J. V. Stalin

The Party's Tasks

Report Delivered at an Enlarged Meeting of the Krasnaya Presnya District Committee of the R.C.P.(B.)
With Group Organisers, Members of the Debating Society and of the Bureau of the Party Units
December 2, 1923

Source : Works, Vol. 5, 1921 - 1923
Publisher : Foreign Languages Publishing House, Moscow, 1954
Transcription/Markup : Salil Sen for MIA, 2008
Public Domain : Marxists Internet Archive (2008). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit "Marxists Internet Archive" as your source.

Comrades, first of all I must say that I am delivering a report here in my personal capacity and not in the name of the Central Committee of the Party. If the meeting is willing to hear such a report, I am at your service. (Voices : "Yes.") This does not mean that I disagree with the Central Committee in any way on this question; not at all. I am speaking here in my personal capacity only because the commission of the Central Committee for drafting measures to improve the internal situation in the Party 1 is to present its findings to the Central Committee in a day or two; these findings have not yet been presented, and therefore I have as yet no formal right to speak in the name of the Central Committee, although I am sure that what I am about to say to you will, in the main, express the Central Committee's position on these questions.

Discussion — A Sign of the Party's Strength

The first question I would like to raise here is that of the significance of the discussion that is now taking place in the press and in the Party units. What does this discussion show? What does it indicate? Is it a storm that has burst into the calm life of the Party? Is this discussion a sign of the Party's disintegration, its decay, as some say, or of its degeneration, as others say?

I think, comrades, that it is neither one nor the other: there is neither degeneration nor disintegration. The fact of the matter is that the Party has grown more mature during the past period; it has adequately rid itself of useless ballast; it has become more proletarian. You know that two years ago we had not less than 700,000 members; you know that several thousand members have dropped out, or have been kicked out, of the Party. Further, the Party membership has improved, its quality has risen in this period as a result of the improvement in the conditions of the working class due to the revival of industry, as a result of the return of the old skilled workers from the countryside, and as a result of the new wave of cultural development that is spreading among the industrial workers.

In short, owing to all these circumstances, the Party has grown more mature, its quality has risen, its needs have grown, it has become more exacting, it wants to know more than it has known up to now, and it wants to decide more than it has up to now.

The discussion which has opened is not a sign of the Party's weakness, still less is it a sign of its disintegration or degeneration; it is a sign of strength, a sign of firmness, a sign of the improvement in the quality of the Party's membership, a sign of its increased activity.

Causes of the Discussion

The second question that confronts us is: what has caused the question of internal Party policy to become so acute precisely in the present period, in the autumn of this year? How is this to be explained? What were the causes? I think, comrades, that there were two causes.

The first cause was the wave of discontent and strikes over wages that swept through certain districts of the republic in August of this year. The fact of the matter is that this strike wave exposed the defects in our organisations; it revealed the isolation of our organisations— both Party and trade-union—from the events taking place in the factories. And in connection with this strike wave the existence was discovered within our Party of several secret organisations of an essentially anti-communist nature, which strove to disintegrate the Party. All these defects revealed by the strike wave were exposed to the Party so glaringly, and with such a sobering effect, that it felt the necessity for internal Party changes.

The second cause of the acuteness of the question of internal Party policy precisely at the present moment was the wholesale release of Party comrades to go on vacation. It is natural, of course, for comrades to go on vacation, but this assumed such a mass character, that Party activity became considerably weaker precisely at the time when the discontent arose in the factories, and that greatly helped to expose the accumulated defects just at this period, in the autumn of this year.

Defects in Internal Party Life

I have mentioned defects in our Party life that were exposed in the autumn of this year, and which brought up the question of improving internal Party life. What are these defects in internal Party life? Is it that the Party line was wrong, as some comrades think; or that, although the Party's line was correct, in practice it departed from the right road, was distorted because of certain subjective and objective conditions?

I think that the chief defect in our internal Party life is that, although the Party's line, as expressed in the decisions of our congresses, is correct, in the localities (not everywhere, of course, but in certain districts) it was put into practice in an incorrect way. While the proletarian-democratic line of our Party was correct, the way it was put into practice in the localities resulted in cases of bureaucratic distortion of this line.

That is the chief defect. The existence of contradictions between the basic Party line as laid down by the Congresses (Tenth, Eleventh and Twelfth), and the way our organisations put this line into practice in the locali-ties—that is the foundation of all the defects in internal Party life.

The Party line says that the major questions of our Party activities, except, of course, those that brook no delay, or those that are military or diplomatic secrets, must without fail be discussed at Party meetings. That is what the Party line says. But in Party practice in the localities, not everywhere, of course, it was considered that there is really no great need for a number of questions concerning internal Party practice to be discussed at Party meetings since the Central Committee and the other leading organisations will decide these questions.

The Party line says that our Party officials must without fail be elected unless there are insuperable obstacles to this, such as absence of the necessary Party standing, and so forth. You know that, according to the Party rules, secretaries of Gubernia Committees must have a pre-October Party standing, secretaries of Uyezd Committees must have at least three years', and units secretaries a year's, Party standing. In Party practice, however, it was often considered that since a certain Party standing was needed, no real elections were needed.

The Party line says that the Party membership must be kept informed about the work of the economic organisations, the factories and trusts, for, naturally, our Party units are morally responsible to the non-Party masses for the defects in the factories. Nevertheless, in Party practice it was considered that since there is a Central Committee which issues directives to the economic organisations, and since these economic organisations are bound by those directives, the latter will be carried out without control from below by the mass of the Party membership.

The Party line says that responsible workers in different branches of work, whether Party, economic, trade-union, or military workers, notwithstanding their specialisation in their own particular work, are interconnected, constitute inseparable parts of one whole, for they are all working in the common cause of the proletariat, which cannot be torn into parts. In Party practice, however, it was considered that since there is specialisation, division of labour according to properly Party activity and economic, military, etc., activity, the Party officials are not responsible for those working in the economic sphere, the latter are not responsible for the Party officials, and, in general, that the weakening and even loss of connection between them are inevitable.

Such, comrades, are, in general, the contradictions between the Party line, as registered in a number of decisions of our Congresses, from the Tenth to the Twelfth, and Party practice.

I am far from blaming the local organisations for this distortion of the Party line, for, when you come to examine it, this is not so much the fault as the misfortune of our local organisations. The nature of this misfortune, and how things could have taken this turn, I shall tell you later on, but I wanted to register this fact in order to reveal this contradiction to you and then try to propose measures for improvement.

I am also far from considering our Central Committee to be blameless. It, too, has sinned, as has every institution and organisation; it, too, shares part of the blame and part of the misfortune: blame, at least, for not, whatever the reason, exposing these defects in time, and for not taking measures to eliminate them.

But that is not the point now. The point now is to ascertain the causes of the defects I have just spoken about. Indeed, how did these defects arise, and how can they be removed?

The Causes of the Defects

The first cause is that our Party organisations have not yet rid themselves, or have still not altogether rid themselves, of certain survivals of the war period, a period that has passed, but has left in the minds of our responsible workers vestiges of the military regime in the Party. I think that these survivals find expression in the view that our Party is not an independently acting organism, not an independently acting, militant organisation of the proletariat, but something in the nature of a system of institutions, something in the nature of a complex of institutions in which there are officials of lower rank and officials of higher rank. That, comrades, is a profoundly mistaken view that has nothing in common with Marxism; that view is a survival that we have inherited from the war period, when we militarised the Party, when the question of the independent activity of the mass of the Party membership had necessarily to be shifted into the background and military orders were of decisive importance. I do not remember that this view was ever definitely expressed; nevertheless, it, or elements of it, still influences our work. Comrades, we must combat such views with all our might, for they are a very real danger and create favourable conditions for the distortion in practice of the essentially correct line of our Party.

The second cause is that our state apparatus, which is bureaucratic to a considerable degree, exerts a certain amount of pressure on the Party and the Party workers. In 1917, when we were forging ahead, towards October, we imagined that we would have a Commune, a free association of working people, that we would put an end to bureaucracy in government institutions, and that it would be possible, if not in the immediate period, then within two or three short periods, to transform the state into a free association of working people. Practice has shown, however, that this is still an ideal which is a long way off, that to rid the state of the elements of bureaucracy, to transform Soviet society into a free association of working people, the people must have a high level of culture, peace conditions must be fully guaranteed all around us so as to remove the necessity of maintaining a large standing army, which entails heavy expenditure and cumbersome administrative departments, the very existence of which leaves its impress upon all the other state institutions. Our state apparatus is bureaucratic to a considerable degree, and it will remain so for a long time to come. Our Party comrades work in this apparatus, and the situation—I might say the atmosphere—in this bureaucratic apparatus is such that it helps to bureaucratise our Party workers and our Party organisations.

The third cause of the defects, comrades, is that some of our units are not sufficiently active, they are backward, and in some cases, particularly in the border regions, they are even wholly illiterate. In these districts, the units display little activity and are politically and culturally backward. That circumstance, too, undoubtedly creates a favourable soil for the distortion of the Party line.

The fourth cause is the absence of a sufficient number of trained Party comrades in the localities. Recently, in the Central Committee, I heard the report of a representative of one of the Ukrainian organisations. The reporter was a very capable comrade who shows great promise. He said that of 130 units, 80 have secretaries who were appointed by the Gubernia Committee. In answer to the remark that this organisation was acting wrongly in this respect, the comrade pleaded that there were no literate people in the units, that they consisted of new members, that the units themselves ask for secretaries to be sent them, and so forth. I may grant that half of what this comrade said was an overstatement, that the matter is not only that there are no trained people in the units, but also that the Gubernia Committee was over-zealous and followed the old tradition. But even if the Gubernia Committee was correct only to the extent of fifty per cent, is it not obvious that if there are such units in the Ukraine, how many more like them must there be in the border regions, where the organisations are young, where there are fewer Party cadres and less literacy than in the Ukraine? That is also one of the factors that create favourable conditions for the distortion in practice of the essentially correct Party line.

Lastly, the fifth cause—insufficient information. We sent out too little information, and this applies primarily to the Central Committee, possibly because it is overburdened with work. We receive too little information from the localities. This must cease. This is also a serious cause of the defects that have accumulated within the Party.

How should the Defects in Internal Party Life be Removed ?

What measures must be adopted to remove these defects?

The first thing is tirelessly, by every means, to combat the survivals and habits of the war period in our Party, to combat the erroneous view that our Party is a system of institutions, and not a militant organisation of the proletariat, which is intellectually vigorous, acts independently, lives a full life, is destroying the old and creating the new.

Secondly, the activity of the mass of the Party membership must be increased; all questions of interest to the membership in so far as they can be openly discussed must be submitted to it for open discussion, and the possibility ensured of free criticism of all proposals made by the different Party bodies. Only in this way will it be possible to convert Party discipline into really conscious, really iron discipline; only in this way will it be possible to increase the political, economic and cultural experience of the mass of Party members; only in this way will it be possible to create the conditions necessary to enable the Party membership, step by step, to promote new active workers, new leaders, from its ranks.

Thirdly, the principle of election must be applied in practice to all Party bodies and official posts, if there are no insuperable obstacles to this such as lack of the necessary Party standing, and so forth. We must eliminate the practice of ignoring the will of the majority of the organisations in promoting comrades to responsible

Party posts, and we must see to it that the principle of election is actually applied.

Fourthly, there must exist under the Central Committee and the Gubernia and Regional Committees permanently functioning conferences of responsible workers in all fields of work—economic, Party, trade-union and military; these conferences must be held regularly and discuss any question they consider it necessary to discuss; the interconnection between the workers in all fields must not be broken; all these workers must feel that they are all members of a single Party family, working in a common cause, the cause of the proletariat, which is indivisible; the Central Committee and the local organisations must create an environment that will enable the Party to acquire and test the experience of our responsible workers in all spheres of work.

Fifthly, our Party units in the factories must be drawn into dealing with the various questions relating to the course of affairs in the respective enterprises and trusts. Things must be so arranged that the units are kept informed about the work of the administrations of our enterprises and trusts and are able to exert an influence on this work. You, as representatives of units, are aware how great is the moral responsibility of our factory units to the non-Party masses for the course of affairs in the factories. For the unit to be able to lead and win the following of the non-Party masses in the factory, for it to be able to bear responsibility for the course of affairs in the factory—and it certainly has a moral responsibility to the non-Party masses for defects in the work of the factory—the unit must be kept informed about these affairs, it must be possible for it to influence them in one way or another. Therefore, the units must be drawn into the discussion of economic questions relating to their factories, and economic conferences of representatives of the factory units in a given trust must be called from time to time to discuss questions relating to the affairs of the trust. This is one of the surest ways both of enlarging the economic experience of the Party membership and of organising control from below.

Sixthly, the quality of the membership of our Party units must be improved. Zinoviev has already said in an article of his that here and there the quality of the membership of our Party units is below that of the surrounding non-Party masses.

That statement, of course, must not be generalised and applied to all the units. It would be more exact to say the following for example: our Party units would be on a much higher cultural level than they are now, and would have much greater authority among non-Party people, if we had not denuded these units, if we had not taken from them people we needed for economic, administrative, trade-union and all sorts of other work. If our working-class comrades, the cadres we have taken from the units during the past six years, were to return to their units, does it need proof that those units would stand head and shoulders above all the non-Party workers, even the most advanced? Precisely because the Party has no other cadres with which to improve the state apparatus, precisely because the Party will be obliged to continue using that source, our units will remain on a somewhat unsatisfactory cultural level unless we take urgent measures to improve the quality of their membership. First of all, Party educational work in the units must be increased to the utmost; furthermore, we must get rid of the excessive formalism our local organisations sometimes display in accepting working-class comrades into the Party. I think that we must not allow ourselves to be bound by formalism; the Party can, and must, create easier conditions for the acceptance of new members from the ranks of the working class. That has already begun in the local organisations. The Party must take this matter in hand and launch an organised campaign for creating easier access to the Party for new members from workers at the bench.

Seventhly, work must be intensified among the non-Party workers. This is another means of improving the internal Party situation, of increasing the activity of the Party membership. I must say that our organisations are still paying little attention to the task of drawing non-Party workers into our Soviets. Take, for example, the elections to the Moscow Soviet that are being held now. I consider that one of the big defects in these elections is that too few non-Party people are being elected. It is said that there exists a decision of the organisation to the effect that at least a certain number, a certain percentage, etc., of non-Party people are to be elected; but I see that, in fact, a far smaller number is being elected. It is said that the masses are eager to elect only Communists. I have my doubts about that, comrades. I think that unless we show a certain degree of confidence in the non-Party people they may answer by becoming very distrustful of our organisations. This confidence in the non-Party people is absolutely necessary, comrades. Communists must be induced to withdraw their candidatures.

Speeches must not be delivered urging the election only of Communists; non-Party people must be encouraged, they must be drawn into the work of administering the state. We shall gain by this and in return receive the reciprocal confidence of the non-Party people in our organisations. The elections in Moscow are an example of the degree to which our organisations are beginning to isolate themselves within their Party shell instead of enlarging their field of activity and, step by step, rallying the non-Party people around themselves.

Eighthly, work among the peasants must be intensified. I do not know why our village units, which in some places are wilting, are losing their members and are not trusted much by the peasants (this must be admitted)—I do not know why, for instance, two practical tasks cannot be set these units: firstly, to interpret and popularise the Soviet laws which affect peasant life; secondly, to agitate for and disseminate elementary agronomic knowledge, if only the knowledge that it is necessary to plough the fields in proper time, to sift seed, etc. Do you know, comrades, that if every peasant were to decide to devote a little labour to the sifting of seed, it would be possible without land improvement, and without introducing new machines, to obtain an increase in crop yield amounting to about ten poods per dessiatin? And what does an increase in crop yield of ten poods per dessiatin mean? It means an increase in the gross crop of a thousand million poods per annum. And all this could be achieved without great effort. Why should not our village units take up this matter? Is it less important than talking about Curzon's policy? The peasants would then realise that the Communists have stopped engaging in empty talk and have got down to real business; and then our village units would win the boundless confidence of the peasants.

There is no need for me to stress how necessary it is, for improving and reviving Party life, to intensify Party and political educational work among the youth, the source of new cadres, in the Red Army, among women delegates, and among non-Party people in general.

Nor will I dwell upon the importance of increasing the interchange of information, about which I have already spoken, of increasing the supply of information from the top downwards and from below upwards.

Such, comrades, are the measures for improvement, the course towards internal Party democracy which the Central Committee set as far back as September of this year, and which must be put into practice by all Party organisations from top to bottom.

I would now like to deal with two extremes, two obsessions, on the question of workers' democracy that were to be noted in some of the discussion articles in Pravda.

The first extreme concerns the election principle. It manifests itself in some comrades wanting to have elections "throughout." Since we stand for the election principle, let us go the whole hog in electing! Party standing? What do we want that for? Elect whomever you please. That is a mistaken view, comrades. The Party will not accept it. Of course, we are not now at war; we are in a period of peaceful development. But we are now living under the NEP. Do not forget that, comrades. The Party began the purge not during, but after the war. Why? Because, during the war, fear of defeat drew the Party together into one whole, and some of the disruptive elements in the Party were compelled to keep to the general line of the Party, which was faced with the question of life or death. Now these bonds have fallen away, for we are not now at war; now we have the NEP, we have permitted a revival of capitalism, and the bourgeoisie is reviving. True, all this helps to purge the Party, to strengthen it; but on the other hand, we are being enveloped in a new atmosphere by the nascent and growing bourgeoisie, which is not very strong yet, but which has already succeeded in beating some of our co-operatives and trading organisations in internal trade. It was precisely after the introduction of the NEP that the Party began the purge and reduced its membership by half; it was precisely after the introduction of the NEP that the Party decided that, in order to protect our organisations from the contagion of the NEP, it was necessary, for example, to hinder the influx of non-proletarian elements into the Party, that it was necessary that Party officials should have a definite Party standing, and so forth. Was the Party right in taking these precautionary measures, which restricted "expanded" democracy? I think it was. That is why I think that we must have democracy, we must have the election principle, but the restrictive measures that were adopted by the Eleventh and Twelfth Congresses, at least the chief ones, must still remain in force.

The second extreme concerns the question of the limits of the discussion. This extreme manifests itself in some comrades demanding unlimited discussion; they think that the discussion of problems is the be all and end all of Party work and forget about the other aspect of Party work, namely, action, which calls for the implementation of the Party's decisions. At all events, this was the impression I gained from the short article by Radzin, who tried to substantiate the principle of unlimited discussion by a reference to Trotsky, who is alleged to have said that "the Party is a voluntary association of like-minded people." I searched for that sentence in Trotsky's works, but could not find it. Trotsky could scarcely have uttered it as a finished formula for the definition of the Party; and if he did utter it, he could scarcely have stopped there. The Party is not only an association of like-minded people; it is also an association of like-acting people, it is a militant association of like-acting people who are fighting on a common ideological basis (programme, tactics). I think that the reference to Trotsky is out of place, for I know Trotsky as one of the members of the Central Committee who most of all stress the active side of Party work. I think, therefore, that Radzin himself must bear responsibility for this definition. But what does this definition lead to? One of two possibilities: either that the Party will degenerate into a sect, into a philosophical school, for only in such narrow organisations is complete like-minded-ness possible; or that it will become a permanent debating society, eternally discussing and eternally arguing, until the point is reached where factions form and the Party is split. Our Party cannot accept either of these possibilities. This is why I think that the discussion of problems is needed, a discussion is needed, but limits must be set to such discussion in order to safeguard the Party, to safeguard this fighting unit of the proletariat, against degenerating into a debating society.

In concluding my report, I must warn you, comrades, against these two extremes. I think that if we reject both these extremes and honestly and resolutely steer the course towards internal Party democracy that the Central Committee set already in September of this year, we shall certainly achieve an improvement in our Party work. (Applause.)


Pravda, No. 277, December 6, 1923


1. This refers to the commission set up in conformity with the decision of the Political Bureau and of the Plenum of the Central Committee of the R.C.P.(B.) which took place on September 23-25, 1923.