Delivered: 26 November 1918
First Published December 1918 as a leaflet and in the journal Rabochy Mir No. 19; Published according to the leaflet checked with the journal
Source: Lenin’s Collected Works, Progress Publishers, Moscow, Volume 28, 1974, pages 196-200
Translated (and edited): Jim Riordan
Transcription/HTML Markup: David Walters
Online Version: V. I. Lenin Internet Archive, 2002
(Comrade Lenin’s appearance is greeted with stormy, prolonged applause.) Comrades, greetings to you representatives of the workers’ co-operative societies that have a tremendous part to play in setting the whole business of supply on the proper lines. In the Council of People’s Commissars we have frequently, especially just lately, had to discuss questions that concern co-operative societies and the attitude of the workers’ and peasants’ government towards them.
In this respect we should remember how important the role of the co-operative movement was under capitalism, when it functioned on the principle of fighting the capitalist class economically.
It is certainly true that in their approach to the practical work of distribution, the co-operatives often turned the interests of the people into the interests of a group of individuals, and were often guided by the urge to share trading profits with the capitalists. With purely commercial interests as their guide, the co-operators often forgot about the socialist system that seemed to them to be too far away, or even unattainable.
The co-operatives were often associations of mainly petty-bourgeois people, middle peasants, whose efforts in the co-operative movement were governed by their own petty-bourgeois interests. Nevertheless these co-operatives undoubtedly helped to encourage popular initiative, thereby rendering a great service. They really did build big economic organisations based on popular initiative, and in this, we must admit, they played an important role.
In some cases these economic organisations developed into institutions capable of replacing or complementing the capitalist apparatus; this is something we should recognise. But in the meantime the urban workers had been drawn into the organisation of large-scale capitalist industry to such an extent that they had grown strong enough to overthrow the landowning and capitalist class, and to be capable of utilising the entire capitalist apparatus.
The urban workers well appreciated that owing to the disorder caused by the imperialist war the supply system had to be put in order and for that purpose they used, first and foremost, the big economic apparatus of the capitalists.
We must keep that in mind. The co-operative movement is a huge cultural legacy that we must treasure and make use of.
Hence we approached the problem cautiously in the Council of People’s Commissars when we had to deal with it, knowing full well how important it was to make full use of that efficient economic apparatus.
Yet we had to bear in mind that the chief co-operative workers were Mensheviks, Right S.R.s and members of other compromise and petty-bourgeois parties. We could not forget that while the political groups between the two warring classes used the co-operatives partially as a screen for counter-revolutionaries, even to support the Czechs out of their funds. We had evidence of this all right. This, however, was certain]y not the case everywhere and we frequently invited the co-operatives to work with us, if they wished to.
Soviet Russia’s international position has recently be come such that many petty-bourgeois groups have come to realise the importance of the workers’ and peasants’ government.
When Soviet Russia was faced with the Brest-Litovsk negotiations and we were forced to conclude that very harsh peace with the German imperialists, the Mensheviks and Right S.R.s were particularly vociferous in attacking us. When Soviet Russia was forced to conclude that peace, the Mensheviks and S.R.s raised a hue and cry that the Bolsheviks were ruining Russia.
Some of those people thought the Bolsheviks were utopians, dreamers who believed in the possibility of world revolution. Others thought the Bolsheviks were agents of German imperialism.
Furthermore, many of them in those days assumed that the Bolsheviks had made concessions to German imperialism and gloated over this being an agreement with the ruling German bourgeoisie.
I won’t mention other expressions unflattering, to say the least, that these groups then hurled at the Soviet government.
Recent events all over the world, however, have taught the Mensheviks and Right S.R.s a great deal. The Menshevik Central Committee appeal to all working people published recently in our press states that although they have ideological differences with the Communists they consider it necessary to fight world imperialism today headed by the Anglo-American capitalists.
Indeed, events of tremendous importance have occurred. Soviets of Workers” Deputies have been formed in Rumania and Austria-Hungary. In Germany the Soviets have opposed the Constituent Assembly and soon, perhaps in a few weeks, the Haase-Scheidemann government will fall and be replaced by the Liebknecht government. At the same time the British and French capitalists are doing all they can to crush the Russian revolution and thereby halt the world revolution. Everyone now realises that the aspirations of Allied imperialism go even farther than those of German imperialism; the terms imposed on Germany are even worse than those of the Brest-Litovsk Peace Treaty, and on top of that they want to crush the revolution and be world gendarmes. The Mensheviks have shown by their resolution that they realise which way the British winds are blowing. We must not now turn them away, on the contrary, we must meet them halfway and give them a chance to work with us.
Last April the Communists showed they were not averse to working with co-operators. It is the job of the Communists, relying on the support of the urban proletariat, to be able to use all those who can be enlisted for the work, who formerly adopted socialist slogans but did not have the courage to continue fighting for them until they achieved victory or were defeated. Marx said the proletariat must expropriate the capitalists and make use of petty bourgeois groups. And we said everything must be taken from the capitalists but only pressure must be brought to bear on the kulaks and they must be kept under the control of the grain monopoly. We must come to an agreement with the middle peasants, bring them under our control, while at the same time actually promoting the ideals of socialism.
We must say forthrightly that the workers and poor peasants will do all they can to really promote the ideals of socialism, and if there are people out of step with these ideals, we shall go it alone. We must, however, make use of everyone who can really help us in this most difficult struggle.
When discussing these questions last April the Council of People’s Commissars came to an agreement with the co-operators. This was the only meeting that was attended by members of the non-government co-operative movement as well as the Communist People’s Commissars.
We came to an agreement with them. This was the only meeting that adopted a decision by a minority, by co-operators, and not by a majority of Communists.
The Council of People’s Commissars did this because it thought it necessary to make use of the experience and knowledge of the co-operators and of their apparatus.
You also know that a decree on the organisation of supply was adopted a few days ago and published in Sunday’s Izvestia, and which allots a considerable role to the co-operatives and the co-operative movement. This is because socialist economic organisation is impossible without a network of co-operative organisations and because there have been a lot of mistakes in this sphere up to now. Some co-operatives have been closed or nationalised even though the Soviets could not cope with distribution and the organisation of Soviet shops.
By the decree everything taken from the co-operatives must be returned to them.
The co-operatives must be denationalised and re-established.
True enough, the decree is cautious towards co-operatives that were closed because counter-revolutionaries had wormed their way into them. We categorically stated that in this respect the work of the co-operatives had to be kept under control, although they must be fully utilised.
All of you well appreciate that one of the proletariat’s chief tasks is the immediate and proper organisation of the supply and distribution of food.
Since we do have an apparatus with the necessary experience and which, most important of all, is based on popular initiative, we must set it to fulfilling these tasks. It is particularly important to utilise the initiative of the people who created these organisations. The ordinary people must be drawn into this work, and this is the main task we must set the co-operatives, the workers” co-operatives in particular.
The supply and distribution of food is something everyone understands. Even a man with no book-learning understands. And in Russia most people are still ignorant and illiterate because everything had been done to prevent the working and exploited people from acquiring education.
Yet there are very many live wires among the people who can display tremendous ability, far greater than might be imagined. It is, therefore, the duty of the workers” co-operatives to enlist these people, to nose them out and give them direct work in the supply and distribution of food. Socialist society is one single co-operative.
I do not doubt that popular initiative in the workers” co-operatives will indeed lead to the conversion of the workers” co-operatives into a single Moscow city consumers” commune.
 The meeting, held on November 26-27, 1918, heard and discussed reports of the board and auditing commission of the co-operative a report on the distribution of foodstuffs in Moscow, and elected a new board. Despite Menshevik and S.R. opposition vote was taken on the list of members submitted by the Communist group. At the close of the evening session on the first day of the proceedings Lenin spoke about the role of co-operatives in the socialist economy.
 Reference is to the Menshevik
C.C. appeal, published in Pravda on November 26, 1918. It called for a campaign
against foreign intervention in the Russian revolution. At the same time the Mensheviks
favoured the interference of the Second International. Thus the Menshevik change of attitude
to the armed intervention was on paper only and due to the successes of Soviet power and the
development of the revolutionary movement in Western Europe. They remained in fact implacable
enemies of the dictatorship of the proletariat and gave support to foreign imperialists and
Russian whiteguards in their struggle against the Soviet Republic in the Caucasus, the
Ukraine, Siberia and elsewhere.
Lenin criticised the stand of the Mensheviks at that time in his draft resolution for the All-Russia Central Executive Committee, “Closure of the Menshevik Newspaper Undermining the Country’s Defence” (pp. 447-48 of this volume), and in other works.
 Lenin refers to the discussion of the
draft decree on consumers” co-operatives at the Council of People’s Commissars.
He wrote the original draft, which was then enlarged upon by the People’s Commissariat
of Food and published in Izvestia on January 29 1918. The draft aroused frantic
opposition from bourgeois co-operators, who were insisting on the independence of
co-operatives from the Soviet state. Realising the need to utilise co-operatives in putting
trade and distribution on a proper basis, the Council of People’s Commissars made
several concessions to co-operators. During the talks between representatives of the Supreme
Economic Council, co-operatives and food bodies in March and early April 1918, a draft decree
was agreed upon. It was this decree that came up for discussion at the Council of
People’s Commissars, which approved it with Lenin’s amendments. On April 22 the
All-Russia Central Executive Committee endorsed it and on April 23 it was published in
Lenin appraised the decree in his work TheThe Immediate Tasks of the Soviet Government (Collected Works, Vol. 27, pp. 235-77).
 The decree On the Organisation of Supply is meant here. The Council of People’s Commissars discussed the decree on November 22, 1928, and finally endorsed it on November 22. On November 24 it was published in Izvestia. Lenin directly participated in formulating the decree and introduced several amendments.