Vladimir Lenin’s

Speech Delivered at the

Third All-Russian Congress of Water Transport Workers

Delivered: March 15, 1920
Source: Collected Works, Volume 30, p. 426 - 32
First Published: Pravda Nos. 59 and 60, March 17 and 18, 1920
Online Version: marx.org in 1996, marxists.org 1999
Transcribed: Robert Cymbala
HTML Markup: Brian Baggins and David Walters

The water transport system is at the moment of the greatest importance and significance to Soviet Russia, and the Congress will certainly devote the most serious attention and care to the tasks that confront water transport workers. Allow me to dwell on the question which the Communist Party and the trade unions are more interested in than in any other, and which you too no doubt are keenly debating; I refer to the management of industry. This question figures as a special point on the agenda of the Party Congress. Theses on the subject are being published. The comrades in the water transport system must also discuss it.

You know that one of the points in dispute, one that arouses the liveliest discussion both in the press and at meetings, is that of one-man management or corporate management. I think that the preference for corporate management not infrequently betrays an inadequate comprehension of the tasks confronting the Republic; what is more, it often testifies to insufficient class-consciousness. When I reflect on this question, I always feel like saying that the workers have not yet learned enough from the bourgeoisie. This is graphically shown by the countries where the democratic socialists, or Social-Democrats, prevail, who are now participating in governments in Europe and America, under various guises and in some form of alliance with the bourgeoisie. They have been ordained by God himself to share the old prejudices; but in our country, after two years of proletarian rule, we should not only want, but should strive to inculcate upon the proletariat a class-consciousness that does not fall short of that of the bourgeoisie. Look how the bourgeoisie administer the state; how they have organised the bourgeois class. In the old days, could you have found anyone who shared the views of the bourgeoisie and was their loyal defender, and yet argued that individual authority is incompatible with the administration of the state? If there had been such a blockhead among the bourgeoisie he would have been laughed to scorn by his own class fellows, and would not have been allowed to talk or hold forth at any important meeting of capitalists and bourgeois. They would have asked him what the question of administration through one person or through a corporate body had to do with the question of class.

The shrewdest and richest bourgeoisies are the British and American; the British are in many respects more experienced, and they know how to rule better than the Americans. And do they not furnish us with examples of maximum individual dictatorship, of maximum speed in administration, and yet they keep the power fully and entirely in the hands of their own class? There you have a lesson, comrades, and I think that if you give it some thought, if you recall the not very distant past, when the Ryabushinskys, Morozovs and other capitalists ruled Russia—if you recall how, after the overthrow of the autocracy, during the eight months Kerensky, the Mensheviks and the Socialist-Revolutionaries were in power, they managed so perfectly and with such remarkable rapidity to change their hue, to assume every kind of label, to make every kind of outward, formal concession, and yet keep the power fully and completely in the hands of their own class—I think that a little reflection on the lesson of Britain and on this concrete example will do much more to help understand the matter of one-man management than many abstract, purely theoretical resolutions, compiled in advance.

It is claimed that corporate management means management by the workers, and that individual management means non-worker management. The mere fact that the question is presented in this way, the mere fact that this sort of argument is used shows that we still lack a sufficiently clear class-consciousness; and not only so, but that we are less clear about our class interests than the bourgeois gentry are. And that is natural. They did not learn to rule in two years, but in two hundred years, and much more than two hundred years if you take the European bourgeoisie. We must not give way to despair because we have been unable to learn everything in two years; but it is important—events demand it—that we should learn more rapidly than our enemies have. They have had hundreds of years to learn in; they have opportunities to learn all over again and correct their mistakes, because on a world scale they are infinitely stronger than we are. We have no time to learn; we must approach the question of corporate management from the standpoint of positive and concrete facts. I am sure you will come to adopt the policy on this question outlined by the Central Committee of the Party; it has been published and is being discussed at every Party meeting, but for the men on the job, for the water transport workers, who have been at it for two years the truth of this is obvious. And I hope the vast majority of those present here, who are familiar with practical management, will understand that we must not confine ourselves to a general discussion of the question, but must act like serious practical men, abolishing the collegiums and managing without them.

All administrative work requires special qualifications. You may be the very best of revolutionaries and propagandists, and yet be absolutely useless as an administrator. But anybody who studies real life and has practical experience knows that management necessarily implies competency, that a knowledge of all the conditions of production down to the last detail and of the latest technology of your branch of production is required; you must have had a certain scientific training. These are the conditions we must satisfy at any cost. And when we move general resolutions in which we talk with the pomposity of experts about corporate management and one-man management, the conviction gradually dawns upon us that we know practically nothing about management, but we are beginning to learn a little from experience, to weigh every step and to promote every administrator who shows any ability.

You know from the debates in the Central Committee that we are not opposed to placing workers at the head, but we say that this question must be settled in the interests of production. We cannot wait. The country is so badly ruined, calamities—famine, cold and general want—have reached such a pitch that we cannot continue like this any longer. No devotion, no self-sacrifice can save us if we do not keep the workers alive, if we do not provide them with bread, if we do not succeed in procuring large quantities of salt, so as to recompense the peasants by properly organised exchange and not with pieces of coloured paper which cannot keep us going for long. The very existence of the power of the workers and peasants, the very existence of Soviet Russia is at stake. With management in the hands of incompetent people, with fuel not delivered in time, with locomotives, steamers and barges standing unrepaired, the very existence of Soviet Russia is at stake.

Our rail transport system is in a far worse state than our water transport system. It has been ruined by the Civil War, which was mainly conducted along the land routes; both sides destroyed mostly bridges, and this has put the whole railway system in a desperate state of ruin. We shall restore it. Almost daily we are doing a little bit towards restoring it. But it will be some time before the system is completely restored. If even advanced and cultured countries are suffering from disrupted transport systems, how are we to restore ours in Russia? But repaired it must be, and quickly, for the population cannot endure another winter like the last. Whatever the heroism of the workers, whatever their spirit of self-sacrifice, they cannot go on enduring all the torments of hunger, cold, typhus and so on. So tackle the question of management like practical men. See to it that management is conducted with the minimum expenditure of forces; see to it that the administrators, whether experts or workers, are capable men, that they all work and manage, and let it be considered a crime for them not to take part in the work of management. Learn from your own practical experience. Learn from the bourgeoisie as well. They knew how to maintain their class rule; they have the experience we cannot do without and to ignore it would be sheer conceit and entail the utmost danger to the revolution.

Earlier revolutions perished because the workers were unable to retain power by means of a firm dictatorship and did not realise that they could not retain power by dictatorship, by force, by coercion alone; power can be maintained only by adopting the whole experience of cultured, technically-equipped, progressive capitalism and by enlisting the services of all these people. When workers undertaking the job of management for the first time adopt an unfriendly attitude towards the expert, the bourgeois, the capitalist who only recently was a director, who raked in millions and oppressed the workers, we say—and no doubt the majority of you also say—that these workers have only just begun to move towards communism. If communism could be built with experts who were not imbued with the bourgeois outlook, that would be very easy; but such communism is a myth. We know that nothing drops from the skies; we know that communism grows out of capitalism and can be built only from its remnants; they are bad remnants, it is true, but there are no others. Whoever dreams of a mythical communism should he driven from every business conference, and only those should be allowed to remain who know how to get things done with the remnants of capitalism. There are tremendous difficulties in the work, but it is fruitful work, and every expert must be treasured as being the only vehicle of technology and culture, without whom there can be nothing, without whom there can be no communism.

Our Red Army was victorious in another sphere because we solved this problem in relation to the Red Army. Thousands of former officers, generals, and colonels of the tsarist army betrayed and sold us, and thousands of the finest Red Army men perished as a result—that you know. But tens of thousands are serving us although they remain supporters of the bourgeoisie, and without them there would have been no Red Army. And you know that when two years ago we tried to create a Red Army without them, it ended in guerrilla methods and disorder; the result was that our ten to twelve million soldiers did not make up a single division. There was not a single division fit to fight, and with our millions of soldiers we were unable to cope with the tiny regular army of the whiteguards. We learned this lesson at the cost of much bloodshed, and it must now be applied to industry.

Experience tells us that everyone with a knowledge of bourgeois culture, bourgeois science and bourgeois technology must be treasured. Without them we shall be unable to build communism. The working class, as a class, rules; it created Soviet power, holds that power as a class, and can take every supporter of bourgeois interests and fling him out neck and crop. Therein lies the strength of the proletariat. But if we are to build a communist society, let us frankly admit our complete inability to conduct affairs, to be organisers and administrators. We must approach the matter with the greatest caution, bearing in mind that only that proletarian is class-conscious who is able to prepare the bourgeois expert for the forthcoming navigation season and who does not waste his time and energy, more than enough of which is always wasted on corporate management.

I repeat, our fate may depend more on the forthcoming navigation season than on the forthcoming war with Poland, if it is forced upon us. War too, you know, is hampered by the break-down of the transport system. We have plenty of troops, but we cannot transport them, we cannot supply them with food; we cannot bring up salt, of which we have large quantities, and without an exchange of goods, proper relations with the peasants are inconceivable. That is why the entire Republic, Soviet power as a whole, the very existence of the power of the workers and peasants, imposes on the present navigation season tasks of great and exceptional importance. Not one week, not one day, not one minute must be lost; we must put an end to this chaos and increase our possibilities three- and fourfold.

Everything, perhaps, depends on fuel, but the fuel situation is now better than it was last year. We can float more timber, if we do not allow mismanagement. Things are much better with regard to oil, to say nothing of the fact that in the near future Grozny will most likely be in our hands; and although this is still problematical, the Emba fields are ours, and there we have ten to fourteen million poods of oil already. And if the water transport system helps us to deliver large quantities of building material to Saratov quickly and in good time, we shall cope with the railway to the Emba fields. And you know what it means to have oil for the water transport system. We shall not be able to get the railways going in a short time. God grant—not God, of course, but our ability to overcome the old prejudices of the workers—that we improve the railways a little in four or five months. And so, the water transport system must carry out a task of heroic proportions during this year’s navigation period.

Dash, ardour and enthusiasm alone can do nothing; organisation, endurance and honest effort are what will help, when the loudest voice is not that of the man who fears the bourgeois expert and treats us to general talk but that of the man who is able to establish and to exercise firm authority—let it be even individual authority provided it is used in the interests of the proletariat—and who realises that everything depends on the water transport system.

To make progress we must erect a ladder; in order to get the sceptical to climb that ladder, we must put things in order, we must select and promote people who are able to put the water transport system in order. There are some who say in reference to military discipline: “The idea! What do we want it for?” Such people do not realise the situation in Russia and do not realise that although the fight on the bloody front is coming to an end, the fight on the bloodless front is only beginning, that no less effort, exertion and sacrifice is required here, and that the stakes are no smaller and the resistance greater rather than less. Every wealthy peasant, every kulak and every member of the old administration who does not want to act in the interests of the workers is our enemy. Do not cherish any illusions. Victory demands a tremendous struggle and iron, military discipline. Whoever does not understand this understands nothing about the conditions needed to maintain the power of the workers, and his ideas do great harm to this power of the workers and peasants.

That is why, comrades, I will conclude my speech by expressing the hope and certainty that you will devote the greatest attention to the tasks of the forthcoming navigation season, and will make it your aim, and will stop at no sacrifice, to create real, iron, military discipline and to perform in the sphere of water transport miracles as great as those performed during the past two years by our Red Army. (Applause)