V. I. Lenin

Report On Subbotniks

Delivered To A Moscow City Conference Of The R.C.P. (B.)[1]

December 20, 1919

Delivered: 20 December, 1919
First Published: Brief report published in Izvestia No. 287; December 21, 1919; First published in full in 1927; Published according to the verbatim report
Source: Lenin’s Collected Works, 4th English Edition, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1965, Volume 30, page 283-288
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, the organisers of the conference inform me that you have arranged for a report on subbotniks and divided it into two parts so that it would be possible to discuss the main thing in this field in detail; first, the organisation of subbotniks in Moscow and results achieved, and secondly, practical conclusions for their further organisation. I should like to confine myself to general propositions, to the ideas born of the organisation of subbotniks as a new phenomenon in our Party and governmental development. I shall, therefore, dwell only briefly on the practical aspect.

When the first communist subbotniks had just been organised it was difficult to judge to what extent such a phenomenon deserved attention and whether anything big would come of it. I remember that when the first news of them began to appear in the Party press, the appraisals of comrades close to trade union organisational affairs and the Commissariat of Labour were at first extremely restrained, if riot pessimistic. They did not think there were any grounds for regarding them as important. Since then subbotniks have become so widespread that their importance to our development cannot be disputed by anyone.

We have actually been using the adjective “communist” very frequently, so frequently that we have even included it in the name of our Party. But when you give this matter some thought, you arrive at the idea that together with the good that has followed from this, a certain danger for us may have been created. Our chief reason for changing the name of the Party was the desire to draw a clear line of distinction between us and the dominant socialism of the Second International. After the overwhelming majority of the official socialist parties, through their leaders, had gone over to the side of the bourgeoisie of their own countries or of their own governments during the imperialist war, the tremendous crisis, the collapse of the old socialism, became obvious to us. And in order to stress as sharply as possible that we could not consider socialists those who took sides with their governments during the imperialist war, in order to show that the old socialism had gone rotten, had died—mainly for that reason the idea of changing the Party's name was put forward. This the more so, since the name of “Social-Democratic” has from the theoretical point of view long ceased to be correct. As far back as the forties, when it was first widely used politically in France, it was applied to a party professing petty-bourgeois socialist reformism and not to a party of the revolutionary proletariat. The main reason, the motive for changing the name of our Party which has given its new name to the new International was the desire to cut ourselves off decisively from the old socialism.

If we were to ask ourselves in what way communism differs from socialism, we should have to say that socialism is the society that grows directly out of capitalism, it is the first form of the new society. Communism is a higher form of society, and can only develop when socialism has become firmly established, Socialism implies work without the aid of the capitalists, socialised labour with strict accounting, control and supervision by the organised vanguard, the advanced section of the working people; the measure of labour and remuneration for it must be fixed. It is necessary to fix them because capitalist society has left behind such survivals and such habits as the fragmentation of labour, no confidence in social economy, and the old habits of the petty proprietor that dominate in all peasant countries. All this is contrary to real communist economy. We give the name of communism to the system under which people form the habit of performing their social duties without any special apparatus for coercion, and when unpaid work for the public good becomes a general phenomenon. It stands to reason that the concept of “communism” is a far too distant one for those who are taking the first steps towards complete victory over capitalism. No matter how correct it may have been to change the name of the Party, no matter how great the benefit the change has brought us, no matter how great the accomplishments of our cause and the scale on which it has developed—Communist Parties now exist throughout the world and although less than a year has passed since the foundation of the Communist International, from the point of view of the labour movement it is incomparably stronger than the old, dying Second International—if the name “Communist Party” were interpreted to mean that the communist system is being introduced immediately, that would be a great distortion and would do practical harm since it would be nothing more than empty boasting.

That is why the word “communist” must be treated with great caution, and that is why communist subbotniks that have begun to enter into our life are of particular value, because it is only in this extremely tiny phenomenon that something communist has begun to make its appearance. The expropriation of the landowners and capitalists enabled us to organise only the most primitive forms of socialism, and there is not yet anything communist in it. If we take our present-day economy we see that the germs of socialism in it are still very weak and that the old economic forms dominate overwhelmingly; these are expressed either as the domination of petty proprietorship or as wild, uncontrolled profiteering. When our adversaries, the petty-bourgeois democrats, Mensheviks and Socialist-Revolutionaries, assert in their objections to us that we have smashed large-scale capitalism but that the worst kind of profiteering, usury capitalism, persists in its place, we tell them that if they imagine that we can go straight from large-scale capitalism to communism they are not revolutionaries but reformists and utopians.

Large-scale capitalism has been seriously undermined everywhere, even in those countries where no steps towards socialism have yet been taken. From this point of view, none of the criticisms or the objections levelled against us by our opponents are serious. Obviously the beginnings of a new, petty, profiteering capitalism began to make their appearance after large-scale capitalism had been crushed. We are living through a savage battle against the survivals of large-scale capitalism which grasps at every kind of petty speculation where it is difficult to counteract it and where it takes on the worst and most unorganised form of trading.

The struggle has become much fiercer under war conditions and has led to the most brutal forms of profiteering, especially in places where capitalism was organised on a larger scale, and it would be quite incorrect to imagine that the revolutionary transition could have any other form. That is how matters stand in respect of our present-day economy. If we were to ask ourselves what the present economic system of Soviet Russia is, we should have to say that it consists in laying the foundations of socialism in large-scale industry, in reorganising the old capitalist economy with the capitalists putting up a stubborn resistance in millions and millions of different ways. The countries of Western Europe that have emerged from the war as badly off as we are—Austria, for instance—differ from us only in that the disintegration of capitalism and speculation are more pronounced there than in our country and that there are no germs of socialist organisation to offer resistance to capitalism. There is, however, not yet anything communist in our economic system. The “communist” begins when subbotniks (i. e., unpaid labour with no quota set by any authority or any state) make their appearance; they constitute the labour of individuals on an extensive scale for the public good. This is not helping one's neighbour in the way that has always been customary in the countryside; it is work done to meet the needs of the country as a whole, and it is organised on a broad scale and is unpaid. It would, therefore, be more correct if the word “communist” were applied not only to the name of the Party but also to those economic manifestations in our reality that are actually communist in character. If there is anything communist at all in the prevailing system in Russia, it is only the subbotniks, and everything else is nothing but the struggle against capitalism for the consolidation of socialism out of which, after the full victory of socialism, there should grow that communism that we see at subbotniks, not with the aid of a book, but in living reality.

Such is the theoretical significance of subbotniks; they demonstrate that here something quite new is beginning to emerge in the form of unpaid labour, extensively organised to meet the needs of he entire state, something that is contrary to all the old capitalist rules, something that is much more lofty than the socialist society that is conquering capitalism. When the workers on the Moscow-Kazan Railway, people who were living under conditions of the worst famine and the greatest need, first responded to the appeal of the Central Committee of the Party to come to the aid of the country,[2] and when there appeared signs that communist subbotniks were no longer a matter of single cases but were spreading and meeting with the sympathy of the masses, we were able to say that they were a phenomenon of tremendous theoretical importance and that we really should afford them all-round support if we wanted to be Communists in more than mere theory, in more than the struggle against capitalism. From the point of view of the practical construction of a socialist society that is not enough. It must be said that the movement can really be developed on a mass scale. I do not undertake to say whether we have proved this since no general summaries of the extent of the movement we call communist subbotniks have yet been prepared. I have only fragmentary information and have read in the Party press that these subbotniks are developing more and more widely in a number of towns. Petrograd comrades say that subbotniks are far more widespread in their city than in Moscow. As far as the provinces are concerned many of the comrades who have a practical knowledge of this movement have told me that they are collecting a huge amount of material on this new form of social labour. However, we shall only be able to obtain summarised data after the question has been discussed many times in the press and at Party conferences in different cities; on the basis of those data we shall be able to say whether the subbotniks have really become a mass phenomenon, and whether we have really achieved important successes in this sphere. Whatever may be the case, whether or not we shall soon obtain that sort of complete and verified data, we should not doubt that from the theoretical point of view the subbotniks are the only manifestation we have to show that we do not only call ourselves Communists, that we do not merely want to he Communists, but are actually doing something that is communist and not merely socialist. Every Communist, therefore, everyone who wants to be true to the principles of communism should devote all his attention and all his efforts to the explanation of this phenomenon and to its practical implementation. That is the theoretical significance of the subbotniks. At every Party conference, therefore, we must persistently raise this question and discuss both its theoretical and its practical aspect. We must not limit this phenomenon to its theoretical significance. Communist subbotniks are of tremendous importance to us not only because they are the practical implementation of communism. Apart from this, subbotniks have a double significance—from the standpoint of the state they are purely practical aid to the state, and from the standpoint of the Party—and for us, members of the Party, this must not remain in the shade—they have the significance of purging the Party of undesirable elements and are of importance in the struggle against the influences experienced by the Party at a time when capitalism is decaying.


[1] The Moscow City Conference of the R,C.P.(B.) was held December 20-21, 1919. The Conference discussed the convocation of an All-Russia Party Conference, the fuel problem, subbotniks, measures of combating typhus epidemics, the food situation in Moscow, universal military training, and special detachments.

A resolution on subbotniks underscored their tremendous significance as the first practical steps in building communism. The Party Conference recognised the great importance of subbotniks in achieving tangible results in raising labour productivity and in alleviating the transport, fuel, food and other crises of the Soviet Republic, and made it incumbent upon all Party members to take part in subbotniks and make their work the most productive.

After Lenin's report the Conference heard the report on the organisation of subbotniks and approved an instruction. The Moscow Party Committee worked out and approved the “Statute on Subbotniks” published in Pravda on December 27, 1919. A special department was formed at the Moscow Committee of the R.C.P.(B.) for their supervision.

[2] Lenin refers to the “Theses of the CC., R.C.P.(B.) in Connection with the Situation on the Eastern Front” written on April 11, 1919, in which the Central Committee appealed to all Party organisations and all trade unions “to set to work in a revolutionary way” (see present edition, Vol. 29).