V. I. Lenin

The New Economic Policy

And The Tasks Of The Political Education Departments

Report To The Second All-Russia Congress Of Political Education Departments October 17, 1921[1]

Delivered: 17 October, 1921
First Published: Published in the Vtoroi Vserossiishy syezd politprosvetov. Bulleten syezda (Bulletin of the Second All-Russia Congress of Political Education Departments) No. 2, October 19, 1921; Published according to the Bulletin proofs corrected by Lenin
Source: Lenin’s Collected Works, 2nd English Edition, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1965, Volume 33, pages 60-79
Translated: David Skvirsky and George Hanna
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, I intend to devote this report, or rather talk, to the New Economic Policy, and to the tasks of the Political Education Departments arising out of this policy, as I understand them. I think it would be quite wrong to limit reports on questions that do not come within the scope of a given congress to bare information about what is going on generally in the Party or in the Soviet Republic.

Abrupt Change Of Policy Of The Soviet Government And The R.C.P.

While I do not in the least deny the value of such information and the usefulness of conferences on all questions, I nevertheless find that the main defect in the proceedings of most of our congresses is that they are not directly and immediately connected with the practical problems before them. These are the defects that I should like to speak about both in connection with and in respect of the New Economic Policy.

I shall speak about the Now Economic Policy briefly and in general terms. Comrades, the overwhelming majority of you are Communists, and although some of you are very young, you have worked magnificently to carry out our general policy in the first years of our revolution. Having done a large part of this work you cannot help seeing the abrupt change made by our Soviet government and our Communist Party in adopting the economic policy which we call “new", new, that is, in respect of our previous economic policy.

In substance, however, this new policy contains more elements of the old than our previous economic policy did.

Why? Because our previous economic policy, if we cannot say counted on (in the situation then prevailing we did little counting in general), then to a certain degree assumed—we may say uncalculatingly assumed—that there would be a direct transition from the old Russian economy to state production and distribution on communist lines.

If we recall the economic literature that we ourselves issued in the past, if we recall what Communists wrote before and very soon after we took power in Russia—for example, in the beginning of 1918, when the first political assault upon old Russia ended in a smashing victory, when the Soviet Republic was created, when Russia emerged from the imperialist war, mutilated, it is true, but not so mutilated as she would have been had she continued to “defend the fatherland” as she was advised to do by the imperialists, the Mensheviks and Socialist-Revolutionaries—if we recall all this we shall understand that in the initial period, when we had only just completed the first stage in the work of building up the Soviet government and had only just emerged from the imperialist war, what we said about our tasks in the field of economic development was much more cautious and circumspect than our actions in the latter half of 1918 and throughout 1919 and 1920.

The 1918 Decision Of The All-Russia
Central Executive Committee On The Role Of The Peasantry

Even if all of you were not yet active workers in the Party and the Soviets at that time, you have at all events been able to make, and of course have made, yourselves familiar with decisions such as that adopted by the All-Russia Central Executive Committee at the end of April 1918.[2] That decision pointed to the necessity to take peasant farming into consideration, and it was based on a report which made allowance for the role of state capitalism in building socialism in a peasant country; a report which emphasised the importance of personal, individual, one-man responsibility; which emphasised the significance of that factor in the administration of the country as distinct from the political tasks of organising state power and from military tasks.

Our Mistake

At the beginning of 1918 we expected a period in which peaceful construction would be possible. When the Brest peace was signed it seemed that danger had subsided for a time and that it would be possible to start peaceful construction. But we were mistaken, because in 1918 a real military danger overtook us in the shape of the Czechoslovak mutiny and the outbreak of civil war, which dragged on until 1920. Partly owing to the war problems that overwhelmed us and partly owing to the desperate position in which the Republic found itself when the imperialist war ended—owing to these circumstances, and a number of others, we made the mistake of deciding to go over directly to communist production and distribution. We thought that under the surplus-food appropriation system the peasants would provide us with the required quantity of grain, which we could distribute among the factories and thus achieve communist production and distribution.

I cannot say that we pictured this plan as definitely and as clearly as that; but we acted approximately on those lines. That, unfortunately, is a fact. I say unfortunately, because brief experience convinced us that that line was wrong, that it ran counter to what we had previously written about the transition from capitalism to socialism, namely, that it would be impossible to bypass the period of socialist accounting and control in approaching even the lower stage of communism. Ever since 1917, when the problem of taking power arose and the Bolsheviks explained it to the whole people, our theoretical literature has been definitely stressing the necessity for a prolonged, complex transition through socialist accounting and control from capitalist society (and the less developed it is the longer the transition will take) to even one of the approaches to communist society.

A Strategical Retreat

At that time, when in the heat of the Civil War we had to take the necessary steps in economic organisation, it seemed to have been forgotten. In substance, our New Economic Policy signifies that, having sustained severe defeat on this point, we have started a strategical retreat. We said in effect: “Before we are completely routed, let us retreat and reorganise everything, but on a firmer basis. “ If Communists deliberately examine the question of the New Economic Policy there cannot be the slightest doubt in their minds that we have sustained a very severe defeat on the economic front. In the circumstances it is inevitable, of course, for some people to become very despondent, almost panic-stricken, and because of the retreat, these people will begin to give way to panic. That is inevitable. When the Red Army retreated, was its flight from the enemy not the prelude to its victory? Every retreat on every front, however, caused some people to give way to panic for a time. But on each occasion—on the Kolchak front, on the Denikin front, on the Yudenich front, on the Polish front and on the Wrangel front—once we had been badly battered (and sometimes more than once) we proved the truth of the proverb: “A man who has been beaten is worth two who haven’t.” After being beaten we began to advance slowly, systematically and cautiously.

Of course, tasks on the economic front are much more difficult than tasks on the war front, although there is a general similarity between the two elementary outlines of strategy. In attempting to go over straight to communism we, in the spring of 1921, sustained a more serious defeat on the economic front than any defeat inflicted upon us by Kolchak, Denikin or Pilsudski. This defeat was much more serious, significant and dangerous. It was expressed in the isolation of the higher administrators of our economic policy from the lower and their failure to produce that development of the productive forces which the Programme of our Party regards as vital and urgent.

The surplus-food appropriation system in the rural districts—this direct communist approach to the problem of urban development—hindered the growth of the productive forces and proved to be the main cause of the profound economic and political crisis that we experienced in the spring of 1921. That was why we had to take a step which from the point of view of our line, of our policy, cannot be called anything else than a very severe defeat and retreat. Moreover, it cannot be said that this retreat is—like retreats of the Red Army—a completely orderly retreat to previously prepared positions. True, the positions for our present retreat were prepared beforehand. That can be proved by comparing the decisions adopted by our Party in the spring of 1921 with the one adopted in April 1918, which I have mentioned. The positions were prepared beforehand; but the retreat to these positions took place (and is still taking place in many parts of the country) in disorder, and even in extreme disorder.

Purport Of The New Economic Policy

It is here that the task of the Political Education Departments to combat this comes to the forefront. The main problem in the light of the New Economic Policy is to take advantage of the situation that has arisen as speedily as possible.

The New Economic Policy means substituting a tax for the requisitioning of food; it means reverting to capitalism to a considerable extent—to what extent we do not know. Concessions to foreign capitalists (true, only very few have been accepted, especially when compared with the number we have offered) and leasing enterprises to private capitalists definitely mean restoring capitalism, and this is part and parcel of the New Economic Policy; for the abolition of the surplus-food appropriation system means allowing the peasants to trade freely in their surplus agricultural produce, in whatever is left over after the tax is collected—and the tax~ takes only a small share of that produce. The peasants constitute a huge section of our population and of our entire economy, and that is why capitalism must grow out of this soil of free trading.

That is the very ABC of economics as taught by the rudiments of that science, and in Russia taught, furthermore, by the profiteer, the creature who needs no economic or political science to teach us economics with. From the point of view of strategy the root question is: who will take advantage of the new situation first? The whole question is—whom will the peasantry follow? The proletariat, which wants to build socialist society? Or the capitalist, who says, “Let us turn back; it is safer that way; we don’t know anything about this socialism they have invented”?

Who Will Win, The Capitalist Or Soviet Power?

The issue in the present war is—who will win, who will first take advantage of the situation: the capitalist, whom we are allowing to come in by the door, and even by several doors (and by many doors we are not aware of, and which open without us, and in spite of us), or proletarian state power? What has the latter to rely on economically? On the one hand, the improved position of the people. In this connection we must remember the peasants. It is absolutely incontrovertible and obvious to all that in spite of the awful disaster of the famine—and leaving that disaster out of the reckoning for the moment—the improvement that has taken place in the position of the people has been due to the change in our economic policy.

On the other hand, if capitalism gains by it, industrial production will grow, and the proletariat will grow too. The capitalists will gain from our policy and will create an industrial proletariat, which in our country, owing to the war and to the desperate poverty and ruin, has become declassed, i. e., dislodged from its class groove, and has ceased to exist as a proletariat. The proletariat is the class which is engaged in the production of material values in large-scale capitalist industry. Since large-scale capitalist industry has been destroyed, since the factories are at a standstill, the proletariat has disappeared. It has sometimes figured in statistics, but it has not been held together economically.

The restoration of capitalism would mean the restoration of a proletarian class engaged in the production of socially useful material values in big factories employing machinery, and not in profiteering, not in making cigarette-lighters for sale, and in other “work” which is not very useful, but which is inevitable when our industry is in a state of ruin.

The whole question is who will take the lead. We must face this issue squarely—who will come out on top? Either the capitalists succeed in organising first—in which case they will drive out the Communists and that will be the end of it. Or the proletarian state power, with the support of the peasantry, will prove capable of keeping a proper rein on those gentlemen, the capitalists, so as to direct capitalism along state channels and to create a capitalism that will be subordinate to the state and serve the state. The question must be put soberly. All this ideology, all these arguments about political liberties that we hear so much of, especially among Russian ßmigrßs, in Russia No. 2, where scores of daily newspapers published by all the political parties extol these liberties in every key and every manner—all these are mere talk, mere phrase-mongering. We must learn to ignore this phrase mongering.

The Fight Will Be Even Fiercer

During the past four years we have fought many hard battles and we have learnt that it is one thing to fight hard battles and another to talk about them—something onlookers particularly indulge in. We must learn to ignore all this ideology, all this chatter, and see the substance of things. And the substance is that the fight will be even more desperate and fiercer than the fight we waged against Kolchak and Denikin. That fighting was war, something we were familiar with. There have been wars for hundreds, for thousands of years. In the art of human slaughter much progress has been made.

True, nearly every landowner had at his headquarters Socialist-Revolutionaries and Mensheviks, who talked loudly about government by the people, the Constituent Assembly, and about the Bolsheviks having violated all liberties.

It was, of course, much easier to solve war problems than those that confront us now; war problems could be solved by assault, attack, enthusiasm, by the sheer physical force of the hosts of workers and peasants, who saw the landowners marching against them. Now there are no avowed landowners. Some of the Wrangels, Kolchaks and Denikins have gone the way of Nicholas Romanov, and some have sought refuge abroad. The people no longer see the open enemy as they formerly saw the landowners and capitalists. The people cannot clearly picture to themselves that the enemy is the same, that he is now in our very midst, that the revolution is on the brink of the precipice which all previous revolutions reached and recoiled from—they cannot picture this because of their profound ignorance and illiteracy. It is hard to say how long it will take all sorts of extraordinary commissions to eradicate this illiteracy by extraordinary means.

How can the people know that instead of Kolchak, Wrangel and Denikin we have in our midst the enemy who has crushed all previous revolutions? If the capitalists gain the upper hand there will be a return to the old regime. That has been demonstrated by the experience of all previous revolutions. Our Party must make the masses realise that the enemy in our midst is anarchic capitalism and anarchic commodity exchange. We ourselves must see clearly that the issue in this struggle is: Who will win? Who will gain the upper hand? and we must make the broadest masses of workers and peasants see it clearly. The dictatorship of the proletariat is the sternest and fiercest struggle that the proletariat must wage against the whole world, for the whole world was against us in supporting Kolchak and Denikin.

Now the bourgeoisie of the whole world are supporting the Russian bourgeoisie, and they are still ever so much stronger than we are. That, however, does not throw us into a panic. Their military forces were stronger than ours. Nevertheless, they failed to crush us in war, although, being immeasurably superior to us in artillery and aircraft, it should have been very easy for them to do so. Perhaps they would have crushed us had any of the capitalist states that were fighting us mobilised a few army corps in time, and had they not grudged a loan of several millions in gold to Kolchak.

However, they failed because the rank-and-file British soldiers who came to Archangel, and the sailors who compelled the French fleet to leave Odessa, realised that their rulers were wrong and we were right. Now, too, we are being attacked by forces that are stronger than ours; and to win in this struggle we must rely upon our last source of strength. That last source of strength is the mass of workers and peasants, their class-consciousness and organisation.

Either organised proletarian power—and the advanced workers and a small section of the advanced peasants will understand this and succeed in organising a popular movement around themselves—in which case we shall be victorious; or we fail to do this—in which case the enemy, being technologically stronger, will inevitably defeat us.

Is This The Last Fight?

The dictatorship of the proletariat is fierce war. The proletariat has been victorious in one country, but it is still weak internationally. It must unite all the workers and peasants around itself in the knowledge that the war is not over. Although in our anthem we sing: “The last fight let us face", unfortunately it is not quite true; it is not our last fight. Either you succeed in uniting the workers and peasants in this fight, or you fail to achieve victory.

Never before in history has there been a struggle like the one we are now witnesses of; but there have been wars between peasants and landowners more than once in history, ever since the earliest times of slavery. Such wars have occurred more than once; but there has never been a war waged by a government against the bourgeoisie of its own country and against the united bourgeoisie of all countries.

The issue of the struggle depends upon whether we succeed in organising the small peasants on the basis of the development of their productive forces with proletarian state assistance for this development, or whether the capitalists gain control over them. The same issue has arisen in scores of revolutions in the past; but the world has never witnessed a struggle like the one we are waging now. The people have had no way of acquiring experience in wars of this kind. We ourselves must create this experience and we can rely only on the class-consciousness of the workers and peasants. That is the keynote and the enormous difficulty of this task.

We Must Not Count On Going Straight To Communism

We must not count on going straight to communism. We must build on the basis of peasants’ personal incentive. We are told that the personal incentive of the peasants means restoring private property. But we have never interfered with personally owned articles of consumption and implements of production as far as the peasants are concerned. We have abolished private ownership of land. Peasants farmed land that they did not own—rented land, for instance. That system exists in very many countries. There is nothing impossible about it from the standpoint of economics. The difficulty lies in creating personal incentive. We must also give every specialist an incentive to develop our industry.

Have we been able to do that? No, we have not! We thought that production and distribution would go on at communist bidding in a country with a declassed proletariat. We must change that now, or we shall be unable to make the proletariat understand this process of transition. No such problems have ever arisen in history before. We tried to solve this problem straight out, by a frontal attack, as it were, but we suffered defeat. Such mistakes occur in every war, and they are not even regarded as mistakes. Since the frontal attack failed, we shall make a flanking movement and also use the method of siege and undermining.

The Principle Of Personal Incentive And Responsibility

We say that every important branch of the economy must be built up on the principle of personal incentive. There must be collective discussion, but individual responsibility. At every step we suffer from our inability to apply this principle. The. New Economic Policy demands this line of demarcation to be drawn with absolute sharpness and distinction. When the people found themselves under new economic conditions they immediately began to discuss what would come of it, and how things should be reorganised. We could not have started anything without this general discussion because for decades and centuries the people had been prohibited from discussing anything, and the revolution could not develop without a period in which people everywhere hold meetings to argue about all questions.

This has created much confusion. This is what happened—this was inevitable, but it must be said that it was not dangerous. If we learn in good time to separate what is appropriate for meetings from what is appropriate for administration we shall succeed in raising the position of the Soviet Republic to its proper level. Unfortunately, we have not yet learnt to do this, and most congresses are far from business-like.

In the number of our congresses we excel all other countries in the world. Not a single democratic republic holds as many congresses as we do; nor could they permit it.

We must remember that ours is a country that has suffered great loss and impoverishment, and that we must teach it to hold meetings in such a way as not to confuse, as I have said, what is appropriate for meetings with what is appropriate for administration. Hold meetings, but govern without the slightest hesitation; govern with a firmer hand than the capitalist governed before you. If you do not, you will not vanquish him. You must remember that government must be much stricter and much firmer than it was before.

After many months of meetings, the discipline of the Red Army was not inferior to the discipline of the old army. Strict, stern measures were adopted, including capital punishment, measures that even the former government did not apply. Philistines wrote and howled, “The Bolsheviks have introduced capital punishment.” Our reply is, “Yes, we have introduced it, and have done so deliberately.”

We must say: either those who wanted to crush us—and who we think ought to be destroyed—must perish, in which case our Soviet Republic will live or the capitalists will live, and in that case the Republic will perish. In an impoverished country either those who cannot stand the pace will perish, or the workers’ and peasants’ republic will perish. There is not and cannot be any choice or any room for sentiment. Sentiment is no less a crime than cowardice in wartime. Whoever now departs from order and discipline is permitting the enemy to penetrate our midst.

That is why I say that the New Economic Policy also has its educational aspect. You here are discussing methods of education. You must go as far as saying that we have no room for the half-educated. When there is communism, the methods of education will be milder. Now, however, I say education must be harsh, otherwise we shall perish.

Shall We Be Able To Work For Our Own Benefit?

We had deserters from the army, and also from the labour front. We must say that in the past you worked for the benefit of the capitalists, of the exploiters, and of course you did not do your best. But now you are working for yourselves, for the workers’ and peasants’ state. Remember that the question at issue is whether we shall be able to work for ourselves, for if we cannot, I repeat, our Republic will perish. And we say, as we said in the army. that either those who want to cause our destruction must perish, or we must adopt the sternest disciplinary measures and thereby save our country—and our Republic will live.

That is what our line must be, that is why (among other things) we need the New Economic Policy.

Get down to business, all of you! You will have capitalists beside you, including foreign capitalists, concessionaires and leaseholders. They will squeeze profits out of you amounting to hundreds per cent; they will enrich themselves, operating alongside of you. Let them. Meanwhile you will learn from them the business of running the economy, and only when you do that will you be able to build up a communist republic. Since we must necessarily learn quickly, any slackness in this respect is a serious crime. And we must undergo this training, this severe, stern and sometimes even cruel training, because we have no other way out.

You must remember that our Soviet land is impoverished after many years of trial and suffering, and has no socialist France or socialist England as neighbours which could help us with their highly developed technology and their highly developed industry. Bear that in mind! We must remember that at present all their highly developed technology and their highly developed industry belong to the capitalists, who are fighting us.

We must remember that we must either strain every nerve in everyday effort, or we shall inevitably go under.

Owing to the present circumstances the whole world is developing faster than we are. While developing, the capitalist world is directing all its forces against us. That is how the matter stands! That is why we must devote special attention to this struggle.

Owing to our cultural backwardness we cannot crush capitalism by a frontal attack. Had we been on a different cultural level we could have approached the problem more directly; perhaps other countries will do it in this way when their turn comes to build their communist republics. But we cannot do it in the direct way.

The state must learn to trade in such a way that industry satisfies the needs of the peasantry, so that the peasantry may satisfy their needs by means of trade. We must see to it that everyone who works devotes himself to strengthening the workers’ and peasants’ state. Only then shall we be able to create large-scale industry.

The masses must become conscious of this, and not only conscious of it, but put it into practice. This, I say, suggests what the functions of the Central Political Education Department should be. After every deep-going political revolution the people require a great deal of time to assimilate the change. And it is a question of whether the people have assimilated the lessons they received. To my deep regret, the answer to this question must be in the negative. Had they assimilated the lessons we should have started creating large-scale industry much more quickly and much earlier.

After we had solved the problem of the greatest political revolution in history, other problems confronted us, cultural problems, which may be called “minor affairs". This political revolution must be assimilated; we must help the masses of the people to understand it. We must see to it that the political revolution remains something more than a mere declaration.

Obsolete Methods

At one time we needed declarations, statements, manifestos and decrees. We have had enough of them. At one time we needed them to show the people how and what we wanted to build, what new and hitherto unseen things we were striving for. But can we go on showing the people what we want to build? No. Even an ordinary labourer will begin to sneer at us and say: “What use is it to keep on showing us what you want to build? Show us that you can build. If you can’t build, we’re not with you, and you can go to hell!” And he will be right.

Gone is the time when it was necessary to draw political pictures of great tasks; today these tasks must be carried out in practice. Today we are confronted with cultural tasks, those of assimilating that political experience, which can and must be put into practice. Either we lay an economic foundation for the political gains of the Soviet state, or we shall lose them all. This foundation has not yet been laid—that is what we must get down to.

The task of raising the cultural level is one of the most urgent confronting us. And that is the job the Political Education Departments must do, if they are capable of serving the cause of “political education", which is the title they have adopted for themselves. It is easy to adopt a title; but how about acting up to it? Let us hope that after this Congress we shall have precise information about this. A Commission for the Abolition of Illiteracy was set up on July 19, 1920. Before coming to this Congress I purposely read the decree establishing that commission. It says: All-Russia Commission for the Abolition of Illiteracy. . . . More than that—Extraordinary Commission for the Abolition of Illiteracy. Let us hope that after this Congress we shall receive information about what has been done in this field, and in how many gubernias, and that the report will be concrete. But the very need to set up an Extraordinary Commission for the Abolition of Illiteracy shows that we are (what is the mildest term I can use for it?), well, something like semi-savages because in a country that was not semi-savage it would be considered a disgrace to have to set up an Extraordinary Commission for the Abolition of Illiteracy. In such countries illiteracy is abolished in schools. There they have tolerably good schools where people are taught. What are they taught? First of all they are taught to read and write. If we have not yet solved this elementary problem it is ridiculous to talk about a New Economic Policy.

The Greatest Miracle Of All

What talk can there be of a new policy? God grant that we manage to stick to the old policy if we have to resort to extraordinary measures to abolish illiteracy. That is obvious. But it is still more obvious that in the military and other fields we performed miracles. The greatest miracle of all, in my opinion, would be if the Commission for the Abolition of Illiteracy were completely abolished, and if no proposals, such as I have heard here, were made for separating it from the People’s Commissariat of Education. If that is true, and if you give it some thought, you will agree with me that an extraordinary commission should be set up to abolish certain bad proposals.

More than that—it is not enough to abolish illiteracy, it is necessary to build up Soviet economy, and for that literacy alone will not carry us very far. We must raise culture to a much higher level. A man must make use of his ability to read and write; he must have something to read, he must have newspapers and propaganda pamphlets, which should be properly distributed and reach the people and not get lost in transit, as they do now, so that no more than half of them are read, and the rest are used in offices for some purpose or other. Perhaps not even one-fourth reach the people. We must learn to make full use of the scanty resources we do possess.

That is why we must, in connection with the New Economic Policy, ceaselessly propagate the idea that political education calls for raising the level of culture at all costs. The ability to read and write must be made to serve the purpose of raising the cultural level; the peasants must be able to use the ability to read and write for the improvement of their farms and their state.

Soviet laws are very good laws, because they give everyone an opportunity to combat bureaucracy and red tape, an opportunity the workers and peasants in any capitalist state do not have. But does anybody take advantage of this? Hardly anybody! Not only the peasants, but an enormous percentage of the Communists do not know how to utilise Soviet laws to combat red tape and bureaucracy, or such a truly Russian phenomenon as bribery. What hinders the fight against this? Our laws? Our propaganda? On the contrary! We have any number of laws! Why then have we achieved no success in this struggle? Because it cannot be waged by propaganda alone. It can be done if the masses of the people help. No less than half our Communists are incapable of fighting, to say nothing of those who are a hindrance in the fight. True, ninety-nine per cent of you are Communists, and you know that we are carrying out an operation on these latter Communists. The operation is being carried out by the Commission for Purging the Party, and we have hopes of removing a hundred thousand or so from our Party. Some say two hundred thousand, and I much prefer that figure.

I hope very much that we shall expel a hundred thou sand to two hundred thousand Communists who have attached themselves to the Party and who are not only incapable of fighting red tape and bribery, but are even a hindrance in this fight.

Tasks Of Political Educationalists

If we purge the Party of a couple of hundred thousand it will be useful, but that is only a tiny fraction of what we must do. The Political Education Departments must adapt all their activities to this purpose. Illiteracy must be combated; but literacy alone is likewise not enough. We also need the culture which teaches us to fight red tape and bribery. It is an ulcer which no military victories and no political reforms can heal. By the very nature of things, it cannot be healed by military victories and political reforms, but only by raising the cultural level. And that is the task that devolves upon the Political Education Departments.

Political educationalists must not understand their job as that of functionaries, as often seems to be the case when people discuss whether representatives of Gubernia Political Education Departments should or should not be appointed to gubernia economic conferences.[3] Excuse me for saying so, but I do not think you should be appointed to any office; you should do your job as ordinary citizens. When you are appointed to some office you become bureaucrats; but if you deal with the people, and if you enlighten them politically, experience will show you that there will be no bribery among a politically enlightened people. At present bribery surrounds us on all sides. You will be asked what must be done to abolish bribery, to prevent so-and-so on the Executive Committee from taking bribes. You will he asked to teach people how to put a stop to it. And if a political educationalist replies that it does not come within the functions of his department, or that pamphlets have been published and proclamations made on the subject, the people will say that he is a bad Party member. True, this does not come within the functions of your department, we have the Workers’ and Peasants’ Inspection for that; but are you not members of the Party? You have adopted the title of political educationalists. When you were about to adopt that title you were warned not to choose such a pretentious one, to choose something more modest. But yon wanted the title of political educationalists, and that title implies a great deal. You did not take the title of general educationalists, but of political educationalists. You may be told, “It is a good thing that you are teaching the people to read and write and to carry on economic campaigns; that is all very well, but it is not political education, because political education is the sum total of everything.”

We are carrying on propaganda against barbarism and against ulcers like bribery, and I hope you are doing the same, but political education is much more than this propaganda—it means practical results, it means teaching the people how to achieve these results, and setting an example to others, not as members of an Executive Committee, but as ordinary citizens who, being politically better educated, are able not only to hurl imprecations at red tape—that is very widely practised among us—but to show how this evil can really be overcome. This is a very difficult art, which cannot be practised until the general level of culture is raised, until the mass of workers and peasants is more cultured than now. It is to this function that I should like most of all to draw the attention of the Central Political Education Department.

I should now like to sum up all that I have said and to suggest practical solutions for the problems that confront the Gubernia Political Education Departments.

The Three Chief Enemies

In my opinion, three chief enemies now confront one, irrespective of one’s departmental functions; these tasks confront the political educationalist, if he is a Communist—and most of the political educationalists are. The three chief enemies that confront him are the following: the first is communist conceit; the second—illiteracy, and the third—bribery.

The First Enemy—Communist Conceit

A member of the Communist Party, who has not yet been combed out, and who imagines he can solve all his problems by issuing communist decrees, is guilty of communist conceit. Because he is still a member of the ruling party and is employed in some government office, he imagines this entitles him to talk about the results of political education. Nothing of the sort! That is only communist conceit. The point is to learn to impart political knowledge; but that we have not yet learnt; we have not yet learnt how to approach the subject properly.

The Second Enemy—Illiteracy

As regards the second enemy, illiteracy, I can say that so long as there is such a thing as illiteracy in our country it is too much to talk about political education. This is not a political problem; it is a condition without which it is useless talking about politics. An illiterate person stands outside politics, he must first learn his ABC. Without that there can be no politics; without that there are rumours, gossip, fairy-tales and prejudices, but not politics.

The Third Enemy—Bribery

Lastly, if such a thing as bribery is possible it is no use talking about politics. Here we have not even an approach to politics; here it is impossible to pursue politics, because all measures are left hanging in the air and produce absolutely no results. A law applied in conditions which permit of widespread bribery can only make things worse. Under such conditions no politics whatever can be pursued; the fundamental condition for engaging in politics is lacking. To be able to outline our political tasks to the people, to be able to say to the masses what things we must strive for (and this is what we should be doing!), we must understand that a higher cultural level of the masses is what is required. This higher level we must achieve, otherwise it will be impossible really to solve our problems.

Difference Between Military And Cultural Problems

A cultural problem cannot be solved as quickly as political and military problems. It must be understood that conditions for further progress are no longer what they were. In a period of acute crisis it is possible to achieve a political victory within a few weeks. It is possible to obtain victory in war in a few months. But it is impossible to achieve a cultural victory in such a short time. By its very nature it requires a longer period; and we must adapt ourselves to this longer period, plan our work accordingly, and display the maximum of perseverance, persistence and method. Without these qualities it is impossible even to start on the work of political education. And the only criterion of the results of political education is the improvement achieved in industry and agriculture. We must not only abolish illiteracy and the bribery which persists on the soil of illiteracy, but we must get the people really to accept our propaganda, our guidance and our pamphlets, so that the result may be an improvement in the national economy.

Those are the functions of the Political Education Departments in connection with the New Economic Policy, and I hope this Congress will help us to achieve greater success in this field.


[1] Held in Moscow on October 17-22, 1921, this Congress was attended by 307 delegates.

Its main object was to endorse a plan of work for 1922 and work out the forms and methods of agitation and propaganda in the situation called forth by the New Economic Policy.

Lenin, who was given an ovation by the delegates, spoke at the evening session on October 17.

The Political Education Departments were formed by local (volost, uyezd and gubernia) public education bodies in conformity with a decree issued on February 23, 1920. Their work was guided by the Central Political Education Committee at the People’s Commissariat of Education.

[2] The All-Russia Central Executive Committee passed its decision of April 29, 1918 on the basis of Lenin’s report On the Immediate Tasks of the Soviet Government. The propositions in that report and in the article The Immediate Tasks of the Soviet Government were summed up by Lenin in six theses, which, with some additions, were unanimously endorsed by the Party Central Committee on May 3, 1918. See Six Theses on the Immediate Tasks of the Soviet Government.

[3] Gubernia economic conferences were local organs of the Council of Labour and Defence. They were set up by the Executive Committees of the gubernia Soviets in conformity with the decision passed by the Eighth All-Russia Congress of Soviets in December 1920.