The Position of the Republic
First Published: Bulletin of the Firth All-Russian Congress of the Russian Communist League of Youth. Molodaya Gvardiya, Moscow, 1923
Source: The Position of the Republic and the Tasks of Young Workers, Young Socialist Pamphlet 1972, Printed by Plough Press Ltd. (TU) Distributed by New Park Publications 1972 and Index Books, 2002. Reprinted with permission from Index Books.
Translated: R. Chappel.
Transcription/HTML Markup: David Walters.
Copyleft: Leon Trotsky Internet Archive (www.marxists.org) 2002. Permission is granted to copy and/or distribute this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License.
COMRADES! Five years have quickly passed since the day when, by the will of the toiling masses of Russia, the Soviet order was set up in our country and by the will of these same masses the guidance of the destinies of our country found themselves entrusted to the Russian Communist Party. I bring greetings to your congress on behalf of the Central Committee of this party.
The history of these five years, in which I suspect the majority of you here had no opportunity of taking an active part, for in October 1917 many of my highly respected audience were still most likely crawling around under the table (this is neither reproach nor praise but a fact) the history of these five years forms a well of the greatest lessons.
Revolutionary epochs, the epochs of social landslides, turn the whole inside of society outwards. When you go past a mountain ridge you can see layers which have accumulated over the course of millenia. One had been deposited on the next. From above they were invisible. But these layers were raised up with a volcanic force, faults were created, mountains and gorges formed and you can see in the cross-section of the mountain the layers of the different rock-forms. That’s what happens with society too. In normal times class lies on top of class, and on the base stands the superstructure made up of diverse ideological formations and even the most refined forms of philosophy. The roots and causes of the inner structure cannot be seen with the unaided eye. 3ut the revolution explodes all this, slices it through and lays it bare. And of course those of us who took part in the revolution practically and in deed learnt best of all from this. But as our revolutionary ground is not yet cold the younger generation must learn from the experience of these five unequalled years.
Of course I cannot, even in the remotest degree, set out to exhaust the lessons of our revolution, the greatest in history. I have a much more modest task: to give a characterization of our international and internal situation in the way this situation has grown up as the result of our struggle.
The first two years passed in an uninterrupted struggle, in the blockade. The third year passed likewise in struggle and in the first attempts at negotiations with us by the bourgeois governments. The last two years have been a time when the struggle has gradually died down under the blows of our military victories. The negotiations took on a more and more profound and intricate nature. There is one common feature in both the war which the imperialists conducted against us and in those peaceful negotiations which they are now conducting with us. This feature is their indecision, inconsistency, hesitation and wavering. There can be no doubt that had German imperialism set out at the end of 1917 or the beginning of 1918 to smash us, they would have smashed us. There would have been no Soviet Republic. Nor is there any doubt that had Clemenceau, the French prime minister and effective dictator at the end of 1918, set out to smash and crush us by military force, we would for a time have disappeared from the face of the earth. In the military sense we were infinitely weaker than not only united imperialism but also each of the major imperialist powers by itself. For two reasons they did not move all their forces against us: first because they were already afraid of the development of the revolutionary movement at home as a consequence of the war, and secondly because they regarded us as such a transitory quantity that they did not find it necessary to conduct a major war against us. In this lay our salvation. They limited themselves to mercenary tsarist generals and no less mercenary socialist-revolutionaries and Mensheviks. Through the medium of the bourgeoisie of the neighbouring countries or through the medium of the bourgeoisie in emigration, and the White Guards, and with the assistance of our so-called democracy, they organized the fronts which surrounded the heart of Russia in a ring.
After the first two years negotiations were begun. They were started already in February-April 1919. To give you some idea of our position at that time let me remind you, comrades, of the conditions which we were prepared to meet in the spring of 1919. These are too often forgotten today by, as we shall see, both our friends and our enemies. On February 4 the Council of People’s Commissars made over the radio (we had no other contact with the outside world) a peace offer to all the imperialist powers proposing:
- to recognize the loan obligations incurred by former Russian governments;
- to give as a pledge our raw materials as a guarantee of payment of interest on the loans;
- to allow concessions to foreign enterprises;
- to make territorial concessions in the form of the occupation of given regions by the armed forces of the Entente.
About a month and a half later the American radical ‘Bullit’ came to us from circles close to the government of America and on April 10 1919 we stated to imperialism of Europe and America that we were ready to terminate armed conflict with the governments ‘effectively existing in Russia’ – the Whites.
I haven’t a map of Russia at the beginning of 1919 with me but I remember it well. At that time Soviet power did not have the Urals, Siberia, the White Sea, the Ukraine and the Caucasus. Then we consisted of the old Moscow principality. And there you see Soviet power stated to an unofficial American envoy that ‘we are prepared first to recognize these frontiers, and end the civil war on the condition of its termination on the part of our enemies’. We were prepared in the second place immediately to demobilize the army and in the third to honour the corresponding share of the state debt which fell to our territory, for the main territory would, for the greater part, have to remain with the Whites. We renounced the claim for the return of the gold reserve which had been seized by the allies providing it was offset against payments on the state debt. Those were the conditions we would meet. The allied imperialists did not accept these conditions and they did very well not to accept them (laughter). From that time on our position has nevertheless, however severely we dealt with our mistakes and our shortcomings, improved. This cannot be denied if we recall the course of the negotiations at Genoa.
To be sure what we were offered at Genoa was very tough. They proposed that we return the factories and works to their old owners. As regards the land the demands were less definite, for the land was split up and it was impossible to tear it out of the hands of the peasants. The international stock market sharks understood this too. But the question posed the restoration of capitalist relations in our country. We replied with a refusal. We did, it is true, speak about our readiness to acknowledge old debts but conditionally i.e. if they gave us immediately a big loan. Britain, after the breaking off of the negotiations for which she was to blame, for a second time made solicitations about these conditions but she received the reply that on our side the were proposals with a fixed time limit.
The negotiations were broken off and all our conditions, statements and our readiness to pay the debts we withdrew. In relation to Europe and America we are not tied by a single obligation yet there is no war. But how can one explain the fact that there is no war? This can be explained by the progressive paralysis of the class will of imperialism under the effect of the growth of its contradictions and under the effect of the upswing, slow to be sure, of the revolutionary workers’ movement. And on the other hand this too can explain the indecisive, lingering and abortive nature of the peace negotiations, that long diplomatic thread leading to Genoa, through Genoa and then to the Hague.
We have time and again said that the threatening economic crisis is forcing the European bourgeoisie to seek an agreement with Soviet Russia as a potential supplier of raw materials and as a potential customer for the products of European industry. This is unreservedly so. It is true that the crisis in Europe does not progress in the way it did a year and a half ago; it has been held up and even an improvement in the economic position of the western European countries is noticeable but this improvement is a superficial one while the fundamental crisis continues to undermine the foundations of the economy.
Can it be said that an agreement with Soviet Russia would at once bring about a considerable improvement in the position of Europe? No. We have become too impoverished both as potential suppliers of raw materials and as potential purchasers of manufactures to be able over the next two or three years to prove a decisive, or simply a major factor, in the economic life of Europe. And the bourgeoisie knows this. Of course the inclusion of Russia in the economic life of Europe will, with each year, acquire an ever greater significance and in five, eight or ten years the reborn Russia standing up on its feet will become one of the most powerful factors in the world economy. This is unquestionable. But this will be in eight to ten years’ time. And in order to plan projects reckoned in decades one must have a perspective, one must feel the ground beneath one’s feet.
Today the European bourgeoisie has no certainty as to how events will take shape tomorrow or the day after. It lives from one day to the next. The economic soil is exhausted while the crisis passes from convulsions to a temporary recovery which gives way to new convulsions. International relations are shaky. Yesterday’s allies and the chief ones, Britain and France, more and more oppose each other hostilely on all levels of capitalist relations and that is why not a single European government is today capable of conducting a policy even to the extent that it could before the last imperialist war, calculated for 15, ten or even five years ahead. All the bourgeois governments live by the impulses of the given moment; they try to plug up and patch up the most crying contradictions but that is all. And so – from contradiction to contradiction, from conflict to conflict and moving on from one diplomatic resort to another, they attempt to put off the most acute question. Hence their diplomatic impotence, akin to their former military impotence. They have mighty armies – and yet they cannot smash us. They have a diplomacy with age-old experience – and yet they are incapable of carrying through to the end with us a single piece of business.
We talk about our retreats. Of course we have retreated a great deal but compare our diplomatic platform in February and April of 1919 (I have just read it out to you) with the platform which we came to Genoa with and left there with. At Genoa we said: ‘Russia will not give herself up, nor sell herself off, Russia is not capitulating to the ultimatum of European world imperialism.’ And what then? A short time afterwards there turns to us Urquhart, a representative of the leading lights of the stock exchange of Great Britain, a representative of enterprises worth billions in different parts of the world (he used to own many undertakings both in the Urals and in Siberia), and signs a preliminary conditional agreement with comrade Krasin for a period of 99 years. A long period! I think that few of the youngest comrades here now will see the end of this period.
You might say: if the bourgeoisie is at present unable to look even five or ten years ahead how is it that Urquhart is looking 99 years ahead? Herein lies the fact that the bourgeoisie, ruling as a class, as a state, must have a plan who to conclude an alliance with, who is the greater and who the lesser enemy and it has to foresee how relations will shape in five, ten or 15 years’ time. But Urquhart is acting as an individual proprietor and nothing more and his calculations are very simple and very correct in their simplicity. He says: ‘If we, the Urquharts, i.e. capital, hold on in Britain, in France and throughout the world then sooner or later we shall stifle Soviet Russia.’ And he is right. But if – reasons Urquhart – we capitalists are overthrown both in Britain and in France we shall of course lose our property in the Urals and Siberia too, but the man who loses his head is not going to weep over his hairs; if capital is to be expropriated throughout the world then of course Mr Urquhart’s concession will expire in a shorter period than 99 years. That is why his reckoning is entirely realistic and entirely correct. I do not know whether comrade Krasin said this to him. Probably he said to him in a private conversation: ‘As long as you are a force throughout the world we will not of course expropriate you individually. But if the British worker expropriates you and takes your property into his hands then somehow or other we will come to an agreement with the British worker about this concession.’ (Laughter) But you will say that the Soviet government has nevertheless renounced this agreement. Yes it has unconditionally. Britain’s policy does not provide a minimal guarantee for concluding a responsible and major agreement of a type which would presuppose the possibility of normal relations between countries. Britain seeks to prevent Turkey establishing an opportunity for her existence within the natural frontiers of the Turkish state. Britain is in effect waging a war against France: Britain acts under the pseudonym of Greece while France in fact provides support for Turkey. The war has brought victory to Turkey with whom we have complete sympathy, for Turkey was fighting for her independence while Greece was carrying out the imperialist and rapacious plans of Great Britain.
The question arose concerning the Black Sea and the Straits. On the Black Sea there live states which form part of our federation and on the Black Sea there live in addition Turkey, Bulgaria and Rumania. And yet Britain wants to settle the question of the Black Sea jointly with France and Italy but without the participation of the countries for whom the Black Sea forms an internal sea and its shores the doorstep of their house. In these conditions where Britain tramples on the elementary rights and interests of the peoples of our federation, the Soviet government did not consider it possible to sign an agreement with a British citizen: fulfilling an agreement, let me repeat, presupposes a minimum of loyal relations between countries and governments.
But can we, however, manage without foreign capital? The bourgeois press of Europe and America poses this question before itself expecting that as we become weakened economically so we will become more and more yielding. I have already shown and recalled from the documents the diplomatic acts which testify to the fact that by and large it is our enemies and not us that have had to become yielding. But from the economic point of view: can we manage without foreign capital?
Comrades, if you can imagine that on our planet there was no other country besides Russia then it is obvious that the 150-million-strong nation would not perish without Urquhart’s funds but would gradually pick itself up out of the impoverishment and ruin which it inherited. So what is the problem?
When we speak of concessions and loans then we assume an acceleration of the tempo of our economic growth and regeneration. An inflow of foreign capital and foreign technique means a more rapid overcoming of the crisis and of impoverishment. Their absence means a greater amount of suffering and disasters and a slower tempo of economic development but that’s all! And it is within these limits that we hold talks. That is why we have not accepted and will not accept a fettered dependence on world capital after it has revealed its inability to crush us by its armed hand.
At the Hague capital attempted to buy us up: ‘I will buy all,’ said Gold. Just as earlier: ‘I will take all,’ said the Sword. Both these attacks were beaten back. Of course if the British government had changed its policy and, above all, had recognized the Soviet Republic and then had attempted to come to some agreement concerning the most important political question, then the agreement with Urquhart, with this or that alteration or without them, could have been upheld. This agreement formed a business agreement with an individual group of capitalists which receives a fantastic and rapacious profit but brings to us new technique and assists us, irrespective of its will, to develop the industry of our country at a more rapid tempo and on this plane business will proceed yet further. With each year the number of foreign claimants will become greater and the conditions which we will fix will more and more closely approach the normal.
Comrades! The fundamental peculiarity of our international economic position lies in the fact that we are building or attempting to build socialism upon a ruined economic base. This is the main feature which must be engraven in your consciousness in the deepest way. According to the old Marxist pamphlets we learnt and taught that the mission (vocation) of capitalism consisted in having developed the productive forces of the country and the whole world in having developed the productive forces of the country and the whole world to a great height. Then there will come on the scene the proletariat which takes over these developed productive forces and reconstructs them in a socialist manner in the interests of all mankind. In principle this is absolutely true. Capitalism has brought the productive forces to a great height. But before the proletariat proves capable of taking over these productive forces capitalism in the frenzied spasm of the world war has destroyed a considerable part of these forces and the more so the further east you go.
Austria-Hungary is ruined. Germany is ruined. Russia is ruined to the last degree.
The technique developed by capitalism is of course still preserved in a series of countries. In America it stands at its extreme high point, in Britain at a great height, in France the damage to material values has been at once more considerable and the further east the worse and worse it becomes. Technique has been preserved with us – in books, in knowledge, in habits, in methods, in the training of workers, but the material values created by labour previously carried out are destroyed, annihilated or wrecked to the last degree. And yet here the working class, which by the play of destiny has taken power into its hands in the country most ruined in the economic sense, is proceeding to the construction of socialism. It is building socialism yet at the same time it is compelled to restore all those material values which the bourgeoisie had earlier created, starting from the time of the primitive accumulation.
Those of you who are familiar with political economy will know that the bourgeoisie as a class passes through the stage of primitive accumulation which is distinguished by its extreme barbarity of exploitation and self-exploitation for the petty-bourgeois, the embryo of the bourgeois exploits himself. He does the donkey-work: he exploits his wife and his children until he obtains the minimum of capital which is necessary for him to exploit wage labour. Then the petty-bourgeois turns into a middle bourgeois, raises himself up and becomes stronger and stronger.
We have received a devastated country and the proletariat which possesses the state is forced to go through the stage which you could call the stage of primitive socialist accumulation. We do not have the opportunity of making use of the level of technique which there was prior to 1914. It has been destroyed, it has to be recreated step by step under the conditions of the workers’ state but by means of a colossal strained effort by its living workforce. In this is our task and also our predicament and above all a predicament of education.
Let me approach this question in a wholly concrete way. When a young worker in let’s say 1912 or 1913 came into the factory, or into the workshop he would find there a definite regime. His downtrodden state, his way of life, his whole existence would thrust him to strike back. He would be drawn into a strike. This strike although still quite confused, spontaneous and blind, would drive him on to the road of class struggle. There in the workshop he would already receive his first social education which would lead him to socialism and to revolution.
Today’s young worker in the workshop encounters material conditions which are worse than those that he experienced under capitalism. Why is this? Because the proletariat in our country is passing through the stage of primitive socialist accumulation. We are able – with qualifications of course – to compare the working class with the family of the handicraftsman or artisan who today is only just beginning to rise up but who tomorrow will become the petty, the middle and perhaps even the big bourgeois. When the artisan exploits his labour, i.e. he works the skin off his hands and his wife, son and daughter work with him there is as yet no class exploitation. This is merely the rapacious straining of his and his family’s strength with the object of his well-being. In passing through now the stage of primitive socialist accumulation – and we are only just hardly beginning to leave behind the devastation of the civil war, when scarcely a glimmer of hope for accumulation could be observed – the working class is compelled to strain its energies. Here there is, of course, no class exploitation in as much as we are talking about enterprises belonging to the working class, that is our principal enterprises. But there is here the straining of energies by the working class and by its youth, maybe even an excessive straining of energies, but directed towards raising the level of its own well-being.
And here, comrades is where the anxious, acute point on which the education of our youth turns. When a young worker, before the war, under the bourgeois regime went into the workshop, the more advanced workers there would simply explain his position to him thus: ‘There’s your boss,’ they would say, ‘he’s your enemy, your exploiter. What means do you have to hit back?’ – ‘The strike.’ And the young worker, while still not having the slightest idea what bourgeois society, France, Britain, the Stock Exchange, imperialism, or militarism are, has already received in this small cell his workshop, all the inducement required to form himself into a revolutionary fighter, a conscious proletarian. But now? Now the conditions of primitive socialist accumulation in our transitional period created a situation where any Menshevik or SR, by repeating what we used to say in front of the bourgeoisie, thrusts the worker on to the path of opposing himself to the working class as a whole. This, comrades, is the kernel of the question. It is a very simple one if you think it over and if you know a little bit about what is the state, what is class and exploitation. But it is just this young worker who has only just come into the factory, who does not know this, while in a bourgeois-capitalist factory whose first movement was correct. Now though he must understand the nature of the Soviet state in order to gain a correct understanding of the conditions of his working life. Now he must become aware of the building of the whole of Soviet society in order to grasp his position in the factory and the workshop.
Before it was sufficient to grasp his position in the workshop by feel and then he would in essence correct his position in society. But now on the contrary he must become aware of the building of all Soviet society in order not to lose his way in his workshop. In other words: while previously he passed along a tested road from the particular to the general now this road alone is insufficient for even the first steps, for on this empirical road the Menshevik mimickers of socialism can catch him, those people who repeat a supposedly old formula but do so in a new situation where it acquires a directly contrary meaning. This means that the tasks of educating young workers is becoming far more complex and far more difficult and at the same time explains to us why the Mensheviks direct their efforts towards the young workers.
It must however be said that the Mensheviks have taken a great step (which can be called a step forward in as much as it is a step towards clarity) in their latest platform. The Mensheviks openly state: ‘The salvation of Russia lies only in capitalism, the development of the productive forces can be only on capitalist lines.’ They therefore demand the handing over of if not all then at least the majority of factories and works to the capitalists. They of course promise for all that, that they will defend for the proletarians the eight-hour working day against the future capitalists, whose go-betweens they represent.
But in order to give them the opportunity of fulfilling their ‘socialist’ role just one small detail must be permitted: we must hand back the works, factories and mines to the capitalists. They act as the executors of the Genoa and Hague conferences with the one difference that Lloyd George and Bartu demanded the return of works and factories only to foreigners while our ‘democrats’ demand the return of the works and factories to the capitalists in general. Posing the question in this way makes it extremely easier for us to educate young workers in relation to this enemy, for it is at this knot that the basic lines of our development and our struggle intersect.
The Mensheviks call for a strike. With what object? With the object of improving the condition of the workers! Your league is obliged to pay close attention to the real interests of the youth and to defend them both in the face of the economic organs and of the trade unions. But your league, as also the trade unions and as also the Party, starts out from the fact that the improvement of the conditions of the working class is being carried out on the basis of our primitive socialist accumulation-that is that we must produce such a quantity of material values as to cover the outlay on production, not to allow its collapse and at the same time slowly to improve, even if only very slightly, this production. Only on this condition can the material level of the working class be improved. But the Mensheviks start from the fact that the working class is incapable of socialist construction and that the works and factories must be handed over either to the old or to new owners. Hence of course the strike struggle represents nothing other than organizational sabotage -through individual groups and less mature sections of the working class and against the working class as a whole the Mensheviks wish to organize the undermining of our primitive socialist accumulation.
The leading light of international Menshevism, the Austro-German theoretician Otto Bauer expounds in his pamphlets devoted to the new course in the Soviet Republic, the same thoughts and sketches the same perspectives as are contained also in the platform of our Russian Mensheviks. I shall read you but two quotations: ‘After long hesitation, the Soviet government has now at last decided to honour foreign loans or the debts of Tsarism.’
It must be remarked right away with what brazen ignorance international Menshevism speaks about Soviet Russia, because as I have just quoted, at the beginning of 1919, we without hesitation and in a sharp form, crying out to the whole world, did not say but shouted that if you international murderers leave us in peace then we will repay you all the Tsarist debts. In fact if in 1919 we offered directly to honour the debts then, now we merely state that we will agree to discuss the old debts on the condition of such a loan as would allow us to make a big economic leap forward.
But this is beyond the sphere of brazen falsification. Here is what our theoretician says on page 34 of his book:
‘The restoration of a capitalist economy cannot be carried through under the dictatorship of the Communist Party. Therefore the new course in the economy requires a new course in politics too.’
You know the ‘new course in politics’ dear to Bauer’s heart: this is democracy, parliamentarism. So there you seeand doesn’t it attract you?-is the following train of thought: the restoration of a capitalist economy as an objective cannot be achieved under the dictatorship of the Communist Party. And therefore a new course is necessary not only in the economy but in politics too.
But whoever told him that the task of the new course consists of the restoration of a capitalist economy? He regards this task as unconditional; this is explicable in part by an incomprehension of an expression frequently used by us, that we now have state capitalism. I shall not enter into an evaluation of this term; for in any case we need only to qualify what we understand by it. By state capitalism we all understood property belonging to the state which itself was in the hands of the bourgeoisie, which exploited the working class. Our state undertakings operate along commercial lines based on the market. But who stands in power here? The working class. Herein lies the principled distinction of our state ‘capitalism’ in inverted commas from state capitalism without inverted commas.
What does this mean in perspective? Just this. The more state capitalism say, in Hohenzollern Germany, as it was, developed, the more powerfully the class of junkers and capitalists of Germany could hold down the working class. The more our ‘state capitalism’ develops the richer the work ing class will become, that is the firmer will become the foundation of socialism. And our task is of course not the restoration of capitalism and of course under the Communist Party the restoration of capitalism is impossible. For this certification we can feel entirely indebted to Mr Otto Bauer, that is we can assure him too and his sympathizers and masters that as long as power remains in the hands of the Communist Party the restoration of capitalism in Russia is impossible. (Applause)
Thus the knights of international Menshevism write about us. But the same Mensheviks state that you communists attach too great a significance to state power. With the aid of state power you cannot forceably create a new system and so on and so on. But why ever does the bourgeoisie attach such a huge significance to state power if the state power does not play a deciding role in economic questions?
Comrades, there is a journal, Russkaya Mysl (Russian Thought), which is published abroad and is one of the staunchest journals of the émigré Russian bourgeoisie. In this journal in its international survey Russia is divided into two parts. First, free Russia: this is in the Far East where Merkulov – blessed be his memory – ruled, and secondly Russia occupied by the Third International. Russia which lay under the Japanese bayonet was free. Why? Because there power was in the hands of the bourgeois elements. And all the remainder of Russia was an area of foreign occupation. Why? Because state power had been ripped from the hands of the bowgeoisie. This is how the bourgeoisie estimates the significance of state power.
The bourgeoisie makes concessions to the working class: universal suffrage, social and factory legislation, national insurance, the shortening of the working day. The bourgeoisie makes a retreat step by step; where necessary it grants a reform; when possible it puts on the pressure again and then makes a retreat. Why? It is manoeuvring; the ruling class is fighting for its rule, for the exploitation of the other class. Of course the reformists suppose that bit by bit they will remake the bourgeois system into a socialist one. And we reply to this: rubbish! – while power is in the hands of the bourgeoisie they will measure out each reform but they know up to what point they can grant a reform. And just for this purpose they have the power in their hands.
The same inter-relation between state power and reform exists with us too but with just that tiny difference that here the working class is in power and it likewise makes concessions to the bourgeoisie: trading concessions, free trade, the right to profit and the right to carry its bourgeois soul and its bourgeois body through the streets of Moscow with impunity. This considerable concession has been granted but it has been granted by the ruling working class which holds the debit and credit book of its state and which says: To this line here I will make a concession but not any further.’ Then along comes Otto Bauer and says that under these conditions capitalism cannot spring up. Just for this very reason a frontier has been created too: so that it cannot spring up! (Applause)
This is a very simple question but nevertheless it is highly complicated, for many young teeth are still to crack on it in the struggle and the struggle will be prolonged and protracted. Primitive socialist accumulation will leave many scars on the back of the working class and of its youth. This is why the education of this youth, the education of its most conscious elements represents a life-and-death question for us.
The history of that five years of the revolution must provide the basic material for this education.
You must be fully aware of your position in space and time. For what is training, study and education? These are the skills, the development of the capacity to orientate yourself in the conditions of time and space. You must know the country in which you live, the countries which surround us and you must know the history of our country even if only of the last ten or 15 years, the period on the eve of October, the period of the coalition, of Kerenskyism, the basic points in the history of our petty-bourgeois parties and so on. All this must become the property of every conscious young worker for there are still many battles to come and the development of the revolution in the west will move systematically if more slowly than we were expecting.
Just look how many vacillations and changes there have been in the ranks of the working class itself! In Italy, after an upsurge, a decline, betrayal and afterwards the split in the socialist party. In Germany, the division of the party into three sections: the social-democrats, the independents and the communists. And then the unification of the independents with the socialists – as if to strengthen the enemy’s camp. What is this? These are separate steps in the process of the revolutionary development of the working class and these steps pretty often run quite haphazardly. History picks up the working class by the scuff of its neck, gives it a shake, twists it this way and that and lets it take a look at the socialist parties from various sides, now it makes the German Mensheviks play in all the colours of the revolutionary rainbow and now it tosses them into the lap of a bourgeois coalition.
In this way gradually the working class in the West advances forward and strengthens its genuinely revolutionary parties. The Third Congress of the Comintern told the youngest impatient communist parties: dear comrades, do not think that on the same day that you declared that you stood heart and soul for Russia and for communism you had already discovered your capacity to win the state power. You must above all win the overwhelming majority of the working class, without the overwhelming majority of the toilers you cannot make the proletarian revolution. For we in Russia carried it out by having behind us the overwhelming majority of the toiling masses. Hence flows both the programme and the tactic of the united front. The slogan of the united front is a constant appeal to the organized and to the unorganized masses, even if marching under the banners of others, a summons to a common joint struggle against the class enemy. This was the lesson that the Third Congress gave the communist parties who were jumping carelessly ahead. This is a lesson in revolutionary strategy and this lesson has not passed without fruit.
Over the last year while we have made, though we cannot say dazzling nevertheless firm advances, we can see throughout the world the bourgeoisie, educated by the Russian experience and taking advantage of the slow development of the proletarian revolution, making ready its fighting cadres. In Italy Mussolini, one of the renegade Mensheviks, collected together gangs of fascists from the depraved scum off the city streets and by means of these armed fascist gangs holds all of Italy under his terror and the bourgeoisie with their parliament, their Press, their universities, academies and church respectfully gives way to these bandits: ‘go forth and rule’. Now Mussolini is a monarchist and is prepared to back up all the institutions which serve the cause of the continuation of the oppression and the exploitation of the toilers. In France, royalist gangs which had been formed for the restoration of the monarchy are becoming the pets of the ruling bourgeoisie, its fighting detachments against rising communism. Here is the unconcealed bourgeois, legal state with its parliamentary democratic form.
Over there an organization of counter-revolutionary bands takes shape semi-clandestinely but under the view of all, in anticipation of the day and the hour when it will come to the fateful duel between the proletarian and the bourgeoisie. This means that in Europe as in America revolution is being prepared systematically, step by step, stubbornly and with teeth gritted. It will be lengthy, protracted, brutal and bloody. We took the power in October almost in one swoop. We caught our enemy off-balance. Only after October did our bourgeoisie and our landlords start to mobilize counterrevolutionary elements and form fronts. For us the main blows were not before October, not before the conquest of power but after the conquest of power. In Europe as far as can be predicted, things will follow a different pattern. Even before the final deciding round the counter-revolutionary elements are displaying more experience than ours did; theirs have an immeasurably higher level of culture and technique; they are making use of all their reserves; they are raising all elements on to their feet; they are spinning out the threads of a combat organization; they are taking over the whole of the Press; they are setting up their funds; they have their rapacious fascist vanguard.
After the proletariat has won the power in Europe, the counter-revolution will no longer have any reserves left for the struggle. For this reason it can be hoped that after the conquest of power the European proletariat will pass over to socialist construction far more directly and rapidly. But until the seizure of power there still lies ahead of it the path of a great, intense and brutal struggle and this means moreover that the whole world situation remains pregnant with the unexpected of every kind.
The diplomatic negotiations, which I have already described at the start of my report, as a long-drawn-out thread, may be broken off as a consequence of new conflicts. In the Near East a bloody knot has been tied up which has yet to be untied. In the Far East we placed in front of us like a shield the Far Eastern Republic where the workers and peasants, while seeking to set up their own Soviet regime and to fully join our federation, found themselves compelled to maintain a regime of democracy. Why? Because the Americans said that Soviet Russia must be overrun as it is antidemocratic. We had over the last years in the Far East a world example of a small peaceful democracy where a national assembly and ministries were formed on the basis of the ‘very best’ electoral law. But what happened? This country was the whole while an arena of occupation, and an arena for Japanese armed force not only by consent but also with the support or connivance of some, and with the direct active assistance of other, imperialist states, above all France.
But in Japan too the soil is getting hot under the feet of the possessing classes. Everything suggests that Japan is at present passing through its 1903 or 1904, on the eve of its 1905 with the difference that the distance between 1905 and 1917 in Japan will be somewhat shorter than it was with us for history now runs at a far faster rate than in the decades which preceded the world war.
Here is where the blatant lack of self-confidence of the Japanese ruling classes stems from. They are pulling back their forces because in these forces revolutionary propaganda – which has been carried out, and of course on our territory it will be carried out – is falling upon favourable ground. And they, while pulling out their forces, invited us to peace negotiations where they proposed to us neither more nor less than leaving them half of Sakhalin. Why? Because there are valuable minerals. But the Russian people too have a liking for natural riches. Our delegate comrade Joffe stated there the same as our delegates stated at Genoa: ‘Russia will not give herself up nor sell herself off.’ The negotiations were broken off. What this signifies for tomorrow we do not know.
There was the Japanese diplomat who was leading the talks there, threatening us with his finger: ‘Do you know that the breaking off of negotiations can have consequences?’ Consequences? But we have seen them. Occupation? We have already seen the occupation of the Far Eastern territory.
At Genoa we had proposed disarmament. We were refused its inclusion on the agenda. We proposed disarmament to our nearest neighbours. Rumania, as you know replied: ‘I am in agreement with you on discussing disarmament, but as a preliminary present me with Bessarabia.’ The 150 million-strong nation proposes to its neighbours to sit down at a common table in order to come to an agreement on the reduction and lightening of the military burden and in reply Japan in the Far East stuffs half of Sakhalin into her pocket while Rumania demands the official recognition from our part of her ownership of Bessarabia which she had stolen.
There, comrades, is our international situation. It is better than it was in February 1919. It is still not so long ago that Clemenceau despatched his warships to Black Sea ports and to Odessa and it was only a moment ago that an exminister, from Clemenceau’s government I think, Herriot, a former and future minister left our borders. He made a trip here, carefully took stock ‘of the subject of the resumption of relations’ and told me in conversation something like this: ‘Your revolution is essentially, though of course with some alterations, the daughter of our old revolution except for the fact that the mother does not yet acknowledge her daughter.’ (Laughter) On my part I said that this formula was a very happy one especially if it convinced Poincaré (I don’t know by whom he is related to this mother-revolution: if he too is a son then he must be a special kind of son for which there is a definite expression in Russian). At any event the situation has changed a little. But the danger still remains to the full.
That is why, comrades, we cannot disarm today and we shall probably not be able to tomorrow either. And that is why alongside our economic and cultural work the question of our army and fleet has an enormous significance for us. As I happen to be speaking to a meeting of youth our army and our fleet now form nothing else than the armed league of youth. Those born in 1901 are serving with us and we are coming on to those born in 1902. The link between the army and working class and peasant youth, is a direct, immediate and vital one. Through the medium of the army we have over the last years sounded out the working class and peasant youth in the Ukraine and the Crimea. We have carried out the call-up for those born in 1901. Here again there is an enormous difference from how it was in 1918 or 1919 when there was no state apparatus at a time when the peasant shifted from one foot to the other and did not know whether an army was necessary. Now, everywhere even in the Crimea which was only recently liberated, working-class and peasant youth on all sides, without compulsion, voluntarily, willingly and gladly join the ranks of the Red Army. We must reinforce this mood and cast it into a definite form of political understanding. This is the capital task of all our organs and institutions and possibly foremost of all the Communist League of Youth.
I have already said that we cannot rely upon the empirical education of young writers inside the workshops. We must approach them with specific generalizations which characterize the position of the worker in society. This necessity flows from the character of the transitional period of our social development. The young worker must know not only his place in society, in the workshop and in the field but he must know too his place in the universe. The question of his worldoutlook acquires a decisive significance.
At the present time it is essential for us to go to young workers, and secondly young peasants too, with a more finished and broader grasp of things. At the present time the life of a whole class and a whole people is posed at point-blank range and socialism can only be arrived at by way of the greatest sacrifices and straining of energy, blood and nerves of the working class. Only in that case where the working class has the firm conviction that it is right here on this earth and upon this soil that we must create the new and that here shall be the crowning of all our aims and that outside of this there can be nothing.
Religion is a sop and a leash. Religion is a poison precisely during a revolutionary epoch and in a period of the extreme hardships which are succeeding the conquest of power. This was understood by such a counter-revolutionary in political sympathies, but such a deep psychologist, as Dostoevsky. He said: ‘Atheism is inconceivable without socialism and socialism without atheism. Religion denies not only atheism but socialism also.’ He had understood that the heavenly paradise and the earthly paradise negate one another. If man is promised a hereafter, a kingdom without end then is it worth shedding his own and his brothers’ and his children’s blood for the establishment of a kingdom just like this here in this world? That is the question. We must deepen a revolutionary world-outlook, we must fight the religious prejudices in the youth and approach the youth, including those having religious prejudicies, with the maximum pedagogical attentiveness of the more educated towards the less educated. We must go to them with the propaganda of atheism, for only this propaganda defines the place of man in the universe and draws out for him a circle of conscious activity here on earth.
I have already said that the revolution lays bare the rock strata of social existence, and the class and state structure and reveals the fraud and hypocrisy of bourgeois ideology. This relates not only to earthly but also to heavenly affairs.
The best example of this is the American Bishop Brown. Look at his pamphlet on communism and Christianity. The American bishop whose portrait is included in the pamphlet, is still in his episcopal vestments. I imagine that by now he has managed to take them off. On the front of the pamphlet there is the hammer and sickle and a rising sun. And this bishop says in a letter to another ecclesiastical figure the following: ‘A god who had played even the slightest role in the Anglo-German war, in the Versailles peace or in the blockade of Russia is for me not a god but a devil. If you say that the Christian god did not take any part in the war then I shall reply that these events represent the greatest sufferings that humanity has passed through over the last years and that if he, God, could not, or did not wish to avert them then why in that case should we turn to him?’
These are the tragic words of a bishop who had believed in his god and before whom the war and the revolution revealed the terrible ulcers of their disasters. And he asks: ‘Where is my god? He either did not know, did not wish to or did not know how. If he did not know then he is not a god. If he did not wish to then he is not a god. If he did not know how then he is not a god.’ And he becomes a materialist and an atheist and says that religion flows from the class nature of society.
And this is natural. Just these volcanic epochs of social explosions pose the question of a religious world-outlook at point-blank range and we, having the experience of our revolution, of our sufferings and disasters, must pose this question before the consciousness and before the theoretical conscience of the younger generation of the working class. The same bishop says further on: ‘If one were to place merely an average honest humane and intelligent man at the head of the universe then the order would be far better and there would be less brutalities and bloodshed than at present.’ This question is a question of the education of our young workers. The material for this is everywhere, from the workshop-cell where the process of our primitive socialist accumulation is taking place in still very brutal forms and for a long time yet will do so in painful forms, to the whole cosmos and to man’s place in the universe.
It is necessary, comrades, for the young worker to remember his yesterday, the yesterday of his class. In this connection I have recalled a book by the very well-known leader of the Mensheviks, Dan, which presents most lucidly the middle-class, Philistine, petty-bourgeois and fossilized nature of Menshevism. The book forms (if we were richer we should have republished it in a large number of copies and distributed them everywhere) a brilliant expression of middle-class, numskulled arrogance.
This leader of the Mensheviks reports to the Russian émigrés and the European bourgeoisie (for the book has been translated into German and probably other languages) on how we have illiterately written notices in our prisons. Illiteracy! Of course we are perfectly familiar with our Russian illiteracy, cursed be it! But this is the illiteracy of our ruling working class against which we will fight ruthlessly and by every means. But to run from the working class to the European bourgeoisie and to point out: ‘Just look at them, how unwashed and illiterate they are!’ – no, this occupation is not for us but for Messrs ‘socialists’.
All of the book is filled up with this wretched and miserable complaining, libel and lies mingled with halftruths. But I am not talking about it for this reason. Amongst other vulgar drivel Dan brings in two very stark facts. He speaks about the class pride and the sense of justice which he noticed in our Red soldiers and workers. One Red soldier related to him in prison how he lived in the Crimea and was mobilized by Wrangel. ‘He used to live and eat far better and more adequately than in Soviet Russia. But the lordly attitude of the officers towards the workers and soldiers, that was what he could not put up with and it was on account of that that he was ready to forgive the Bolsheviks everything!’ The Wrangelite deserter who supposedly ate better under Wrangel came over to us and so in prison as a guard he runs into the Menshevik Dan who in turn starts to test him out and seduce him. Dan does not include his own lines but we know them just the same: Dan points to the bread and oats, the under-baked loaf and so on and so on and gets the soldier’s answer: ‘Yes, I used to be with Wrangel, we were fed better but there they have lords and here they don’t.’
A second example. In the prison there was a Red soldier who treated the Mensheviks and SRs perfectly but for some reason one of the SRs coming into the cell shouted to his fellow SRs: ‘Gentlemen, let’s go for a walk!’ The Red soldier squatting by the door, leapt up as if stung and shouted ‘Don’t you dare!’ Comrades, you could not have said anything better. The good-hearted Red soldier was lying around somewhere not paying attention to anything. In runs the SR, utters the word ‘gentlemen’ and the Red soldier as if stung leaps up and says: ‘I’ll show you – gentlemen!’ There is that basic consciousness the existence of which means the Communist Party can prevent the restoration of capitalism.
But when our Martov and Dan say on their new platform that we must hand over the factories and plants to the gentlemen it is no longer the SR’s ‘gentlemen, would you care to take a walk’, but ‘gentlemen, would you care to take over the plants and factories’. And then what would our Red soldier say?
To support, strengthen and develop in young workers the consciousness of the working class, yesterday oppressed, today still suffering but ruling – this is your first and fundamental task. Yes, New Economic Policy is a concession, a weighty concession but this is a tactical question, this is a question of the tactics of the ruling class. ‘Here there are no lords,’ says the Red soldier to Dan. There are no lords and nor will be any in the role of the ruling class. The working class as a whole and its youth detachment in the shape of the Russian Communist League of Youth and the detachments led by it, will carry this consciousness through for the years that still remain for making concessions.
Before all else, comrades, we have to learn, before all else, learn. And as the struggle will be long drawn-out, up until the victory of the world working class, then we have to learn not in a hasty way but seriously and over a long time. Science is not a simple thing but, including here social science, it is the granite and it must form the grist to young teeth for if the situation at present within the country is tough and if the transitional period makes difficult the understanding of the class nature of the state then science with its capacity to generalize must come to our aid.
The coming years will be the years of learning. They must become the years of the intensive work of young workers as the vanguard of the working class, both in education and self-education. This struggle which lies before us is extremely hard. It is devouring the energies of the older generation. We, the men of the first draft, are growing older.
The men of the second draft arose in the years of the stormy civil war, somehow or another they learnt, but formally learnt little. The men of the third draft of the working class i.e. your generation, are entering their conscious life in not such a feverish atmosphere. You have to learn so as to come and take over from the older generation, part of whom are gradually coming to the end of their period of service.
That is why, comrades, the question of the Youth League is a question of life and death for our revolution and a question of the fate of the world revolutionary movement. Let me appeal to you and through you to all the most sensitive, most honest and most conscious layers of the young proletariat and advanced peasantry: learn, get yourself teethed on the granite of science, get tempered and prepare to take over! (Applause)
Last updated on: 1.1.2007