V. I. Lenin

Two Years of Soviet Rule

Speech at a Joint Session of the All-Russia Central Executive Committee, the Moscow Soviet of Workers’ and Red army Deputies, the All-Russia Central Council of trade Unions, and Factory Committees, On the Occasion of the Second anniversary of the October Revolution. November 7, 1919

Written: 5 November, 1919
First Published: Pravda No, 251, November 9, 1919; Published according to the verbatim report, verified with the Pravda text
Source: Lenin’s Collected Works, 4th English Edition, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1965, Volume 30, pages 127-137
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, two years ago, when the imperialist war was still raging, it seemed to all the supporters of the bourgeoisie in Russia, to the masses of the people and, I dare say, to most of the workers in other countries, that the uprising of the Russian proletariat and their conquest of political power was a bold but hopeless enterprise. At that time world imperialism appeared such a tremendous and invincible force that it seemed stupid of the workers of a backward country to attempt to revolt against it. Now, however, as we glance back over the past two years, we see that even our opponents are increasingly admitting that we were right. We see that imperialism, which seemed such an insuperable colossus, has proved before the whole world to be a colossus with feet of clay, and the two years through which we have passed and during which we have had to fight, mark with ever-growing clarity the victory not only of the Russian, but also of the international proletariat.

Comrades, during the first year of the existence of Soviet power we had to experience the might of German imperialism, to suffer the coercive and predatory peace that was forced on us; we were alone in issuing our call to revolution, and met with no support or response. The first year of our rule was also the first year of our struggle against imperialism, and we soon became convinced that the struggle of the different parts of this gigantic international imperialism was nothing but its death throes, and that both German imperialism and the imperialism of the Anglo-French bourgeoisie had an interest in this struggle. During that year we established that this struggle only strengthened, only increased and restored our forces and enabled us to direct them against imperialism as a whole. We created such a situation during the first year but, during the whole of the second year, we stood face to face with our enemy. There were pessimists who even last year severely attacked us; even last year they said that Britain, France and America were such a huge, such a colossal force that they would crush our country. The year has passed, and as you see, while the first year may be called that of the might of international imperialism, the second year will be called that of the onslaught of Anglo-American imperialism and of victory over that onslaught, of victory over Koichak and Yudenicb, and the beginning of victory over Denikin.

Now we know perfectly well that all the military forces sent against us have been directed from a definite source. We know that the imperialists have given them all the military supplies, all the arms needed; we know that they have handed over their global navies in part to our enemies, and now are doing all they can to help and build up forces both in the South of Russia and in Archangel. But we know perfectly well that all these seemingly huge and invincible forces of international imperialism are unreliable, and hold no terrors for us, that at the core they are rotten, that they are making us stronger and stronger, and that this added strength will enable us to win victory on the external front and to make it a thorough-going one. I shall not dwell on this point as it will be dealt with by Comrade Trotsky.

It seems to me that we must now try to draw general lessons from the two years of heroic constructive work.

What, in my opinion, is the most important conclusion to be drawn from the two years of developing the Soviet Republic, what, in my view, is most important for us, is .the lesson we have had in organising working-class power. It seems to me that in this we must not confine ourselves to the various concrete facts that concern the work of some commissariat and which most of you know of from your own experience. It seems to me that, in glancing back over what we have gone through, we must draw a general lesson from this work of construction, a lesson that we shall learn and carry further afield among working people. The lesson is that only workers' participation in the general administration of the state has enabled us to hold out amidst such incredible difficulties, and that only by following this path shall we achieve complete victory. Another lesson to be drawn is that we must maintain the right attitude to the peasantry, to the many millions of peasants, for that attitude alone has made it possible for us to carry on successfully amid all our difficulties, and it alone shows us the path along which we are achieving one success after another.

If you recall the past, if you recall the first steps of Soviet power, if you recall the entire work of developing all branches of the administration of the Republic, not excluding the military branch, you will see that the establishment of working-class rule two years ago, in October, was only the beginning. Actually, at that time, the machinery of state power was not yet in our hands, and if you glance back over the two years that have since elapsed you will agree with me that in each sphere-military, political and economic-we have had to win every position inch by inch, in order to establish real machinery of state power, sweeping aside those who before us had been at the head of the industrial workers and working people in general.

It is particularly important for us to understand the development that has taken place in this period, because there is development along the same lines all over the world. The industrial workers and other working people do not take their first steps with their real leaders; the proletariat themselves are now taking over the administration of state, political power, and at their head we see everywhere leaders who are destroying the old prejudices of petty-bourgeois democracy, old prejudices the vehicles of which in our country are the Mensheviks and Socialist-Revolutionaries, and throughout Europe are the representatives of bourgeois governments. Previously this was an exception, now it has become the general rule. Two years ago, in October, the bourgeois government in Russia—their alliance or coalition with the Mensheviks and Socialist-Revolutionaries—was smashed, but we know how, in carrying on our work, we had subsequently to reorganise every branch of administration in such a way that genuine representatives, revolutionary workers, the vanguard of the proletariat, really took in hand the organisation of state power. That was in October, two years ago, when the work went on at terrific pressure; nevertheless we know, and we must say it, that this work is not finished even now. We know how those who formerly ran the state resisted us, how officials at first tried refusing to administrate, but this gross sabotage was stopped in a few weeks by the proletarian government. It showed that not the slightest impression could be made on it by such refusal; and after we had put an end to this gross sabotage this same enemy tried other methods.

Time and again it has happened that supporters of the bourgeoisie have been found even at the head of workers’ organisations; we had to get down to the business of making the fullest use of the workers’ strength. Take, for example, what we experienced when the railway administration, the railway proletariat were headed by people who led them along the bourgeois, and not the proletarian path.46 We know that in all spheres wherever we could get rid of the bourgeoisie, we did so, but at what a price! In each sphere we gained ground inch by inch, and promoted the best of our workers, those who had gone through the hard school of organising the administration. Viewed from the side, all this is, perhaps, not very difficult, but actually, if you go into the matter, you will see with what difficulty the workers, who had been through all the stages of the struggle, asserted their rights, how they set things going—from workers’ control to workers’ management of industry, or how on the railways, beginning from the notorious Vikzhel,[Vikzhel—All-Russia Executive Committee of the Railwaymen’s Trade Union.—Editor] they got an efficient organisation working; you will see how representatives of the working class are gradually making their way into all our organisations and strengthening them by their activity. Take the co-operatives, for example, where we see huge numbers of workers’ representatives. We know that formerly they consisted almost entirely of non-working-class people. Furthermore, in the old co-operatives, there were people steeped in the views and interests of the old bourgeois society. In this respect the workers had to wage a long struggle before they could take power into their own hands and subordinate the co-operatives to their interests, before they could carry on more fruitful work.

But our most important work has been the reorganisation of the old machinery of state, and although this has been a difficult job, over the last two years we have seen the results of the efforts of the working class and we can say that in this sphere we have thousands of working-class representatives who have been all through the fire of the struggle, forcing out the representatives of bourgeois rule step by step. We see workers not only in state bodies; we see them in the food supply services, in the sphere that was controlled almost exclusively by representatives of the old bourgeois government, of the old bourgeois state. The workers have created a food supply apparatus, and although a year ago we could not yet fully cope with the work, although a year ago workers made up only 30 per cent of it, we now have as many as 80 per cent workers in the food supply organisations. These simple and striking figures express the step taken by our country, and for us the important thing is that we have achieved great results in organising proletarian power after the political revolution.

Furthermore, the workers have done and are continuing to do the important job of producing proletarian leaders. Tens and hundreds of thousands of valiant workers are emerging from our midst and are going into battle against the whiteguard generals. Step by step we are gaining power from our enemy; formerly workers were not very skilful in this field, but we are now gradually winning area after area from our enemy, and there are no difficulties that can stop the proletariat. The proletariat is gaining in every sphere, gradually, one after another, despite all difficulties, and is attracting representatives of the proletarian masses so that in every branch of administration, in every little unit, from top to bottom, representatives of the proletariat themselves go through the school of administration, and then train tens and hundreds of thousands of people capable of independently conducting all the affairs of state administration, of building the state by their own efforts.

Comrades! Lately we have witnessed a particularly brilliant example of success in our work. We know how widespread subbotniks have become among class-conscious workers. We know those representatives of communism who most of all have suffered the torments of famine and bitter cold, but whose contribution in the rear is no smaller than that of the Red Army at the front; we know how, at the critical moment when the enemy was advancing on Petrograd, and Denikin took Orel, when the bourgeoisie were in high spirits and resorted to their last and favourite weapon, the spreading of panic, we announced a Party Week. At that moment the worker Communists went to the industrial workers and other working people, to those who most of all had endured the burden of the imperialist war and were starving and freezing, to those on whom the bourgeois panic-mongers counted most of all, to those who bore most of the burden on their backs; it was to them that we addressed ourselves during the Party Week and said: "You are scared by the burdens of working-class rule, by the threats of the imperialists and capitalists; you see our work and our difficulties; we appeal to you, and we open wide the doors of our Party only to you, only to the representatives of the working people. At this difficult moment we count on you and call you into our ranks there to undertake the whole burden of building the state." You know that it was a terribly difficult moment, both materially and because of the enemy’s successes in foreign policy and in the military sphere. And you know what unparalleled, unexpected and unbelievable success marked the end of this Party Week in Moscow alone, where we got over 14 thousand new Party members. There you have the result of the Party Week that is totally transforming, that is remaking the working class, and by the experience of work is turning those who were the passive, inert instruments of the bourgeois government, the exploiters, and the bourgeois state into real creators of the future communist society. We know that we have a reserve of tens and hundreds of thousands of working-class and peasant youths, those who saw and know to the full the old oppression of landowner and bourgeois society, who have seen the unparalleled difficulties of our constructive work, who saw what heroes the first contingent of Party functionaries proved to be in 1917 and 1918, who have been coming to us in bigger numbers and whose devotion is the greater the severer our difficulties. These reserves give us confidence that in these two years we have achieved a firm and sound cohesion and now possess a source from which we shall for a long time be able to draw still more extensively, and so ensure that the working people themselves undertake to develop the state. In this respect we have had such experience during these two years in applying working-class administration in all spheres, that we can say boldly and without any exaggeration that now all that remains is to continue what has been begun, and things will proceed as they have done these two years, but at an ever faster pace.

In another sphere, that of the relation of the working class to the peasantry, we have had far greater difficulties. Two years ago, in 1917, when power passed to the Soviets, the relation was still totally unclear. The peasantry as a whole had already turned against the landowners, and supported the working class, because it saw they were fulfilling the wishes o the peasant masses, that they were real working-class fighters, and not those who, in league with the landowners, had betrayed the peasantry. But we know perfectly well that a struggle was only just beginning within the peasantry. In the first year the urban proletariat still had no firm foothold in the countryside. This is to be seen with particular clarity in those border regions where the rule of the whiteguards was for a time consolidated. We saw it, last summer, in 1918, when they won easy victories in the Urals. We saw that proletarian rule was not yet established in the countryside itself, and that it was not enough to introduce it from outside. What was needed was that the peasantry should, by their own experience, by their own organisational work, arrive at the same conclusions, and although this work is immeasurably more difficult, slower and harder, it is incomparably more fruitful so far as results go. This is our main achievement of the second year of Soviet rule.

I shall not speak of the military significance of our victory over Kolchak, but I shall say that had the peasantry not undergone the experience of comparing the rule of the bourgeois dictators with that of the Bolsheviks, that victory would not have been won. Yet the dictators began with a coalition, with a Constituent Assembly; in that government apparatus there participated the same Socialist-Revolutionaries and Mensheviks whom we meet at every step in our work as the people of yesterday, as the people who built co-operatives, trade unions, teachers’ organisations and a host of other organisations which we have to reorganise. Kolchak began in alliance with them, with individuals for whom the Kerensky experiment was not enough—they undertook a second. They did so in order to get the border regions, those farthest from the centre, to rise against the Bolsheviks. We could not give the peasants in Siberia what the revolution gave them in the rest of Russia. In Siberia the peasants did not get landed estates, because there were none of them there, and that was why it was easier for them to put faith in the white-guards. All the forces of the Entente and the imperialist army which had suffered least of all in the war, i. e., the Japanese army, were drawn into the struggle. We know that hundreds of millions of rubles were expended on assisting Kolchak, that all means were employed to support him. Was there anything he lacked on his side? He had everything. Everything possessed by the strongest powers in the world, as well as a peasantry and a huge territory almost devoid of an industrial proletariat. What caused the destruction of all this? The fact that the experience of the workers, soldiers and peasants showed once again that the Bolsheviks were right in their forecasts, in their appraisal of the relation of social forces, when they said that the alliance of the workers and peasants is effected with difficulty, but that at any rate it is the only invincible alliance against the capitalists.

This is science, comrades, if one may use that term here. This experience is one of the greatest difficulty, one that takes account of everything and consolidates everything—it is the experience of communism; we can only establish communism if the peasantry arrive consciously at a definite conclusion. We can do this only when we enter into alliance with the peasants. We were able to convince ourselves of this by the Koichak experience. The Kolchak revolt was an experience of great bloodshed, but that was no fault of ours.

You are now perfectly familiar with the second trouble that afflicts us; you know that famine and cold have affected our country more severely than any other. You know that the blame for this is thrown on communism, but you also know perfectly well that communism has nothing to do with it. In all countries we see increasing and growing famine and cold and soon everybody will be convinced that this situation in Russia is not the consequence of communism, but of four years of worldwide war. It is the war that has caused all the horror we are enduring, that has caused this famine and cold. But we believe that we shall soon emerge from this state of affairs. The whole problem is only that the workers must work, but work for themselves and not for those who for four years have been engaged in throat-cutting. As for the fight against famine and cold, it is going on everywhere. The most powerful states are now subject to this affliction.

We have had to resort to state requisitioning to collect grain from the many millions of our peasantry, and have done so not the way it was done by the capitalists, who operated along with the profiteers. In settling this problem we went with the workers, we went against the profiteers. We used the method of persuasion, we went to the peasantry and told them that all we were doing was in support of them and the workers. The peasant who has a grain surplus and delivers it to us at a fixed price, is our ally. The one, however, who does not do so is our enemy, is a criminal, is an exploiter and profiteer, and we can have nothing in common with him. We went with a message to the peasant, and this message has increasingly drawn the peasantry to our side. We have got quite definite results in this field. Between August and October of last year we procured 37 million poods of grain, but this year we have procured 45 million poods, and that without undertaking a special and careful check. An improvement, as you see, is taking place, a slow but undoubted one. And even if we reckon with the gaps made by Denikin’s occupation of our fertile region, there are nevertheless signs of our being able to carry through our plan of procurement and plan of distribution at state prices. In this respect, too, our machinery has in a sense become established, and we are now taking the socialist path.

Now we are faced with the problem of a fuel crisis. The grain problem is no longer so acute; the position is that we have grain, but have no fuel. We have been deprived of our coalfield by Denikin. The loss of this coalfield has brought us unprecedented difficulties, and in this case we are doing just what we did in relation to grain. As we did previously we are again addressing ourselves to the workers. In the same way as we reorganised our food supply machinery; which, after being strengthened and set going, fulfilled quite a definite job that has yielded splendid results, so we are now improving our fuel supply machinery day by day. We are telling the workers from what direction this or that danger is advancing on us, in which direction and from what region we must send new forces, and we are confident that, just as we conquered our grain difficulties last year, so now we shall conquer our fuel difficulties.

Allow me for the moment to confine myself to this summary of our work. In conclusion, I shall take the liberty of saying just a few words about how our international situation is improving. We have examined the path we have followed, and the results show that our path has been the right and proper one. When we took power in 1917, we were alone. In 1917 it was said in all countries that Bolshevism could not take root. Now there is a powerful communist movement in those same countries. In the second year after we conquered power, six months after we founded the Third International, the Communist International, this International has in fact become the main force in the labour movement of all countries. In this respect the experience we have undergone has yielded the most splendid, unparalleled and rapid results, True, the movement to freedom in Europe is not proceeding in the same way as in our country. But if you recall our two years of struggle, you will see that in the Ukraine too, and even in some parts of Russia proper, where the population was of a specific composition—for instance, in the Cossack and Siberian areas, or in the Urals—the movement to victory was not so rapid and did not follow the same road as in Petrograd and in Moscow, in the heart of Russia. Of course, we cannot be surprised at the slower pace of the movement in Europe, where pressure of jingoism and imperialism that has to be surmounted is greater; nonetheless the movement is proceeding unswervingly, along the very road being indicated by the Bolsheviks. Everywhere we are witnessing this forward movement. The mouthpieces of the Mensheviks and Socialist-Revolutionaries are yielding place everywhere to representatives of the Third International. The old leaders are falling, and the communist movement has risen everywhere, and that is why, after two years of Soviet rule, we can say, supported by the facts, we have every right to say, that not only on the scale of the Russian state, but also on an international scale we now have the following of all the politically conscious, all that are revolutionary among the masses, in the revolutionary world. And we can say that after what we have endured no difficulties hold any terrors for us, that we shall withstand all these difficulties, and then conquer them all. (Stormy applause.)