V. I. Lenin

Eighth Congress of the R.C.P.(B.) March 18-23, 1919


Speech Closing The Debate On The Party Programme

March 19

(Applause.) Comrades, I could not divide this part of the question with Comrade Bukharin, after preliminary consultation, in such detail as was the case with the report. Perhaps it will prove unnecessary. I think the debate that unfolded here revealed primarily one thing—the absence of any definite and formulated counter-proposal. Many speakers dealt with separate points in a desultory way, but made no counter-proposals. I shall deal with the chief objections, which were mainly directed against the preamble. Comrade Bukharin told me that he is one of those who believe that it is possible in the preamble to combine a description of capitalism with a description of imperialism in such a way as to form an integral whole, but since this has not been done, we shall have to accept the existing draft.

Many of the speakers argued—and it was particularly emphasised by Comrade Podbelsky—that the draft presented to you is wrong. The arguments Comrade Podbelsky advanced were very strange indeed. For instance, he said that in Clause 1 the revolution is referred to as the revolution of such-and-such a date, and for some reason this suggested to Comrade Podbelsky the idea that even this revolution is numbered. I may say that in the Council of People’s Commissars we have to deal with numerous documents with index numbers, and often we get a little tired of them. But why convey this impression here? What has an index number to do with the question? We fix the day of the holiday and celebrate it. Can it be denied that it was precisely on October 25 that we captured power? If you were to attempt to change this in any way, it would be artificial. If you call the revolution the October-November Revolution, you provide a pretext for saying that it was not accomplished in one day. Of course, it was accomplished in a longer period—not in October, not in November, and not even in one year. Comrade Podbelsky took exception to the fact that one of the clauses speaks of the impending social revolution. On these grounds he made it appear that the programme was guilty of the crime of “offending Her Majesty the social revolution”. Here we are in the middle of the social revolution and yet the programme says that it is impending! This argument is obviously groundless, because the revolution referred to in our programme is the world social revolution.

We are told that we approach the revolution from the economic point of view. Should we do so or not? Many over-enthusiastic comrades here went as far as to talk about a world Economic Council, and about subordinating all the national parties to the Central Committee of the Russian Communist Party. Comrade Pyatakov almost went as far as to say the same. (Pyatakov, from his place: “Do you think that would be a bad thing?”) Since he now says that it would not be a bad thing, I must reply that if there were anything like this in the programme, there would be no need to criticise it: the authors of such a proposal would have dug their own graves. These over-enthusiastic comrades have overlooked the fact that in the programme we must take our stand on what actually exists. One of these comrades—I think it was Sunitsa, who criticised the programme very vigorously and said it was worthless, and so forth—one of these over-enthusiastic comrades said that he did not agree that it must contain what actually exists, and proposed that it should contain what does not exist. (Laughter.) I think that this argument is so obviously false that the laughter it evokes is quite natural. I did not say that it must contain only what actually exists. I said that we must proceed from what has been definitely established. We must say and prove to the proletarians and working peasants that the communist revolution is inevitable. Did anybody here suggest that it is not necessary to say this? Had anybody made such a suggestion, it would have been proved to him that he was wrong. Nobody made any such suggestion, nor will anybody do so, because it is an undoubted fact that our Party came to power with the aid not only of the communist proletariat, but also of all the peasants. Shall we confine ourselves to telling these people who are now marching with us: “The Party’s only function is to carry on socialist construction. The communist revolution has been accomplished, put communism into effect.” Such an opinion would be utterly groundless, it would be wrong from the theoretical point of view. Our Party has absorbed directly, and still more indirectly, millions of people who are now beginning to understand the class struggle, to understand the transition from capitalism to communism.

It may now be said, and it would be no exaggeration at all to do so, of course, that nowhere, in no other country, have the working people displayed such keen interest in the question of transforming capitalism into socialism as the working people in our country today. Our people are giving more thought to this than the people of any other country. Is the Party not to give a reply to this question? We must demonstrate scientifically how this communist revolution will progress. All the other proposals fall short in this respect. Nobody wanted to delete it entirely. There was some vague talk about it being possible to abbreviate it, about not quoting from the old programme because it is wrong. But if the old programme were wrong, how could it have served as the basis of our activities for so many years? Perhaps we shall have a common programme when the world Soviet Republic is set up; by that time we shall probably have drafted several more programmes. But it would be premature to draft one now, when only one Soviet Republic exists in what was formerly the Russian Empire. Even Finland, which is undoubtedly advancing towards a Soviet Republic, has not yet reached it. And yet the Finnish people are the most cultured of the peoples that inhabit what was formerly the Russian Empire. Consequently, it is utterly wrong to demand that the programme should now reflect a finished process. It would be on a par with inserting the demand for a world Economic Council. We ourselves have not yet grown accustomed to this ugly word Sovnarkhoz—Economic Council; as for foreigners, it is said that some of them searched the railway directory, thinking that there was a station of that name. (Laughter.) We cannot dictate such words to the whole world by means of decrees.

To be international, our programme must take into account the class factors which are characteristic of the economy of all countries. It is characteristic of all countries that capitalism is still developing in a great many places. This is true of the whole of Asia, of all countries which are advancing towards bourgeois democracy; it is true of a number of parts of Russia. For instance, Comrade Rykov, who is closely familiar with the facts in the economic field, told us of the new bourgeoisie which have arisen in our country. This is true. The bourgeoisie are emerging not only from among our Soviet government employees—only a very few can emerge from their ranks—but from the ranks of the peasants and handicraftsmen who have been liberated from the yoke of the capitalist banks, and who are now cut off from railway communication. This is a fact. How do you think you will get round this fact? You are only fostering your own illusions, or introducing badly digested book-learning into reality, which is far more complex. It shows that even in Russia, capitalist commodity production is alive, operating, developing and giving rise to a bourgeoisie, in the same way as it does in every capitalist society.

Comrade Rykov said, “We are fighting against the bourgeoisie who are springing up in our country because the peasant economy has not yet disappeared; this economy gives rise to a bourgeoisie and to capitalism.” We do not have exact figures about it, but it is beyond doubt that this is the case. So far a Soviet Republic exists only within the boundaries of what was formerly the Russian Empire. It is maturing and developing in a number of countries, but it does not yet exist in any other country. It would, therefore, be fantastic to claim in our programme something we have not yet reached; it would merely express a desire to escape unpleasant reality, which shows that the birth-pangs of other countries bringing forth socialist republics are undoubtedly more severe than those we experienced. We found it easy because on October 27 ,1917, we gave legal effect to what the peasants had demanded in the resolutions of the Socialist-Revolutionary Party. This is not the case in any other country. A Swiss comrade and a German comrade told us that in Switzerland the peasants took up arms against the strikers as never before, and that in Germany there is not the faintest indications in the rural districts of the likelihood of the appearance of councils of agricultural labourers and small peasants. In our country, however, Soviets of Peasants’ Deputies were formed almost over the entire country in the first few months of the revolution. We, a backward country, created them. Here a gigantic problem arises, for which the people in the capitalist countries have not yet found a solution. Were we a model capitalist nation? Survivals of serfdom were still to be found in this country right up to 1917. But no nation organised on capitalist lines has yet shown how this problem can be solved in practice. We achieved power under exceptional conditions, when tsarist despotism stimulated a great burst of effort to bring about a radical and rapid change; and under these exceptional conditions we were able for several months to rely on the support of all the peasants. This is a historical fact. Right up to the summer of 1918, up to the time of the formation of the Poor Peasants’ Committees, we were holding on as a government because we enjoyed the support of all the peasants. This is impossible in any capitalist country. And it is this fundamental economic fact that you forget when you talk about radically redrafting the whole programme. Without this your programme will have no scientific foundation.

We must take as our point of departure the universally recognised Marxist thesis that a programme must be built on a scientific foundation. It must explain to the people how the communist revolution arose, why it is inevitable, what its significance, nature, and power are, and what problems it must solve. Our programme must be a summary for agitational purposes, a summary such as all programmes were, such as, for instance, the Erfurt Programme[18] was. Every clause of that programme contained material for agitators to use in hundreds of thousands of speeches and articles. Every clause of our programme is something that every working man and woman must know, assimilate and understand. If they do not know what capitalism is, if they do not understand that small peasant and handicraft economy constantly, inevitably and necessarily engenders this capitalism—if they do not understand this, then even if they were to declare themselves Communists a hundred times and flaunt the most radical communism, it would not be worth a brass farthing, because we value communism only when it is based on economic facts.

The socialist revolution will cause many changes even in some of the advanced countries. The capitalist mode of production still exists in all parts of the world, and in many places it still bears its less developed forms in spite of the fact that imperialism has mobilised and concentrated finance capital. There is not a country in the world, even the most developed, where capitalism is to be found exclusively in its most perfect form. There is nothing like it even in Germany. When we were collecting material for our particular assignments, the comrade in charge of the Central Statistical Board informed us that in Germany the peasants concealed from the Food Supply Departments 40 per cent of their surplus potatoes. Small peasant farms, which engage in free, petty trading, and petty profiteering, are still to be found in a capitalist country where capitalism has reached its full development. Such facts must not be forgotten. Of the 300,000 members of the Party who are represented here, are there many who fully understand this question? It would be ridiculous conceit to imagine that because we, whose good fortune it was to draft this programme, understand all this, the entire mass of Communists also understands it. They do not, and they need this ABC. They need it a hundred times more than we do, because people who have not grasped, who have not understood what communism is and what commodity production is, are far removed from communism. We come across these cases of small commodity economy every day, in every question of practical economic policy, food policy, agricultural policy, on matters concerning the Supreme Economic Council. And yet we are told that we ought not to speak about it in the programme! If we heeded this advice we would only show that we are incapable of solving this problem, and that the success of the revolution in our country is due to exceptional circumstances.

Comrades from Germany visit us to study the forms of the socialist system. And we must act in such a way as to prove to our comrades from abroad that we are strong, to enable them to see that in our revolution we are not in the least exceeding the bounds of reality, and to provide them with material that will be absolutely irrefutable. It would be absurd to set up our revolution as the ideal for all countries, to imagine that it has made a number of brilliant discoveries and has introduced a heap of socialist innovations. I have not heard anybody make this claim and I assert that we shall not hear anybody make it. We have acquired practical experience in taking the first steps towards destroying capitalism in a country where specific relations exist between the proletariat and the peasants. Nothing more. If we behave like the frog in the fable and become puffed up with conceit, we shall only make ourselves the laughing-stock of the world, we shall be mere braggarts.

We educated the party of the proletariat with the aid of the Marxist programme, and the tens of millions of working people in our country must be educated in the same way. We have assembled here as ideological leaders and we must say to the people: “We educated the proletariat, and in doing so we always took our stand first and foremost on an exact economic analysis.” This cannot be done by means of a manifesto. The manifesto of the Third International is an appeal, a proclamation, it calls attention to the tasks that confront us, it is an appeal to the people’s sentiments. Take the trouble to prove scientifically that you have an economic basis, and that you are not building on sand. If you cannot do that, do not undertake to draw up a programme. To do it, we must necessarily review what we have lived through in these fifteen years. Fifteen years ago we said that we were advancing towards the social revolution, and now we have arrived; does that fact weaken our position? On the contrary, it reinforces and strengthens it. It all amounts to this, that capitalism is developing into imperialism, and imperialism leads to the beginning of the socialist revolution. It is tedious and lengthy, and not a single capitalist country has yet gone through this process, but it is necessary to deal with this in the programme.

That is why the theoretical arguments that have been levelled against this hold no water. I have no doubt that if we were to set ten or twenty writers, who are well able to expound their ideas, to work for three or four hours a day, they would, in the course of a month, draw up a better and more integral programme. But to demand that this should be done in a day or two, as Comrade Podbelsky does, is ridiculous. We worked for more than a day or two, or even a couple of weeks. I repeat that if it were possible to select a commission of thirty persons and set them to work several hours a day for a month, and moreover, not allow them to be disturbed by telephone calls, there can be no doubt that they would produce a programme five times better than this one. But nobody here has disputed essentials. A programme which says nothing about the fundamentals of commodity economy and capitalism will not be a Marxist international programme. To be international it is not enough for it to proclaim a world Soviet republic, or the abolition of nations, as Comrade Pyatakov did when he said: “We don’t want any nations. What we want is the union of all proletarians.” This is splendid, of course, and eventually it will come about, but at an entirely different stage of communist development. Comrade Pyatakov said in a patronising tone: “You were backward in 1917, but you have made progress.” We made progress when we put into the programme something that began to conform to reality. When we said that nations advance from bourgeois democracy to proletarian government, we stated what was a fact, although in 1917 it was merely an expression of what you desired.

When we establish with the Spartacists that complete comradely confidence needed for united communism, the comradely confidence that is maturing day by day, and which, perhaps, will come into being in a few months’ time, we shall record it in the programme. But to proclaim it when it does not yet exist, would mean dragging them into something for which their own experience has not yet prepared them. We say that the Soviet type has acquired international significance. Comrade Bukharin mentioned the Shop Stewards’ Committees in Britain. These are not quite Soviets. They are developing but they are still in the embryonic stage. When they burst into full bloom, we shall “see what happens”. But the argument that we are presenting Russian Soviets to the British workers is beyond all criticism.

I must now deal with the question of self-determination of nations. Our criticism has served to exaggerate the importance of this question. The defect in our criticism was that it attached special significance to this question, which, in substance, is of less than secondary importance in the programme’s general structure, in the sum total of programme demands.

While Comrade Pyatakov was speaking I was amazed and asked myself what it was, a debate on the programme, or a dispute between two Organising Bureaus? When Comrade Pyatakov said that the Ukrainian Communists act in conformity with the instructions of the Central Committee of the R.C.P.(B.), I was not sure about the tone in which he said it. Was it regret? I do not suspect Comrade Pyatakov of that, but what he said was tantamount to asking what was the good of all this self-determination when we have a splendid Central Committee in Moscow. This is a childish point of view. The Ukraine was separated from Russia by exceptional circumstances, and the national movement did not take deep root there. Whatever there was of such a movement the Germans killed. This is a fact, but an exceptional fact. Even as regards the language it is not clear whether the Ukrainian language today is the language of the common people or not. The mass of working people of the other nations greatly distrusted the Great Russians whom they regarded as a kulak and oppressor nation. That is a fact. A Finnish representative told me that among the Finnish bourgeoisie, who hated the Great Russians, voices are to be heard saying: “The Germans proved to be more savage brutes, the Entente proved to be more savage, we had better have the Bolsheviks.” This is the tremendous victory we have gained over the Finnish bourgeoisie in the national question. This does not in the least prevent us from fighting it as our class enemy and from choosing the proper methods for the purpose. The Soviet Republic, which has been established in the country where tsarism formerly oppressed Finland, must declare that it respects the right of nations to independence. We concluded a treaty with the short-lived Red Finnish Government and agreed to certain territorial concessions, to which I heard quite a number of utterly chauvinistic objections, such as: “There are excellent fisheries there, and you have surrendered them.” These are the kind of objections which induce me to say, “Scratch some Communists and you will find Great Russian chauvinists.”

I think that the case of Finland, as well as of the Bashkirs, shows that in dealing with the national question one cannot argue that economic unity should be effected under all circumstances. Of course, it is necessary! But we must endeavour to secure it by propaganda, by agitation, by a voluntary alliance. The Bashkirs distrust the Great Russians because the Great Russians are more cultured and have utilised their culture to rob the Bashkirs. That is why the term Great Russian is synonymous with the terms “oppressor”, “rogue” to Bashkirs in those remote places. This must be taken into account, it must be combated, but it will be a lengthy process. It cannot be eliminated by a decree. We must be very cautious in this matter. Exceptional caution must be displayed by a nation like the Great Russians, who earned the bitter hatred of all the other nations; we have only just learned how to remedy the situation, and then, not entirely. For instance, at the Commissariat of Education, or connected with it, there are Communists, who say that our schools are uniform schools, and therefore don’t dare to teach in any language but Russian. In my opinion, such a Communist is a Great-Russian chauvinist. Many of us harbour such sentiments and they must be combated.

That is why we must tell the other nations that we are out-and-out internationalists and are striving for the voluntary alliance of the workers and peasants of all nations. This does not preclude wars in the least. War is another question, and-arises out of the very nature of imperialism. If we are fighting Wilson, and Wilson uses a small nation as his tool, we say that we shall oppose that tool. We have never said anything different. We have never said that a socialist republic can exist without military forces. War may be necessary under certain circumstances. But at present, the essence of the question of the self-determination of nations is that different nations are advancing in the same historical direction, but by very different zigzags and by-paths, and that the more cultured nations are obviously proceeding in a way that differs from that of the less cultured nations. Finland advanced in a different way. Germany is advancing in a different way. Comrade Pyatakov is a thousand times right when he says that we need unity. But we must strive for it by means of propaganda, by Party influence, by forming united trade unions. But here, too, we must not act in a stereotyped way. If we do away with this point, or formulate it differently, we shall be deleting the national question from the programme. This might be done if there were people with no specific national features. But there are no such people, and we cannot build socialist society in any other way.

I think, comrades, that the programme proposed here should be accepted as a basis and then referred back to the commission, which should be enlarged by the inclusion of representatives of the opposition, or rather, of comrades who have made practical proposals, and that the commission should put forward (1) the amendments to the draft that have been enumerated, and (2) the theoretical objections on which no agreement can be reached. I think this will be the most practical way of dealing with the matter, and one that will most speedily lead to a correct decision. (Applause.)


[18] The Erfurt Programme of the German Social-Democratic Party was adopted in October 1891 at a Congress held in Erfurt, it replaced the Gotha Programme of 1875. Engels criticised the errors in the Erfurt Programme in his “Zur Kritik des sozialdemokratischen Programmentwurfes 1891” (Die Neue Zeit, XX . Jg ., Bd . I, 1901-1903, S. 5).