Comrades, our first words at this Congress must be dedicated to Comrade Yakov Mikhuilovich Sverdlov. Comrades, as many people said at his funeral today, Yakov Mikhailovich Sverdlov was, for the Party as a whole and for the entire Soviet Republic, the principal organiser, but he was much more valuable for our Party Congress and much closer to it. We have lost a comrade who devoted his last days entirely to this Congress. His absence will affect the whole course of our proceedings, and this Congress will feel it with exceptional acuteness. Comrades, I propose that we honour his memory by rising. (All rise.)
Comrades, we are opening our Party Congress at a very difficult, complicated and peculiar stage in the Russian and in the world proletarian revolution. In the first period after the October Revolution the forces of the Party and of the Soviet government were almost entirely absorbed by the tasks of direct defence, of offering direct resistance to our enemies, the bourgeoisie at home and abroad, who could not reconcile themselves to the idea that the socialist republic could exist for any length of time. We nevertheless gradually began to consolidate our position and the tasks of construction, organisational tasks, began to come to the fore. I think that this work of construction and organisation should be the keynote of our Congress. The programme problems which, from the standpoint of theory present a big difficulty and are in the main problems of our development, and those that have a special place on the Congress agenda—the organisational question, the question of the Red Army and, particularly, the question of work in the countryside—all require us to focus and concentrate our attention on the main question, which is a very difficult but gratifying one for socialists to grapple with, namely, the question of organisation. It must be particularly emphasised here that one of the most difficult problems of communist development, in a country of small peasant farms, one that we must deal with right now, is the problem of our attitude towards the middle peasants.
Comrades, it was natural that in the first period, when we had to fight for the Soviet Republic’s right to existence, this question should not have been pushed into the fore ground on an extensive scale. The relentless war against the rural bourgeoisie and the kulaks gave prominence to the organisation of the rural proletariat and semi-proletariat. But by its next step the Party, which wants to lay the sound foundations of communist society, must take up the task of correctly defining our attitude towards the middle peasants. This is a problem of a higher order. We could not present it on an extensive scale until we had made secure the basis for the existence of the Soviet Republic. This problem is a more complicated one and it involves defining our attitude towards a numerous and strong section of the population. This attitude cannot be defined simply by the answer—struggle or support. As regards the bourgeoisie our task is defined by the words “struggle”, “suppression”, and as regards the rural proletariat and semi-proletariat our task is defined by the words “our support”, but this problem is undoubtedly more complicated. On this point, the socialists, the best representatives of socialism in the old days, when they still believed in the revolution and faithfully adhered to its theory and ideals, talked about neutralising the peasantry, i.e., making the middle peasants a social stratum which, if it did not actively help the proletarian revolution, at least would not hinder it, that would remain neutral and not go over to the side of our enemies. This abstract, theoretical formulation of the problem is quite clear but is inadequate. We have reached the stage of socialist development when we must draw up definite and detailed rules and regulations which have been tested by practical experience in the rural districts to guide us in our efforts to place our relations with the middle peasants on the basis of a firm alliance and so preclude the pos- sibility of a repetition of those mistakes and blunders we have repeatedly, made in the past. These blunders estranged the middle peasants from us, although we of the Communist Party, the leading party, were the first who helped the Russian peasants to throw off the yoke of the landowners and establish real democracy, which gave us every ground for counting on their complete confidence. This is not the type of problem that calls for ruthless, swift suppression and attack, it is more complicated. But I shall allow myself to say confidently that after our twelve months of preliminary work we shall be able to cope with this problem.
A few words about our international situation. Comrades, you are all, of course, aware that the founding of the Third, Communist International in Moscow is an event of the greatest significance insofar as our position in the world is concerned. We still have confronting us a vast, real and well armed military force—all the strongest powers of the world. Nevertheless, we can confidently say to ourselves that what outwardly seems to be a gigantic force, and which physically is immeasurably stronger than we are, has been shaken. It is no longer a force. It no longer has its former stability. Therefore there is nothing utopian in our aim and in the task we set ourselves—to be victorious in the struggle against this giant. On the contrary, although we are now artificially cut off from the whole world, the newspapers every day report the growth of the revolutionary movement in all countries. Moreover, we know, we see, that this growing movement is assuming the Soviet form. And this is a guarantee that in establishing the Soviet government we discovered the international, world form of the dictatorship of the proletariat. We are firmly convinced that the proletariat all over the world has taken this path of struggle, the creation of these forms of proletarian rule, the rule of the workers and of the working people in general, and that no power on earth can halt the progress of the world communist revolution towards the world Soviet republic. (Prolonged applause.)
Comrades, permit me now on behalf of the Central Committee of the Russian Communist Party to declare the Eighth Congress open and proceed to the election of the presidium.