V. I. Lenin

From the Destruction of the Old Social System

To the Creation of the New

Delivered: April 11, 1920
First Published: Kommunistichesky Subbotnik, April 11, 1920; Published according to the newspaper text
Source: Lenin’s Collected Works, 4th English Edition, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1965, Volume 30, pages 515-h18
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

Our newspaper[1] is devoted to the problem of communist labour.

This is the paramount problem in the building of socialism. First of all, we must make it quite clear to ourselves that this question could be raised in a practical way only after the proletariat had captured political power, only after the landowners and capitalists had been expropriated, only after the proletariat, having captured state power, had achieved decisive victories over the exploiters who put up a desperate resistance and organised counter-revolutionary rebellions and civil war.

It seemed that the time had arrived early in 1918—and it had indeed arrived after the February (1918) military campaign of German imperialism against Russia. But on that occasion the period was so short-lived, a new and more powerful wave of counter-revolutionary rebellions and invasions swept over us so quickly, that the Soviet government had no opportunity, to devote itself at all closely and persistently to problems of peaceful development.

We have now passed through two years of unprecedented and incredible difficulties, two years of famine, privation, and distress, accompanied by the unprecedented victories of the Red Army over the hordes of international capitalist reaction.

Today there are serious grounds for hoping (if the French capitalists do not incite Poland to make war on us) that we shall get a more durable and lasting peace.

During these two years we have acquired some experience in organisation on the basis of socialism. That is why we can, and should, get right down to the problem of communist labour, or rather, it would be more correct to say, not communist, but socialist labour; for we are dealing not with the higher, but the lower, the primary stage of development of the new social system that is growing out of capitalism.

Communist labour in the narrower and stricter sense of the term is labour performed gratis for the benefit of society, labour performed not as a definite duty, not for the purpose of obtaining a right to certain products, not according to previously established and legally fixed quotas, but voluntary labour, irrespective of quotas; it is labour performed without expectation of reward, without reward as a condition, labour performed because it has become a habit to work for the common good, and because of a conscious realisation (that has become a habit) of the necessity of working for the common good—labour as the requirement of a healthy organism.

It must be clear to everybody that we, i.e., our society, our social system, are still a very long way from the application of this form of labour on a broad, really mass scale.

But the very fact that this question has been raised, and raised both by the whole of the advanced proletariat (the Communist Party and the trade unions) and by the state authorities, is a step in this direction.

To achieve big things we must start with little things.

On the other hand, after the "big things", after the revolution which overthrew capitalist ownership and placed the proletariat in power, the organisation of economic life on the new basis can only start from little things.

Subbotniks, labour armies, labour conscription—these are the practical realisation of socialist and communist labour in various forms.

This practical realisation still suffers from numerous defects. Only people who are totally incapable of thinking, if we leave aside the champions of capitalism, can laugh scornfully (or rage) at them.

Defects, mistakes, blunders in such a new, difficult and great undertaking are inevitable. Those who are afraid of the difficulties of building socialism, those who allow themselves to be scared by them, those who give way to despair or cowardly dismay, are no socialists.

It will take many years, decades, to create a new labour discipline, new forms of social ties between people, and new forms and methods of drawing people into labour.

It is a most gratifying and noble work.

It is our good fortune that, by overthrowing the bourgeoisie and suppressing its resistance, we have been able to win the ground on which this work has become possible.

And we will set about this work with all our might. Perseverance, persistence, willingness, determination and ability to test things a hundred times, to correct them a hundred times, but to achieve the goal come what may—these are qualities which the proletariat acquired in the course of the ten, fifteen or twenty years that preceded the October Revolution, and which it has acquired in the two years that have passed since this revolution, years of unprecedented privation, hunger, ruin and destitution. These qualities of the proletariat are a guarantee that the proletariat will conquer.

April 8, 1920


[1] This refers to the newspaper Kommunistichesky Subbotnik issued on one occasion only on the initiative of the Moscow Committee of the R.C.P.(B.). It was prepared by the editors of and contributors to the Moscow newspapers Pravda, Izvestia, Bednota, Ekonomicheskaya Zhizn, Kommunistichesky Trud and the ROSTA telegraph agency during the subbotnik of April 10, 1920. The initiative was supported by printers who participated with great enthusiasm in the first "newspaper" subbotnik. The newspaper was set and printed in the printing-shop of the All-Russia C.E.C. and circulated on April 11. Among its contributors were Lenin, Yaroslavsky, Kollontai, Demyan Bedny, Serafimovich and Timiryazev.