V. I. Lenin

Speech At A Plenary Meeting Of

The Moscow Soviet Of Workers’ And Peasants’ Deputies

February 28, 1921[1]

Delivered: 28 February, 1921
First Published: Pravda No. 46, March 2, 1921; Published according to the Pravda text collated with the verbal in’ report
Source: Lenin’s Collected Works, 1st English Edition, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1965, Volume 32, pages 147-159
Translated: Yuri Sdobnikov
Transcription\HTML Markup: David Walters & R. 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

(Prolonged applause.) Before going on to the domestic situation—a subject which, quite naturally, arouses great interest and much concern—let me run over the salient international developments. To be brief, I shall deal with only three. The first is our conference with Turkish delegates which has opened here in Moscow.[2] This is an especially welcome fact, because there had been many obstacles to direct negotiations with the Turkish Government delegation, and now that there is an opportunity of reaching an understanding here in Moscow, we feel sure that a firm foundation will be laid for closer relations and friendship. Of course, this will not be achieved through diplomatic machinations (in which, we are not afraid to admit, our adversaries have the edge on us), but through the fact that over the past few years both nations have had to endure untold suffering at the hands of the imperialist powers. A previous speaker referred to the harm of isolation from the imperialist countries. But when a wolf attacks a sheep, there is hardly any point in advising the sheep to avoid isolation from the wolf. (Laughter, applause.) Up to now, the Eastern peoples may have been like sheep before the imperialist wolf, but Soviet Russia was the first to show that, despite her unparalleled military weakness, it is not so easy for the wolf to get his claws and teeth into her. This example has proved to be catching for many nations, regardless of whether or not they sympathise with the “Bolshevik rumour-mongers.” We are a popular topic all over the world, and, in relation to Turkey, have even been ‘described as malicious rumour-mongers. Of course, we have so far been unable to do anything in this sphere, but the Turkish workers and peasants have demonstrated that the resistance on the part of modern nations to plunder is a thing that has to be reckoned with: Turkey herself resisted plunder by the imperialist governments with such vigour that even the strongest of them have had to keep their hands off her. That is what makes us regard the current negotiations with the Turkish Government as a very great achievement. We have no hidden motives. We know that these negotiations will proceed within a very modest framework, but they are important because the workers and peasants of all countries are drawing steadily closer together, despite all the formidable obstructions. This is something we should bear in mind when assessing our present difficulties.

The second thing worth recalling in connection with the international situation is the state of the peace talks in Riga.[3] You know that in order to conclude a peace with any degree of stability we have been making the greatest possible concessions to all the states formerly within the Russian Empire. This is very natural because national oppression is one of the main factors which arouses hatred for the imperialists and unites the peoples against them, and few states in the world have sinned as much in this respect as the old Russian Empire and the bourgeois republic of Kerensky, the Meusheviks and Socialist-Revolutionaries in alliance with the bourgeoisie. That is why it is in respect of these nations that we have shown the greatest willingness to make concessions and readiness to accept such peace terms, for which some Socialist-Revolutionaries have virtually called us Tolstoyans. We don’t care, because we have to show the greatest willingness to compromise with these nations, to dispel the age-old suspicions generated by the old oppression, and to lay the foundation for a union of workers and peasants of various nations which once suffered together at the hands of tsarism and the Russian landowners, and now suffer at the hands of imperialism. In respect of Poland, this policy has been largely frustrated by the Russian whiteguards, Socialist-Revolutionaries and Mensheviks, who enjoy “freedom of the press", “freedom of speech” and other wonderful ‘freedoms ’, alongside the extraordinary freedom of the French and other capitalists to buy up a larger part of Poland, where they are at liberty to spread their propaganda in an effort to push Poland into a war against us. The capitalists are now doing their utmost to disrupt the peace that has been concluded. One of the reasons why we cannot demobilise our army, as we should like to do, is that we must reckon with the possibility of war on a much larger scale than some people imagine. Those who say that we need not put so much into defence are wrong, because our enemies are resorting to all sorts of machinations and intrigues to break up the final peace with Poland, the provisional terms of which have already been signed. These negotiations have lately been dragging on, and although a few weeks ago things had come to such a pass that there was reason to fear a serious crisis, we recently decided to make some further concessions, not because we thought they were warranted, but because we considered it necessary to thwart the intrigues of the Russian whiteguards, Socialist-Revolutionaries and Mensheviks in Warsaw, and of the Entente imperialists, who are making the greatest efforts to prevent peace. It has not yet been signed, but let me say that we have every reason to be optimistic: it will be signed in the near future, and we shall succeed In thwarting the intrigues against Its conclusion. Although this is only guesswork on my part, I believe tile prospect will gladden us all. But let us not count our chickens before they are hatched. That is why we shall not slacken or weaken our military effort however slightly, but we shall not be afraid to make a few more concessions to bourgeois Poland, so as to wrest the workers and peasants of Poland from the Entente and prove to them that the workers’ and peasants’ government does not deal in national strife. We shall defend this peace even at the price of considerable sacrifice.

The third international question is the events in the Caucasus. There have been large-scale developments there recently, and although we do not yet know the details their implication is that we are on the brink of a major war. We were, of course, disturbed at the clash between Armenia and Georgia, for these events turned the Armenian-Georgian war into an insurrection, with a section of the Russian troops taking part. The upshot of all this was that, for the time being, the tables have been turned on the Armenian bourgeoisie, which had been scheming against us, so that, according to the latest but still unconfirmed reports, Soviet power has been established in Tiflis. (Applause.) We know that the insurrection began in the neutral zone of Armenia, which lies between Georgia and Armenia, and winch Georgia had occupied with the consent of the Entente imperialists. When the Mensheviks, particularly the Georgian Mensheviks, speak of the harm of isolation from the Western powers, they usually mean the reliance on the Entente imperialists, who are stronger than anyone else. But some whitoguards tend to forget that the advanced capitalists are more deceitful than anyone else, and say to themselves: can Armenia, the Armenian peasants, etc., or the ravaged Soviet Republic be compared to the united imperialist powers of the world? Let us turn to the advanced capitalists for they are the civilised forces of the world. That is how the Georgian Mensheviks seek to justify their unseemly defence of the capitalists, and they had control of the only railway line, the Armenian peasants’ food supply line.

No one will have the patience to read all the telegrams, statements and protests we exchanged with Georgia on this question. If we had had a peace treaty with Georgia, our policy would have been to procrastinate as long as possible. You must understand, however, that the Armenian peasants did not view the treaty question in that light, and things culminated in the terrible insurrection which broke out in early February and spread with astonishing rapidity, involving not only Armenians, but also Georgians. There has been hardly any news from over there, but our assumptions have been borne out by the latest available report. We know perfectly well that the Georgian bourgeoisie and the Georgian Mensboviks do not rely for support on their working people, but on their capitalists, who are only looking for a pretext to start hostilities. Upon the other hand, we have had our stake on the working people for three years and we shall continue to have it on them to the last even in this backward and oppressed country. With all our circumspection and all our efforts to strengthen the Red Army, we shall ultimately do everything possible to put out the flames in the Caucasus. We shall demonstrate in the East what we have been able to demonstrate in the West: when Soviet power is in, national oppression is out. On this, in the final analysis, depends the outcome of the struggle, and because of their superior numbers the workers and peasants will ultimately prove to he stronger than the capitalists.

Let me now turn from foreign policy to home affairs. I have been unable, unfortunately, to hear the whole of Comrade Bryiikhanov’s report. He has given you the facts in detail and I need not go over that again. I want to deal with the main thing, which may possibly show us the causes of our terrible crisis. We shall have to set ourselves a task and find a way to solve it. There is a path, we have found it, but we are not yet strong enough to follow it with the persistence and the regularity demanded by the difficult post-war conditions. We are in every respect poverty-stricken, and yet we are no more destitute than the workers of Vienna. They and their children are starving and dying, but they have not the main thing that w have: they have no hope. They are dying, crushed by capitalism; they are in a position where they have to endure sacrifices, but net as we do. We make sacrifices for the war which we have declared on the whole capitalist world. That is the difference between the position of the workers of Petrograd and Moscow and that of the workers of Vienna. Now, in the spring, our hardships due to the food shortage have once again become more acute, after the improvement earlier on. The fact is that we had miscalculated. When the plan for surplus-food appropriation was drawn up, we thought we could improve on our success. The people had gone hungry for so long that their condition had to he improved at all costs. It was essential not only to help, but to improve things. We had failed to see that if we improved things then, we shoould be hard pressed later on, and it was due to this mistake that we now face a food crisis. We have made the same mistake elsewhere: in the Polish war, and in fuel. The procurement of food and fuel—coal, oil, fire-wood—are all different types of work, but in all three we have made identical mistakes. At the time of the severest hardships, we overestimated our resources and failed to take stock of them properly. We failed to realise that we were using up our resources all at once, we failed to estimate our reserves, and we put nothing by for a rainy day. This is, generally speaking, a good rule of thumb that any peasant follows in his simple, everyday economy. But there we were, acting on a nation-wide scale as if we gave no thought to the reserves so long as we had enough for today, so that when we were finally faced with and brought up short by this question of reserves we were quite unable to put anything by for a rainy day.

During the Polish war we had a vigorous, daring Red Army, but we advanced too far—to the very gates of Warsaw, and then had to roll back, almost to Minsk. The same thing has happened with the food supply. True enough, we emerged from the war as victors. In 1920, we offered the Polish landowners and bourgeoisie peace on terms more advantageous to them than the present terms. They were taught a lesson, and the whole world was taught a lesson, which nobody had previously bargained for. When we speak about our position we tell the truth; if anything, we tend to exaggerate the negative side. In April 1920, we said: transport is falling to pieces, there is no food. We said this frankly in our newspapers and spoke about it openly at mass meetings in the best halls of Moscow and Petrograd. The spies of Europe rushed to cable the news, and over there some people rubbed their hands in glee and said: ”Get on with the job, you Poles: you see how badly things are going with them, we shall soon crush them.” But we were telling the truth, sometimes tending to exaggerate the negative side. Let the workers and peasants know that our difficulties are not over. And when the Polish army, with French, British and other military advisers and arms and money, went into battle, it was defeated. And now, when we say that our affairs are in poor shape, when our ambassadors report that the whole of the bourgeois press is saying “The Soviet power is doomed", when even Chernov has said that it will undoubtedly fall, we say: “You can shout your heads off, that’s what freedom of the press on capitalist money is for, you have as much of this freedom as you want, but we are still not in the least afraid to speak the bitter truth.” Indeed, the situation this spring has worsened again, and our papers are full of admissions of this bad situation. But we say to the foreign capitalists, the Mensheviks, the S.R.s, the Savinkovites,[4] or whatever else they are called: just you try to cash in on this and you will find yourselves in a far deeper hole. (Applause.) It is obviously a difficult transition from our state of utter destitution in 1918-19, when it was very hard to think about a year’s reserve or allocation, and when all we could do was to look one or two weeks ahead and say ‘we’ll see” about the third one. It is obviously difficult to change over from this situation to that of 1920, when we saw that our army was bigger than that of the Poles, when we had twice as much grain as the previous year, when we had fuel, and when there was one and a half times more Donets and Siberian coal. We were unable to distribute this on a nation-wide scale. You must remember that annual estimates require a special approach and special conditions. We knew that the spring would be worse than the autumn, but how much worse, we could not know. It is not a matter of figures or distribution but a matter of the degree to which the workers and peasants have starved, and the extent of the sacrifice they are still able to make for the common cause of all workers and peasants. Who can estimate this? Some may point out this error—it is an error, and we make no effort to conceal the fact, just as we did net conceal it in the case of the Polish war —but leil those who blam us for it—and justly so—giver us as estimate for projecting the national amount to be set aside from the first six months’ grain reserves, so as to leave something in stock for the six months after that. No such estimates have been made. We first tried to work out some in 1920 and miscalculated. In certain respects, a revolution is a miracle. If we had been told in 1917 that we would hold out in three years of war against the whole world, that, as a result of the war, two million Russian landowners, capitalists and their children would find themselves abroad, and that we would turn out to be the victors, no one of us would have believed it. A miracle took place because the workers and peasants rose against the attack of the landowners and capitalists in such force that even powerful capitalism was in danger. But just because of the miracle we lost the habit of taking the long view of things. That is why all of us now have to limp along. The forthcoming Party Congress is to be called earlier, because we need to sum up this new experience in earnest. The defence of the workers’ and peasants’ power was achieved by a miracle, not a divine miracle—it was not something that fell from the skies-hut a miracle in the sense that, no matter how oppressed, humiliated, ruined and exhausted the workers and peasants were, precisely because the revolution went along with the workers, it mustered very much more strength than any rich, enlightened and advanced state could have mustered. But this will not work in economics, where-perhaps the word is not altogether appropriate—you need “thrift.” We have not yet learned to practise “thrift” . We must hear in mind that we have defeated the bourgeoi-sie, but that they are still with its and so the struggle goes on. And spreading panic is one of their ways of lighting us. We must net forget that they are past masters at it. They have their newspapers, although net printed ones, but splendidly distributed, and they are doing much more than making mountains out of molehills. But under no circumstances must we succumb to panic. The situation has been aggravated because we have made mistakes in every field of work. Let us not be afraid of these mistakes, let us not be afraid to admit them; let us not indulge in mutual recrim-ination; but if we are to make use of all our resources and put in the greatest effort in every field, we must know how to reckon. Reckoning will give us control of the whole Republic, for proper reckoning alone will give us an estimate of the large amounts of available grain and fuel. The bread ration will be short for a lusty appetite, but the amount cannot he increased all at once. There will he a shortage only if we do not lay in stocks, but we shall have enough if we make a correct estimate and give to the most needy, and take from those who have large surpluses rather than from those who, over the last three years, may have given away their last crust. Hive the peasants of the Ukraine and Siberia seen the point of this reckoning? Not yet, I’m afraid. Their present and past grain surpluses have never been matched in central Russia, nor have they ever experienced such a plight. The peasants of the Ukraine, Siberia and Northern Caucasus have never known such destitution and hunger as the peasants of Moscow and Petro-grad guhernias (who received far less than the Ukrainian peasants) have endured for three years. Their surpluses usually ran to hundreds of poods, and they were accustomed to receive goods at once for that kind of surplus. There is nowhere to obtain the goods from, now that the factories are at a standstill. To set them going once again will take time and preparation, and workers. Our tremendous sacrifices are not made in a state of desperation, but in a fight that wins one victory after another. This is a distinction that makes all the difference.

That is the main point that I wished to make here, not in terms of the exact figures given by the comrade responsible for food supplies and by the comrade responsible for fuel, but in terms of economics and politics, to help understand how our recent mistakes differ from earlier ones, and while they are different they still have this in common, that we have tried to jump two rungs when we only had the possibility of climbing one. Nevertheless, we are now at a higher stage. That is good. This year we shall have a much better fuel balance than last year. And let me give you one final fact in regard to the food supply: the Deputy Commander-in-Chief of the republican forces in Siberia has cabled that communications have been restored and that seven train-loads of grain are on their way to Moscow. At one time there were disturbances and kulak revolts. Of course, it is possible to joke about rumour-mongers, but it is necessary to appreciate that after all we have learned a thing or two in the course of the class struggle. We know that the tsarist government called us rumour-mongers, hut when we speak of the Socialist-Revolutionary and Menshevik rumour-mongers, we are speaking of another class, of people who support the bourgeoisie and who take advantage of every difficulty to issue leaflets and say: ‘Look, 300 poods of grain surpluses are being confiscated from you; you give everything away, and get nothing in return but coloured bits of paper.” Don’t we know these rumour-mongers! What is their class? No matter what they call themselves, Socialist-Revolutionaries, lovers of liberty, of peoples power, constituent assemblies, and so on, they are the same old landowners. We have heard all they have to say and have learned to understand their true meaning. These revolts indicate that there are people among the peasants who do not wish to reconcile themselves either to surplus food requisitioning or to the tax. Someone here has mentioned the tax. Much of what he said was common sense, but he should have added that before we said anything about it from this platform, the newspaper Pravda, which is the Central Organ of the Russian Communist Party, carried tax proposals signed not only by casual contributors but by staff correspondents.[5] When the non-Party peasant says to us: “Make your calculations conform to the needs of the small peasant; he needs confidence; I shall give so much and then I shall look to my own affairs,” we say: “Yes, that is business-like, that is common sense and is in keeping with local conditions.” So long as we have no machines, so long as the peasant himself has no wish to change over from small-scale to large-scale farming, we are inclined to take this idea into account and we shall place this question before the Party Congress due to be held in a week’s time, sort it out and take a decision satisfactory to the non-Party peasant and to the mass of the people. In our apparatus there is, of course, much that is imperfect and inexcusable, because a great deal, a very, very great deal of the bureaucratic practices has seeped in. But weren’t there the same kind of mistakes and imperfections in our Red Army? We could not rid ourselves of them right away, but thanks to the help of the workers and peasants, the Army was, nevertheless, victorious. What took place in the Red Army is bound to happen in another form in all spheres, and we shall be cured of these bureaucratic distortions—condemned on every hand because they are evidence of our mistakes and misfortunes—by persistent work, not succumbing to panic and not turning a blind eye to those who, taking advantage of these mistakes, are trying to repeat the Kolchak and Denikin affairs. Any amount of scandalous practices in the way of the pilfering of coal is taking place in the Ukraine, while here we are suffering from a great shortage. Over there they have had 120 governments, and the rich peasants have been corrupted. They cannot understand that there is a workers’ and peasants’ government and that, if it confiscates grain, it does so in order to ease the position of the workers and peasants. Until we are able to achieve full clarity on all these questions in that area, we shall continue to receive news of disturbances, banditry and revolts. This is inevitable because we have inherited from capitalism a peasant who is isolated and cannot help being ignorant and full of resentment, and it will take us years to re-educate him. We see this every spring, and we shall continue to see it every spring for some time to come.

The south-eastern railways are quite another matter. This year we have mainly existed on the resources supplied us by Siberia and the Northern Caucasus. Here is a five-day report. It says 8 cars were sent in every day from February 1; the second five-day report gives the figure of 32 cars; the third, 60; the fourth, 109; but we should he receiving 200 cars a day, and only in the last five clays, from February 20 to 24, have we been getting ‘120 cars a day. That is three train-loads. Today Comrade Fomin reports that during the past two days we have received four train-loads. As one comrade has said, the position in the Donets Basin is that there is no grain because there is no coal, and there is no coal because there is no grain. This vicious circle must be broken at some point by the energy, pressure and heroism of the working people, so that all the wheels start turning. We are beginning to emerge from the enormous difficulties that we have experienced in this respect. A ray of light has appeared. I do not at all wish, comrades, to lull you with promises and I have no intention of announcing that this difficult period has ended. Nothing of the sort! There are signs of improvement, but the period remains incredibly difficult, and, in comparison with last autumn, it need not have been as difficult as it is now, despite the fact that we are cut off from Western Europe. In order not to be cut off, we have had to accept the idea of granting concessions: here’s your 500 per cent profit, and let’s have more grain, paraffin oil, etc. We are prepared to grant concessions, and will grant them. This will mean a new struggle, because we are not going to give them 500 per cent, or perhaps even more, without bargaining, and to switch to this struggle is equivalent to switching all our trains onto new rails.

For this it is essential to convince the capitalists that they cannot butt in on us with a war. We have decisively accepted the policy of concessions. You know that we have had many arguments with the peasants and workers about this, you know that the workers have said: ‘Have we got rid of our own bourgeoisie only to let the foreigners in?” We have explained to them that we cannot switch all at once from scarcity to abundance, and in order to ease this transition, in order to obtain the necessary amount of grain and textiles, we must be able to make every necessary sacrifice. Let the capitalists benefit from their own greed, so long as we are able to improve the position of the workers and peasants. It is no easy thing, however, to get this concession business going. We published a decree about this in November, but so far not a single concession has been granted. Of course, this is due to the influence of the white-guard and Menshevik press. Russian newspapers are now published in every country in the world, and in all of them the Mensheviks are clamouring against any concessions and saying that in Moscow things are not going well, that the Soviet power is about to collapse, and that the capitalists should not believe the Bolsheviks and should have nothing to do with them. But we shall not abandon the fight: we have defeated the capitalists, but we have not destroyed them; they have now moved on to Warsaw, which once used to be the centre of the struggle against the Russian autocracy, and is now the rallying point of the whiteguards against Soviet Russia. We shall fight them everywhere, both on the foreign and on the home front.

I have here a telegram from Comrade Zinoviev in Petrograd which says that, in connection with the arrests there, a leaflet found in the possession of one of those detained makes it clear that he is a spy of foreign capitalists. There is another leaflet, headed To the Faithful, which is also counter-revolutionary in content. Further, Comrade Zinoviev informs us that Menshevik leaflets posted up in Petrograd call for strikes, and over here in Moscow this has been blown up into a rumour about some kind of demonstration. In actual fact, one Communist was killed by an agent provocateur, and he is the only victim of these unhappy days. When Denikin was at Orel, the whiteguard papers said he was advancing at almost 100 versts an hour. These papers will not surprise us. We take a sober view of things. We must rally closer, comrades. Otherwise, what are we to do? Try another Kereusky or Kolchak “coalition” government? Kolchak, let us say, is no longer with us, but another might take his place. There are any number of Russian generals, quite enough for a large army. We must speak frankly and have no fear of the newspapers being published in all the cities of the world. These are all trifles, and we shall not keep silent about our difficult position because of them. But we shall say this: comrades, we are carrying on this difficult and bloody struggle, and if at the moment they cannot attack us with guns, they attack us with lies and slander, taking advantage of every instance of need and poverty in order to help our enemies. I repeat, all of this we have experienced and survived. We have lived through far greater difficulties; we know this enemy extremely well, and we shall defeat him this spring; we shall defeat him by working more successfully, and by calculating more carefully. (Applause.)


[1] The meeting was called by the Moscow Party Committee under a decision of an activists' meeting held on February 24, 1921. The plenary meeting heard a report on the food situation and Lenin's report on the international and domestic situation. It adopted a unanimous message to the workers, peasants and Red Army men of Moscow and Moscow Gubernia giving the reasons for the food crisis. It also called on them to fight the enemies, who tried to exploit those temporary food difficulties for their counter- revolutionary aims. The message was published in Pra vda No. 45, on March 1, 1921.

[2] Negotiations between the governments of the R.S.F.S.R. and the Grand National Assembly of Turkey opened in Moscow on February 26, 1921, and ended with the signing, on March 16, of a treaty of friendship and brotherhood between the R.S.F.S.R. and Turkey. A treaty of friendship between Turkey and the Trans-Caucasian Soviet Republics, Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan, was signed in Kars on October 13.

[3] The talks on the conclusion of a final peace treaty opened in Riga, after the preliminary peace treaty between Poland, on the one hand, and Soviet Russia and the Soviet Ukraine, on the other, was signed on October 12, 1920. The talks went on for five months. The Polish Government, instigated by France, continued it aggressive acts against the Soviet Ukraine and Soviet Byelorussia and hampered the peace conference in every way. Decisive diplomatic action by the Soviet Government and the defeat of Wrangel, who was an ally of bourgeois-landowner Poland, compelled the Polish Government to conclude peace. The final peace treaty was signed in Riga on March 18, 1921, under which Western Ukraine and Western Byelorussia were ceded to Poland.

The Riga Peace Treaty was abrogated by the Soviet Government on September 17, 1939, when Western Ukraine and Western Byelorussia joined the Soviet Union in accordance with the will of their peoples.

[4] The followers of B. V. Savinkov (1879-1925), a leader of the counter-revolutionary revolts against the Soviet power in 1918-21.

[5] The reference is to the article Surplus Appropriation or Tax by P. Sorokin and M. Rogov, published by way of discussion in Pravda No. 35 and No. 43, on February 17 and 26, 1921. The discussion in the press was started under the February 16, 1920 decision of the C.C. Political Bureau.