G. Zinoviev

The Political Situation in Russia
and the Russian Trade Unions

Speech of Comrade Zinoviev at the V. All-Russian Trade Union Congress

(3 October 1922)

Source: International Press Correspondence, Vol. 2 No. 85, 3 October 1922, pp. 639–641.
On-line Publication: Zinoviev Internet Archive, December 2020.
Transcription/Mark-up: Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.


The trade union congresses in our country are the best landmarks of the development of our whole country. I believe that this 5th Congress will also be such a landmark in that it will condense the results of a year and a half’s work, and enable us to draw lessons therefrom which are of great importance to our Republic.

In what condition does the 5th Congress find the country? The international position of our Republic is stronger than ever. We can say this without fear of exaggeration. The Soviet Republic has become an independent world power. Even if we look only at the foreign events of the past weeks, we cannot fail to see that international political position of our country has been strengthened.

A few weeks ago the German Republic, headed by a bourgeois-menshevik coalition government, declared to us that Germany under the oppression of the Treaty of Versailles stood on the verge of an abyss, and requested that we make this known to the Russian people. This as well as other facts proves clearly how greatly our influence has grown in the field of international politics. The present negotiations with Japan and the coming ties with China are of great importance, whatever the final result.

The Versailles Treaty is cracking, and every day deals it fresh blows. The crisis in the East sharpens daily. No one can speak of a World Revolution which will be victorious only in Europe. It will only be a World Revolution when the hundreds of millions of the East rise against their oppressors. And as the revolt grows in the East, so does the importance of our country in the eyes of the Eastern peoples. It is therefore no exaggeration when we say that the international political position of our country is stronger than ever.

This does not mean that all international difficulties have been overcome. No, we still had to feel the attack of international capital at the Hague Conference. As a result of the refusal of credits our country is still in such an economic condition that international capital still hopes to force its robber conditions upon us.

It is one of the most important tasks of this Congress to declare in the name of the organized working class of Russia, and I am convinced, Comrades, that you will make this declaration: – However difficult our economic situation may be, however badly we may need a resumption of relations with international capital, the Soviet Republic is already strong enough not to enter into an agreement which purposes her enslavement and her plundering. (Applause)

Turning to the inner condition, we may say that the crop did not disappoint the hopes of the country. We may hope that the question of bread may soon be put in the background. This does not mean that all the difficulties of nourishing the country are over. You know quite well yourselves that in many important regions, as in the Don Valley, the question of providing food still plays an important role. Improvement proceeds but slowly, but nevertheless, may be noted.

During the next year, perhaps even for several years to come, the question of wages will be the most important question of our economic system and of our labor movement.

Some attempts at solution have already been made during the past year. The real wages of our workers have risen on the average 100% during the year. But, as you all well know, Comrades, as a result of the frightful devastation the wages of the workers stood so low that a 100% increase is still far from being a solution of the problem. In 1921, as a result of the incredibly difficult situation of the working class, many labor conflicts broke out. Their number decreased considerably in 1922. And while the year 1921 brought no real improvement of the wages and the living conditions of the Russian workers, the standard of living was raised considerably in 1922. I believe that the Congress must take account of this and spread the fact to the workers. This fact throws light upon the particularity of our situation. The material situation of the worker in a Workers’ Republic is not improved and cannot be improved by labor conflicts, but only by totally different conditions.

The end of the Civil War, the first crop after the war and the adoption of the new economic policy at once had a favorable effect upon the condition of the worker, although no strikes took place, in fact just because there were no strikes. It is, then, one of the most important lessons of the past one-and-a-half or two years that the improvement of the workers’ conditions in our country does not depend, as in capitalist countries, upon economic conflicts.

The present situation may be characterized shortly in a sentence: The capitalist countries are going down slowly into ruin, while the Soviet Republic, slowly, but surely, is returning to health. I believe that this sentence suffices to characterize the present condition. When we told the workers a year and a half ago that the conditions would improve, many workers remained sceptical. This has changed. The position of the Communists has improved, the confidence of the politically unorganized masses in the Communists is growing. All workers have become convinced that improvement is possible, in fact that improvement has already begun.

The relation between the betterment of the workers’ living conditions and the increase of production has never been so apparent as today. All through the Revolution we have preached to the masses the necessity of increased production in a Workers Republic. We insisted upon this under most difficult conditions, under such conditions that the worker, depressed by his excessive burdens, lost his faith in the cause. Today, our propaganda for increased production is finding response in the masses. Why? Not because of abstract propaganda, of abstract presentation of the truth that the workers must increase their production in their country, but because the progressive worker who reads the reports of the economic organs of the trusts, who understands the balance sheets of these trusts, realizes clearly that an increase of wages can only be brought about by an increase of production, and with the help of the trade unions. That is why we must combat the spread of that idea which we find even in trade union circles: “The economists carry the responsibility for the industry; they control the factories and the shops, and therefore the increase of productivity lies in their hands.” This is not the case, and it is self-evident that our Congress can adopt no such point of view; it is self-evident that increased production in a Workers’ and Peasants’ Republic depends upon the trade unions. And I repeat it, never were the trade unions in a better position for that purpose.

Another exaggeration, of which many of our comrades active in industry are guilty, is that they refused to reveal to the trade unions all the facts concerning production. This is naturally not the standpoint of our Party. This error must be opposed. The decision of the Party that there can be no business secret for the progressive workers organized in the trade unions, that is, for the responsible organs of the trade unions, must also be well-known to you. The closest cooperation of economic and trade union organs is necessary and all friction must be avoided.

The workers will not be satisfied with the previous increases in wages. They are far from sufficient. Nevertheless, we would run the greatest danger if we acceded now to a desire which is spreading among the workers, including those of our Party, for an immediate and considerable increase of wages. The interests of the working class demand that we do not allow any sudden raises which today, or to-morrow, or within a few months may swallow, up the last funds of our economic organs and endanger our industries.

To formulate shortly our wage policy, I will say: Slow but sure, careful, systematic improvement of the living conditions of the working class in connection with an increase of productivity in our industries. This formula makes no splendid, misleading propaganda, but it is the only honest, true, practicable, revolutionary, truly Communistic formula.

We find ourselves often between the hammer and the anvil. On the one side, the working masses represented by the trade unions exercise a pressure upon the governing organs for a rapid increase of wages. Theses demands are opposed by those comrades who have charge of protecting the interests of the State; these comrades maintain that a rapid increase of wages would lead to bankruptcy or semi-bankruptcy of the State. We have to take into account your pressure as well as their counter-pressure.

The Workers’ Government naturally works hand in hand with the trade unions. But I believe it will be a great mistake if you attempted to strengthen the trade unions by forcing some measures upon us, when this can be achieved only through practical work. It would be a further mistake if today obligatory collective agreements fell from heaven to the trade unions. No, it is necessary that the trade unions develop their strength in that field. These advantages you must conquer for yourselves, with the support of the masses. This does not mean that our Party is against collective agreements or favors the opponents of collective agreements. There are no opponents of collective agreements on principle among us. The question here is of a better organization of the working class. A mere issuance of decrees would be a great mistake. This does not mean that the State will take no stand on the subject. The necessity of the State’s intervention is today generally recognized.

It will be the task of this Congress to summarize the results of the new economic policy. The trade unions, with the comradely help of our Party, have undertaken a basic change of their policy. This will be another question for debate. The results of the discussion, however, will prove that our trade union policy was completely right. This is evident from the rebirth of the trade unions, and much better from the feeling of the workers throughout the country.

But temporary difficulties and diseases appear together with the new policy. I mean corruption. It is not usual to speak of such a thing in addresses of greeting, and many of our enemies will rejoice that we still have to mention corruption in the fifth year of our existence. But you, the representatives of the labor movement, cannot pass over this manifestation without any comment. Our Party and the Soviet Power have begun a systematic fight against this evil. We must continue this fight with fire and sword. But without the support of the trade unions our Party cannot undertake this fight. We must insist today that our most important problem is the fight against corruption. Corruption is just such an enemy as Koltcak, Denikin and Yudenitsh. Every trade union must be the watchful eye of the Republic. Every trade union must punish with iron hand bribers and bribed. We must permit no capitulation here. We know that corruption did not fall from heaven, that it has its sources far back in the history of our country. Illiteracy, ignorance, poverty, misery, are the causes of corruption. But we know what mighty power resides in the organized working class, in the trade unions, in the Workers’ Government. A systematic fight against corruption must then have serious results.

One of our best economists, Comrade Smilka, published recently the following figures: This year, our agriculture reached on the average 75% of its pre-war production, while our state industry in 1921 reached about 25% of the pre-war production, and rose slowly during 1922 by 28%. What do these figures signify? They signify that agriculture recovered quite rapidly in our country, much more rapidly than industry whose production fell in 1921, then rose somewhat in 1922. Of course, an increase of 2.5% represents a very small progress. There follows therefrom that all the energy, all the organized capital in the hands of our working class, all the enthusiasm of which our working class is capable, must be brought into action so that these figures no longer sink, but slowly, continually rise. We should not expect any rapid progress.

Comrade Lenin was right when he insisted at the Congresses and in private talks with our comrades that the expectation of rapid improvement would bring us nothing but disappointment. The reconstruction of our economic system requires years, demands system, intense work, demands that we judge our situation clearly, as Comrade Lenin justly insists. However, we may say that even if the situation of some of our industries is still very bad, even borders on catastrophe in some cases, we have nevertheless, made a step forward and are on our way to recovery.

Two more words to conclude: When, two years ago, the question of transforming the trade unions into free associations, and the transformation of industry upon a commercial basis were brought up, there was no lack of prophets who predicted the destruction of the trade union movement and with it, of our Party. They said that the transition to the new economic policy would result in an irreparable split in the Communist Party of Russia, in class war within the Party, and in the passage of our Party to the side of the bourgeoisie. Over a year has passed since the introduction of the new economic policy. This is not much. But we know and we see that all the dangers which could arise therefrom have already been overcome. And we have the right and the duty to tell the working class represented by the All-Russian Congress of Trade Unions that the Communist Party of Russia today is a stronger, more united party than two years ago.

The Communist Party of Russia has been able to accomplish a gigantic work of education, organization and discipline, the trade unions have gained a much greater influence than they had before. They have become an organization which maintains the closest connection with the working masses and enjoys a very great sympathy among the non-partisan workers. The trade unions are the schools of Communism and reconstruction of the non-partisan workers. The trade unions have not separated themselves from the masses. The trade unions have not degenerated, nor have they changed their political physiognomy. They are the same red, revolutionary, proletarian trade unions they were many years ago. Therefore, comrades, let our enemies rejoice as they will, let them say what they will, we answer just this: The most difficult period is already behind us. One or two more good crops and we are saved. International capital is sinking into ruin. We on the other hand, slowly but surely are going forward. The future belongs to us.

Last updated: 3 December 2020