Vladimir Lenin

Moscow Party Workers’ Meeting[1]

November 27, 1918

Delivered: 27 November, 1918
First Published 1929; Published according the verbatim report; Part 1 published inPravda Nos. 264, 265, December 5 and 6, 1918; Published according to the Pravda text checked with the verbatim report.
Source: Lenin’s Collected Works, Progress Publishers, Moscow, Volume 28, 1974, pages 201-224
Translated (and edited): Jim Riordan
Transcription/HTML Markup: David Walters
Online Version: V.I.Lenin Internet Archive, 2002


Report On The Attitude Of The Proletariat To Petty-Bourgeois Democrats

Comrades, I should like to talk about the tasks facing our Party and the Soviet government in connection with the policy of the proletariat towards the petty-bourgeois democrats. Recent events have undoubtedly brought this question to the fore because the vast changes in the international situation—such as the annulment of the Brest-Litovsk Treaty, the revolution in Germany, the collapse of German imperialism and the disintegration of British and American imperialism—were bound to undermine a number of bourgeois-democratic tenets underlying the theory of the petty-bourgeois democrats. Russia’s military position and the onslaught of the British, French and American imperialists were bound to bring some of the petty-bourgeois democrats more or less over to our side. What I should like to talk about this evening are the changes we must make in our tactics and the new tasks before us.

Let me begin with certain fundamental theoretical propositions. There can be no doubt that the chief social group which gives the petty-bourgeois democrats an economic basis is, in Russia, the middle peasants. Undoubtedly the socialist revolution and the transition from capitalism to socialism are bound to assume special forms in a country where the peasant population is numerically large. I should therefore like first to remind you of the main tenets of Marxism with regard to the proletariat’s attitude to the middle peasants. I shall do so by reading some of Engels’s statements in his article “The Peasant Question in France and Germany”. This article, published in pamphlet form, was written in 1894 or 1895, when the agrarian programme of the socialist party, its attitude towards the peasants, became a practical issue in connection with the discussion of the programme of the German Social-Democratic Party at its Breslau Congress.[2] This is what Engels had to say about the attitude of the proletariat:

“What, then, is our attitude towards the small peasantry?

“To begin with, the French programme is absolutely correct in stating: that we foresee the inevitable doom of the small peasant but that it is not our mission to hasten it by any interference on our part.

“Secondly, it is just as evident that when we are in possession of state power we shall not even think of forcibly expropriating the small peasants (regardless of whether with or without compensation), as we shall have to do in the case of the big landowners. Our task relative to the small peasant consists, in the first place, in effecting a transition of his private enterprise and private possession to co-operative ones, not forcibly but by dint of example and the proffer of social assistance for this purpose.”

Engels says further:

“Neither now nor at any time in the future can we promise the small-holding peasants to preserve their individual property and individual enterprise against the overwhelming power of capitalist production. We can only promise them that we shall not interfere in their property relations by force, against their will.”[3]

And the last statement I would like to quote is the argument about the rich peasants, the big peasants, the kulaks as we call them in Russia, peasants who employ hired labour. Unless these peasants realise the inevitability of the doom of their present mode of production and draw the necessary conclusions, Marxists cannot do anything for them. Our duty is only to facilitate their transition, too, to the new mode of production.[4]

These are the tenets which I wanted to quote to you and which are no doubt known to every Communist. It follows that when the workers come to power, they cannot have the same task in countries where large-scale capitalism predominates and in countries where backward, small, middle and big peasants predominate. Thus, we were interpreting Marxism quite correctly when we said it was our duty to wage war on the landowners, the exploiters.

For the middle peasant we say: no force under any circumstances. For the big peasant we say: our aim is to bring him under the control of the grain monopoly and fight him when he violates the monopoly and conceals grain. I expounded these principles the other day at a meeting of several hundred delegates from Poor Peasants’ Committees who had come to Moscow at the time the Sixth Congress was being held.[See pp. 171-78 of this volume.] In our Party literature, as in our propaganda and agitation, we have always stressed the distinction between our attitude to the big bourgeoisie and the petty bourgeoisie. But although we are all in agreement as to theory, not all of us by a long shot have drawn the correct political conclusions, or drawn them rapidly enough. I deliberately began in a roundabout way, so to speak, to show you what economic concepts about class relations must guide us if our policy towards the petty-bourgeois democrats is to be based on a firm foundation.

There can be no doubt that this small-peasant class (by middle peasant we mean one who does not sell his labour power) in Russia, at any rate, constitutes the chief economic class which is the source of the broad diversity of political trends among the petty-bourgeois democrats. Here in Russia these trends are associated mostly with the Menshevik and S.R. parties. The history of socialism in Russia shows a long struggle between the Bolsheviks and these parties, while West-European socialists have always regarded this struggle as one within socialism, that is, as a split in the Russian socialist movement. Incidentally, this view is often expressed even by sound Social-Democrats.

Only today I was handed a letter from Friedrich Adler, a man who is well known for his revolutionary activity in Austria. His letter, which was written at the end of October and received today, contains only one request: to release the Mensheviks from prison. He could find nothing more sensible to write about at a moment like this. True, he makes the reservation that he is not well informed about our movement, and so on. But still this is typical. This silly mistake by West-European socialists comes from them looking backwards instead of forwards, and not realising that neither the Mensheviks nor the S.R.s, who preach socialism, can be classed as socialists. All through the 1917 revolution the Mensheviks and S.R.s did nothing but vacillate between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat; they could never stick to a correct stand, as though to deliberately illustrate Marx’s words that the petty bourgeoisie are incapable of taking an independent stand in decisive battles.

As soon as they began to form the Soviets, the workers instinctively took up a firm class stand by the very act of establishing them. The Mensheviks and S.R.s, on the other hand, vacillated all the time. And when in the spring and summer of 1917 their own friends labelled them semi-Bolsheviks, this was a true description, not merely a witticism. On every single issue they would say “yes” one day and “no” the next, whether it was the question of the Soviets, the revolutionary movement in the countryside, the direct seizure of land, fraternisation at the front, or whether to support imperialism. They would help on the one hand, and hinder on the other, all the time displaying their spinelessness and helplessness. Yet their propaganda among the people for the Soviets, which they always referred to as revolutionary democracy and contrasted with what they called the propertied elements, was only a cunning political device on their part, and the masses whom they addressed were carried away by this propaganda. Thus the Menshevik preaching was partly of service to us too.

This is a very complex question with a wealth of history behind it. I need only dwell on it briefly. This policy of the Mensheviks and S.R.s before our very eyes is conclusive proof of our assertion that it is wrong to regard them as socialists. If they had at any time been socialists, it was only in their phraseology and reminiscences; in fact they are nothing but Russian petty bourgeois.

I began with the attitude Marxists should adopt towards the middle peasant, or, in other words, towards the petty bourgeois parties. We are now coming to a stage when our slogans of the previous period of the revolution must be changed to take proper account of the present turn of events. You know that in October and November these people wavered.

The Bolshevik Party stood firm then and rightly so. We said we should have to destroy the enemies of the proletariat, and were facing a battle on the fundamental issues of war or peace, of bourgeois representation, and of Soviet government. In all these questions we only had our own forces to rely on, and we were absolutely right when we refused to compromise with the petty-bourgeois democrats.

The subsequent course of events confronted us with the question of peace and the conclusion of the Brest-Litovsk Peace Treaty. You know that the Brest-Litovsk Peace Treaty repelled the petty bourgeoisie from us.

The petty-bourgeois democrats sharply recoiled from us as a consequence of these two circumstances: our foreign policy, which led to the conclusion of the Brest-Litovsk Peace Treaty, on the one hand, and our ruthless struggle against democratic illusions on the part of a section of the petty-bourgeois democrats, our ruthless struggle for the Soviet government, on the other. You know that after the Brest-Litovsk Peace, the Left Socialist-Revolutionaries began to waver, some taking to open warfare, and others splitting up, and still splitting up to this day. But the fact remains. Of course, we cannot doubt for one minute or one little bit that our policy was absolutely right. To start proving that now would be to reiterate the fundamentals, because the German revolution has proved more than anything else that our views were correct.

What we were reproached for most after the Brest-Litovsk Peace, and what we heard most often from the less enlightened workers, was that our hopes of a German revolution were in vain and were not being fulfilled. The German revolution has refuted all these reproaches and has proved we were right in our view that it had to come and that we had to fight German imperialism by propaganda and by undermining it from within as well as by a national war. Events have justified us so fully that no further proof is needed. The very same applies to the Constituent Assembly; vacillations on this score were inevitable, and events have proved the correctness of our views so fully that all the revolutions now starting up in the West are taking place under the slogan of Soviet government and are setting up Soviet government. Soviets are the distinguishing feature of the revolution everywhere. They have spread from Austria and Germany to Holland and Switzerland, countries with the oldest democratic culture, which call themselves Western Europe even in relation to Germany. In these countries the demand for Soviet government is being raised. That means that the historical collapse of bourgeois democracy was an absolute historical necessity, not an invention of the Bolsheviks. In Switzerland and Holland, the political struggle took place hundreds of years ago, and it is not for the sake of the Bolsheviks’ beautiful eyes that the demand for Soviet government is being raised there now. That means we gauged the situation rightly. Events have borne out the correctness of our tactics so well that it is not worth dwelling on the subject any further. Only we must realise that this is a serious matter, one affecting the most deep-seated prejudices of the petty-bourgeois democrats. Look at the overall history of the bourgeois revolution and parliamentary development in all the West-European countries, and you will find that a similar prejudice prevailed among the old Social-Democrats of the forties in all countries. These views persisted longest of all in France. All this is only natural.

When it comes to parliamentarism, the petty bourgeoisie are the most patriotic, more patriotic than the proletariat or the big bourgeoisie. The latter are more international. The petty bourgeoisie are less mobile, are not connected to the same extent with other nations and are not drawn into the orbit of world trade. It was therefore impossible to expect anything else than that the petty bourgeoisie should be most up in arms over the question of parliamentarism. And this proved to be the case in Russia too. An important factor was that our revolution had to fight against patriotism. At the time of the Brest-Litovsk Peace we had to go against patriotism. We said that if you are a socialist you must sacrifice all your patriotic feelings to the international revolution, which is inevitable, and although it is not here yet you must believe in it if you are an internationalist.

And, naturally, with this sort of talk, we could only hope to win over the advanced workers. It was only natural that the majority of the petty bourgeoisie should not see eye to eye with us. We could scarcely have expected them to. How could the petty bourgeoisie have been expected to accept our point of view? We had to exercise the dictatorship of the proletariat in its harshest form. It took us several months to live through the period of illusions. But if you examine the history of the West-European countries, you will find they did not get over this illusion even in decades. Take the history of Holland, France, Britain, etc. We had to disperse the petty-bourgeois illusion that the people are an integral whole and that the popular will can be expressed other than in class struggle.

We were absolutely right in rejecting all compromise over this. If we had made any concessions to petty-bourgeois illusions, to illusions about the Constituent Assembly, we would have ruined the whole cause of the proletarian revolution in Russia. We would have sacrificed to narrow national interests the interests of the world revolution, which turned out to be proceeding along the Bolshevik course, because it was purely proletarian instead of national. The result of these conditions was that the Menshevik and S.R. petty-bourgeois people recoiled from us. They crossed the barricades and landed in the camp of our enemies. When the Dutov revolt broke out, we saw clearly enough that the political forces that had been fighting us were in the camp of Dutov, Krasnov and Skoropadsky. The proletariat and poor peasants stood on our side.

You know that during the Czech attack, when it was at the height of its success, kulak revolts broke out all over Russia. It was only the close ties formed between the urban workers and the peasants that consolidated our rule. It was only the proletariat, with the help of the poor peasants, that held off all our enemies. The overwhelming majority of both the Mensheviks and the S.R.s sided with the Czechs, the Dutov and Krasnov gangs. This state of affairs forced us to make a ruthless struggle and use terrorist methods of warfare. No matter how much people may have condemned this terrorism from different points of view—and we were condemned by all the vacillating Social-Democrats—we knew perfectly well it was necessitated by the acute Civil War. It was necessary because all the petty-bourgeois democrats had turned against us. They used all kinds of methods against us—civil war, bribery and sabotage. It was these conditions that necessitated the terror. Therefore we should not repent or renounce it. Only we must clearly appreciate the conditions of our proletarian revolution that gave rise to these acute forms of struggle. These special conditions were that we had to go against patriotism, that we had to replace the Constituent Assembly with the slogan “All Power to the Soviets!”

The change in international politics was inevitably followed by a change in the position of the petty-bourgeois democrats. A change of heart is now occurring in their camp. In the Menshevik appeal we find a call to renounce alliance with the propertied classes, a call to go and fight British and American imperialism addressed by the Mensheviks to their friends, people from among the petty-bourgeois democrats who had concluded an alliance with the Dutov men, the Czechs and the British. It is now clear to everybody that, except for British and American imperialism, there is no force that can put up any sort of stand against the Bolshevik power. Similar vacillations are going on among the S.R.s and the intellectuals, who most of all share the prejudices of the petty-bourgeois democrats and were swayed by patriotic sentiments. The same sort of thing is going on among them too.

Our Party’s job now is to be guided by class relations when choosing tactics, and to be perfectly clear whether this is just chance, spinelessness, groundless vacillation, or, on the contrary, a process with deep social roots. The answer is quite obvious if we examine this question as a whole from the standpoint of theoretically established relations between the proletariat and the middle peasants, and from the standpoint of the history of our revolution. This change of front is not due to chance or something personal. It involves millions and millions of people whose status in Russia is either that of middle peasants or something equivalent. The change of front involves all the petty-bourgeois democrats, who opposed us with a bitterness amounting almost to fury because we had to break down all their patriotic sentiments. But history has veered round to bring patriotism back towards us now. It is evident that the Bolsheviks cannot be overthrown except by foreign bayonets. Up till now the petty bourgeoisie had cherished the illusion that the British, French and Americans stood for real democracy. But now that illusion is being completely dispelled by the peace terms that are being imposed on Austria and Germany. The British are behaving as if they had made a special point of proving the correctness of the Bolshevik views on international imperialism.

Hence voices are being raised in the parties that fought us as in the Plekhanovite camp, for instance, saying: “We were mistaken, we thought that German imperialism was our chief enemy and that the Western countries—France, Britain and America—would bring us a democratic system.” Yet now it appears that the peace terms these Western countries offer are a hundred times more humiliating, rapacious and predatory than our peace terms at Brest-Litovsk. It appears that the British and Americans are acting as the hang men of Russian freedom, as gendarmes, playing the part of the Russian butcher Nicholas I, and are doing it no less effectively than the kings who played the hangmen in throttling the Hungarian revolution. This part is now being played by Wilson’s agents. They are crushing the revolution in Austria, they are playing the gendarme, they are issuing an ultimatum to Switzerland: “You’ll get no bread from us if you don’t join the fight against the Bolshevik Government.” They tell Holland: “Don’t you dare allow Soviet ambassadors into your country, or we’ll blockade you.” Theirs is a simple weapon—the noose of famine. That is what they are using to strangle the peoples.

The history of recent times, of the war and post-war period, has developed with extraordinary speed, and it goes to show that British and French imperialism is just as infamous as German imperialism. Don’t forget that even in America, where we have the freest and most democratic of all republics, that does not prevent its imperialists from behaving just as brutally. Internationalists are not only lynched, they are dragged into the street by the mob, stripped naked, tarred and burned.

Events are exposing the imperialists most effectively, and posing the alternative: either a Soviet government, or the complete suppression of the revolution by British and French bayonets. There is no longer any question of an agreement with Kerensky. As you know, they have thrown him away like a squeezed lemon. They joined forces with Dutov and Krasnov. Now the petty bourgeoisie have got over that phase. Patriotism is now pushing them to us— that is how things have turned out, that is how history has compelled them to act. And we must all draw a lesson from this great experience of all world history. The bourgeoisie cannot be defended, the Constituent Assembly cannot be defended, because it in fact played into the hands of the Dutovs and Krasnovs. It seems funny that they should have been for the Constituent Assembly, but that happened because the bourgeoisie were still on top when it was being convened. The Constituent Assembly turned out to be an organ of the bourgeoisie, and the bourgeoisie turned out to be on the side of the imperialists, whose policy was directed against the Bolsheviks. The bourgeoisie were prepared to go to any lengths, to resort to the vilest means to throttle the Soviet government, to sell Russia to anybody, only to destroy the power of the Soviets.

That is the policy that led to civil war and made the petty-bourgeois democrats change round. Of course, there is always bound to be vacillation among them. When the Czechs gained their first victories, the petty-bourgeois intellectuals tried to spread rumours that the Czechs were bound to win. Telegrams from Moscow were issued declaring that the city was surrounded and about to fall. And we know perfectly well that if the British and French gain even the slightest success, the petty-bourgeois intellectuals will be the first to lose their heads, give way to panic and spread all sorts of rumours about enemy gains. But the revolution showed that revolts against imperialism are inevitable. And now our “Allies” have proved to be the chief enemies of Russian freedom and independence.

Russia cannot and will not be independent unless Soviet power is consolidated. That is why this turn about has occurred. So we must now define our tactics. It would be a great mistake to think of mechanically applying slogans of our revolutionary struggle from the time when there could be no reconciliation between us, when the petty bourgeoisie were against us, and when our firm stand demanded resort to terror. Today, this would not be standing firm but sheer stupidity, a failure to understand Marxist tactics. When we were obliged to sign the Brest-Litovsk Peace Treaty, this step seemed, from the narrow patriotic point of view to be a betrayal of Russia; but from the point of view of world revolution it was a correct strategical step, which was of the greatest help to the world revolution. The world revolution has broken out just now, when Soviet power has become an institution of the whole people.

Although the petty-bourgeois democrats are still wavering, their illusions have been dispelled. And we must of course take this state of affairs into account, as we must all the other conditions. Formerly we looked at things differently, because the petty bourgeois sided with the Czechs, and we had ta use force. After all, war is war, and when at war you have to fight. But now that these people are beginning to swing over to us, we must not turn away from them simply because the slogan in our leaflets and newspapers used to be different. When we find them half turning towards us, we must rewrite our leaflets, because the petty-bourgeois democrats’ attitude towards us has changed. We must say: “Come along, we are not afraid of you; if you think the only way we know how to act is by force, you are mistaken; we might reach agreement.” Everyone steeped in the traditions of bourgeois prejudice, all the co-operators, all sections of working people particularly connected with the bourgeoisie, might come over to us.

Take the intellectuals. They lived a bourgeois life, they were accustomed to certain comforts. When they swung towards the Czechs, our slogan was ruthless struggle— terror. Now that there is this change of heart among the petty-bourgeois masses, our slogan must be one of agreement, of establishing good-neighbourly relations. When we come across a declaration from a group of petty-bourgeois democrats to the effect that they want to be neutral towards the Soviet government, we must say: neutrality and good neighbourly relations are old-fashioned rubbish and absolutely useless from the point of view of communism. They are just old-fashioned rubbish and nothing else, but we must consider this rubbish from the practical standpoint. That has always been our view, and we never had hopes that these petty-bourgeois people would become Communists. But practical propositions must be considered.

We said of the dictatorship of the proletariat that the proletariat must dominate over all other classes. We cannot obliterate the distinctions between classes until complete communism. Classes will remain until we have got rid of the exploiters—the big bourgeoisie and the land owners, whom we are ruthlessly expropriating. But we cannot say the same thing of the middle and small peasants. While relentlessly suppressing the bourgeoisie and the landowners, we must win over the petty-bourgeois democrats. And when they say they want to be neutral and live on good-neighbourly terms with us, we shall reply: “That’s just what we want. We never expected you to become Communists.”

We continue to stand for the ruthless expropriation of the landowners and capitalists. Here we are ruthless, and we cannot agree to any conciliation or compromise. But we realise that no decrees can convert small-scale into large-scale production, that we must gradually, keeping in step with events, win conviction for the inevitability of socialism. These people will never become socialists by conviction, honest to goodness socialists. They will become socialists when they see there is no other way. Now they can see that Europe has been so thoroughly shattered and imperialism has reached such a state that no bourgeois democracy can save the situation, that only a Soviet system can do so. That is why this neutrality, this good-neighbourly attitude of the petty-bourgeois democrats is to be welcomed rather than feared. That is why, if we look at the matter as the representatives of a class which is exercising dictatorship, we must say that we never counted on any thing more from the petty-bourgeois democrats. That is quite sufficient as far as we are concerned. You maintain good-neighbourly relations with us, and we shall keep state power. After your declaration in regard to the “Allies” we are quite willing to legalise you, Menshevik gentlemen. Our Party Central Committee will do that. But we shall not forget there are still “activists” in your party, and for them our methods of struggle will remain the same; for they are friends of the Czechs and until the Czechs are driven out of Russia, you are our enemies too. We reserve state power for ourselves, and for ourselves alone. To those who adopt an attitude of neutrality towards us we shall act as a class which holds political power and keeps the sharp edge of its weapon for the landowners and capitalists, and which says to the petty-bourgeois democrats: if it suits you better to side with the Czechs and Krasnov, well, we have shown you we can fight, and we shall carry on fighting. But if you prefer to learn from the Bolshevik example, we shall come some way to meet you, knowing that without a series of agreements, which we shall try out, examine and compare, the country cannot get to socialism.

This is the path we took from the very beginning, for example, by passing the socialisation of the land law and turning it gradually into the means that enabled us to unite the poor peasants around us and turn them against the kulaks. Only as the proletarian movement succeeds in the countryside shall we systematically pass to collective common ownership of land and to socialised farming. This could only be done with the backing of a purely proletarian movement in the countryside, and in this respect a great deal still remains to be done. There can be no doubt that only practical experience, only realities will show us how to act properly.

To reach agreement with the middle peasants is one thing, with the petty-bourgeois elements another, and with the co-operators yet another. There will be some modification of our task in relation to the associations which have preserved petty-bourgeois traditions and habits. It will be even further modified in relation to the petty-bourgeois intellectuals. They vacillate, but we need them, too, for our socialist revolution. We know socialism can only be built from elements of large-scale capitalist culture, and the intellectuals are one of these elements. We had to be ruthless with them, but it was not communism that compelled us to do so, it was events, which repelled from us all “democrats” and everyone enamoured of bourgeois democracy. Now we have the chance to utilise the intellectuals for socialism, intellectuals who are not socialist, who will never be communist, but whom objective events and relations are now inducing to adopt a neutral and good-neighbourly attitude towards us. We shall never rely on the intellectuals, we shall only rely on the vanguard of the proletariat that leads all workers and poor peasants. The Communist Party can rely on no other support. It is one thing, however, to rely on the class which embodies the dictatorship, and another to dominate over other classes.

You may remember what Engels said even of the peasants who employ hired labour: Most likely we shall not have to expropriate all of them.[5] We are expropriating as a general rule, and we have no kulaks in the Soviets. We are crushing them. We suppress them physically when they worm their way into the Soviets and from there try to choke the poor peasants. You see how the domination of one class is exercised here. Only the proletariat may dominate. But this is applied in one way to the small peasant, in another to the middle peasant, in another to the landowner, and in yet another to the petty bourgeois. The whole point is for us to understand this change of attitude brought about by international conditions, to understand that it is inevitable that slogans we were accustomed to during the past six months of the revolution’s history should be modified as far as the petty bourgeois democrats are concerned. We must say that we reserve the power for the same class. In relation to the petty-bourgeois democrats our slogan was one of agreement, but we were forced to resort to terror. If you co-operators and intellectuals really agree to live in good-neighbourly relations with us, then work a bit and do the jobs we give you. If you don’t, you will be lawbreakers and our enemies, and we shall fight you. But if you maintain good-neighbourly relations and perform these tasks, that will be more than enough for us. Our support is secure. We’ve always known you were weak and flabby. But we don’t deny we need you, for you are the only educated group.

Things would not be so bad if we did not have to build socialism with people inherited from capitalism. But that is the whole trouble with socialist construction—we have to build socialism with people who have been thoroughly spoiled by capitalism. That is the whole trouble with the transition—it is associated with a dictatorship which can be exercised only by one class—the proletariat. That is why we say the proletariat will set the pace since it has been schooled and moulded into a fighting force capable of smashing the bourgeoisie. Between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat stand innumerable transitional groups, and our policy to them must now be put on the lines which were envisaged by our theory, and which we are now in a position to follow in practice. We shall have to settle a number of problems and make a number of agreements and technical assignments which we, as the ruling proletarian power, must know how to set. We must know how to set the middle peasant one assignment—to assist in commodity exchange and in exposing the kulak—and the co-operators another—they have the apparatus for distributing products on a mass scale and we must take over that apparatus. And the intellectuals must be set quite a different assignment. They cannot continue their sabotage, and they are now in a very good-neighbourly mood towards us. We must make use of these intellectuals, set them definite tasks and keep an eye on them and check their work; we must treat them as Marx said when speaking of office workers under the Paris Commune: “Every other employer knows how to choose assistants and accountants for his business, and, if they for once make a mistake to redress it promptly. If they prove to be unfit for the job, he replaces them with other, efficient assistants and accountants.”[6]

We are building our state out of the elements left over by capitalism. We cannot build it if we do not utilise such a heritage of capitalist culture as the intellectuals. Now we can afford to treat the petty bourgeoisie as good neighbours who are under the strict control of the state. The class-conscious proletariat’s job now is to appreciate that its domination does not mean carrying out all the tasks itself. Whoever thinks that has not the slightest inkling of socialist construction and has learnt nothing from a year of revolution and dictatorship. People like that had better go to school and learn something. But whoever has learnt something in this period will say to himself: “These intellectuals are the people I am now going to use in construction. For I have a strong enough support among the peasants.” And we must remember that we can only work out the form of construction that will lead to socialism in that struggle, and in a number of agreements and trial agreements between the proletariat and the petty-bourgeois democrats.

Remember that Engels said we must act by force of example.[7] No form will be final until complete communism has been achieved. We never claimed to know the exact road. But we are inevitably moving towards communism. In times like these every week is worth more than decades of tranquility. The six months that have elapsed since the Brest-Litovsk Peace have shown a swing away from us. The West-European revolution—a revolution which is following our example—should strengthen us. We must take account of the changes taking place, we must take account of every element, and must have no illusions, for we know that the waverers will remain waverers until the world socialist revolution is completely triumphant. That may not be so soon, although the course of the German revolution leads us to hope that it may be sooner than many anticipate. The German revolution is developing in the same way as ours, but at a faster pace. In any case, our job now is to wage a desperate struggle against British and American imperialism. Just because it feels that Bolshevism has become a world force, it is trying to throttle us as fast as possible in the hope of dealing first with the Russian Bolsheviks, and then with its own.

We must make use of the waverers whom the atrocities of imperialism are driving towards us. And we shall do so. You know full well that in time of war no aid, even indirect, can be scorned. In war even the position of the wavering classes is of immense significance. The fiercer the war, the more we need to gain influence over the waverers who are coming over to us. So the tactics we have been pursuing for six months must be modified to suit the new tasks with regard to the various groups of petty-bourgeois democrats.

If I have succeeded in directing the attention of Party workers to this problem and in inducing them to seek a correct solution by systematic experiment, I may consider my task accomplished.


Reply To The Discussion Of Report Of The Attitude Of The Proletariat To Petty-Bourgeois Democrats

Comrades, I have a few remarks to make in reply to the discussion. First of all, I would like to reply to the question of dogma that was raised. Marx and Engels repeatedly said that our teaching is not a dogma, but a guide to action,[8]and I think that is what we should bear in mind most.

The teaching of Marx and Engels is not a dogma to be learnt by heart. It must be taken as a guide to action. We have always stood by that, and I think we have acted consistently, never succumbing to opportunism, modifying our tactics. That is no departure from Marxism, and certainly cannot be called opportunism. I have said before, and I repeat once again, that this teaching is not a dogma, but a guide to action.

Now on to Comrade Steklov’s remark about whom we are to make an agreement with—the top men or the rank and file? My reply is, of course, with the rank and file, and then with the top men; and when it comes to fighting the top men, all will depend on the particular circumstances. I shall come to that, but just now I see no practical possibility of an agreement with the Menshevik and S.R. parties. It is said that agreement means ceding something. What do we intend to cede and how are we going to depart from basic policy? That would be apostasy, but if it is to apply only to practice, there is nothing new in it. Of course, we shall never renounce our principles. That does not come into the argument now. Fifteen years ago there was a controversy over the basic policy and principles and, unfortunately, I had to carry on this controversy mostly abroad, not in Russia. But now it is the question of state power that is at issue, and there simply cannot be any question of ceding anything here. No wonder Wilson declared: “Our enemy now is world Bolshevism.” That is what the bourgeoisie all over the world are saying. The fact that they are preparing to attack us means they realise that the Bolshevik government is not only a Russian but a world phenomenon. He would be a sorry and miserable Bolshevik who offered any kind of agreement to the bourgeoisie. And, anyway, now that the fires of revolution have spread to so many countries, no capitalist bourgeois government will or can consent to it.

When the recent events developed, the Swiss bourgeoisie said outright: “We are not Russians, we shan’t surrender power to you.” Captain Sadoul, who has now sided with Bolshevism, writes that he is surprised at the astonishing docility of the Russian bourgeoisie, and declares that that is not the way the French bourgeoisie will act. There the struggle will be far fiercer, and civil war, if it breaks out, will assume the most ruthless forms. No one would deny it.

In practice, the matter has been fully decided by the year of proletarian dictatorship, and no peasant or worker would think of trying to reach agreement with the bourgeoisie. As to agreement being nothing new, I fully agree. I only wanted all of us to confer on these questions.

The circumstances which most repelled the Mensheviks and S.R.s and the lesser intellectuals from us, namely, the relentless struggle over the Brest-Litovsk Peace when German imperialism was on the advance, are now a thing of the past. But we know perfectly well that any success, however transient, the British and French may have, will produce more hesitation among these intellectuals and petty democrats, and they will begin to spread panic and desert to the other side. We are making an agreement with them to achieve definite results and for definite practical work. These tactics should present no cause either for controversy. or surprise. Yet many, even such an influential member of the Moscow Soviet as Comrade Maximov, have shown they do not understand these tactics. Comrade Maximov said that we do not have to come to terms with Khinchuk, but only come to a sensible understanding with him. When we issued the first decree on the co-operative societies in the spring, and they presented us with an ultimatum, we gave in to them. That is what we call agreement—there is no other name for this policy. And I shall be satisfied if every Soviet official makes it a rule and says to himself and all his comrades that we must come to a sensible understanding with the petty-bourgeois democrats.

In our work, especially in our work in the localities, we are still a long way from a sensible understanding. We all too frequently do not discuss matters sensibly. This is thrown in our faces by people who do not appreciate that this is bound to happen in building a new society. There is no genius who could build a new way of life without having learnt how to build. We are no good at coming to sensible terms with practical men when we have to. To run a shop, you must know how to run it. We need people who know their business. We Bolsheviks have had very little chance to apply our talents to practical affairs of this kind. We are not often short of propagandists, but our most crying shortage is the lack of efficient leaders and organisers. And that is still so despite the year’s experience we have behind us. Come to a sensible understanding with every person who has enough experience in this sphere and who favours neutrality and good-neighbourly relations. If he knows how to run a shop and distribute goods, if he can teach us anything if he is a practical man, he will be a great attribute.

Everybody knows the Bolsheviks have many enemies among their “friends” ever since their triumph. Very often utterly unreliable and dishonest people worm their way into our midst, elements that are politically unstable, who sell us out, deceive us and betray us. We are perfectly aware of it, but it does not alter our purpose. It is historically inevitable. When the Mensheviks reproach us that among Soviet employees there are many hangers-on, people who are dishonest even in the ordinary sense, we say: Where are we to get better people? What can we do to make the best people believe in us at once? No revolution can immediately triumph and convince everyone, can make people believe in it at once. A revolution may begin in one country, and elsewhere people will not believe in it. Our revolution is reckoned an awful nightmare, utter chaos, and in other countries they do not expect anything to come of our organised “chaotic” assemblies, which we call Soviets. And that is quite natural. There were many things we had to fight for. So when they say we must come to a sensible understanding with Khinchuk, because he knows how to run shops, I say: Come to terms with others too, and make use of the petty bourgeoisie, they are good at many things.

If we drive this “come to an understanding” slogan into the heads of the people in the localities, if we realise that a new class is awakening to power, that things are being run by people who have never tackled such a complicated job before, and are naturally making mistakes, we shan’t be sorry. We know that it is impossible to govern without making mistakes. But, besides making mistakes, people are using the power crudely, as nothing but power, as though to say: “I have the power, I have given my orders, and you must obey.” We say, this is not the way to treat quite a number of people—the petty-bourgeois democrats in the trade unions, the peasants and those in the co-operatives—it is becoming unnecessary. It is therefore more sensible to come to an understanding with the petty-bourgeois democrats, especially the intellectuals—that is our task. Of course, we shall come to such an understanding on the basis of our policy, we shall do so as the government.

We ask: Is it true you have abandoned hostility for neutrality and good-neighbourly relations? Is it true you have stopped being hostile? If not, we shall not close our eyes to the fact and we’ll tell you straight: If you want war, you’ll have it . And we’ll act as people do in war. If you really have abandoned your hostility for neutrality, however, if you really do want good-neighbourly relations—I have taken these words from statements by people who do not belong to the communist camp, who only yesterday were much closer to the whiteguards—I say that since there are so many people abandoning their former hostility for neutrality and good-neighbourly relations, we must continue our propaganda.

Comrade Khmelnitsky need have no fear that the Mensheviks are carrying on their own propaganda to run the lives of the workers. We won’t mention the Social-Democrats, who have not understood the socialist republic, nor the petty-bourgeois bureaucrats. What we have to do is wage an ideological struggle, a relentless war, against Menshevism. You cannot make a worse insult to a Menshevik than to call him a petty-bourgeois democrat; and the more calmly you try to prove it to him, the more furious he will get. It is a mistake to think we shall surrender a hundredth or even a thousandth part of the position we have won. We shan’t budge an inch.

The examples quoted by Comrade Schmidt show that even the workers who stood closest to the bourgeoisie (like the printers, for example), the petty-bourgeois clerks, the bourgeois bank officials who used to perform the business operations in the commercial and industrial firms, stand to lose a lot from the transition to socialism. We have closed down a great many bourgeois papers, we have nationalised the banks, we have blocked several channels through which bank employees used to make money by dabbling in profiteering. Even in this camp we see them wavering, we find them siding with us. If Khinchuk is valuable because he knows how to run shops, the bank employee is valuable because he knows the ins and outs of the money business, with which many of us may have a theoretical acquaintance, but in which we are very weak practically. We must come to a sensible understanding with a man who knows the ins and outs of this business and who tells us he has abandoned his former hostility for neutrality and good-neighbourliness. I shall be more than satisfied if Comrade Maximov, as a prominent member of the Presidium of the Moscow Soviet, pursues in the Soviets the tactics he spoke of in relation to the intellectuals and the vacillating petty bourgeoisie.

Next, the question of the co-operative societies. Comrade Steklov said the co-operatives stink. Comrade Maximov said we should not pass decrees like the last one passed by the Council of People’s Commissars. On the practical side opinions differed. It is nothing new to us that we must come to an agreement with the petty bourgeoisie on such a basis if they are not hostile to us. If the old stand is no good, it should be revised when new circumstances demand it. And things have certainly changed all right. The co-operatives are a striking example. The co-operative apparatus is a supply apparatus based on the mass participation of the working people themselves, instead of the private initiative of capitalists. Kautsky was right when he said, long before he became a renegade, that socialist society is one big co-operative.

If we are out to get control going and organise the economy in a practical way, in the interests of hundreds of thousands of people, we must not forget that when socialists discuss this question they point out that directors of trusts, as experienced practical men, may be useful to them. Today experience shows that petty-bourgeois people have renounced hostility for neutrality. And, moreover, we must realise that they do know how to run shops. We do not deny that Khinchuk as an ideologist is chock-full of bourgeois prejudices. They all reek of them, but at the same time, they have practical knowledge. As far as ideas are concerned, all the guns are on our side, and not a single one on theirs. But when they say they are no longer hostile and intend to be neutral, we must remember that now hundreds and thousands of people less capable than Khinchuk are coming to a sensible understanding. We must know how to come to terms with them. In practical matters they know more than we do and are more proficient, and we must learn from them. Let them learn from us how to influence the international proletariat; but when it comes to running shops we shall learn from them. That is something we do not know. Technicians with special knowledge are needed in every field.

As far as the co-operatives are concerned, I don’t understand why you say they stink. When drafting the first decree on the co-operatives we invited for discussion in the Council of People’s Commissars people who not only were not Communists, but were actually far closer to the whiteguards. We conferred with them and asked: Can you accept this point? They replied: We can accept this, but not that. Of course, looking at it offhand, superficially, this was compromising with the bourgeoisie. For, after all, these were representatives of bourgeois co-operatives, and it was at their request that several clauses were deleted from the decree. Thus, we deleted a clause providing that there should be no dues or entrance fees in the proletarian co-operatives. To us that seemed quite acceptable, but they rejected our proposal.

We say we must come to terms with people who know how to run shops much better than we do; that’s something we are weak at. But we shall not budge an inch from our struggle. When we issued another decree of the same type, Comrade Maximov said such decrees must not be written, because the decree says that the co-operatives that were closed down are to be reopened. This shows that in the Moscow Soviet, as among ourselves, there are certain misapprehensions, and if only for the sake of removing such misapprehensions, conferences and discussions should be arranged like ours here today.

We said that in the interests of our work we intended to utilise not only the trade unions in general, but even the Union of Trade and Industrial Employees, and, you know, the trade and industrial employees have always been a mainstay of the bourgeois system. But since these people have come to us and say they are willing to live on good-neighbourly terms with us, we must welcome them with open arms, and accept the hand they proffer—our own won’t drop off. We do not forget that if the British and French imperialists were to strike tomorrow, they would be the first to turn tail and run away. But as long as this party, these bourgeois people do not run away, we repeat that we must have closer relations with them. That is why we adopted the decree published on Sunday, the one that is not to Comrade Maximov ’s liking—which shows that he clings to the old communist tactics, tactics which are inapplicable to the new conditions. We drew up that decree the other day, and received in reply the resolution of the Central Committee of the Employees,[9] and it would be foolish to say we are issuing decrees at the wrong time, when the change of front has begun and the situation is changing.

The armed capitalists are continuing the war with greater stubbornness than ever, and it is immensely important for our practical construction to take advantage of this change of attitude, even if it is only temporary. All power is in our hands. We need not close down co-operatives, and we can reopen those that have been closed down, for we closed them down when they served the ends of whiteguard propaganda. Every slogan has the faculty of becoming more rigid than is necessary. When the wave of closing down and persecuting the co-operatives swept over Russia, it was the conditions of the time that made it necessary. But now it is no longer necessary. They are a highly important apparatus connected with the middle peasants; they unite the scattered and disunited sections of the peasants. These Khinchuks are doing a useful job, which was started by bourgeois elements. When these peasants and petty-bourgeois democrats say they are abandoning hostility for neutrality, for good-neighbourly relations, we must say to them: That’s just what we want. And now, good neighbours, let us come to a sensible understanding. We shall assist you all we can and help you to exercise your rights, and we shall examine your claims and grant you every privilege, but you must carry out the jobs we assign you. If you don’t, remember that the whole Extraordinary Commission apparatus is in our hands. If you are unable to make proper use of your rights and do not carry out our assignments, we have the whole apparatus of State Control in our hands, and we shall regard you as violators of the will of the state. You must account for the last kopek, and any violation will be punished as a violation of the will of the state and its laws.

This entire system of control remains in our hands, but just now the task of winning over these people, if only for a while, although it may not be a gigantic one from the standpoint of world politics, is for us one of urgent necessity. It will strengthen our position in the war. We have no decently organised rear. It will give us a moral victory, for it will show the West-European imperialists that they can expect to meet pretty serious resistance. And that is not to be scoffed at, for inside every country there is a workers’ opposition to the attack on Russia. That is why I think, as far as one can judge from Comrade Maximov’s statement, that we are groping our way to a definite agreement. Even if differences do crop up, they are not so important, for once we recognise the necessity of coming to a sensible understanding with all the petty-bourgeois democrats, with the intellectuals, the co-operators and the trade unions which still do not recognise us, while at the same time never allowing power to slip from our hands—if we firmly adhere to this policy all winter, we shall gain a great advantage for the whole cause of world revolution.


[1] In 1918 the Central Committee of the R.C.P.(B.) regularly called meetings of Party activists to discuss the most important questions of current politics. The meeting in question discussed the proletariat’s attitude to petty-bourgeois democrats who swung over to the Soviet government in the autumn of 1918. Lenin’s report on the question evoked heated debate. In his concluding speech Lenin summed up the results of the debate.

[2] Engels’s article “The Peasant Question in France and Germany” was published in the magazine Die Neue Zeit in November 1894. Engels wrote the article after Vollmar, one of the leaders of the Right wing of the Social-Democratic Party of Germany, had made a speech on the agrarian question at the party Congress in Frankfurt in October 1894, in which he distorted Engels’s views on the attitude towards small peasants. In his letter to the editors of Vorwärts Engels refuted Vollmar’s inventions and added that he was going to write an article in which he would set down and substantiate his views on the agrarian question. The Frankfurt Congress appointed a special commission to work out an agrarian programme for the next party congress. The draft programme was discussed at the Breslau Congress in October 1895, after Engels’s death. The revisionist draft did not get the required majority of votes and was rejected. The Congress adopted a decision stressing the need for a further study of the laws governing the development of agriculture.

[3] Frederick Engels, “The Peasant Question in France and Germany” (Marx and Engels, Selected Works, Moscow, 1962, Vol. II, p. 435).

[4] ibid., p. 438.

[5] ibid.

[6] Karl Marx, The Civil War in France (Marx and Engels, Selected Works, Moscow, 1962, Vol. I, pp. 520-21).

[7] Frederick Engels, “The Peasant Question in France and Germany” (Marx and Engels, Selected Works, Moscow, 1962, Vol. II, p. 433).

[8] Marx and Engels, Selected Correspondence, Moscow, 1955, pp. 469 and 476.

[9] Lenin refers to the report submitted by the All-Russia Council of the Office Employees’ Trade Unions to the Council of People’s Commissars and published in the magazine Vestnik Sluzhashchego (Office Employee’s Herald) No. 11-12, 1918. The report pointed to the need to enlist members of the office employees’ unions for food work conducted by the People’s Commissariat of Food in pursuance of the decree of the Council of People’s Commissars of November 21, 1918, On the Organisation of Supply : “The decree On the Organisation of Supply is meant here. The Council of People’s Commissars discussed the decree on November 12, 1918, and finally endorsed it on November 21. On November 24 it was published in Izvestia. Lenin directly participated in formulating the decree and introduced several amendments.”