V. I. Lenin

Speech At The

Second All-Russia Congress Of Commissars For Labour[1]

May 22, 1918

Delivered: 23 May, 1918
First Published: Izvestia VtsIK No. 102, May 23. 1918 and Pravda No. 101, May 24, 1918 Published according to the Pravda text, collated with the Izvestia text
Source: Lenin’s Collected Works, 4th English Edition, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1972 Volume 27, pages 399-403
Translated: Clemens Dutt; Edited by Robert Daglish
Transcription/HTML Markup: David Walters & Robert Cymbala
Online Version: Lenin Internet Archive March, 2002

Comrades, permit me first of all to greet the Congress of Commissars for Labour in the name of the Council of People’s Commissars. (Enthusiastic applause.)

At yesterday’s session of the Council of People’s Commissars, Comrade Shlyapnikov reported that your Congress had subscribed to the resolution of the trade unions on labour discipline and production rates. Comrades, I believe you have taken an important step in passing this resolution, which not only deals with the productivity of labour and production conditions, but is also a very important step in principle from the standpoint of the present situation in general. Your contact with the broad masses of the workers is constant and a matter of business and not merely a casual contact, and you know that our revolution is experiencing one of the most important and critical moments of its development.

You are fully aware that our enemies, the Western imperialists, are lying in wait for us, and that there may perhaps come a time when they will turn their hordes loose on us. That external enemy is now being joined by another dangerous enemy-the internal enemy-the disruption, chaos and disorganisation that are being intensified by the bourgeoisie in general and by the petty bourgeoisie in particular, and by various yes-men and hangers-on of the bourgeoisie. You know, comrades, that after the most brutal war, in which we were involved by the tsarist regime and by the collaborators headed by Kerensky, we were left with a heritage of disruption and extreme economic ruin. We now have to face the most critical moment, when hunger and unemployment are knocking at the door of an increasing number of workers, when hundreds and thousands of people are suffering the pangs of hunger, when the situation is being aggravated by there being no bread when there could be bread, when we know that the proper distribution of bread depends on proper transport of grain. The shortage of fuel since we have been cut off from the rich fuel regions, the catastrophic condition of the railways that may possibly be threatened with a stoppage of trafficsuch are the conditions that breed difficulties for the revolution and fill with joy the hearts of the Kornilovites of all kinds and colours. They are now daily, hourly, perhaps, discussing how to take advantage of the difficulties of the Soviet Republic and proletarian power, how to again place a Kornilov on the throne. They are now arguing about what nationality the new Kornilov is to be-it must be someone who suits the bourgeoisie, whether he wears a crown or is a republican Kornilov. The workers now know what the matter is, and after what the Russian revolution has experienced since Kerensky, they are not a bit surprised. But the strength of the working-class organisation, of the working-class revolution, lies in our not closing our eyes to the truth, in our realising the exact state of affairs.

We have said that the war, such is its scale and incredible brutality, threatens the complete destruction of European civilisation. The only possible salvation is for the workers to take over power and establish strict law and order. Since 1905 the proletariat of Russia has for a certain time moved far ahead of the other international armies of the proletariat because of the course taken by the Russian revolution and a special historical situation. We have now reached the stage when the revolution is maturing in all West-European countries, when it is becoming clear that the situation of the armies of German workers is hopeless. We know that over there in the West, the working people are not confronted with the rotten regime of Romanov and empty boasters but by a bourgeoisie that is fully organised and can rely on all the achievements of modern civilisation and engineering. That is why it was so easy for us to start the revolution and more difficult to continue it, and why over there in the West it will be more difficult to start and easier to continue. Our difficulty is that everything has to be done by the efforts of the proletariat of Russia alone, and that we have to maintain our position until our ally, the international proletariat of all countries, grows strong enough. Every day impresses it on us that there is no other way out. Our position is made more difficult because, without reinforcements, we are faced with disorganisation on the railways, with transport and food disruptions. There the question must be presented in a way that is clear to everyone.

I hope that the Congress of Commissars for Labour, which is in more immediate contact with the workers than anybody else-that this Congress will not only mark a stage in the direct improvement of those labour arrangements which we must make the basis of socialism, but that it will also serve to clear the minds of the workers in respect of the situation we are at present experiencing. The working class is confronted with a difficult but honourable task on which the fate of socialism in Russia depends, and probably in other countries, too. That is why a resolution on labour discipline is so important.

Now that power is firmly in the hands of the workers, everything depends on proletarian discipline and proletarian organisation. It is a question of discipline and the dictatorship of the proletariat, a question of iron rule. The type of government that meets with the warmest sympathy and very determined support of the poor must be as strong as iron, because incredible calamities are advancing upon us. A large section of the workers are living under the impression of the old and hope that we shall somehow manage to get out of the present situation.

Every day, however, these illusions are being shattered, and it is becoming more and more obvious that the world war threatens whole countries with famine and decay if the working class does not overcome the economic ruin by means of its organisational ability. Side by side with the politically conscious section of the working class whose entire activity is devoted to making the new discipline of comradeship the basis of everything, we see the many millions of petty property-owners, the petty-bourgeois element, who look at everything from the standpoint of their own narrow interests. We cannot fight against the famine an disaster that are approaching, other than by establishing the iron discipline of the politically conscious workers-without it we can do nothing. Because of the huge extent of Russia we are living under conditions in which there is a lot of bread at one end of the country and none at the other. It is no use consoling ourselves with the thought that the war of defence that may be forced on us will not take place. It must not be thought that the towns and the huge industrial centres can be fed if food is not delivered regularly. Every pood of grain must be recorded so that not a single pood is wasted. We know, however, that no such record is really made, except on paper. In real life the petty profiteers are only corrupting the village poor by impressing on them that private trading can make up for their shortages. We cannot get out of the crisis under those conditions. In Russia there can be enough bread for the people and enough bread, i.e., fuel, for industry, only if everything we have is strictly divided among all citizens so that nobody can take an extra pound of bread and not a single pound of fuel can remain unused. That is the only way to save the country from famine. That is a lesson in communist distribution everything accounted for, so that there is enough bread for the people and enough fuel for industry—and it is not a lesson taken from a book, it is one we have arrived at through bitter experience.

The broad masses of the workers may not immediately realise that we are face to face with disaster. What is needed is a workers’ crusade against disorganisation and against the concealment of grain. And a crusade is needed to establish throughout the country the labour discipline you have passed a resolution on and have been talking about within the limits of the factories; the masses must be made to understand that there is no other way out. In the history of our revolution, the strength of the politically conscious workers has always been their ability to look the most bitter and dangerous reality straight in the face, to harbour no illusions but calculate their forces exactly. We can count on the politically conscious workers alone; the remaining mass, the bourgeoisie and the petty proprietors, are against us; they do not believe in the new order and take advantage of every opportunity to worsen the plight of the people. What we see in the Ukraine and in Finland may serve as an example: the incredible atrocities and the seas of blood in which the bourgeoisie and its supporters, from the Constitutional-Democrats to the Socialist-Revolutionaries, are drowning the towns they conquer with the aid of their allies. All this goes to show what awaits the proletariat in the future if it does not fulfil its historic task. We know how small is the section of advanced and politically conscious workers in Russia. We also know the plight of the people and know that the broad masses are certain to realise that we cannot get out of the situation by half-measures, that there will have to be a proletarian revolution. We live at a time when countries are being ruined and millions of people are doomed to perish or subjected to military slavery. Hence, the revolution that history has forced on us, not by the evil will of individuals, but because the entire capitalist system is breaking up, because its foundations are cracking.

Comrades, Commissars for Labour, make use of every meeting you hold at any factory, of your talks with delegations of workers, make use of every opportunity to explain the situation, so that the workers know that we are faced with either destruction or self-discipline, organisation and the possibility to defend ourselves. Let them know that we are faced with a return of the Kornilovs—Russian, German or Japanese Kornilovs—who will bring a ration of an ounce of bread a week if the politically conscious workers, at the head of all the poor, do not organise a crusade against the chaos and disorganisation which the petty bourgeoisie are everywhere intensifying, and which we must put down. It is a question of every politically conscious worker feeling that he is not only the master in his own factory but that he is also a representative of the country, of his feeling his responsibility. The politically conscious worker must know that he is a representative of hiselass. He must win if he takes the lead in the movement against the bourgeoisie and the profiteers. The politically conscious worker will understand what the main task of the socialist is, and then we shall win. Then we shall find the forces and shall be able to fight. (Loud, prolonged applause.)


[1] The Second All-Russia Congress of Commissars for Labour took place in Moscow, May 18-25, 1918. It was attended by representatives of the regional, gubernia, and uyezd commissariats for labour, labour exchanges, hospital and insurance funds and associations, unemployment funds, the All-Russia Central Council of Trade Unions and other organisations—about 600 people in all. The agenda included the following items: report of the People’s Commissariat for Labour; the situation in industry; labour discipline and the raising of labour productivity; standards of payment and standards of productivity; the economic position of the working class. The Congress worked in five committees (commissars for labour, labour exchanges, protection of labour, insurance, and statistics).The Congress approved the Statute of the A.C.C.T.U. of April 3, 1918, on Labour Discipline and the Statute on Rate Fixing; on the basis of these statutes, resolutions were passed on labour discipline, wages policy, the economic position of the working class and other matters. The Congress also passed a law on protection of labour and a decision on the setting up in the provinces of bureaus for fixing wages and work quotas.