V. I. Lenin

Speech At The First All-Russia Congress Of

Workers In Education and Socialist Culture

July 31, 1919[1]

Delivered: 30 July,1919
First Published: Pravda No. 170, August 5. 1919; Published according to the Pravda text
Source: Lenin’s Collected Works, 4th English Edition, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1972 Volume 29, pages 532-539
Translated: George Hanna
Transcription/HTML Markup: David Walters & Robert Cymbala
Copyleft: V. I. Lenin Internet Archive (www.marx.org) 2002. Permission is granted to copy and/or distribute this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License

Comrades, it gives me great pleasure to greet your Congress in the name of the Council of People’s Commissars.

In the sphere of education we have long had to struggle against the same difficulties that Soviet power encounters in all spheres of work and in all spheres of organisation. We saw that organisations regarded as the only mass organisations were from the very outset headed by people who, for a lengthy period, were under the influence of bourgeois prejudices. In the first days of Soviet power, in October 1917, we even saw how the army swamped us in Petrograd with declarations to the effect that it did not recognise Soviet power, threatened to go against Petrograd and expressed solidarity with bourgeois governments. As long ago as that we were sure that these declarations came from the top people in these organisations, from the army committees of that time, who represented the past in the development of the moods, convictions and views of our army. The situation has since then repeated itself in all mass organisations—in respect of the railway proletariat, and again in respect of the post and telegraph employees. We have always noted that at first the past maintains its power and influence over mass organisations. We were, therefore, riot.at all surprised at the lengthy and stubborn struggle that went on among the school-teachers, the majority of whom, if not all, from the very beginning took a stand hostile to Soviet power. We saw how we gradually had to overcome bourgeois prejudices and how the school-teachers, who were closely connected with the workers and labouring peasantry, had to struggle against the former bourgeois system to win for themselves rights and to break a road to a genuine rapprochement with the working masses, to a genuine understanding of the nature of the socialist revolution that was under way. Until now you have had more than anybody else to deal with the old prejudices of the bourgeois intelligentsia, with their usual methods and arguments, with their defence of bourgeois or capitalist society, with their struggle, not usually direct but carried on under cover of some outwardly pleasant slogans which are advanced to defend capitalism in one way or another.

Comrades, you may remember how Marx describes the way the worker got to the modern capitalist factory, how he analysed the enslavement of the worker in a disciplined, cultured and "free" capitalist society, studied the causes of the oppression of labour by capital, how he approached the fundamentals of the production process, how he described the worker’s entry into a capitalist factory where the robbery of surplus-value takes place and the foundation of capitalist exploitation is laid down, where capitalist society is built, the society that gives riches to the few and holds the many in a state of oppression. When Marx reached this most significant, most fundamental place in his book—the analysis of capitalist exploitation—he accompanied his introduction to this analysis with the ironical remark that the place he was taking the reader to, the place where profit was extracted by the capitalists, was the place where liberty, equality and Bentham ruled.[2] By this Marx stressed the ideology up-held by the bourgeoisie in capitalist society and which they justify because from their point of view, from the point of view of the bourgeoisie who had won the fight against the feudals, "Liberty, Equality and Bentham" ruled in capitalist society which was based on the rule of money, the rule of capital and the exploitation of the working people. What they call liberty is liberty to make profit, liberty for the few to become rich, the liberty of the trade turnover; what they call equality is equality between capitalist, and worker; and the rule of Bentham is the rule of the petty-bourgeois prejudice about liberty and equality.

If we look around us, if we take a look at those arguments that were used in the struggle against us yesterday and which are being used today by members of the old teachers’ union and which we still meet with among our ideological opponents who call themselves socialists (the Socialist-Revolutionaries and Mensheviks), those arguments that we meet with in a not very conscious form in our day-to-day talks with the peasant masses who have not yet understood the significance of socialism—if you take a look at and give some thought to the ideological meaning of these arguments you will find the very same bourgeois motif that Marx stressed in Capital. All these people reiterate the catch-phrase that Liberty, Equality and Bentham rule in capitalist society. And when objections to us are raised from this point of view and it is said that we, the Bolsheviks and Soviet power, are contravening freedom and equality, we refer those who say so to the elements of political economy, to the basic doctrines of Marx. We maintain that the freedom you accuse the Bolsheviks of contravening is the freedom of capital, the freedom of an owner to sell grain on the open market, i.e., the freedom for the few to make profit, for those who have grain surpluses. That freedom of the press that the Bolsheviks have constantly been accused of having violated—what is this freedom of the press in a capitalist society? Everybody could see what the press was in our "free" Russia. This was seen to a still greater extent by people who were familiar with, have been able to observe closely or had had dealings with press affairs in the advanced capitalist countries. Freedom of the press in capitalist society means freedom to trade in publications and in their influence on the masses. Freedom of the press means that the press, a powerful medium for influencing the masses, is maintained at the expense of the capitalists. Such is the freedom of the press that the Bolsheviks violated and they are proud of having produced—the first press free of the capitalists, that in a gigantic country they have for the first time set up a press that does not depend on a handful of rich men and millionaires—a press that is devoted entirely to the struggle against capital, the struggle to which we must subordinate everything. Only the factory proletariat that is capable of leading the peasant masses that are not class-conscious can be the leader, the vanguard, of the working people in this struggle.

When we are reproached with having established a dictatorship of one party and, as you have heard, a united socialist front is proposed, we say, "Yes, it is a dictatorship of one party! This is what we stand for and we shall not shift from that position because it is the party that has won, in the course of decades, the position of vanguard of the entire factory and industrial proletariat. This party had won that position even before the revolution of 1905. It is the party that was at the head of the workers in 1905 and which since then—even at the time of the reaction after 1905 when the working-class movement was rehabilitated with such difficulty under the Stolypin Duma—merged with the working class and it alone could lead that class to a profound, fundamental change in the old society." When a united socialist front is proposed to us we say that it is the Socialist-Revolutionary and Menshevik parties that propose it, and that they have wavered in favour of the bourgeoisie throughout the revolution. We have had a double experience—the Kerensky period when the Socialist-Revolutionaries formed a coalition government that was helped by the Entente, that is, by the world bourgeoisie, the imperialists of France, America and Britain. What did that result in? Was there that gradual transition to socialism they had promised? No, there was collapse, the absolute rule of the imperialists, the rule of the bourgeoisie and the complete bankruptcy of all sorts of illusions about class conciliation.

If that experience is not enough, take Siberia. There we saw the same thing happen again. In Siberia the government was against the Bolsheviks. At the beginning the entire bourgeoisie who had fled from Soviet power came to the help of the Czechoslovak uprising and the uprising of time Socialist-Revolutionaries and Mensheviks. They were helped by the entire bourgeoisie and the capitalists of the most powerful countries of Europe and America; their aid was not merely ideological but financial and military aid as well. And what was the result? What came of this rule that was allegedly the rule of the Constituent Assembly, that allegedly democratic government of Socialist-Revolutionaries and Mensheviks? It led to the Kolchak gamble. Why did it lead to the collapse that we have witnessed? Because here we saw the effect of the basic truth, which the so-called socialists from the camp of our opponents do not want to understand, that there can be only one of two possible powers in capitalist society, either the power of the capitalists or the power of the proletariat, no matter whether that society is developing, is firmly on its feet, or is declining. Every middle-of-the-road power is a dream, and every attempt to set up something in between leads only to people, even if they are absolutely sincere, shifting to one side or the other. Only the power of the proletariat, only the rule of the workers can ally to itself the majority of those who work, because the peasant masses, although they constitute a mass of working people, are nevertheless to a certain extent the owners of their small properties, of their own grain. And that is the struggle that has unfolded before our eyes, the struggle which shows how the proletariat, in the course of lengthy political trials, during the changes in governments that we see in various places on the outskirts of Russia, is sweeping away everything that serves exploitation; it shows how the proletariat is breaking its own road and is becoming more and more the genuine, absolute leader of the masses of working people in suppressing and eliminating the resistance of capital.

Those who say that the Bolsheviks violate freedom and who propose the formation of a united socialist front, that is, an alliance with those who vacillated, and twice in the history of the Russian revolution went over to the side of the bourgeoisie—these people are very fond of accusing us of resorting to terror. They say that the Bolsheviks have introduced a system of terror in administration, and if Russia is to be saved, the Bolsheviks must renounce it. This reminds me of a witty French bourgeois who, in his bourgeois manner, said with reference to the abolition of the death penalty, "Let the murderers be the first to abolish the death penalty." I recall this when people say, "Let the Bolsheviks renounce the terror." Let the Russian capitalists and their allies, America, France and Britain, that is, those who first imposed terror on Soviet Russia, let them renounce it! They are the imperialists who attacked us and are still attacking its with all their military might, which is a thousand times greater than ours. Is it not terror for all the Entente countries, all the imperialists of Britain, France and America, to keep in their capitals servitors of international capital—whether their names are Sazonov or Maklakov—who have organised tens and hundreds of thousands of the dissatisfied, ruined, hum’iliated and indignant representatives of capital and the bourgeoisie? You must have heard about the plots among the military, you must have read about the latest plot in Krasnaya Gorka, which nearly led to the loss of Petrograd; what was this but a manifestation of terror on the part of the bourgeoisie of the whole world, which will commit any violence, crime and atrocity in order to reinstate the exploiters in Russia and stamp out the flames of the socialist revolution, which is now threatening even their own countries? There is the source of terror, that is where the responsibility lies! That is why we are sure that those who preach renunciation of terror in Russia are nothing but conscious, or unwitting, tools and agents of the imperialist terrorists, who are trying to crush Russia with their blockades and aid to Denikin and Kolchak. But their cause is a hopeless one.

Russia is the country assigned by history the role of trail-blazer of the socialist revolution, and that is just why so much struggle and suffering has fallen to our lot. The capitalists and imperialists of other countries realise that Russia is up in arms, and that the future not only of Russian but of international capital is being decided in Russia. That is why in all their press—in all the bourgeois world press which they have bribed with their many millions—they spread the most incredible slanders about the Bolsheviks.

They are attacking Russia in the name of the selfsame principles of "Liberty, Equality and Bentham". If you come across someone in this country who thinks that when he speaks of freedom and equality and of their violation by the Bolsheviks, he is championing something that is quite independent, the principles of democracy in general, ask him to have a look at the capitalist press of Europe. What is the screen being used by Denikin and Kolchak, what is the screen being used by European capitalists and the bourgeoisie in their efforts to crush Russia? Liberty and equality—that is all they talk about! When the Americans, British and French seized Archangel, when they sent their troops to the South, they did so in defence of liberty and equality. That is the kind of slogan they use as camouflage, and that is why the proletariat of Russia has risen against world capital in this fierce struggle. Such is the purpose of these slogans of freedom and equality which all agents of the bourgeoisie use to deceive the people, and which intellectuals who really side with the workers and peasants have to expose.

We see that as the attempts of the Entente imperialists become more desperate and vicious they meet with ever greater resistance on the part of the proletariat of their own countries. The first attempt at an international strike by workers in Britain, France and Italy against their governments that was made on July 21 had as its slogan, "Hands off Russia, and an honest peace with the Republic". This strike failed. Separate strikes broke out in Britain, France and Italy. In America and Canada, everything that looks like Bolshevism is fiercely persecuted. In the last few years, we have gone through two great revolutions. We know how hard it was for the vanguard of the Russian working people in 1905 to rise in the struggle against tsarism. We know that after the first bloody lesson of January 9, 1905, the strike, movement developed slowly and laboriously until October 1905, when the mass strike scored its first success in Russia. We know how hard the going was. This was proved by the experience of two revolutions, although the situation in Russia was more revolutionary than in other countries. We know with what difficulty the forces for the struggle against capitalism are mobilised in a series of strikes. That is why we are not surprised by the failure of this first international strike of July 21. We know that there is much greater resistance and opposition to the revolution in the European countries than over here. We know that in fixing July 21 as the date for an international strike, the workers of Britain, France and Italy had to overcome incredible difficulties. It was an experiment unparalleled in history. It is not surprising that it failed. But we also know that the working people of the leading and most civilised countries are on our side despite the European bourgeoisie’s rabid hatred of us, that they understand our cause, and whatever the hardships of the revolution and the trials ahead, whatever the atmosphere of lies and deception in the name of the "freedom and equality" of capital, equality of the starved and the overfed, whatever the atmosphere, we know that our cause is the cause of the workers of all countries, and that is why this cause will inevitably defeat international capital.


[1] This Congress, held in Moscow from July 28 to August 1, 1919, was attended by 230 delegates from 32 gubernias. The Congress heard reports on the education programme, the current tasks in the field of cultural development, trade union movement, the youth movement in Russia and the West, and other questions. The Congress founded the All-Russia Trade Union of Workers in Education and Socialist Culture; it elected the Central Committee of the Union.

[2] See Karl Marx, Capital, Moscow, 1959, Vol. I, p. 176.