V. I.   Lenin

Speech at the Fourth Conference of Gubernia Extraordinary Commissions[1]

February 6, 1920

Published: First published in 1957 in the magazine Kommunist No. 5. Printed from the shorthand Report.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, 2nd English Printing, Progress Publishers, 1971, Moscow, Volume 42, pages 166c-174a.
Translated: Bernard Isaacs
Transcription\Markup: D. Walters
Public Domain: Lenin Internet Archive (2003). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.
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Comrades, you will now have to carry on your work under conditions when Soviet Russia is passing to a new phase of activities. You all know, of course, that these conditions of the transition period are due both to international and internal conditions, or rather to the changed   situation both on the international and home fronts that has taken place recently.

The fundamental change is that the main forces of the whiteguard counter-revolution have been smashed after the defeat of Yudenich and Kolchak and after the victory over Denikin. We have to be cautious, though, since a hitch has recently occurred near Rostov and at Novocherkassk, and there is a danger that Denikin may recover. Nevertheless, the main victories create a new situation. Obviously, the bourgeoisie cannot seriously count on things taking a turn in their favour, all the more as the international situation, too, has changed greatly, changed to such an extent that the Entente has been obliged to lift the blockade. We have been able to conclude peace with Estonia. In this respect we have achieved a basic success which has greatly strengthened our position, and we shall probably secure peace with all the other border states, and then an invasion by the Entente will practically be ruled out.

Thus, the first acute moment of our struggle with the counter-revolution, with the whiteguard armed force, both overt and covert-this first acute period is apparently passing. It is more than likely, however, that attempts at one or another counter-revolutionary movement and revolt will be repeated, and, besides, the experience of the Russian revolutionary movement shows that attempts of a purely terrorist nature are often accompanied by a mass armed struggle, and therefore it is natural to expect that the counter-revolutionary armed officer force-an element probably most accustomed to handling and using arms-will not miss a chance to make use of these arms for their own ends.

So though the death sentence, after the capture of Rostov, has been abolished on Comrade Dzerzhinsky’s initiative, a reservation was made at the very beginning that we do not by any means close our eyes to the possibility of restoring capital punishment. With us this is a matter of expediency. It goes without saying that the Soviet government will not keep the death penalty longer than is absolutely necessary, and by doing away with it, has taken a step that no democratic government of any bourgeois republic has ever taken.

You are aware that the great majority of the workers and peasants in all the outlying districts, who were under the yoke of the whiteguards, have come over to our side. The longer they were under that yoke the more strongly have they sided with us. And so we know that all the attempts of the bourgeoisie are doomed to failure. But that these attempts are possible, we know only too well from the two years’ experience of Soviet power. We have seen tens of thousands of officers, landowner elements, stopping. at no crimes, concluding agreements with the agents of imperialist foreign powers to blow up bridges. And we say that attempts like these will go on. With due consideration for the new general position of the state, we must nevertheless remain alert and remember that though the period of armed struggle on a big historical scale is coming to end, we must on no account exclude the possibility of our having to keep in a state of preparedness.

The problem set before. the agencies of suppression of the counter-revolution, before the agencies of the Cheka, and still facing them today, is a complex and difficult one. On the one hand, they must realise and make allowance for the transition from war to peace, and, on the other, they must be on guard all the time, since we do not know how long it will take to secure a lasting peace; we must take into account what effect this new approach will have on the bourgeois sections of the population, we must bear in mind, test in practice what these changes will yield, and only after all this has been taken into consideration, introduce one or another modification on the basis of such practical experience.

In a word, we must continue to keep fighting fit to be able to repulse the enemy. There may possibly be attempts at invasion, Denikin may possibly fortify his position to continue the civil war, there may possibly be attempts at terror on the part of groups of counter-revolutionaries, and it is our duty to be always in fighting trim. While keeping in fighting trim, keeping the apparatus for suppressing the resistance of the exploiters alerted, we must take into account the new transition from war to peace and gradually change our tactics, change the nature of repressive measures.

This question, I believe, played no small part in your discussions, and you, of course,, have much more to go on than I have in the matter of practical concrete decisions. I have no doubt that you will try to study this material in a concrete, practical way. You must work out in what direction the agencies for suppressing the counter-revolution are to modify their activities in the recently liberated parts of Russia, in Siberia and the Ukraine, how, in keeping with this, we are to change our activities. I shall not go into details or enlarge on this, because I have not had a chance to study the factual material, but I repeat-the important thing is to take into account the concrete facts that have come to light in the work of every Cheka. Moreover, the aim of such conferences is to enable you to discuss the factual material in greatest possible detail, so that local workers should not shut themselves up in their own narrow circle, but should be able, as a result of such an exchange of opinions, to devise more durable and lasting tactics.

I should like in particular to draw attention to a question that now confronts the agencies of suppression of the counter-revolution, the agencies combating espionage and profiteering, namely, to the bloodless front of labour, a question that is now becoming a key issue in the building up of Soviet power, in the strengthening of the workers’ and peasants’ rule and the revival of the ruined economy.

You know that the task of fighting Kolchak, Yudenich and Denikin, who have been supported by the Entente, the task of fighting the counter-revolutionary landowners and capitalists who were convinced up till now that their victory was secure, since the wealthiest Powers in the world were on their side-this task called for an exertion of all the country’s strength, because the very existence of the Soviet Republic was at stake.

During these two years Soviet power can be said to have accomplished what is nothing short of a miracle, for in the struggle against international capital we have succeeded in winning such an incredible, such an amazing victory as the world has never known. This has happened because all our forces were closely united, because we had a real dictatorship of the proletariat in action in the sense that the vanguard, the best advance guard of the working class   during these two years of Soviet government displayed unheard-of heroism and determination, while all the vacillating elements among the less developed section of the working class and the peasantry, who went through a long range of fluctuations, found themselves leaning more and more to our side. The more trials they went through, the sooner did they side with us.

To achieve such a concentration of forces we had to resort to measures of coercion in face of all the lamentations, regrets and complaints. Both before and after the October Revolution we held the view that the birth of a new order was impossible without revolutionary coercion, that all the regrets and complaints that we hear from non-Party petty-bourgeois intellectuals are simply reactionary. History, which is propelled by a fierce class struggle, has shown that when the landowners and capitalists felt that it was a question of the last decisive fight, they stopped at nothing.

History has shown that without revolutionary coercion victory cannot be achieved. Without revolutionary coercion directed against the avowed enemies of the workers and peasants, it is impossible to break down the resistance of these exploiters. On the other hand, revolutionary coercion is bound to be employed towards the wavering and unstable elements among the masses themselves.

Today we are witnessing the tremendous victory of the Red Army, but if we look back over the last two years of Soviet government and think of how we advanced towards these victories, we are bound to remember that the October Revolution started when the army was completely demoralised and there was a complete absence of any military organisation. We had no army, and were obliged to scrape one together, to weld, muster and build this army up anew by long hard work. And in building up this new disciplined Red Army we had to resort to revolutionary coercion. And this revolutionary coercion was quite rightly applied to self-seeking elements. At a time when the advanced section of the population were giving all their strength to the fight against the counter-revolution, at a time when thousands of them, with the greatest self-sacrifice, were laying down their lives on the fields of battle, the backward elements among the peasantry, who had received land, and the   backward elements among the workers, were working only for themselves. At that time the advanced elements had to build up and strengthen the new discipline, which was maintained by revolutionary coercion and which could be so maintained only because the public-spirited section of the workers and peasants, of all the working masses, sympathised with this coercion, realised that without this iron discipline we could not have built up the Red Army, could not have held our own in the two years of struggle and generally could not have stood up against organised and united capital. In this respect, the tasks of cultivating discipline, maintaining discipline and rallying our forces to face the coming struggle-these tasks are now gradually being modified. At first we gave all our forces to the war, all the forces of the ruined country. This condemned the country to still greater ruin.

No one believed two years ago that Russia, a country ravaged by four years of imperialist war, could withstand another two years of civil war. In fact, if we were asked at the end of October 1917 whether we would survive two years of civil war against the world’s bourgeoisie, I doubt whether many of us would have answered in the affirmative. Events, however, have shown that the energy which the worker and peasant masses developed proved to be greater than the people who had made the October Revolution believed. As a result, we have received-and the home fronts have shown us-a source of new strength considerably greater than anything we had counted on. At the same time this source has shown that the Red Army, which is capable of winning victories on the war fronts, is meeting with new obstacles on the home fronts-this is particularly the case in transport. Of course, things are bad with us as regards food, too, cold and hunger are worse than ever now, but with the liberation of the richest grain-producing gubernias the food situation is improving, and our chief crisis now is transport. It should be said that the same crisis exists in all the richest countries, who have never experienced such a long war. Even these countries are suffering from a shortage of railway cars. So you can imagine what is happening with us in Russia, who has been at war six years and had had her bridges and locomotives deliberately destroyed.

Our position, in this respect, is a very difficult one, of course, and the task of the Cheka’s transport departments, of their whole organism, the efforts of all the revolutionary social-minded masses, are aimed at helping the country to extricate itself from this critical plight, which without exaggeration can be said to verge on catastrophe. Another thing to be borne in mind is that the state of the railways in February, what with the winter snowdrifts, is always worse, even during ordinary times, than at any other season. At present our transport crisis has reached a stage when the railways are threatened with a complete stoppage. Lately, Moscow has had only a three-day supply of bread, while dozens of trains have been held up through lack of fuel.

We are well aware of the methods for coping with this disastrous situation, which we have been using during two years of war. These methods are-raising the social consciousness of the masses and appealing directly to them. In every such crisis we deemed it our duty to appeal to the worker and peasant masses and describe to them the difficult situation that had arisen. We appealed to them and pointed out on whom the salvation of Soviet Russia depended and what effort was needed to concentrate on a single definite task. These tasks often changed while Soviet power was engaged in fighting its enemies, and a proper understanding of the state’s position depends upon the ability to grasp what tasks have to be tackled in order to cope with the economic chaos and pass on to the normal work of economic organisation. Now, too, you know that most attention was given to explaining the critical position of the railways to the workers and peasants. A tremendous effort is needed here on the part of the proletariat and the peasantry. Such a thing as the delivery of fuel is a difficult problem, which cannot possibly be coped with unless the worker and peasant population give themselves to the task with enthusiasm, unless there is a spurt of collective mass effort such as we witnessed during the best period of the Red Army’s victories. Today, for example, the delivery of fuel and the clearing of railway tracks meet with difficulties arising from the fact that the peasants were given a number of promises to compensate them for their food products. Naturally,   deliveries require draft horses, and the peasants out there are unable to provide these, they are very unwilling and unfriendly, as they do not receive compensation in the way of a definite amount of goods; and we, owing to the almost complete stoppage of transport, are not in a position to give them any commodities worth speaking of. We say that the peasants should do this as a loan to their workers’ and peasants’ state in order to save the starving workers and put industry on its feet. The peasants should give this loan, because, for instance, in some places the peasantry are suffering terribly from a shortage of salt, while we have enormous stocks of this salt which we are unable to deliver since the railways do not cope with the task of transporting the absolutely essential amount of breadstuffs.

We have here a situation that calls for still greater discipline, for propaganda and agitation to educate and unite all the workers and peasants. The use of revolutionary coercion turns this discipline into something real and definite, showing that the class-conscious working class has set itself a definite practical task, which we shall see through to its conclusion. Just as in the period of our most difficult struggle against Yudenich, Kolchak and Denikin, when we advanced Communists, leading workers, to the front ranks, made great sacrifices, giving the lives of our best fighters and at the same time building up discipline and punishing self-seekers-we achieved the maximum exertion of the people’s energy, and we won; so today, too, we must set ourselves the same aim and achieve it at all costs by the same methods if we are to save transport.

We have grain, salt, we have sufficient quantities of raw materials and fuel, we can put industry back on its feet, but this will take months of hard efforts, and in these efforts the agencies of the Cheka must become an instrument for carrying out the centralised will of the proletariat, an instrument of discipline such as we succeeded in creating in the Red Army.

And I am sure that after this meeting, in the practical work of your agencies, and here, too,. you will come to an understanding of the role the uyezd transport departments of the Cheka are to play, of the way they should organise their work, how they should advance new people from their   midst in order to fight the profiteers and saboteurs, who are more numerous among the railwaymen than anywhere else. This is a task of your practical experience, a task you will have to carry out by way of an exchange of opinions. The railways are notable in that we have there a majority of workers on a working-class level and a minority who engage in profiteering, and here it is the task of the Transport Cheka to secure a correct division of labour, responsibility for economising labour power, and secure all this through the efforts of the communist elements among the railwaymen. Only by relying on these best masses shall we he able to create a force that will cope with profiteers and gain the upper hand over these elements, recruited during the worst days of tsarism. To overcome this force inherited by us from capitalism we have one means-that of tightening discipline and developing revolutionary energy to the utmost. The Cheka should rely on the communist groups, on the trade unions—combine its work with propaganda and agitation, evoke among the bulk of the railwaymen a conscious attitude towards this struggle.

And I am sure that by strict organisation and with our previous experience to go on, we shall achieve in our work results as good as those we achieved in the armed struggle. (Loud, continuous applause.)


[1] The Speech at the Fourth Conference of Guberna Extraordinary Commissions was delivered by Lenin at the morning plenary session on February 6, 1920. The conference was called at a time when the Soviet Republic, having defeated Kolchak, Denikin and Yudenich, had gained a temporary respite and was in a position to tackle its economic problems.

The conference was attended by 69 voting delegates and 7 delegates with a consultative voice. All the delegates were Communists, the majority of the 69 voting delegates having joined the Party long before the revolution. Most of the delegates were workers.

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