V. I. Lenin

Speech Delivered at the

Third All-Russia Congress of Textile[1]

April 19, 1920

Delivered: April 19, 1920
First Published: Published according to the pamphlet Minutes of the Third All-Russia Congress of the Textile Workers’ Union, Moscow, 1920, verified with the verbatim report Pravda No. 83, April 20, 1920
Source: Lenin’s Collected Works, 4th English Edition, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1965, Volume 30, pages 519-525
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

(Stormy applause. Ovation ) Comrades, permit me to thank you for your welcome and to convey to you the greetings of the Council of People’s Commissars.

The Party Congress just concluded and the resolutions it has passed are still fresh in our minds. And you are all aware, too, of the important tasks which the Party Congress has set before the workers, the peasants and the working people of the Soviet Republic generally. The sum and substance of these tasks is to create a united labour front.

It is fortunate for the Russian proletariat that the Civil War has been brought to a successful close; now that there only remains the menace of Poland, directed by the zeal of the imperialists of Western Europe, we have to make an incredibly difficult transition, we have to start building up our internal life.

In order to explain the tremendous change, in order to explain the difficulties that are now confronting the working class, I shall outline the chief stages in the development towards the communist system through which the Russian proletariat has passed.

Ignorant and unenlightened peasants, finding themselves for the first time in a factory, well equipped and supplied with wonderful modern machinery, used to be filled with amazement, overwhelmed by its unaccustomed magnificence. The peasant, in his ignorance, would regard the factory-owner as his benefactor and provider, who furnished him with work, and without whom the working man could not subsist.The helpless worker, coming from the stagnant, rustic life of the village into the seething cauldron of the factory, where he secured more bearable conditions of life, and the chance of making some kind of a living, would fall under the oppres-sive yoke of capitalist exploitation. Everybody knows what the workers of Russia and other countries experienced during this painful period. But then we see that the worker gradual-ly sheds his backward and crushed peasant manner and begins to rise to a higher level of development; we see him making the first attempts to combat the oppressors by means of strikes, the attempts of the disunited proletarian masses to organise in trade unions; we see the worker beginning to show signs of a new strength within him; we see that any strike, no matter how insignificant its results, always created something invaluable, something new, important and sig-nificant. Strikes taught the worker to realise that there is strength only in union with other workers, a powerful force capable of bringing the machines to a standstill and trans-forming the slave into a free man able to take advantage of the goods which belong by right to their producer. We are all familiar with the picture of development of the strike movement during the past few decades, its gradual progres-sion from small, disunited local strikes to wide organised actions. In 1905, a mighty strike wave swept over Russia. With the growth of the organised strike struggle against the capitalists, the worker acquired a hitherto unknown strength. The trade unions played a foremost part in this. The workers came to realise that all the achievements of technology, all the machines and implements of production, which the capi-talists used in their own interests and to the detriment of the proletariat, could and should become the property of the proletariat.That was a new phase, a phase of organised resist-ance to the capitalists through the trade unions; it was a new step forward in the development of the proletariat’s consciousness of its existence as a class. The worker was no longer a meek and helpless tool in the hands of the oppressors. His whole environment led him to the conviction that a constant, tireless and unyielding struggle was essential. The worker fought to secure a certain improvement in his economic condition, an increase of wages, a reduction of hours. At this stage of the trade union movement his hopes and dreams were directed to securing at least the elements of a decent life.

But although the proletariat’s consciousness of itself as a class even to this extent had at one time represented a tremendous step forward, there came a time when it, too, became inadequate. Conditions demanded a new advance.

The capitalists of the world had grown more insolent and after suppressing the working masses they held them fast in the grip of a world war, engineered in order both to continue oppressing the proletariat, which was struggling for emancipation, and to rob each other of territory. The imperialist predators, armed to the teeth, fell upon each other. They tried to persuade the workers that the war was being waged in the great cause of human emancipation. But the workers did not remain blind for long. The Peace of Brest-Litovsk, the Peace of Versailles, the seizure of all the colonies by Great Britain and France opened their eyes sufficiently for them to realise the true state of affairs. It became known that during the world war ten million people had been killed and twenty million maimed, and all this only for the further enrichment of the predators.

Once their eyes had been opened the workers rose against the yoke of capital; the social revolution broke out, started by the October events. Our duty now is not merely to be members of our trade unions-that is not enough. The workers must rise to a higher level, to develop from an op-pressed class into a ruling class. We cannot count on the peas-ants as yet. They are disunited and helpless, and it will be some time before they emerge from their state of ignorance. The peasants can be brought out of the slough of ignorance only by the class which itself sprang from the peasantry, , which has learned to understand the power of organisation and has been able to secure a better life-and not only under capitalism, for that was secured by the workers of Western Europe, but it did not save them from war. The workers must understand that they are facing a new and far more difficult task, namely, to take the entire administra-tion of the state into their own hand. The workers must say to themselves that as long as private property remains, as long as capitalism is not smashed, no one who lives at the expense of others should be allowed to wield power.

That is the object of the Soviet governments activities, a government for which the world proletariat is showing a rapidly developing sympathy. When it created the ne’w proletarian state, the working class assumed a tremendous burden. The workers can destroy the exploiting classes and bring about socialism only by going hand in hand with the peasants. The peasants are still working each for himself, selling their surplus in the open market and thereby helping a handful of robbers to become still richer. They do not do this wittingly; it is because they live under conditions entirely different from those of the workers. But freedom of trade means a return to capitalist slavery. In order to avoid it, labour must be organised in a new way, and there is nobody to do it but the proletariat.

The worker is now not only a member of his trade union organisation. Such a view would imply a return to the past. The fight against capital is not yet over. Capitalism is still impeding the measures of the Soviet government; it is doing so by profiteering, Sukharevka Market, [2] and so on. This force can be countered only by the force of workers’ organisations built on new principles, based, not on their narrow production interests, but on the interests of the whole state. Only when the whole working class, irrespective of trade or craft, succeeds in uniting as a ruling class and creating a united army of labour, will it win the respect of the world.

The peasants, convinced that Kolchak and Denikin have been smashed by the strength of the proletariat, are now feeling the firm hand of a good manager. But they will gain complete confidence in the proletariat only when attempts to restore capitalism will no longer be possible. Only then will the peasant understand that. there is no place for kulaks and parasites in a proletarian country. But the peasant does not as yet believe in his heart of hearts that the proletariat can cope with its great task.

The unparalleled privations of the past two years, con-sciously shouldered by the proletariat of Russia fighting in the front ranks of the Red Army, are not yet over. New pri-vations and new tasks face us, which will be the more diffi-cult the greater the number of victories we win on the Red front. Extensive territories have been won in Siberia and the Ukraine, where there is no proletariat like that of Moscow, Petrograd and Ivanovo-Voznesensk, which has shown in practice that it will defend the gains of the revolution at any price. Class-conscious workers must penetrate every pore of the state; they must know how to approach the peas-ants and organise them in the cause of the class which has flung off the yoke of the landowners and is building up a state without capitalists. Devotion and iron discipline are required. The entire proletariat, like one man, must achieve unparalleled miracles on the labour front like those achieved on the war front. Many at first thought that the revolution was a hopeless cause. The army in a state of complete col-lapse, mass desertions from the front, lack of ammunition -that is what we inherited from Kerensky. The Russian pro-letariat succeeded in rallying and knitting together scat-tered forces and in creating a united and stalwart Red Army. The Red Army worked miracles in repulsing the onslaught of the capitalists, who were supported by the capitalists of the whole world. The tasks of the labour front are even more difficult, immeasurably so. But while for the Red Army only men were required, we must now throw into the labour front all the able-bodied forces of the country-men, women, and even adolescents. We need iron discipline, and that is a weak point with us Russians. We must display determina-tion, endurance, firmness and unanimity. We must stop at nothing. Everybody and everything must be used to save the rule of the workers and peasants, to save communism.

The war is not over, it is continuing on the bloodless front. Here the enemy is still stronger than we are; that must be admitted. The petty producers, who sell their prod-ucts in the open market, are being assisted by world capi-tal, which with one hand is prepared to re-establish trade relations, and with the other is prepared to crush the prole-tariat and Soviet Russia.

All the four millions of our proletariat must be prepared for new sacrifices, new privations and new hardships, no smaller than those of the war. Only thus can we hope to smash the enemy for good. The peasant, who is still temporis-ing and vacillating, will then finally become convinced of the strength of the proletariat. The memory of the landown-ers, of Denikin and Koichak is still fresh in the mind of the peasants peasant; but he also sees laziness and idleness around him, and he says: “Yes, it may be a good thing, but not for the likes of us.”

The peasants must be shown something else. Let the work-ing class organise production as it organised the Red Army. Let every worker realise that he is ruling the country. The fewer we are the greater the demands made on us. Russia must be transformed into a vast army of labour heroically conscious that everything must be sacrificed for the common cause-the emancipation of the working people.

Everybody knows that the textile industry is at a complete standstill because today we have no cotton-it has to be imported-owing to the fact that Western Europe, too, is suffering from an acute shortage of raw materials. Our one source of supply is Turkestan, which has recently been won from the whiteguards, but the transport system has not yet been properly organised.

One means of salvation at the present time is to extract and prepare peat as quickly as possible, which will enable us to start all the power stations at full capacity and save us from being completely dependent on coal regions remote from Central Russia.

To rely on wood fuel in the present state of disorganisation is out of the question. The peat deposits are situated mainly in the textile districts. And one of the chief duties of the textile workers must be to organise peat extraction. I know that this is extremely arduous work: you have to stand up to your knees in water, arid, what with the shortage of boots and living quarters, the difficulties are immense. But did the Red Army have everything it needed? How many sacrifices, how many hardships the men of the Red Army bore when for two months they marched up to their waists in water, capturing tanks from the British! The capitalists are hoping that the workers, exhausted and starving, will not be able to hold out. The capitalists are waiting to pounce on the workers’ state, and their one hope is that the prole-tariat will be unable to cope with the task of creating a united labour front and will restore them to power.

I am very far from thinking that the work that faces us is easy, but all difficulties must and can be overcome. Every worker must help to organise labour, he must show the peasants that he is an organiser, and that work must be regarded as the only means of maintaining the rule of the workers and peasants. When Kerensky was still in power, the capitalists, realising even then that they would be unable to retain the factories, began to do damage to production, to conclude agreements with the capitalists of other countries for the destruction of Russian industry so as not to surrender it to the workers, and endeavoured to exhaust the proletariat by civil war.

The working class is facing a very severe test, and- every working man and woman must achieve even greater miracles than the Red Army soldiers achieved at the front. A victory on the labour front, devotion under the drab workaday condi-tions, are immeasurably more difficult, but are a hundred times more valuable than sacrificing one’s life.

Away with the old isolation! Only the worker who has proved worth his salt as a member of the Red Army of labour is worthy of being a trade union member. Even though we commit hundreds of mistakes, even though we suffer thou-sands of defeats, that will not daunt us. We must realise that only the persistent onslaught of the proletariat can secure victory.

For two years now the proletariat has been defending the rule of the workers and peasants. All over the world the social revolution is maturing. If we want to prove that we can cope with the task confronting us, we must, however dif-ficult the situation may be, maintain all our energy and assurance, all our proletarian enthusiasm, and achieve on the peaceful front of labour miracles as great as those of the Red Army on the bloody front of struggle against the imperialists and their henchmen. (Stormy applause )


[1] The Third All-Russia Congress of Textile Workers was held in Moscow, April 16-20, 1920. It was attended by 358 delegates, of whom 148 were Communists and 23 Communist supporters. The agenda of the Congress included the following: report of the Central Committee of the Union, the tasks of the trade unions, raw materials supplies, the state of the flax and woollen industries, the tasks of the Union in rehabilitating transport, the food question, and safety regulations.

Lenin made a speech at its plenary meeting on April 19. On behalf of the Congress participants the Presidium congratulated Lenin on his fiftieth birthday, the delegates greeted him with loud applause. The Congress sent greetings to the Red Army and the Communist International.

[2] Sukharevka Market was a street market on Sukharevskaya (now Kolkhoznaya) Square, it was situated around the Sukharev tower built by Peter the First in 1692. During the years of foreign military intervention and the Civil War it was the centre of speculation. The name became the synonym for profiteering. In 1932 the Sukharevka Market was finally abolished and in 1934 the Sukharev tower was demolished because it interfered with traffic.