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The New International, November 1942

N. Lenin

Lenin at the Eleventh Congress

A Speech to Russian Communists

(March 1922)


From New International, Vol. VIII No. 10, November 1942, pp. 305–308.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


We have achieved certain successes, even if they are of the most minor character, during the past year. But they are very slight. The main thing is that the conviction, the opinion is lacking which ought to be shared by every communist, which ought to be widely disseminated, namely, that the most responsible and devoted Russian communist knows less than any old clerk. I repeat: we must begin to learn from the beginning. If we understand this, we will pass the test. And the test is a severe one: it is a test that the market will impose, the imminent financial crisis. The Russian market and the world market, to which we are subordinated, to which we are bound, from which we cannot tear ourselves, will impose this test upon us.

That is how the question stands and only so, for the contest is severe, the contest is decisive. We had many methods and means of overcoming our political and economic difficulties and we can say pridefully that we have thus far understood how to use all these methods and means in varying combinations, in correspondence with the varying situations. But there is no longer any way out for us. Allow me to tell you, without any exaggeration, that this time it is really a question of the “last and decisive struggle” not with international capitalism – we shall have many “last and decisive struggles” to fight out with it – no, but with Russian capitalism, which develops on the basis of small peasant economy and is supported by it. Here is where a struggle impends for us in the next period, whose exact date cannot be foretold.

In order to pass this test, we have at our disposal political power and a mass of all sorts of economic and other means, everything in the world except the necessary knowledge. It is knowledge that we are lacking. If we should draw this simple lesson from the experiences of past years and be guided by it throughout the year of 1923, then we shall overcome this difficulty too, although it is much greater than the previously mentioned difficulty, inasmuch as it lies within ourselves.

State Capitalism

In the question of state capitalism, our press and our party in general commit the mistake of falling into intellectualism, into liberalism. We speculate on how to conceive of state capitalism, and we peer into the old books. But there you find something altogether different written. What was written in them was about the state capitalism that develops under the rule of capitalism. There is, however, no book on state capitalism that occurs under the dictatorship of the proletariat. Even Marx did not write a word about it, and he died without leaving one exact quotation or any incontrovertible directions. So we are forced to help ourselves without the aid of quotations. I have tried to look into our press. In its preparations for today’s report on the question of state capitalism it deals with something altogether different, it goes all around the actual subject. In all of economic literature, state capitalism is defined as the capitalism which occurs in the capitalist economic order, when the state power directly subordinates to itself this or that capitalist enterprise. We, however, have a proletarian state, which is based upon the proletariat, whose organs are elected by the proletariat. Our state gives the proletariat all the political privileges and, through the proletariat, draws to itself the peasantry from below.

You recall that we began this work with the Committees of the Village Poor. That is why many, a great many, are confused by the term state capitalism. In order to avoid confusion, one must always keep in mind the fundamental fact that state capitalism, in the form in which we have it at the present time, has not been analyzed in any theory or anywhere in literature, for the simple reason that all the conceptions connected with this term are related to bourgeois power in capitalist society. What we have is a state that has left the capitalist track and has not yet shifted on to the new track. This state is not, however, ruled by the bourgeoisie, but by the proletariat, and we refused to understand that when we say “state,” this state is ourselves, the proletariat, the vanguard of the working class. State capitalism is the capitalism that we will be capable of restricting, whose limits we will be capable of establishing; this state capitalism is connected with the state, and the state – its workers, most advanced part of the workers, the vanguard – is ourselves. State capitalism is the capitalism to which we must set definite limits, but limits which we have not yet understood to set. That is all. And what this state capitalism will be depends now upon us.

We have sufficient political power, perfectly sufficient; we even dispose of sufficient economic means. But it is knowledge that is lacking in that vanguard of the working class which is elected to do the direct execution of this work, to define, to fix the limits, in order to subdue others so that it may not be subdued. Only knowledge is what is wanting here. After all, it is an historically unprecedented situation that the proletariat, the revolutionary vanguard, possesses perfectly sufficient political power (in the last resort, even a little bit more than is necessary); at any rate, there is not the slightest lack of this political power. The nub of the question lies in our having to understand that this is a capitalism that we can and must allow, to which we can and must fix certain limits; that it is necessary for the broad masses of the peasants and for private capital to trade in such a way as to assure the ordinary course of capitalist economy and capitalist circulation which is needed by the people because you cannot today live without it.

You communists, you workers, you, the conscious part of the proletariat, who have undertaken to direct the state! Learn how to make the state, which you have taken over, act according to your will! A year has passed, the state is in our hands. But has the state acted in the past year according to our will in the field of the new economic policy? No. We do not like to confess this. But the state has not acted according to our will. How, then, has it acted? We are losing control of the machine. It would seem that the man sitting at the wheel is directing it. But in reality, the machine is not moving in the direction we want it to, but where something or other is directing it. This something or other cannot be exactly defined. It is illegal, it is illogical, or it comes from God knows where. Is it speculators, or private capitalists, or both? Whatever the case may be, the machine is not running quite the way the one sitting at the wheel imagines. And very often the direction the machine takes is entirely different from the one that exists in the imagination of the driver. That is the fundamental thing to be thought of in the question of state capitalism, and what boils down to the same thing in practice. We must learn from the beginning in this fundamental field; and only after the necessity for this has become part of everybody’s flesh and blood will we be able to guarantee that learn it we will.

An Evolution or a Tactic?

In this connection, I wanted to touch on the question ol what the new economic policy of the Bolsheviks really is, an evolution or a tactic. The Smena Vekh [New Signposts] people have put the question that way. You know this group. It is a socio-political current that arose in the Russian emigration, at the head of which stand the most important leaders of the Kadets, a few ministers of the former Koltchak government, people who have come to the conviction that the Soviet power is building up the Russian state and that it must therefore be followed.

“But what kind of state is this Soviet power building up? They say, the communist state and they assure us that it is only a tactic: In a difficult moment, the Bolsheviks will get all they can out of the private capitalists, and later on they will take what they like. In reality, however, it is not a tactic, but an evolution, an internal transformation. They will end up as an ordinary bourgeois state, and we ought to support them. Different roads lead to the same historical goal.”

Thus speculate the Smena Vekh people.

Many of them claim to be communists. But there are also most sincere people among them, including Ustryalov. He was, I believe, a Koltchak minister. He is not in agreement with his comrades and he says: “You can think what you like about communism; I contend, however, that this is no tactical question with them, but an evolutionary phenomenon.” In my view, this direct declaration of Ustryalov is very useful to us. Unfortunately, we are obliged to listen every day to a lot of “communist lies.” On account of my official position, I must listen to any number of them. We sometimes get downright sick to the death of them. Now instead of these lies we get a copy of the Smena Vekh, and it states: It is nothing of the kind with you. In reality, you are rolling right down to the ordinary bourgeois swamp, and many is the slogan that will be submerged in this swamp.

This is very useful to us, as it is no longer a mere variation of what we always hear about ourselves, but simply the class truth of the class foe. It is very useful to scrutinize a literary product which is written not because it is customary to write thus in a communist state, or prohibited to write otherwise, but because it is really the class truth which is expressed openly and crudely by our class foe. Ustryalov says: Although I was a Kadet, a bourgeois, although I supported the interventions, I am for supporting the Soviet power since it is adopting a path that will end with its becoming an ordinary bourgeois power.

This class truth is something very useful to us, which must, in my opinion, absolutely be reckoned with. This sort of writing by the Smena Vekh people is much better for us than their other way of writing, in which many of them claim to be practically communists, so that from a distance you can hardly tell whether they believe in God or in the communist revolution. It must be said openly that such sincere enemies are useful to us. History knows all kinds of transformations. It is not serious political thinking to rely upon convictions, devotion and other excellent qualities of the soul. Only few individuals possess excellent qualities of the soul. The historical decision, however, is cast by enormous masses, who sometimes do not treat the few individuals too politely when they do not suit them.

There have been many such transformations, and that is why this sincere declaration by the Smena Vekh people should be welcomed. The enemy speaks the class truth and points to the danger that threatens us. The enemy aspires lo convert this danger into something inevitable. The Smena Vekh people express the moods of many thousand bourgeois and Soviet officials who are participating in our new economic policy. This is the fundamental and real danger. Therefore our main attention must be directed to this question, to the question of who will really prevail over whom. I have spoken of the contest. There is no direct attack being made upon us. We have not been grabbed by the throat. We shall see what tomorrow will bring. Today, however, we are not being attacked with arms in hand. In spite of this, the fight against capitalist society has become a hundred times more violent and more dangerous, as we do not always see clearly who is our foe and who our friend. I spoke of the communist contest from the standpoint of the development of the economic and social forms. But this is no contest; it is a desperate; fierce struggle, and even if it is not the final one, it is one of the final life and death struggles between capitalism and communism.

Wherein Lies Our Strength?

Here too the question must be clearly formulated. Wherein lies our strength? What are we lacking? We have perfectly sufficient political power. You would hardly find anyone here who could show that the Communist Party did not or does not have enough political power in any practical question, in any serious institution. The fundamental economic forces, the big enterprises of decisive importance, the railways, etc. – all these are in our hands. No matter how numerous the leases to foreign capitalist concessionaires may be in some place, in general they are of minor importance, they play a pretty minor rôle. The economic forces in the hands of the Russian proletarian state are fully adequate to assure the transition to communism. Then what are we lacking? What we lack is clear enough. The ruling stratum of the communists is lacking in culture. Let us look at Moscow. This mass of bureaucrats – who is leading whom? The 4,700 responsible communists the mass of bureaucrats, or the other way around? I do not believe you can say that the communists are leading this mass. To put it honestly, they are not the leaders, but the led. Something has happened here that recalls the historical events we heard of in our childhood. We were taught; Once upon a time, a certain people conquered the country of another people and subjected this people. The conquering people was the victor, and the people whose country was conquered was the vanquished. That’s obvious. But what happens with the culture of these peoples? Now the question is not so simple. If the culture of the victorious people is higher than that of the vanquished, it imposes its culture on the vanquished. But if the contrary is the case, the vanquished people imposes its culture on the victor. Has not something similar happened in the capital of the RSFSR [Russian Socialist Federated Soviet Republic]? Have not the 4,700 communists in this city (almost a whole division, and only the very best comrades) been vanquished by an alien culture? This might give rise to the impression that the conquered possessed a higher culture. Nothing of the kind. Their culture was miserable, paltry, but nevertheless higher than that of our communist militants, inasmuch as they are not capable of managing. The communists at the head of the institutions (the skilled saboteurs often put them at the head in order to have a goat, a blind) are often fooled. This admission is very disagreeable, or at least not very pleasant. But I think it must be admitted. That is the political lesson of the past year, in my opinion. It is in this sense that the struggle will be carried on in the year 1922.

Will the responsible communists of the Soviets and of the party understand that they are unable to manage? If they do, then they will of course learn how, for it can be learned. But to learn, it is necessary to study. With us, orders and decrees are handed out in every direction. But the results do not correspond at all with what is ordered.

The contest that we put on the agenda by proclaiming the new economic policy is a serious one. It seems that it takes place in all the state institutions. In reality, however, it is only a form of the struggle between two irreconcilably hostile classes. It is only a form of the struggle of the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. This struggle is not yet at an end. This culture-struggle has not yet been fought out even in the central institutions of Moscow. The bourgeois specialists often possess a more thorough knowledge of their subject than our best communists, who have all the power at their disposal but who cannot move a step in spite of all their rights and their power.

I should like to quote from a pamphlet by Alexander Todorsky. The pamphlet appeared in Vezyegonsk, a city in the district of Tver, on the first anniversary of the Soviet Revolution in Russia, November 7, 1918, that is, a pretty long time ago. This Vezyegonsk comrade is apparently a party member. It is now some time ago that I read this pamphlet. I cannot therefore vouch for not making any mistakes in my description of it. This comrade tells how he went about the establishment of two Soviet plants and how he proceeded to draw two bourgeois into this work, that is, in the manner that was prevalent at that time, by threats of imprisonment and of the confiscation of all their wealth. They were invited to help set up the new plants. We know how the bourgeoisie was invited in 1918. [Laughter] So it is not worth while dwelling on it in detail. We invite them now by other methods. The comrade wrote in his pamphlet: “It is not enough to defeat the bourgeoisie, to subdue it. Such a victory is only half the job. It must be forced to work for us.”

These words are most noteworthy. These very important words show that even in the town of Vezyegonsk, as far back as 1918, the relationship between the victorious proletariat and the defeated bourgeoisie was correctly understood.

It is only a half-done job to defeat the exploiters, to render them harmless and to subdue them. About 90 per cent of our responsible militants in Moscow imagine that the whole job consists merely in that, i.e., merely in defeating them, rendering them harmless, subduing them.

It is a childish, perfectly childish, idea to think of carrying through the construction of socialism merely with the aid of the communists. The communists are a drop in the ocean of the people as a whole. They will succeed in having the people follow their road only if they correctly define this road. But it is not enough to define this road correctly in so far as it is the general historical direction. As far as this is concerned, we have defined it absolutely correctly. The development of all countries confirms that we have defined it correctly. We must correctly define the road in our country, in our land. For the road to be right, we must prevent the interventions of the Whites and we must be able to give the peasants commodities in exchange for their grain. If not, the peasant will say: “You are a fine fellow, you have defended our fatherland; that is why we obey you. But if you don’t know how to manage – go away!” Yes, that’s what the peasant will say.

Only if the communists are able to build up economy with foreign aid, only if they learn from the bourgeoisie, only if they succeed in getting the bourgeoisie to travel the road they want – only then shall we be able to direct the economy.

The communists, however, think they know everything, because they are responsible communists, because they defeated people who were anything but clerks, because they beat off the enemies at the front who were anything but clerks. This prevalent feeling is ruining us. The disarming, the defeating, the overthrowing of the exploiters is the least important part of our work. This part has to be done. Our state political administration and our courts of justice ought to accomplish this with less apathy than they have shown up to now. They ought to bear in mind that they are proletarian courts, that the whole world is hostile to us and threatens us. But this part is not hard. By and large, we have learned how to do it. The activity in connection with it ought to be tightened up a little, but this will not be hard.

The second part of our work consists in our getting the elements which are numerically much stronger than we and which are working with us, to work with us in such a way that we are able to watch and understand their work, to see to it that it is something useful to communism. It is necessary to attain this so that communism is built up with foreign aid, so as to be able to realize in practice the necessary collaboration with peasant economy, so as to satisfy the peasants to the point where they say: Hunger is painful indeed, difficult, hardly bearable. But I see that the government, although it is only beginning to learn, is providing us with practical, really tangible assistance. Here lies the nub of the present situation. Some communists have indeed understood and grasped this, but the wide masses of the party have not yet grasped the necessity of drawing the non-party people into the work. We have indeed written countless circulars about it and talked about it a lot. But what has happened for a whole year? Nothing at all. Out of the several hundred committees of our party, there aren’t five capable of showing practical results. We haven’t even approached the satisfying of daily needs, we are still living in the traditions of 1918 and 1919. Those were the great years, in which the greatest work of world history was accomplished. But to confine ourselves to looking back upon those years, and not to see the tasks that stand on the order of the days, means our ruin, inevitable, absolute ruin ...

The Foundation Must Be Laid

I think it is necessary to consider in a separate category the tasks of the revolution which we have completely resolved, which are an ineradicable part of the history of the world revolution, if we speak about our revolution and reflect upon its destiny. Our revolution shows such accomplishments.

Naturally, the Mensheviks and Otto Bauer, the representative of the Two-and-a-Half International, shout: “Their revolution is a bourgeois .revolution.” But we say that it is our task to carry the bourgeois revolution out to the end. A White Guard organ wrote: “For four hundred years dung had been accumulating in our state institutions, but the communists cleaned up the dung in four years.” This deed is our greatest performance. What did the Mensheviks and Social Revolutionists do? Nothing whatsoever. Neither here nor in progressive, enlightened Germany have they been able to clean up the mediaeval dung. They reproach us for our greatest accomplishment. It remains to our eternal credit that we carried the revolution out to the end.

The air is filled with the approach of war. Even reformist unions are adopting resolutions against war and are threatening a strike in case of war. Not long ago, if I am not mistaken, I read in a paper that an excellent communist delivered a speech against war in the French Chamber of Deputies and pointed out that the workers will prefer an uprising to the war. The question cannot be put this way, the way we put it in 1912 at the time of the publication of the Basel Manifesto. Only the Russian Revolution has showed how a war is ended, at least in one country, how hard it is to terminate the reactionary war by revolutionary means. Reactionary, imperialist wars in all parts of the world are unavoidable. Humanity cannot forget that many millions of persons were killed, that many million more will be killed in the solving of such questions; and it will not forget it. The conquests of the Russian Revolution cannot be obliterated. No power on earth is capable of wiping out the achievements of the Soviet state. It was a world-historical victory. For centuries, states of the bourgeois type were set up. For the first time, the form of the non-bourgeois state was discovered. Perhaps our apparatus is bad. But it is said that the first steam engine to be invented was also very bad. It is not even known if it worked. That is not the most important point, but the fact that the invention was made. The first steam engine may have been unserviceable. But thanks to it, we have locomotives today. Our state apparatus may be bad through and through. But it has been created. The greatest historical invention has been made. Let all Europe, let thousands of bourgeois newspapers relate the poverty and disorder that reign among us: the Soviet state is attracting the world’s working class in spite of that. These are our greatest conquests and they are ineffaceable. These conquests mean for us, the representatives of the Communist Party, merely the open door. We face the task of laying the foundation of socialist economy. Have we already solved this task? No, not yet. We do not even have the socialist foundation. The communists who imagine that we have it commit the greatest of errors. The firm, dear and sober distinction between what makes up the world-historical merit of the Russian Revolution and what we do so utterly badly, what we yet have to create, and what must yet be recast time and again – that distinction is just where the problem lies.

What Is the Main Point?

Political events are always very complicated and confused. They may be compared to a chain. To cling to the whole chain, it is not enough to hang on to a single link. You cannot choose artificially the link you want to cling to. What was the main point in 1917? The termination of the war. The whole country demanded it, and this demand dominated everything. Revolutionary Russia achieved the ending of the war for Russia. It cost a great effort. But the fundamental need of the people was satisfied. Thereby our victory was assured for many years.

The people felt, the peasant saw, every soldier returning from the front understood perfectly that the Soviet power is a power that stands closer to the toilers, is more democratic. Although we did many stupid things and committed grievous mistakes in other fields, everything was right because we fulfilled this main task. What was the main point, the chief task in 1919 and 1920? Military defense. We had been attacked. The world-dominating Entente tried to strangle us. We needed no propaganda there: every non-party peasant understood what was involved. The big landlords came. The communists were able to fight against them. Therefore the peasants were in their majority for the communists, therefore we triumphed. The central point in 1921 was the orderly retreat. Therefore stricter discipline was necessary. The Workers’ Opposition said: You underrate the workers; the workers should take the initiative to a greater degree. I say: The initiative should consist in carrying out the retreat in good order and in maintaining strict discipline. Anybody who had introduced panic and caused a breach of discipline would have ruined the revolution, for there is nothing harder than a retreat with people used to conquering, who are imbued with revolutionary ideas and ideals, and who in their souls consider any retreat almost as an abomination. The greatest danger is disorder. The most important task is the maintenance of order.

What is presently the central point, the main task? Our main task does not lie in the political field, not in the change of direction, although this idea has been widely spread in connection with the New Economic Policy. It is empty gossip. It is the most pernicious kind of babbling. We are he-ginning to get busy on the basis of the new economic policy, to reorganize our institutions, to establish new institutions. It is the most pernicious kind of babbling. We have now come to the opinion that the central point, the main task, lies in people, in the selection of people. (This idea is the burden of my report.) A revolutionist who was used to fighting against putting the main emphasis on petty detail work and on culture finds it hard to accept this idea. But we have reached a situation which we must appraise with political soberness. We have advanced so far that we are incapable of retaining all our positions, and we should not retain them ...

The main emphasis must be placed upon the selection of people, upon the control of the actual execution of orders.

We must not be afraid to admit, we must admit, that in 99 per cent of all cases the responsible communists hold offices they are not suited for, that they are incapable of carrying out the work allotted to them, and which they must now learn. If we understand this, and if we have sufficient time for it – so far as I can judge the general international situation, we shall have enough time in which to learn – we must do it whatever the cost.

March 29, 1922

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