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Lenin Speech To The Second All-Russia Congress Of Economic Councils

 25 December, 1918

Izvestia No. 284 a


Collected Works,  Volume 28, pages 375-381

(Ovation.) Comrades, first I want to say a few words about the Soviet Republic’s international situation. Of course, you all know that the main issue at stake is the victory of the British, French and American imperialists and their attempts to seize complete possession of the whole world, and, particularly, to destroy Soviet Russia.

At the beginning of the October Revolution, as you know, not only the majority of the West-European bourgeoisie, but also a certain section of the Russian bourgeoisie believed that what was going on in our country was a sort of socialist experiment which could have no essential and serious significance from a world pointof view. Particularly arrogant and short-sighted bourgeois people frequently maintained that the communist experiments in Russia could serve no other purpose than to give satisfaction to German imperialism. And, unfortunately, there were people who allowed themselves to be blinded by such words and who, incidentally, regarded the fantastically harsh and coercive terms of the Brest-Litovsk Peace Treaty from this angle. In actual fact, these people were wittingly or unwittingly fostering petty-bourgeois class patriotism and regarding the growing unfavourable situation not from the point of view of its world significance, nor from the development of events on a world scale, but from the point of view that German imperialism, is the chief enemy, and that these harsh and immensely extortionate peace terms were a triumph for the German imperialists.

Indeed, if we regard the events of that period from the point of view of the situation in Russia, more ruinous terms can scarcely be imagined. But the folly of the calculations of the German imperialists became apparent within a few months, when the Germans were conquering the Ukraine and bragging to the German bourgeoisie, and even more so to the German proletariat, that the moment had arrived to reap the fruits of imperialist policy, and that in the Ukraine they would get everything Germany needed. That was a very short-sighted and shallow judgement of events.

For it soon became apparent that the only people who were right were those who regarded events from the point of view of their influence on the development of the world revolution. The example of the Ukraine, which had suffered tremendously, in fact showed that the only correct judgement of events was one based on a study and careful observation of the international proletarian revolution. Imperialism found itself hard pressed by the working people, whose condition had become intolerable. And we can now see that the Ukrainian episode was one of the links in the process of growth of the world revolution.

The German imperialists were able to procure from the Ukraine far less material benefits than they had anticipated. On the other hand, this transformation of the war into a patently predatory one demoralised the entire German army, while contact. with Soviet Russia started in this army of German working people the process of disintegration which was to make itself felt a few months later. And now that the British and American imperialists have become even more arrogant, and regard themselves as overlords whom nobody can resist, we have no illusions about the extremely difficult, situation in which we find ourselves. The Entente powers have now overstepped the bounds of the possible for bourgeois policy; they have overdone it, just as the German imperialists overdid it in February and March 1918 in concluding the Brest-Litovsk Peace Treaty. The cause that led to the collapse of German imperialism is again clearly perceptible in the case of Anglo-French imperialism. The latter has imposed peace terms on Germany that are far worse, far harsher than those which Germany imposed on us when concluding the Brest-Litovsk Peace Treaty. In doing so, Anglo-French imperialism has overstepped the bounds and this will later prove fatal. Beyond these bounds imperialism forfeits the hope of holding down the working people.

In spite of the hullabaloo raised by the chauvinists around Germany’s defeat and destruction, in spite of the fact that the war is not yet officially over, we can already discern signs in France and Britain of an extremely rapid growth of the labour movement and a change of attitude by politicians who were formerly chauvinists but who are now opposing their governments’ attempt to meddle in Russian affairs. If we add to this the recent newspaper reports about the beginnings of fraternisation on the part of the British and American soldiers, and if we remember that imperialist armies consist of citizens who are being held in check by deceit and threats, we can see that Soviet. Russia is standing on fairly firm ground. With this general picture of world war and revolution before us, we are absolutely calm, and regard the future with complete confidence. And we assert that Anglo-French imperialism has gone so far as to overstep all the bounds of peace practically obtainable by imperialists and to fall in danger of complete collapse.

The tasks that the Entente powers, who are continuing the imperialist war, have set themselves are to stifle revolution and to seize and divide up all countries of the world. But although Britain and America have been more exempt from the horrors of war than Germany, and although their democratically organised bourgeoisie are much more far-sighted than the German, the British and American imperialists have lost their heads and are now compelled by objective conditions to undertake a task that is beyond their power. They are being forced to maintain troops for purposes of pacification and suppression.

Nevertheless, our present situation demands a maximum exertion of effort. And we must still set greater value on a month than we formerly did on a whole decade, because we are now doing a hundred times more. Besides safeguarding the Russian Republic, we are doing a great job for the world proletariat. Intense effort is demanded of us, immense work in compiling a plan of organisation and in defining general relations.

Passing to the question of our immediate tasks, I must say that the main thing has already been accomplished, and that in the interval between the First and Second Congresses of the Economic Councils the principal type of work has been outlined. A general plan of running industry, nationalised undertakings and whole branches of industry has been drawn up and put on a firm basis with the help of the trade unions. Incidentally, we shall continue to combat all syndicalist, separatist, parochial and regional tendencies, which can only harm our cause.

The military situation imposes a special responsibility and grave duties on us. Collegiate management with the participation of the trade unions is essential. Collegiate bodies are necessary, but collegiate management must not be allowed to become a hindrance to practical work. And when I personally now see the way economic tasks are being carried out by our undertakings, what strikes me most is that the executive part of our work, associated as it is with collective discussion, at times impedes the execution. This transition from collective execution to personal responsibility is the urgent problem of the day.

We shall unreservedly demand that all the Economic Councils, Central Boards and Central Administrations see that the collegiate system of management is not reduced to empty discussion, to writing resolutions, to compiling plans and to regional favouritism. That would be intolerable. We shall firmly insist that every member of an Economic Council and every member of a Central Board shall know for which branch of economy, in the narrow sense, he is responsible. When we receive reports that raw material is available, but people do not know how much, cannot work it out, when we hear complaints that warehouses filled with goods are under lock and key while the peasants are demanding, and justly demanding, commodity exchange, and are refusing to surrender grain in exchange for devaluated paper notes, we must know what member of what particular collegiate board is guilty of red tape. We must say that this member is responsible for the red tape and will be made to answer for it from the defence point of view, i.e., he will be liable to immediate arrest and court martial, even if he is a member of the most important union in the most important Central Board. He must be made to answer for the practical performance of the most simple and elementary things, such as keeping account of goods in the warehouses and putting them to proper use. It is in the performance of such elementary duties that obstructions most frequently arise.

From the historical standpoint, this should not evoke any misgivings, because in breaking new ground a certain amount of time has to be spent in outlining the general plan, which is then developed in the actual process of work. On the contrary, it is astonishing how much has been done in this respect in so short a time. From the military and the socialist standpoint, however, when the proletariat demands all-out efforts from us so that there may be bread and warm coats, so that they are not so short of footwear, foodstuffs, and so on, commodity exchange must be increased to three times and ten times as much as at present. This side of the matter must be made the immediate task of the Economic Councils.

What we require is practical work by people who will be responsible for exchanging grain for goods, for seeing that grain is not lying about, for proper account of the raw materials in every warehouse, as well as for seeing that they do not lie about unutilised, and for real assistance being given in production.

The co-operatives, too, must be approached in a businesslike way. When I hear members of the Economic Councils asserting that the co-operative societies are a matter for shopkeepers, that they are full of Mensheviks and whiteguards, and that we must therefore keep them at arm’s length, I maintain that these people display complete ignorance of the matter. They absolutely fail to understand the tasks of the moment when, instead of referring to the good co-operators as experts, they refer to them as people who are stretching out a hand to the whiteguards. They should mind their own business: we have the Extraordinary Commissions for ferreting out whiteguards, and that business should be left to them. The co-operatives, after all, are the only apparatus created by capitalist society which we must utilise. And we shall therefore ruthlessly punish by military law any attempt to replace action by arguments that are the epitome of short-sightedness, gross stupidity and intellectual conceit. (Stormy applause.)

When to this day, after the lapse of a year, matters are not organised as they should be, when, confronted by practical problems, we still continue to discuss plans while the country is demanding bread, felt boots and the distribution of raw materials on time, such red tape and meddling in other people’s affairs are not to be tolerated.

There are sometimes people in our apparatus who incline towards the whiteguards, but given communist control in all our institutions these people cannot acquire political significance or leading positions. There cannot be the slightest doubt on this score. But we need them as practical workers, and there is no need to fear them. I have no doubt that Communists are splendid people, that there are splendid organisers among them, but it will take years and years to obtain such organisers in large numbers, and we cannot wait.

Now we can obtain these workers from among the bourgeoisie, from among the experts and intellectuals. And we shall ask all comrades working in the Economic Councils: what, sirs, have you done to enlist experienced people in the work? What have you done to secure experts, salesmen, efficient bourgeois co-operators, who must work for you in no worse a manner than they did for the Kolupayevs and Razuvayevs?[2] Time to abandon the old prejudices and enlist all the experts we need in our work. Every collegiate body, every Communist executive must know this. The pledge of success lies in this attitude.

Let’s cut out the idle talk and get down to practical work to extricate our country from the ring in which the imperialists have surrounded it. That must be the position of every Soviet and co-operative organisation. We need action and more action! The proletariat will forfeit much if, once in power, it cannot utilise that power, put the problem practically and solve it practically. It is about time you dropped the idea that only Communists, among whom there are unquestionably excellent people, can perform a particular job. It. is about time you lost this prejudice; we need many workers who know their job, and we must enlist them all in the work.

Capitalism has left us a valuable legacy in the shape of its biggest experts. And we must be sure to utilise them and utilise them on a broad and mass scale; we must put every one of them to work. We have no time to spend on training experts from among our Communists, because everything now depends on practical work and practical results.

We must demand that every member of a collegiate body, every member of a responsible institution take charge of a job and be fully responsible for it. It is absolutely essential that everyone who takes charge of a definite branch of work should be responsible for everything, both for production and distribution. I must tell you that our Soviet Republic’s situation is such that given proper distribution of bread and other goods we can hold on for a very, very long time. But we must have a proper policy of definitely abandoning all red tape. We must act swiftly and decisively, we must appoint definite people for definite responsible work, every one of them must know his job exactly, must answer for it exactly, answer for it even with his head. That is the policy we are pursuing in the Council of People’s Commissars and in the Council of Defence[3] and to this policy all the activities of the Economic Councils and the co-operatives must be subordinated. That is the path the proletariat’s policy must take.

We must see to it that the wheels of commodity exchange revolve properly. That is the whole problem right now. An enormous amount of work has to be done in this sphere, and, in conclusion, my emphatic appeal to all of you is to do your share of this work. (Prolonged applause.)


[1] The Congress was held in the Second House of Soviets (the Metropol Hotel) in Moscow. On the sixth day of the proceedings, December 25, Lenin delivered a speech on the international situation and economic tasks of the Soviet Republic. On the basis of Lenin’s report the Congress adopted a resolution on one-man management, which established personal responsibility of heads of enterprises and organisations for their functioning.

[2] Kolupayev and Razuvagev—capitalist sharks described by Saltykov-Shchedrin.

[3] The Council of Defence (The Council of Workers’ and Peasants Defence) was set up by the All-Russia Central Executive Committee on November 30, 1918. It was organised in accordance with the decree of the C.E.C. of September 2, 1918, which proclaimed martial law. The Council of Defence was an emergency organ brought into being by the country’s extreme difficulties. It was vested with full powers for mobilising the country’s resources. Lenin was appointed Chairman of the Council.

The decisions of the Council of Defence were binding on the ]central and local departments and institutions and on all Soviet Citizens. During the Civil War and foreign intervention it was the chief military, economic and planning centre of the Republic. It exercised constant control over the activity of the Revolutionary Military Council and other military organs. From December 1, 1918, to February 27, 1920, it held 101 sessions and discussed some 2,300 questions relating to the country’s defence. Lenin presided at all but two sessions. The Council conducted its work through its members and special commissions which dealt with the most important problems of the country’s defence. To settle urgent local problems, the Council delegated its members and prominent Party workers and statesmen.

In early April 1920 the Council of Workers’ and Peasants’ Defence was reorganised into the Council of Labour and Defence. By decision of the Eighth All-Russia Congress of Soviets held in December 1920, the Council of Labour and Defence began to function as a commission of the Council of People’s Commissars whose main task was to coordinate the work of all departments in the sphere of economic construction. It existed until 1937 when many of it’s leading members were purged during the last of the Stalinist Purge Trials.

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