had from the outset about preserving the “independence” of the co-operative movement are nothing but vain efforts which must peter out without any hope of a positive solution. This struggle is not serious and it clashes with the principles of democracy. Although this is not surprising because the Wilsons are also “democrats”. They say that it remains for them to establish one final union because they have so many dollars they can buy up the whole of Russia, and the whole of India, and the whole world. Wilson presides over their company, their pockets are bulging with dollars and that is why they talk about buying up Russia and India and everything else. But they forget that basic international issues are settled in an entirely different manner, that only some people, in a definite environment, may be impressed by their statements. They forget that the resolutions daily adopted by the strongest class in the world-the kind our own Congress is sure to adopt unanimously-greet only the dictatorship of the proletariat all over the world. By adopting such a resolution our Congress takes the road which does not and cannot lead to the kind of “independence” being discussed here today. You are aware that Karl Liebknecht has shown some opposition not only to the petty-bourgeois peasants, but also to the cooperative movement. You know that just for this Scheidemann and company consider him a dreamer and fanatic, yet you addressed a message of greetings to him, just as you sent greetings to Maclean. By voicing solidarity on these matters with the great world leaders you have burnt your boats. You must keep a firm stand because at the moment you are standing up not only for yourselves, not only for your own rights, but also for the rights of Liebknecht and Maclean. I have often heard the Russian Mensheviks condemn conciliation, and inveigh against those who came to terms with the Kaiser’s lackeys. Nor were the Mensheviks alone in erring that way. The whole world pointed at us, hurling this stern charge: “Conciliators.” Now that the world revolution has started, and they have to deal with Haase and Kautsky, we have the right to describe our position in the words of the good Russian proverb: “Let’s stand back, and see how well we are placed.”

We know our shortcomings, and they are easily pointed out. But to the onlooker everything appears to be quite different from what it actually is. At one time, you know, everyone in the other parties condemned our behaviour and our policy, and now whole parties are siding with us.[2] The wheel of the world revolutionary movement has now turned to such an extent that we need not fear any kind of conciliation whatsoever. And I am sure that our Congress will find the right way out of the situation. There is only one way out: a merger of the co-operative movement with the Soviet government. You know that Britain, France, America and Spain regarded our actions as experiments; they have now changed their tune: they now have to look to their own affairs at home. Of course, physically, materially and financially they are considerably stronger than we are, but in spite of their outward polish we know they are rotten inside; they are stronger than we are at present with the strength that was Germany’s when the Brest-Litovsk Peace Treaty was concluded. But what do we see now? Everyone recoiled from us then. Now, every month we spend in strengthening the Soviet Republic we spend in defending not only ourselves, but also the cause started by Liebknecht and Maclean, and we already see that Britain, France, America and Spain have been infected with the same disease and are fired with the same flame as Germany, the flame of the universal and world-wide struggle of the working class against imperialism. (Prolonged applause.)


[1] The Congress was held in Moscow on December 6-11, 1918. It was attended by 208 voting delegates and 98 non-voting delegates. 121 of the voting delegates were Communists and their sympathisers and the other 87 delegates were supporters of “independent” co-operatives, i.e., Mensheviks and Bight Socialist-Revolutionaries who advocated the independence of the co-operatives from the Soviet state. Lenin spoke about the tasks of workers’ co-operatives at the evening session on December 9. Among other speakers were V. P. Nogie and V. P. Milyutin. The Congress censured the anti-Soviet demands for “independence” for the co-operatives and decided to get the worker!’ co-operatives to organise food supplies jointly with state food organs. The Congress elected the All-Russia Council of Workers’ Co-operatives of 15 members, 10 of whom were Communists (V. P. Nogin, V. P. Milyutin, I. I. Skvortsov-Stepanov and others.

[2] This refers to the Narodnik Communists and Revolutionary Communists who had split away from the Left Socialist-Revolutionary Party (see Note 128).