V. I. Lenin

Speech at

Presnya District Workers’ Conference

Delivered: 14 December, 1918
First Published: Brief report published in Pravda No. 275 December 18, 1918; First published in full in the fourth Russian edition of Lenin’s Collected Works; Published according to the verbatim report
Source: Lenin’s Collected Works, 4th English Edition, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1972 Volume 28, pages 354-366
Translated: Clemens Dutt; Edited by Robert Daglish
Transcription/HTML Markup: David Walters & Robert Cymbala
Online Version: V. I. Lenin Internet Archive May, 2002

Comrades, I am going to examine a couple of questions fixed for discussion today. The first concerns the international situation and the second our attitude to the petty-bourgeois democratic parties.

First a few words about the international situation. As you know, the British, French and American imperialists have declared a grand campaign against the Russian Soviet Republic. These imperialists are carrying on agitation against Russia among their workers, accusing the Bolsheviks of flouting the majority and being propped up by a minority. Since the vast majority of papers in France and Britain belong to the bourgeoisie, these lies against the Soviet Government spread quickly and freely. That is why it is not worth even bothering about such a ridiculous and crude story that the Bolsheviks are backed by the minority of the people in Russia. It is a story that is not even worth refuting because everyone who knows anything about what is going on here realises how ridiculous it is. Yet when you look at the British, French and American papers—and, by the way, we only get the bourgeois papers here—you see the bourgeoisie are still spreading these tales.

The only people who have no voting rights and no right to take part in or influence the country’s political life are exploiters, those who exploit the labour of others and do not work themselves. There are only a handful of such people among the population. You can just imagine how many people are exploiting hired labour in the towns. Private ownership of the land is no more. The landowners have been deprived of their estates and the homesteaders, who were still robbing the peasants under Stolypin, have had their land taken away. The number of those exploiting other people’s labour in the countryside is negligible too. But the Soviet government has not told them it will take their vote away. It has said that we recognise anyone’s right to participate in administration if he wants to stop exploiting other people’s labour. If you want to be a worker, God bless you. If you want to be an exploiter, we shall not only disfranchise you, but we shan’t let you feed off someone else’s labour.

From these fundamentals of our Constitution it is apparent that the Soviet government relies on those who work and offers them the right to run the country. The government is relying on the vast, overwhelming majority of the people. Every Soviet congress, and there have been six so far, shows us that the workers’, peasants’ and-Red Army representatives, representatives of the majority of people who live by their own and not someone else’s labour, constitute an increasingly solid foundation for the Soviet government. The First Congress of Soviets was held in June 1917, when Russia was a bourgeois republic engaged in an imperialist war. It took place in the June of 1917 when Kerensky was driving the troops on to the offensive and millions were killed in battle. At that Congress the number of Communists or Bolsheviks was only 13 per cent, that is one-seventh. At the Second Congress of Soviets which paved the way for the workers’ and peasants’ government, the Bolsheviks had jumped to 51 per cent, a half. And at the Fifth Congress this July the Bolsheviks had 66 per cent. It was then that the Left S.R.s, seeing how quickly Bolshevism was growing, tried their rash action and in so doing split apart completely. Three different parties arose from this split, of which the last one, the Narodnik Communists, came over to the Bolsheviks along with a whole number of prominent individuals like Kolegayev.

At the Sixth Congress, the Bolsheviks had 97 per cent, that is, practically all representatives of the workers and peasants of the whole of Russia. This is an indication of the present unity of the vast majority of working people around the Soviet government, and how stupid and ridiculous is the bourgeoisie’s fairy-tale about the Bolsheviks only having minority support. The bourgeoisie lie like they do because of the 17 thousand million debt of the tsarist government to the capitalists, the 17 thousand million debt which we repudiated and refused to pay. We don’t intend to pay for the old rulers. We recognise that the debts have been incurred but we say: “Fair enough, you made the debt, you settle up among yourselves.” The allies want to get their own back on us for the debt and restore the power of the landowners and the tsar. We know what they did in Archangel, Samara and Siberia. There, even the Mensheviks and Right S.R.s., who were antagonistic after the Brest-Litovsk Peace Treaty and thought we were wrong to count on a German revolution, are now convinced of being driven out and of private property and the landowners being restored with the aid of British and Czech troops.

Even though the British and French papers hide the truth, it seems to be making some headway. The workers sense and realise that the revolution in Russia is theirs, a workingman’s, socialist revolution. Even in France and Britain the labour movement is now carrying such slogans as “Withdraw the forces from Russia!” and “He who makes war against Russia is a criminal!” A socialist rally was recently held in London’s Albert Hall and according to information received, which the British Government tried hard to repress, the rally demanded “Withdraw the forces from Russia!” and all the workers’ leaders condemned the government policy as robbery and violence. We also have news that Maclean, who was a Scottish schoolmaster at one time, called the workers out on strike in the principal industrial districts, condemning the war as a war of plunder. He had been in prison earlier. Then he was put in again. But when the revolutionary movement flared up in Europe, Maclean was let out and he put up as parliamentary candidate in Glasgow, one of the biggest cities in the North of England and Scotland. This shows that the British labour movement and its revolutionary demands are having a bigger impact. The British Government was forced to set Maclean free, its rabid enemy, a man who is proud to call himself a British Bolshevik.

In France, where the workers are still affected by chauvinism, and where they still think the war is being waged only for the defence of the country, a revolutionary mood is growing. Now, when Britain and France have beaten the Germans, they, as you know, have presented them with terms a hundred times harsher than those of the Brest-Litovsk Peace Treaty. Today, revolution in Europe has become a reality. The Allies, who boasted they were bringing Germany freedom from the Kaiser and militarism, have fallen to the role once played by the Russian troops in Nicholas I’s time, when Russia was in the dark, when Nicholas I drove the Russian troops to stifle the Hungarian revolution. That was under serfdom over 60 years ago. Yet today, free Britain and other countries have turned into hangmen and think they are strong enough to stifle the revolution and repress the truth. But this truth will overcome all the obstacles both in France and Britain, and the workers will realise they have been deceived and inveigled into a war for robbing another country, and not for freeing France or Britain. From France we now hear there are people in the Socialist Party, which had previously supported defence of the fatherland, who warmly welcome the Soviet Republic and protest against military intervention in Russia.

On the other hand, the British and French imperialists are menacing Russia and giving support to the Krasnovs and Dutovs, helping to restore the monarchy and thinking they can deceive a free nation. We know that militarily the imperialists are stronger than us. We knew about it and said so ages ago. We appealed to everyone to aid the Red Army so as to bar the way to and repel the robbers and plunderers. When people say: “If British and French imperialism is stronger, what’s the sense in fighting?” we reply: “Do you remember the Brest-Litovsk Treaty? Didn’t the whole Russian bourgeoisie shout that the Bolsheviks were selling Russia to the Germans? Didn’t they shout then that the Bolsheviks were hoping for a miracle in banking on a German revolution?” The German imperialists were then much stronger than us and had every chance of plundering Russia because we had no army. The old army could not and would not fight because people were so exhausted by the war that they just could not summon up the strength to fight. Everyone who knows what happened then realises that we could not defend ourselves and it looked like Russia was going to fall into the hands of the Kaiser’s henchmen. Yet, a few months later, the Germans had got themselves into such a mess in this same Russia and met such resistance, had so much trouble with the agitation among the German soldiers that now, as I was told by Zinoviev, Chairman of the Northern Commune in Petrograd, the German consul said as the German representatives were making off: “Now it’s hard to tell who gained more, you or we.” He realised that the German soldiers, who had been so much stronger than us, had been infected by the Bolshevik disease. And Germany today is in the grip of a revolution, there is a battle going on for Soviet power. The Brest-Litovsk Treaty, which had been declared the complete downfall of the Bolsheviks, turned out to be only a stepping stone to our present position. Having fortified ourselves we have now begun to form a Red Army. Yet the German soldiers have been infected by Bolshevism and the apparent victories turned out to be only a step to the complete downfall of German imperialism, an intermediate rung towards extending and developing the world revolution.

We were alone at the time of the Brest-Litovsk Treaty. All Europe looked on the Russian revolution as an exceptional affair, they regarded our revolution as an “Asiatic revolution”, which began so hastily and toppled the tsar just because Russia was a backward country, and quickly moved on to take away property and to a socialist revolution because of this backwardness. But they forgot the other reason behind the Russian revolution: Russia had no alternative. The war had caused such destruction and starvation every where, made the people and soldiers so weary, they realised they had been tricked for so long, and that the only way out for Russia was revolution.

The Germans were told they had to defend themselves against the Russian invasion. And now this lie is being nailed with every passing day. The German capitalists and generals continued to lead their troops against Russia even when the country had become socialist. This made it quite clear to even the dimmest German soldier that he had been tricked for the whole four years and sent to war so that the German capitalists could plunder Russia. The same thing that brought the downfall of German imperialism, and the revolution in Germany, is with every passing day and hour bringing the revolution closer in France, Britain and other countries. We were alone. Now we are not. Today, there is a revolution in Berlin, Austria, Hungary; even in Switzerland, Holland and Denmark, free countries that were not touched by the war, the revolutionary movement is growing and the workers are demanding that Soviets be formed. Now it seems there is no alternative. Revolution is maturing all over the world. We were the first and we must defend the revolution until our allies, the workers of all Europe, catch us up. The further their governments get into the mire, the closer these allies will be to us.

When at the time of the Brest-Litovsk Treaty the Germans thought they were the masters, they were only a step away from their doom. And today, Britain and France, by imposing peace terms on the Germans which are far harsher and more despicable than those Germany foisted on us, are standing on the edge of a precipice. No matter how much they lie, they are now only a few steps away from their doom. They are scared stiff of this doom, their lies are being increasingly exposed as the days go by. We say this: however much these imperialists lie in their newspapers, our cause is sound, much sounder than theirs because it is backed by the class-consciousness of the mass of workers everywhere; this class-consciousness was born of the war, which bled the whole world white for four years. The old governments will not enter God’s world from this war. The old governments now say they are against world Bolshevism. The workers know what is going on in Russia: the landowners and capitalists are being hounded out, and are calling hirelings, alien soldiers to the rescue. The situation is now clear to everyone. Workers everywhere realise what is going on. And despite the whole savagery and bitterness of the imperialists, we courageously go into battle with them in the awareness that every step they take inside Russia will be a step towards their doom, and that they will fare no better than the German soldiers who brought Bolshevism back from the Ukraine instead of bread.

Power in Russia is now in the hands of the working people; if they lose it, nobody will ever be able to heal the wounds caused by this bloody, terrible war! To leave power in the hands of the old capitalists would mean that the whole burden of war would have to be shouldered by the working people, who would have to pay the entire cost.

Britain? America and Japan are now fighting for a share of the spoils. Everything has been divided. Wilson is President of the world’s most democratic republic. But what is he saying? People there are shot in the streets by jingoist crowds for one word in favour of peace. A clergyman who had never been a revolutionary was dragged out into the street and severely beaten for preaching peace. Where the wildest terror reigns troops are now being used to crush the revolution, to threaten suppression of the German revolution. The revolution in Germany broke out just recently, only a month ago; the burning issue there is a Constituent Assembly or Soviet government. All the bourgeoisie there are for the Constituent Assembly, and all the socialists—those who served the Kaiser as lackeys, who did not dare start a revolutionary war—they, too, want a Constituent Assembly. Germany is split into two camps. The socialists now favour the Constituent Assembly, while Liebknecht, who spent three years in prison, stands, like Rosa Luxemburg, at the head of Die Rote Fahne. An issue of the newspaper was received in Moscow yesterday. It had a very difficult and eventful journey. In it you will find a number of articles—all the authors, who are revolutionary leaders, describe how the bourgeoisie are cheating the people. Freedom in Germany was in the hands of the capitalists. They published only their own newspapers, and now Die Rote Fahne says that only the workers have the right to use national wealth. Although the revolution in Germany is only a month old, the country is split into two camps. All the traitor socialists are clamouring for a Constituent Assembly, while the genuine, honest socialists are saying: “We all stand for the power of the workers and the soldiers.” They are not saying “and the peasants”, because in Germany many peasants also hire labourers, and so they are saying “for the workers and the soldiers”. They say instead “for the small peasants”. Soviet power there has already become a form of government.

Soviet government is a world-wide government. It is replacing the old bourgeois state. A republic as well as a monarchy is a form of the bourgeoisie’s robbery of the people if the capitalists are left with their property—the factories, banks and print-shops. The Bolsheviks were right when they said the world revolution was growing. It develops differently in different countries. It takes a long time and is not very easy. Any socialist who thinks the capitalists are going to renounce their rights at once is a bad socialist. No, the world has not seen such kindly capitalists yet. Socialism can only develop through struggle with capitalism. There has not yet been any ruling class which has given way with out a fight. The capitalists know what Bolshevism is. They used to say: “Russian stupidity and Russian backwardness are making some sort of hocus-pocus there, nothing will come of it. They’re chasing ghosts over there in Russia.” But today these very same capitalist gentlemen realise this revolution is a world conflagration and only the workers’ government can triumph. We are now setting up Poor Peasants’ Committees. And in Germany most peasants are either farm labourers or small farmers. The big farmers are in most cases the German brand of landowners.

Yesterday the Swiss Government expelled our representative from the country, and we know the reason why. We know the French and British imperialists are scared because our representative has every day sent us telegrams and accounts of rallies in London at which the British workers have declared: “Down with British forces in Russia!” He sent us news about France too. The imperialists have reportedly presented the Russian representatives with an ultimatum. The Soviet government’s representatives have been kicked out of Sweden as well and they must return to Russia. But it is still too early for them to rejoice. It is a barren victory. This step won’t get them anywhere. No matter how hard the “Allies” try to hide the truth, deceive their people and get rid of representatives of Soviet Russia, the people will learn the whole truth in the end.

We are calling on you to give everything you have to repulse the “Allies” and support the Red Army. When we did not have the Red Army, what happened was understandable. But now we see that the Red Army is growing strong and winning battles. Our army is up against the British forces. And our army has officers who only yesterday came up from the working class, who only yesterday had completed their military training. From prisoners, we have a lot of evidence that when they read the Constitution of our Republic in English they say to themselves they have been deceived, that Soviet Russia is not what they thought, that the Soviet government is a workers’ government. And we say: “Yes, comrades, we are not only fighting for Soviet Russia, we are fighting for the government of workers and working people generally, the world over.” As long as we can contain imperialism, the German revolution will strengthen. Revolution will strengthen elsewhere too. That is why, no matter what names they call it in Europe, this world revolution has stood up to its full stature and world imperialism will go under. Our position may be difficult but we have the assurance that we are not alone in fighting for a just cause, we have allies in the workers of every country.

Comrades, after these remarks on our international position, I want to say a few words about other questions. I want to talk about the petty-bourgeois parties. They considered themselves socialists. But they are not. We know full well that the institutions in capitalist society like banks, savings banks, mutual aid societies are called “mutual help” institutions, but in actual fact they are nothing of the sort, this name is a screen for robbery. These parties, which made out they were for the people, at the time when the Russian working class was fighting off Krasnov (he was arrested by our troops and set free, unfortunately, through the magnanimity of the Petrograders), those Menshevik and Right S.R. gentlemen were siding with the bourgeoisie. These parties of the petty bourgeoisie never know where to go—to the capitalists or to the workers. They are made up of people who live in the hope that one day they will grow rich. They constantly see that around them most small holders live badly—these are all working people. So these petty-bourgeois parties, who are scattered throughout the world, have begun to waver. This isn’t new. It has always been the same, and that is how it is with us too. They all forsook us when the Brest-Litovsk Treaty came along, the hardest time of our revolution, when we had no army and we were forced to conclude a peace treaty, saying to ourselves: we shall not drop our socialist work for one minute. It slipped their mind that Russia was making her supreme sacrifice for the socialist revolution, and they deserted to the Constituent Assembly advocates. These turned up in Samara and Siberia as well. Now they are being driven away from there and shown the only choice is between the landowners’ government and the Bolsheviks’ government. There is no middle course. Either the government of the oppressed or of the oppressors. All the poor peasants can only follow us. And they will only come when they see we do not stand on ceremony with the old regime and are doing everything for the good of the people. That is the only government of Soviets that could have had the people’s support throughout the year despite the terrible conditions and famine. The workers and peasants realise that no matter how badly the war goes, the workers’ and peasants’ government will do everything it can against the capitalist exploiters, so that the whole burden of the war falls on these gentlemen’s shoulders and not on the workers. And there you are, the workers’ and peasants’ government has had the people’s support for more than a year.

Today, with the beginning of the German revolution, the Mensheviks and S.R.s are starting to change round. The best of them strove for socialism. But they thought the Bolsheviks were chasing ghosts, hoping for a miracle. Now they are convinced that whatever the Bolsheviks expected was not daydreams but real life. They see that the world revolution has begun and is growing throughout the world. And the best people among the Mensheviks and S.R.s are beginning to repent for their mistakes and realise that the Soviet government is not only Russian but a world-wide government of workers, and that no Constituent Assembly will help matters.

Britain, France and America know that today, now that the world revolution has flared up, they have no external enemies. The enemy comes from inside every country. A new breakthrough has arrived, when the Mensheviks and Right S.R.s are starting to waver and the best of them follow the Bolsheviks and see that though they swear by the Constituent Assembly they cannot help being on the side of the Whites. All over the world the question now is: either Soviet power or the power of the plunderers who have had ten million people murdered in the war, twenty million maimed, and are now continuing to plunder other countries.

There you have, comrades, the question which causes the petty-bourgeois democrats to waver. We know these parties always have wavered and always will. Most of the people get their convictions straight from their own experience and have no trust in books and words. We tell the middle peasant he is not our enemy and we have no cause to oppress him. And if a local Soviet somewhere or other hits the middle peasant hard and it hurts, that Soviet must be taken away because it does not know how to act properly. The middle, petty-bourgeois democrats will always waver. And if they swing our way, like a pendulum, we must give them support. We tell them that if they are going to spoil our work, we don’t want them. But if they are prepared to help us, we shall accept them. There are different groups among the Mensheviks, there is the group of “activists” which includes all those who have said: “It’s about time we stopped criticising only and helped by action.” We have said we shall fight the Czechs and whoever helps them will be dealt with ruthlessly. But when there are people who have seen their mistake, we must accept them and treat them with leniency. The person who stands in the middle between the worker and the capitalist will always waver. He thought the Soviet government would not last long. But he thought wrong. European imperialism cannot bring down our government. Revolution is now spreading all over the world. And we invite those who wavered and now see and understand their error, to come over to us. We won’t turn them away. We must above all see to it that all these people, no matter what they were before, whether they wavered or not, as long as they are sincere, come over to us. We are now strong enough not to be afraid of anyone. We can stomach them all. But they cannot stomach us. Just remember that these parties are bound to waver. Today the pendulum swings one way, tomorrow the other. We must remain the proletarian party of workers and oppressed. But we are now in charge of the whole of Russia and our only enemy is the person who lives by another’s labour. The others are not our enemies. They are only waverers. But waverers are not yet enemies.

Now, one more question. Food. As you all know, the food situation, which had improved somewhat in the autumn, is again on the decline. People are starving once more and things will be worse by the spring. Our rail transport is now very much in a mess. On top of everything, it is over-burdened with prisoners of war coming home. Two million men are on their way home from Germany. These two million are utterly worn out. They have starved terribly. They are not people, but shadows, skeletons of people. Our transport suffered more from the fighting at home. There are no steam engines, and no carriages. And the food situation is getting really bad. In view of the seriousness of the situation, the Council of People’s Commissars said to itself: We now have an army and discipline established by Party cells which exist in each regiment. The majority of officers are now from the workers and not sons of the rich. If these officers now appreciate that the working class must find people to run the country, and Red officers too, then the socialist army will really be socialist with officer personnel renovated by the presence of Red officers. We know the breakthrough has now arrived. We have an army. It has a new discipline. The discipline is maintained by the Party cells, workers and commissars who went to the front in their hundreds of thousands explaining to the workers and peasants what the war was all about. That is why the breakthrough started in our army. That is why it has had such a great effect. The British papers are saying they are now running up against a serious foe in Russia.

We are very well aware of the poor apparatus we have for procuring and distributing food supplies. Certain groups of people have wormed their way in who are swindling and robbing. We know, too, that among the railway workers all those who are shouldering the whole burden of the work are on the side of the Soviet government. But up top they back the old regime, are either causing sabotage or not working with a will. Comrades, you know this war is revolutionary. Every force in the country must be summoned for this war. The whole country must be turned into a revolutionary camp. Everyone must help. By help we do not only mean that everyone should go to the front, but that the class of our state which is leading everyone to freedom, and which is the Soviet government’s support, should run the country because it alone has the right to do so. We appreciate the difficulties resulting from the working class having been kept away both from administration and education for so long. We appreciate the difficulties of the workers in learning everything at once. Nevertheless, in military matters, the most difficult and dangerous of all, it was the working class which effected the breakthrough. The politically-conscious working class must help us to make the same sort of breakthrough with food supplies and the railways. Every railwayman and every food worker should regard himself as a soldier performing his duty. He should remember that he is fighting a war on hunger. He must throw off his former bureaucratic habits. The other day we passed a decree on forming a workers’ food inspection. We told ourselves that we need the workers’ participation to bring about a breakthrough in the railway apparatus, to make a type of Red Army out of it. Call on your people. Rig up courses, teach them, make them commissars. Only they, if they give us their staff, can turn the army of old civil servants into some sort of Red Socialist Army responsible for provisions, an army led by workers and working not under the lash but of their own free will, just like the Red officers are fighting and dying at the front, in the knowledge that they die for a socialist republic.