V. I. Lenin

Speech Delivered At

The All-Russia Congress Of Transport Workers

March 27, 1921[1]

Written: 27 March, 1921
First Published: Pravda Nos. 67 and 58, March 29 and 30, 1921; Published according to the Pravda text
Source: Lenin’s Collected Works, 1st English Edition, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1965, Volume 32, pages 272-284
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

Comrades, may I thank you all for your greetings and ask you to accept my greetings to your Congress. (Stormy applause.) Allow me to digress before dealing with the subject that directly concerns the work and tasks of this Congress and what the Soviet state expects of it.

As I was coming in through your hail just now, I saw a placard with this inscription: “The reign of the workers and peasants will last for ever.” When I read this odd placard, which, it is true, was not up in the usual place, but stood in a corner-perhaps it had occurred to someone that it was not very apt and he had moved it out of the way when I read this strange placard, I thought to myself: there you have some of the fundamental and elementary things we are still confused about. Indeed, if the reign of the workers and peasants would last for ever, we should never have socialism, for it implies the abolition of classes; and as long as there are workers and peasants, there will be different classes and, therefore, no full socialism. And as I pondered over the fact that three and a half years after the October Revolution we still have such odd placards (even if they are shifted out of the way) it occurred to me that there may still be great misunderstanding of the most common slogans in popular use. Take one of our most popular slogans which we all variously repeat: we all sing about our present fight being the last and decisive one. But I am afraid that if we were to ask a large section of the Communists against whom they are now waging this last battle (not the last one, of course, that’s putting it on a bit thick, but one of the last and crucial ones) 1 am afraid only a few would give the right answer showing a clear understanding against what, or whom, we are now waging one of our last and decisive battles. It also seems to me that, in view of the political events which have caught the attention of the broad masses of workers and peasants, we ought once again to ascertain, or, at any rate, try to ascertain, against whom we are waging one of our last and crucial battles this spring, at this very moment. Let me go over this point.

To sort it out we should, I think, start by reviewing as precisely and as soberly as possible, the opposed forces on whose struggle hinges the fate of the Soviet power, and, generally speaking, the course and development of the proletarian revolution, which is a revolution for the overthrow of the capitalists in Russia and elsewhere. What are these forces? Bow are they grouped against one another? How are they deployed at present? Any marked aggravation of the political situation, every new turn in the political events, even if it is not considerable, should always cause every thinking worker and peasant to ask himself: “What are the forces involved? How are they grouped?” And only when we are able to estimate these forces correctly and quite soberly, irrespective of our sympathies and desires, shall we be able to draw the proper conclusions concerning our policy in general, and our immediate tasks in particular. Let me, therefore, give you a brief description of these forces.

There are basically three such forces. Take first the proletariat, the force that is closest to us. It is the first force, the first discrete class. You all know this very well, living in the very midst of it. What is its condition now? In the Soviet Republic it is the class that took power three and a half years ago, that has, since then, been exercising its domination-dictatorship-and has suffered and endured exhaustion, want and privation more than any other class. To the working class, to the proletariat, this period, during the greater part of which the Soviet state was engaged in a relentless civil war against the whole capitalist world, brought calamities, privation, sacrifice and intense want on a scale unparalleled in world history. A strange thing happened. The class that took political power did so in the knowledge that it was doing so alone. That is intrinsic to the concept of the dictatorship of the proletariat. It has meaning only when one class knows that it is taking political power alone, and does not deceive others or itself with talk about “popular government by popular consent through universal suffrage”. You all know that there are very many-far too many-people who love to hold forth on that subject, but, at any rate, you will not find them among proletarians, because they have realised that theirs is a dictatorship of the proletariat, and they say as much in their Constitution, the fundamental law of the Republic. This class was well aware that it was taking power alone, under extremely difficult conditions. It has exercised its political power as any dictatorship does, that is, with grim determination. In these three and a half years, it has suffered distress, want, starvation and a worsening of economic positions such as no other class in history has suffered. It is not surprising that as a result of its superhuman effort it is uncommonly weary, exhausted and strained.

How was a single class able to exercise its power in the teeth of the resistance and attacks of the world bourgeoisie, in a country where the proletariat is numerically so much smaller than the rest of the population? How was it able to do that in a backward country artificially cut off by armed force from countries with a more numerous, class-conscious, disciplined and organised proletariat? How could it hold on for three and a half years? What was its mainstay? We know that it was the mass of the peasants, at home. About this second force more in a moment, after we finish our examination of the first. I have said that never has its suffering been so great and acute as in this epoch of its dictatorship; and you all know it, having observed the life of your mates in the factories, railway depots, and workshops. Never before has the country been so weary and worn out, Where did this class get the moral strength to bear those privations? Clearly it had to draw on some source for the moral strength to overcome these material privations. As you know, the question of moral strength and support is a vague one; you can give any reading to moral strength. To avoid the danger of reading anything vague or fantastic into “moral strength”, 1 ask myself: Is there a precise definition of that which gave the proletariat the moral strength to bear the unprecedented material privations connected with its political rule? I think this will give us a precise answer. Ask yourself: Could the Soviet Republic have borne its trials over three and a half years, and withstood the onslaught of the whiteguards supported by the capitalists of the world, if it had had to face backward instead of advanced countries? You have only to put the question to see the obvious answer.

You know that for three and a hall years the wealthiest powers of the world fought against us. The armed forces that were ranged against us and that supported Kolchak, Yudenich, Denikin and Wrangel—you all know this very well, for you all fought in the war—were immensely and clearly superior to our forces. You know perfectly well that these states are still very much stronger than we are. How is it, then, that they set out to vanquish the Soviet power, and failed? How did this happen? We have an exact answer: the proletariat of all the capitalist countries was on our side. Even when it was patently under the influence of the Mensheviks and Socialist-Revolutionaries-in the European countries they go by another name-it refused to support the fight against us. Eventually, the leaders were compelled to yield to the masses, and the workers disrupted the war. It was not we who won, for our armed forces were insignificant; the victory was won because the powers could not hurl the whole of their armed force against us. The course of a war depends on the workers of the advanced countries to such an extent that it cannot be waged against their will, and their passive and semi-passive resistance eventually disrupted the war against us. This incontrovertible fact gives the exact answer to the question as to the source on which the Russian proletariat drew for moral strength to hold out for three and a half years and win. The moral strength of the Russian worker lay in his knowledge and awareness of the tangible assistance and support which the proletariat of all the advanced countries of Europe was giving him in this struggle. The direction which the working-class movement in these countries is taking is indicated by this most important recent event: the split in the Socialist parties of Britain, France, Italy, and other countries (both vanquished and victors) which differ in cultural and economic development. The main development of the year in all countries has been the formation of Communist Parties, with the support of all that is most advanced in the working class, on the ruins of the Socialist and Social-Democratic parties—which in Russia are called Menshevik and Socialist-Revolutionary. And, of course, there can be no doubt that if we had been attacked by backward countries, without mighty proletarian masses, and not by advanced countries, we would have been unable to hold out for three and a half months, let alone three and a half years. Would our proletariat have had the moral strength if it had not relied on the sympathy of the workers of the advanced countries, who supported us in spite of the lies about the Soviet power circulated by the imperialists in millions of copies, and in spite of the efforts of the “labour leaders”—the Mensheviks and Socialist-Revolutionarieswho could have been expected to, and did, hamper the workers’ struggle for us? With this support, our proletariat—numerically weak and tormented by poverty and privation—won out because it had the moral strength.

That is the first force.

The second is that which stands between developed capital and the proletariat. It is the petty bourgeoisie, the small proprietors, which in Russia constitute the overwhelming majority of the population—the peasantry. They are mainly small proprietors and small farmers. Nine-tenths of them are that way, and can be nothing else. They do not take part in the acute struggle daily waged by capital and labour. They have not been schooled; their economic and political conditions do not bring them together, but rather tend to separato, alienating them from each other, and transforming them into millions of lone-wolf small proprietors. Such are the facts and you are all perfectly well aware of them. It will take collectives, collective farms and communes years to change this. Thanks to the revolutionary energy and devotion of the proletarian dictatorship, this force was able to dispose of its enemies on the right-the landowner class—to sweep them right out and abolish their rule more swiftly than has ever been done before. But the more quickly it abolished the rule of the landowners, the more quickly it turned to its farming on the nationalised land, the more resolutely it settled accounts with the small minority of kulaks, the sooner it itself became transformed into small proprietors. You know that there has been a levelling-off in the Russian countryside in this period. The number of peasants with large areas under crop and without any at all has decreased, while the number of medium farms has increased. The countryside has become more potty bourgeois. This is an independent class, which the landowners and capitalists are expelled and eliminated, is the only class capable of opposing the proletariat. That is why it is absurd to write on placards that the reign of the workers and peasants will last for ever.

You know the political mood oi this force. It is a vacillating force. We saw this to be true during our revolution all over the country. There were some local features in Russia proper, Siberia and the Ukraine, but the result was the same everywhere: it is a vacillating force. For a long time it was in the leading strings of the SocialistRevolutionaries and Mensheviks, with the aid of Kerensky, in the Kolchak period, under the Constituent Assembly in Samara, when the Menshevik Maisky was a Minister of Kolchak or of one of his predecessors, etc. This force wavered between the leadership of the proletariat and that of the bourgeoisie. Why didn’t it lead itself? After all, it is the overwhelming majority. The fact is that the economic conditions of these masses are such that they are unable to organise and unite by their own efforts. This is clear to anyone who is not misled by empty talk about “universal suffrage”, a constituent assembly and such like “democracy” which has served to dupe the people in all countries for hundreds of years and which the Socialist-Revolutionaries and Mensheviks in our own country played up for hundreds of weeks but fell through “on this very spot every blessed time”. (Applause.) We know from our own experience—and revolutions all over the world confirm it if we take the modern epoch of, say, a hundred and fifty years—that the result has always been the same everywhere: the petty bourgeoisie in general, and the peasants in particular, have failed in all their attempts to realise their strength, and to direct economics and politics their own way. They have had to follow the leadership either of the proletariat, or the capitalists—there is no middle way open to them. Anyone who thinks of a middle way is an empty dreamer. There is much politics, economics, and history to prove it. The teachings of Marx show that once the small proprietors become owners of the means of production and land, exchange between them necessarily gives rise to capital, and simultaneously to the antagonisms between capital and labour. The struggle between capital and the proletariat is inevitable; it is a law manifesting itself all over the world. This must he accepted by anyone who refuses to fool himself.

These fundamental economic facts explain why this force cannot manifest itself through its own efforts, and why it has always failed in all its attempts to do so in the history of all revolutions. Whenever the proletariat was unable to lead the revolution, this force always followed the leadership of the bourgeoisie. That was the case in all revolutions. The Russians, of course, are of the same clay, and if they choose to pretend they are not, they will only look ridiculous. History metes out the same treatment to all. We, in particular, saw the truth of this under the rule of Kerensky. At that time, the government had the support of very many more political leaders than the Bolsheviks have, They were clever, educated men, with vast experience in politics and state administration. If we were to count all the officials who sabotaged us, but who did not make it their business to sabotage the Kerensky government, which relied on the Mensheviks and Socialist-Revolutionaries, we would find that they made up an overwhelming majority. Still that government collapsed. That shows that there were factors which offset the enormous preponderance of intellectual and educated forces accustomed to administering the state, an art they had acquired decades before they actually took over. Events ran the same course, with some modifications, in the Ukraine, the Don and the Kuban regions, and the result was exactly the same. That could not have been a coincidence. Such is the economic and political law governing the second force: hence, either the leadership of the proletariat—a hard road, but one which can help it to escape the rule of the landowners and capitalists—or the leadership of the capitalists, as it does in the advanced democratic republics, and even in America, where the free distribution of land (every settler was allotted sixty dessiatines[about 160 acres—Translator] free of chargebetter conditions can hardly be imagined!) has not yet entirely stopped, and where this has led to the complete domination of capital.

That is the second force.

Over here it is wavering, and is particularly weary. It has had to bear the burdens of the revolution, and in the past few years fresh burdens have been thrust upon it: a year of crop failure, surplus-grain appropriations, with cattle dying off because of the fodder shortage, etc. In the circumstances, it is not surprising that this second force the masses of the peasantry—should give way to despair. They could not think of improving their condition although three and a half years have passed since the landowners were driven out, yet the improvement is becoming an urgent necessity. The dispersing army fails to find proper employment for its labour-power, and so this petty-bourgeois force is being transformed into an anarchic element, whose restiveness is an expression of its demands.

You are all familiar with the third force: the landowners and capitalists. It is no longer conspicuous in this country. But one crucial event, one critical lesson of the past few weeks—the Kronstadt events—was like a flash of lightning which threw more of a glare upon reality than anything else.

There is now no country in Europe without some whiteguard elements. Russian √©migrds in Europe have been estimated to total about seven hundred thousand. These are fugitive capitalists and the mass of office workers who could not adapt themselves to Soviet rule. We see nothing of this third force, it has emigrated, but it lives and operates in alliance with the capitalists of the world, who are assisting it as they assisted Kolchak, Yudenich and Wrangel, with money and in other ways, because they have their international bonds. We all remember these people. You must have noticed the abundance of extracts from the whiteguard press in our newspapers over the last few days, explaining the events in Kronstadt. In the last few days, they have been described by Burtsev, who puts out a newspaper in Paris, and have been appraised by Milyukov—you must have all read this. Why have our newspapers devoted so much attention to it? Was it right to do so? It was, because we must have a clear view of our enemy. Abroad, they are not so conspicuous, but you will find that they have not moved very far away, just a few thousand versts at most; and having moved that far, have taken cover. They are alive and kicking, and lying in wait. That is why we must keep a close watch on them, especially because they are more than just refugees. Indeed, they are the agents of world capital, who work with it hand in glove.

You must have noticed that these extracts from the whiteguard newspapers published abroad appeared side by side with extracts from British and French newspapers. They are one chorus, one orchestra. It is true that such orchestras are not conducted by a man with a score. International capital uses less conspicuous means than a conductor’s baton, but that it is one orchestra should be clear from any one of these extracts. They have admitted that if the slogan becomes “Soviet power without the Bolsheviks” they will all accept it. Milyukov explains this with particular clarity. He has made a close study of history, and has had a refresher course in Russian history at first hand. He has supplemented his twenty years of book learning with twenty months of personal experience. He says he is prepared to accept the “Soviet power without the Bolsheviks” slogan. He cannot see from over there in Paris whether this is to be a slight shift to the right or to the left, towards the anarchists. From over there, he cannot see what is going on in Kronstadt, but asks the monarchists not to rush and spoil things by shouting about it. He declares that even if the shift is to be to the left, he is prepared to back the Soviet power against the Bolsheviks.

This is what Milyukov says, and it is absolutely right. When he says that the Kronstadt events reveal an urge to set up a Soviet regime without the Bolsheviks, he shows that he has learned something from Russian history and from the landowners and capitalists. It is a demand for a slight shift to the right, with a little bit of unrestricted trade, and a little bit of a constituent assembly—listen to any Menshevik, and you will hear it all, perhaps even without leaving this hail. If the slogan of the Kronstadt events is a slight deviation to the left—Soviet power with the anarchists, begotten by distress, war, the demobilisation of the army—why is Milyukov in favour of it? Because he knows that a deviation leads either to the proletarian dictatorship or to the capitalists.

Political power cannot exist in any other way. Although we are not waging our last battle but one of the last and decisive battles, the only correct answer to the question “Against whom shall we wage one of the decisive battles today?” is: “Against petty-bourgeois anarchy at home.” (Applause.) As for the landowners and capitalists, we beat them in the first campaign, but only in the first one: the second is to be waged on an international scale. Modern capitalism cannot fight against us, even if it were a hundred times stronger, because over there, in the advanced countries, the workers disrupted its war yesterday and will disrupt it even more effectively tcday, because over there the consequences of the war are beginning to toll more and more. We have defeated the petty-bourgeois element at home, but it will make itself felt again. And that is taken into account by the landowners and the capitalists, particularly the clever ones, like Milyukov, who has told the monarchists: “Sit still, keep quiet, otherwise you will only strengthen the Soviet power.” This has been proved by the general course of the revolutions in which the toilers, with temporary peasant support, set up short-lived dictatorships but had no consolidated power, so that after a brief period everything tended to slip back. This happened because the peasants, the toilers, the small proprietors, can have no policy of their own and must retreat alter a period of vacillation. That was the case in the Great French Revolution, and, on a smaller scale, in all revolutions. And, of course, everyone has learned this lesson. Cur whiteguards crossed the frontier, rode off a distance of three days’ journey, and, backed and supported by West-European capital, are lying in wait and watching. Such is the situation. It makes clear the tasks and duties of the proletariat.

Weariness and exhaustion produce a certain mood, and sometimes lead to desperation. As usual, this tends to breed anarchism among the revolutionary elements. That was the case in all capitalist countries, and that is what is taking place in our own country. The petty-bourgeois element is in the grip of a crisis because it has had it hard over the past few years; not as hard as the proletariat had it in 1919, but hard, nevertheless. The peasantry had to save the state by accepting the surplus-grain appropriations without remuneration, but it can no longer stand the strain. That is why there is confusion and vacillation in its midst, and this is being taken into account by the capitalist enemy, who says: “All it needs is a little push, and it will start snowballing.” That is the meaning of the Kronstadt events in the light of the alignment of class, forces in the whole of Russia and on the international scale. That is the meaning of one of our last and crucial battles, for we have not beaten this petty-bourgeois—anarchist element, and the immediate fate of the revolution now depends on whether or not we succeed in doing so. If we do not, we shall slide down as the French Revolution did. This is inevitable, and we must not let ourselves be misled by phrases and excuses. We must do all we can to alleviate the position of these masses and safeguard the proletarian leadership. If we do this, the growing movement of the communist revolution in Europe will be further reinforced. What has not. yet taken place there today, may well take place tomorrow, or the day after tomorrow, but in world history such periods, as between today and tomorrow, mean no less than a few years.

That is my answer to the question as to what we are now fighting for, in one of our last and crucial battles. That is my reading of recent events and the significance of the class struggle in Russia. It is now clear why it has become so acute and why we find it so hard to see that the chief enemy is not Yudenich, Kolchak or Denikin, but our own conditions.

I can now go on to the concluding part of my speech (which is already too long), namely, the state of railway and water transport, and the tasks of the Railway and Water Transport Workers’ Congress. 1 think that what I have had to describe here is very intimately bound up with these tasks. There is hardly another section of the proletariat which comes so closely into contact with industry and agriculture in its everyday economic activity as the railway and water transport workers. You must supply the cities with food, and revive the rural areas by carrying the manufactured goods to them. That is clear to everyone, but it is much clearer to railway and water transport workers, because that is their everyday work. And from this, I think, follow the exceptionally important tasks and the responsibility now falling to the railway and water transport workers.

You all know that your Congress has been meeting just after some friction between the upper and the lower echelons of the union. When this question was brought up at the last Party Congress, decisions were adopted to reconcile them by subordinating the upper echelons to the lower, by rectifying the upper echelons’ mistakes, which I think were of a minor nature but needed rectifying. You know that the Party Congress rectified these mistakes, that the Congress closed on a note of greater solidarity and unity in the ranks of the Communist Party than before. That is the legitimate, necessary and only correct reply that the vanguard, i.e., the leading section of the proletariat, can give to the movement of the petty-bourgeois-anarchist element. If we class-conscious workers realise the danger of this movement, if we rally our forces, work much more harmoniously and show a great deal more of solidarity, we shall multiply our forces. After our victory over the military attack, we shall conquer the vacillations and wavering of this element that is disturbing the whole of our everyday life and for that reason is, I repeat, dangerous. The decisions of the Party Congress, which rectified what was called to its attention, signify a great step forward in increasing the solidarity and unity of the proletarian army. Your Congress must do the same thing and implement the decisions of the Party Congress.

I repeat: the fate of the revolution depends more immediately upon the work of this section of the proletariat than upon any other. We must restore the exchange between agriculture and industry, and we need a material basis to do so. What is it? It is railway and water transport. That is why it is your duty to dedicate yourselves to your work and this applies not only to those of you who are members of the Communist Party, and are therefore conscious vehicles of the proletarian dictatorship, but also to those of you who do not belong to the Party, but represent a transport workers trade union with a million, or a million and a half, members. All of you, learning the lessons of our revolution and of all preceding revolutions, must understand the full gravity of the present situation. If you do not allow yourselves to be blinded by all sorts of slogans such as “Freedom”, “Constituent Assembly”, “Free Soviets”—it is so easy to switch labels that even Milyukov has turned up as a supporter of the Soviets of a Kronstadt republic—if you do not close your eyes to the alignment of class forces, you will acquire a sound and firm basis for all your political conclusions. You will then see that we are passing through a period of crisis in which it depends on us whether the proletarian revolution continues to march to victory as surely as before, or whether the vacillations and waverings lead to the victory of the whiteguards, which will not alleviate the situation, but will set Russia hack from the revolution for many decades. The only conclusion that you, representatives of railway and water transport workers, can and should draw is—let’s have much more proletarian solidarity and discipline. Comrades, we must achieve this at all costs, and win. (Stormy applause.)


[1] The Congress was held, under a decision of the Central Committee, in Moscow from March 22 to 31, 1921. Most of its 1,079 delegates were Communists. The items on the agenda were: report of Tsektran; report of the People’s Commissar for Communications; report of the Central Board of the River Transport Workers section; wage rates; transport workers’ food supplies, and international confederation of transport workers.

Lenin was elected Honorary Chairman of the Congress. On the eve of the Congress, on March 25, 1921, Lenin had a talk with V. V. Fomin, Deputy Commissar for Communications, about the work of the Congress and the composition of the next Tsektran. Lenin’s speech at the March 27 afternoon sitting was published as a pamphlet in 1921.