V. I. Lenin

Speech at a Non-Party Conference of the Workers and Men of the Red Army of Basmanny, Lefortovo, Alexeyevskoye and Sokolniki Districts[1]

September 3, 1919

Delivered: 3 September, 1919,
First Published: Pravda No. 201, September 11, 1919; Published according to the Pravda text.
Source: Lenin’s Collected Works, 4th English Edition, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1965, Volume 30, pages 15-26
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, permit me to greet your non-party conference of workers and men of the Red Army, together with Red Commanders graduating from the artillery courses. This conference has been called to discuss problems of strengthening our state system and our state machinery.

In all countries the working-class masses are oppressed. They do not enjoy the benefits of capitalist civilisation, although the working people should by rights constitute the basis of all state life. In our country, comrades, the working people are the basis, the foundation of the Soviet Republic. After the triumph of the working people in February 1917, Soviets made their appearance throughout Russia. The idea of the Soviets did not originate in 1917 for they were born as far back as 1905. Even then Soviets of Workers’ Deputies existed. After the October Revolution Soviet power met with the sympathy of workers in all countries, something that can be explained by profound internal causes.

Allow me, comrades, to say something about the main principles of political life in Soviet Russia. I am not in possession of exact material demonstrating the economic situation of our Republic; other speakers will no doubt deal with this, especially with the food policy of the workers’ and peasants’ government; I shall deal only with the political aspect.

To get a better picture of the basic principle of Soviet power we must take a backward glance, we must examine the course taken by our revolution, beginning from 1917. There were two periods in our revolution—one was the period of the Kerensky policy and the Kornilov revolt that preceded Soviet power, the other was the period of Kaledin, Kolchak and Denikin[2] who tried to destroy Soviet power. Non-party workers, members of the working classes, must ask themselves why these two periods occurred and why they are interconnected.

Comrades, every worker, every man of the Red Army, every member of the working classes must give thought to the reason our Soviet power is accused of terrorism, why it is said that the Bolsheviks are dictators, that the Bolsheviks are cut-throats. On the other hand, every member of the working classes should ask himself why the power of Kerensky, Kaledin and Kolchak collapsed so easily. You all know that at the time Kerensky was in power, Russia was covered with a network of Soviets of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies, and that side by side with them, the bourgeoisie held all power in their own hands. The bourgeoisie were supported by the Allies, who wanted Russia to continue the war; the Russian bourgeoisie, too, wanted to continue the war in order to get hold of the Dardanelles. That is why Kerensky’s bourgeois government, supported by the Mensheviks and Socialist-Revolutionaries, did not want to and could not publish the treaties concluded between the government of Nicholas the Bloody and the Allies. In this way the bourgeoisie, by a fraud and with the aid of the Mensheviks and Socialist-Revolutionaries, maintained their power over the masses of the working people.

You all remember that there were very few Bolsheviks in the Soviets at the beginning of the 1917 revolution. I remember that at the time of the First Congress of Soviets in June, the Bolsheviks did not make up even a seventh part of the delegates. The bourgeoisie and the so-called socialist parties of Mensheviks and Socialist-Revolutionaries said of us that the Bolsheviks might have a corrupting influence on the masses. But what was Kerensky’s bourgeois government doing at this time? They were feeding the working people with promises that were never fulfilled. The land law was never promulgated. But when the land committees tried to take over the landed estates for distribution among the poor peasant, the committees were arrested. It became obvious to the working people that this government would give them nothing. They began to realise that only their own power, the power of the workers and poor peasants, would give them anything.

It was at this time that Kornilov launched his attack on petrograd. It was not something casual, it derived from the fraudulent policy of Kerensky’s government that had all the time tried to reconcile landowners and peasants, working people and exploiters, labour and capital. And then the landowners, officers and capitalists wanted to take all power into their own hands. That is why the Kornilov revolt broke out. The Soviets realised the danger and mustered their forces against Kornilov. And when Kerensky’s bourgeois government continued its policy of deception even after this, the workers soon became more politically conscious and at the same time the number of Bolsheviks in the Soviets began rapidly to increase, even before the October Revolution. When we took power into our own hands in October, the Mensheviks and Socialist-Revolutionaries, who strutted freely around Smolny,[3] warned us threateningly that the front would move up and wipe us off the face of the earth. We laughed in their faces in reply because we knew that the working people would understand our explanations, that they supported the power of the working people and, consequently, the power of the Soviets. And so it was; when numerous delegations came to Petrograd from the front we explained to them the real state of affairs and they all came over to our side. That is an object lesson for you non-party working people. Everyone who works, every factory worker, every man of time Red Army, must learn a lesson from the history of the Kerensky government, who, I repeat, wanted to reconcile time interests of the landowners and peasants, workers and employers, labour and capital.

It seemed that the Kerensky government ought to have been a strong one because the Allied bourgeois governments promised to support it, nevertheless it collapsed. The Kerensky government collapsed because it was founded on deception and had no ground under its feet. The Kerensky government promised the working people universal elections, but only to cast dust in their eyes and distract their attention from the real state of affairs. For this reason, when the proletariat took power into its own hands after the October Revolution, it immediately organised its own government bodies, the Soviets of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies.

The workers’ and peasants’ government straightaway rejected the false policy of Kerensky’s bourgeois government. The first act of the Council of People’s Commissars was the publication of the secret treaties concluded between the government of Nicholas the Bloody and our former Allies. The workers’ and peasants’ government declared forthrightly that they did not want to carry on a war waged in the interests of the bourgeoisie, and notwithstanding all the slander by the Menshevik and Socialist-Revolutionary hirelings of the bourgeoisie, proposed to all belligerent countries that they commence peace negotiations. The workers of all countries then saw that Soviet power did not wish to continue the war. The rapacious Treaty of Brest was concluded, the treaty that the German predators imposed on unarmed Russia. Sympathy for Soviet power spread and grew strong among the class-conscious working-class masses of all countries. When the bourgeois governments of the countries of the Entente[4] forced the German plunderers to conclude a still more harsh and rapacious treaty,[5] the workers of all countries realised that they had been fooled all the time. Voices were raised and grew in strength and number against those who had all the time been fooling the people. Workers began to demand Soviet power, the power of the working people, the power of the workers and peasants.

That is why the bourgeois governments of Kerensky and Kolehak, that were supported by the Mensheviks and Socialist-Revolutionaries, collapsed so rapidly. (You all know that the Menshevik Maisky was a member of the Siberian Government.[6]) And the Mensheviks, and the Socialist-Revolutionaries, and the Czechoslovaks,[7] supported by the foreign bourgeoisie, all joined forces, at first against the Bolsheviks, and then to organise a ntiona1 democratic government. But what do we see? Kolchak-type officers disbanded the Constituent Assembly in Siberia and established the power of the officers, capitalists and landowners. Thus the working people of Siberia learned from their own experience that they were being deceived, and that is why the Red Army was able to capture the whole of Siberia so easily and in such a short time—the Siberian workers and peasants came to the aid of the Red Army.

Comrades, now we have to give some thought to why it is said that the Bolsheviks use force, that the Bolsheviks are dictators. Why is it that all those who followed the Mensheviks, Socialist-Revolutionaries, Czechoslovaks and Kolchak soon turned their backs on them? Why did the landowners, capitalists and officers from the Siberian Government expel the Mensheviks and Socialist-Revolutionaries and put Kolchak in their place immediately they got power into their own hands? Why did that government, supported from all sides, collapse so quickly? Because all their words and all their deeds were false and fraudulent. Because they did not keep their word, did not give the people a constituent assembly, or popular government, or any other kind of democratic government; they established a dictatorship of the landowners and officers.

Comrades, the bourgeoisie, by force of its class interests, had to lie to the working people and deceive them. The workers and peasants understand all this. They realise that there will he no lies and no deception only when power is in the hands of time working people; nor will there be any of the horrors the proletariat and poor peasantry had to put up with and still have to put up with after four years of war during which the bourgeoisie were in power. The proletariat has realised that there is only one way out—to overthrow the power of the capitalists; that there can be no reconciliation between labour and capital such as the Mensheviks and Socialist-Revolutionaries are always talking about. Time Siberian workers and peasants have paid a truly high price—tens of thousands of people shot and flogged to death—for their gullibility. We have had the sad experience of the blood of Siberian workers and peasants being spilled, but we know that it will he a lesson to them. Experience of this kind is the best way of teaching Bolshevism to the workers and peasants. After it the working people realise that there is no middle way, that they must choose—either the power of the workers and peasants, Soviet power, or the power of the landowners and capitalists. The bourgeoisie are trying to stultify the consciousness of the working people by force and by deception, but all their efforts will collapse like a house of cards as the political consciousness of the workers and the poor peasants grows.

The venture of Denikin, who, in the Ukraine is repeating the Kolchak lesson, will compel the Ukrainian workers and peasants to understand the mistake they are making in not fighting vigorously enough against him. We know that after Denikin has ruled for a while in the Ukraine, the Ukrainian workers and peasants will be all the stronger for it and will defend the power of the workers and peasants, not in words but in deeds, as our Siberian brothers are now doing. The workers’ and peasants’ government tells the peasants and all working people, “Come with us, build your own proletarian state. Take a look at the lesson taught by Kolchak and Denikin and you will see the sort of life you get when there is no Soviet power.” That lesson is the best agitation on our behalf.

The powerful workers’ and peasants’ government suppresses ’whiteguard conspiracies conjured up against it. It sweeps the traitors out of its ranks with an iron broom. The workers’ and peasants’ government organised the Red Army, put specialists into it and surrounded them with a number of communist commissars. Dozens of specialists who proved to be traitors have been kicked out of the Red Army, and thousands, tens of thousands of them are honestly carrying out their duties and remain in the ranks of the workers’ and peasants’ Red Army. That is the main, basic lesson to be learned from the political emancipation and liberation of the working people.

Everything that I am telling you today, comrades, is becoming clear to the working people of other countries. Everywhere the movement of the workers who demand the establishment of Soviet power is growing and expanding. You know that Mensheviks now head the government in Germany and that they are maintained in power by the armed force of the Entente; nevertheless, despite this, the German workers are demanding Soviet power. And the German Government was recently forced to add a clause to its constitution introducing Soviets or Councils of workers’ deputies throughout Germany. Those councils, however, do not possess the right to discuss questions of the country’s political life. According to the constitution of the socialist-traitors the German Soviets have the right to discuss only the economic situation in the country. We get very little information on other West-European countries, because we are surrounded by enemies on all sides, but the information that does reach us speaks of the spread and strengthening of the movement in favour of the Bolsheviks. Let me tell you of a little incident that occurred in France and which proves more eloquently than any words the correctness of my arguments; it will tell you a great deal. Two Bolshevik newspapers are published in France. One of them wanted to have the title of >Bolshevik hut the censor (in democratic France there is a censor!) forbade it and the newspaper called itself Le Titre censure.[8]Workers who buy the newspaper and see the title add the word Bolshevik themselves. (Stormy applause.)

In conclusion, comrades, let me tell you of a report I received today from Comrade Zinoviev, Chairman of the Petrograd Soviet of Workers’ and Red Army Deputies. Comrade Zinoviev informs rue t Ii at a hundred Estomia n prisoners have been landed in Petrograd and they told him the following. A non-party conference of trade union workers was held in whiteguard Estonia. It was attended by 417 delegates of whom only 33 were Mensheviks, all the others being Bolsheviks! (Stormy applause.) The conference demanded the conclusion of peace with Russia. When the British learned of this their representative appeared at the conference and proposed the overthrow of the whiteguard Government of Estonia, but the workers answered by chasing him away and demanding the conclusion of peace with Russia and the return to peaceful life. The conference was then dispersed and a hundred people were sent to Russia “to seek Bolshevism”; they have arrested 26 people and intend to shoot them. We responded to this act of whiteguard Estonia by a manifesto to the workers and the population of the country, and we informed their government that we shall shoot all hostages in our hands.[9] (Applause.) And there, too, the government was supported by the Mensheviks and Socialist-Revolutionaries]

Little Estonia, at her non-party trade union conference, gave powerful Britain a proper answer—Britain that had menaced us with an alliance of fourteen powers.[10]

As I come to the end of my speech, allow me to express my confidence that Soviet Russia, for two years victorious inside the country, will soon conquer the power of the bourgeoisie throughout the world. (Stormy applause.)


[1] The non-party conference of the workers and Red Army men of Basmanny, Lefortovo, Alexeyevskoye and Sokolniki districts of Moscow was held September 3-4, 1919, about 3,000 people attend- ing. The resolution adopted on Lenin’s report said that the workers and peasants were in danger of being hurled hack into most severe slavery under the yoke of landowners and capitalists and that only ruthless struggle against the enemies could thwart the danger (Pravda No. 195, September 4, 1919). The conference resolved to continue building up the Red Army, to strain every effort in develop- ing all branches of the national economy, maintain revolutionary discipline, and carry out all the directives of the Soviet government faithfully and without fail.

[2] The Kerensky period-a period from May to October 1917 when the bourgeois Provisional Government headed by Kerensky, a Social-ist-Revolutionary, was in power.

The Kornilov revolt was a counter-revolutionary conspiracy organised by the Russian bourgeoisie in August 1917 and headed by the tsarist general Kornilov. The conspirators, relying on higher army officers, hoped, with the aid of the officer cadets and Cossack units, to seize revolutionary Petrograd, smash the Bolshevik Party, disband the Soviets and establish a military dictatorship in the country. Answering the call of the Bolshevik Central Committee the Petrograd workers and revolutionary soldiers and sailors suppressed the Kornilov revolt. Under pressure from the masses the Provisional Government was forced to order Kornilov’s arrest and to indict him and his accomplices for mutiny. The attempt by the bourgeoisie and the landowners to crush the revolution failed. After the defeat of the Kornilov revolt, the prestige of the Bolshevik Party among the masses grew rapidly; the Boishevisation of the Soviets throughout the country began. The Bolsheviks again issued the slogan “All Power to the Soviets!”

Kaledin—tsarist general and Cossack ataman who organised a counter-revolutionary revolt in the Don area at the end of 1917.

Kolchak—Admiral of the tsarist navy and a hireling of British, American and French imperialism; organised a counter-revolutionary uprising against Soviet power. In November 1918 he proclaimed himself "Supreme Ruler of Russia", seized Siberia, and established a military dictatorship. In 1919 the Kolchak army was routed by the Red Army, and Soviet rule was restored throughout the territory occupied by Koichak.

Denikin—tsarist general, headed the counter-revolutionary In surrection in the South of Russia arid in the Ukraine. In the summer and autumn of 1919, aided by Britain, France and the U.S.A., Denikin ventured an offensive against the Soviet Republic from the South, heading for Moscow. By the beginning of 1920 Denikin’s army had been defeated by the Red Army.

[3] Smolny—the building of the former Smolny Institute in Petrograd; in October 1917 the Bolshevik Central Committee and the Revolutionary Military Committee of the Petrograd Soviet were housed in it. After the revolution it was the seat of the Soviet Government until it moved to Moscow in March 1918.

[4] Lenin refers to the peace treaty between the Soviet Republic and the powers of the Quadruple Alliance (Germany, Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria and Turkey), concluded on March 3, 1918 in Brest-Litoysk and ratified by the Extraordinary Fourth All-Russia Congress of Soviets on March 15. The peace terms were extremely harsh for Soviet Russia. Under the treaty, Poland, nearly all the Baltic area and part of Byelorussia were annexed to Germany and Austria-Hungary, end the Ukraine became a separate state dependent on Germany. Moreover, Soviet Russia had to pay considerable indemnities under a rapacious supplementary treaty and finance agree-ment imposed on her by Germany in August 1918.

Despite its harsh terms, the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk gave the Soviet state a breathing-space, enabled it to demobilise the old, disintegrating army and create a new, Red Army, start socialist construction and build lip the forces for the coming battles against internal counter-revolution and foreign intervention.

After the November revolution in Germany in 1918 the Brost Treaty was annulled.

[5] Entente—the imperialist bloc of Britain, France and tsarist Russia which took final shape in 1907, and was opposed to the Triple Alliance of Germany, Austria-Hungary and Italy. The emergence of the Triple Entente was preceded by the conclusion of the Franco-Russian alliance of 1891-93 and the Anglo-French agree-ment of 1904. The formation of the Entente was concluded by the signing of the Anglo-Russian agreement in 1007. During the First World War the military and political alliance of Britain, France and Russia was joined by the United States, Japan, Italy and other countries. This alliance of imperialist powers, that later took part in the intervention against Soviet Russia, was known at the time as “the Entente”; this is the meaning given to the word by Lenin.

[6] Lenin refers to the Treaty of Versailles which put an end to the First World War of 1914-18. It was signed in June 1919 between Britain, France, Italy, Japan on the one side and the defeated Germany, on the other.

The Versailles Treaty legalised the redivision of the world in favour of the victor countries. Germany had to pay huge reparations and indemnities in the form of a great number of ships, tens of mil-lions of tons of coal, half of the country’s stock of dyes and other chemicals, and so on.

The Versailles Treaty was a heavy burden for the German people. They had to pay high taxes and suffered chronic unemployment. As far as the German imperialists and heavy industry magnates were concerned, they retained their dominant position in the country and continued to extract colossal profits.

[7] The Siberian Government was formed on June 30, 1918 in Omsk with the aid of the British, French and American interventionists. So-cialist-Revolutionaries, Mensheviks and Cadets participated in the government. Under the guise of hypocritical phrases about democracy It pursued a counter-revolutionary policy. It returned factories, commercial enterprises and landed estates to their former owners, repealed the eight-hour working day, introduced courts martial, passed a decision on the dissolution and prohibition of the Soviets, repealed the Soviet Government’s decrees and enforced th laws of the tsarist and the bourgeois provisional governments. The rout of the counter-revolutionary and interventionist armies by the Red Army in 1919 put an end to the Siberian Government.

[8] This refers to the counter-revolutionary revolt of the Czechoslovak Army Corps organised by the Entente imperialists with the active participation of the Mensheviks and Socialist-Revolutionaries.

The Czechoslovak Corps was formed in Russia prior to the Great October Socialist Revolution from Czech and Slovak prison-ers of war. After the establishment of Soviet power in Russia the president of the Czechoslovak National Council, Tom‡i Masaryk, proclaimed the Corps part of the French army, and representatives of the Entente raised the question of its evacuation to France. The Soviet Government agreed to send it to France through Vladivostok on the condition that it surrendered its arms. But the counter-revolutionary commanders of the Corps violated the agreement with the Soviet Government and at the end of May 1918 began an insur-rection against Soviet power. The governments of the U.S.A., Britain and France supported the insurrection. French officers took part in it openly. Acting in close contact with the whiteguards and kulaks, the Czechoslovak Corps seized a large part of the Urals, the Volga area and Siberia, everywhere restoring bourgeois rule. Whiteguard governments were formed in the occupied dis-tricts, Mensheviks and Socialist-Revolutionaries participating-the so-called Siberian Government in Omsk, the Committee of Members of the Constituent Assembly in Samara and others.

Soon after the outbreak of the insurrection, on June 11, the Cen-tral Executive Committee of the Czechoslovak Communist groups in Russia issued an appeal to the soldiers of the Corps in which it ex- ed the counter-revolutionary nature of the insurrection and called upon Czech and Slovak workers and peasants to suppress the revolt and to enrol in the Czechoslovak units of the Red Army. About 12,000 Czech and Slovak soldiers fought in the ranks of the Red Army.

In autumn 1918 the Red Army liberated the Volga area. The Czechoslovak revolt was finally suppressed in 1919 when the Kolchak revolt was crushed.

[9] Le Titre censuré!!!(Title Forbidden!!!)—a weekly newspaper published in Paris by Georges Anquetil from April 19 to June 21, 1919. Altogether ten issues were published. Beginning with issue No. 8 it co-operated with Le Titre enchainé (Fettered Title) and offered some of its pages to the latter.

Le Titre censuré published mainly Anquetil’s articles or reprints from other newspapers.

[10] This refers to the appeal “To the Workers of Estonia from the Petrograd Soviet” published in connection with the arrival in Petrograd of the workers banished from Estonia, and to the radio message to the Estonian Government of September 3, 1919.