V. I. Lenin

Speech Delivered At The

Fourth All-Russia Congress Of Garment Workers[1]

February 6, 1920

Delivered: 4 February, 1921
First Published: In 1922 In the book: Chetvvorty vserossiiski syezd rabochikh shveirsoi promyshlennosti. Sienogiafichesht otchot (The Fourth All-Russia Congress of Garment Workers, February 1-6, 1922. Verbatim Report). Petrograd; Published according to the text of the book
Source: Lenin’s Collected Works, 1st English Edition, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1965, Volume 32, pages 112-119
Translated: Yuri Sdobnikov
Transcription\HTML Markup: David Walters & R. Cymbala
Copyleft: V. I. Lenin Internet Archive (www.marx.org) 2002. Permission is granted to copy and/or distribute this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License

Comrades, it gives me great pleasure to greet your Congress on behalf of the Central Committee of our Party and of the Council of Peoples Commissars. What gives me oven greater pleasure is your unanimous decision of yesterday, following the happy reconciliation and successful resolution of the conflict and the friction among you, which required such strenuous efforts from all, and some from our Party as well. I am sure, comrades, that this slight clash and its successful settlement will be an earnest that in your future work, as members of the union and of the Party, you will be able to solve all the numerous difficulties and problems that still lie ahead of us.

Comrades, speaking of the position of our Republic in general of the internal and external position of the Soviet power—the greatest difficulties that confronted us were, of course, those of our external positions. The greatest difficulties of the entire proletarian revolution in Russia arose from our having had to take the initiative in the socialist revolution due to the course of the imperialist war and the preceding development of the first revolution in 1905; this imposed unprecedented difficulties on us, and on our country. You all know, of course—I think that in your branch of industry this is more evident to you than to the workers of other industries—you all know to what extent capital is an international force, to what extent all the big capitalist enterprises, factories, shops, etc., all over the world are linked up together; this makes it obvious that in substance capital cannot be completely defeated in one country. It is an international force, and in order to rout it the workers must also make a concerted effort on an international scale. Ever since 1917, when we fought the bourgeois-republican governments in Russia, and ever since the power of the Soviets was established at the end of 1917, we have been telling the workers again and again that the cardinal task, and the fundamental condition of our victory is to spread the revolution to, at least, a few of the most advanced countries. And our main difficulties over the past four years have been due to the fact that the West European capitalists managed to bring the war to an end and stave oft revolution.

We in Russia had paticuiarly striking evidence of the extremely precarious position of the bourgeoisie during the imperialist war. We also heard that in all other countries it was the end of the war that marked the intensification of the political crisis, for then the people were armed and it was an opportune moment for the proletariat to have done with the capitalists at one stroke. For a number of reasons the West European workers failed to do this, and for nearly four years now we have had to defend our positions single-handed.

As a consequence, the difficulties that fell to the lot of the Soviet Republic of Russia were without number, because the military forces of the capitalists of the whole world (vastly superior to our own, of course) did all they possibly could to help our landowners. We know full well of the incredible hardships and privations the working class of Russia has had to bear, but if we are emerging today from more than three years of successfully repulsing their military invasions and overcoming their obstructions, we have a perfect right to say without any exaggeration that the worst of our difficulties are behind us. 11 in spite of their overwhelming military superiority, the capitalists of the world have failed to crush this weak and backward country in the course of three years, it was only because we have had the dictatorship of the proletariat and enjoyed the massive sympathy of the working people all over the world, we can safely say, in every country without exception. And if the capitalists of the whole world have failed in their attempt to crush Soviet Russia, which was not a hard task for them because of their enormous military superiority, we can say, I repeat, that in the international sphere, the greatest danger-point of the whole Soviet revolution is past, the worst difficulties are over.

The danger is still there, of course; the negotiations for final peace are still dragging on and there are signs that a rather difficult period in these negotiations is setting in, for the French imperialists, in particular, are pressing on with their efforts to push Poland into another war, and are spreading all sorts of false rumours about Soviet Russia not wanting peace.

Actually, we have done everything to prove that we do; we signed the provisional terms several months ago, and they were such that everyone was surprised by our spirit of compromise. We are not going back on any point of these terms, but we shall certainly refuse to be soaked under the pretext of a division of the property which under tsarism had belonged to the Polish and to the Russian people, which at the time both groaned under the yoke of tsarism. That is something we cannot have. We accept a fair division of the property, which is to be regarded as common, and a part of the railway property, and consider as indisputable the need to restore to the Polish people all objects of cultural value to which they attach especial importance, and which had been stolen and carried off to Russia in the days of the tsar. We have always anticipated that difficult problems would arise in the settlement of this matter; but if under the pressure of the French imperialists the Poles want to create a conflict and sabotage peace at all costs, there is nothing we can do about it. If there is to be peace, good will must be shown on both sides, whether in the ease of a very serious conflict within a separate alliance or between two states. If the Poles once again yield to the pressure of the French imperialists, then, I repeat, the effort to conclude peace may be frustrated. You are well aware, of course, what new difficulties will confront us if the French imperialists succeed in sabotaging this peace; and we all know from a number of sources and reports that attempts are being made and enormous efforts are being exerted to this end, and that the foreign capitalists are spending millions upon millions to organise another invasion of Soviet Russia in the spring. We now have over three years’ experience of the way these invasions are organised. We know that unless they have the aid of a neighbouring state, the foreign capitalists cannot hope to organise anything like a serious expedition, and the millions they have been handing out to the various groups headed by Savinkov, or to the group of Socialist-Revolutionaries who are publishing their newspaper in Prague[2] and sometimes speak in the name of the Constituent Assembly, these millions will go down the drain, and they will have nothing to show for it but a lot of spoiled newsprint and wasted ink in various printing offices in Prague.

But there are countries like Rumania, which has not tried to fight Russia, and Poland, which is ruled by an exploiting class and a military clique of adventurers. We know that they cannot muster large forces against us, but we also know that what we prize most is peace and an opportunity to devote all our efforts to restoring our economy, So we must be extremely careful. We have the right to tell ourselves that the worst difficulties in international politics are behind us, but it would be extremely thoughtless to shut our eyes to the possibility of fresh attempts. Of course, now that we have eliminated the Wrangel front, and R0mania had not risked war when the odds were on her side, it is hardly likely that she will risk it now; but we must not forget that the ruling classes in Rumania and Poland are in a position which may be said to be bordering on the desperate. Both countries have been sold to foreign capitalists lock, stock, and barrel. Both are up to their ears in debt, and have no means of paying up. Their bankruptcy is inevitable. The revolutionary movement of the workers and peasants is growing steadily. Bourgeois governments in such straits have been known to rush headlong into the craziest adventures, for which there was no other explanation but their desperate and hopeless situation. That is why we must still reckon with the possibility of fresh attempts at armed invasion.

Our conviction that these attempts will be frustrated, and that the position of the capitalist powers all over the world is, generally speaking, precarious, springs chiefly from the mounting economic crisis in all countries, and the growth of the communist working-class movement. In Europe, the revolution has not been following the same lines as ours. As I have said, the workers and peasants or the West European countries, who were in arms when the war ended, failed to strike in a swift revolution that would have been the least painful. The imperialist war, however, had so shaken the position of these states that not only has the economic crisis there not yet run its course, but there are signs that in every country without exception, even in the richest and most advanced, it will become even more acute next spring. Capital is an international evil, and just because of this all countries find themselves so grappled to each other that when some go down they tend to drag down the rest.

The rich countries have naturally waxed richer: during the war their capitalists piled up huge profits. But in the overwhelming majority of the European countries, trade has been dislocated and disrupted owing to the complete devastation not only of Russia, but even of Germany, and owing to the depression and the currency depreciation. The richest countries are suliocating, being unable to sell their industrial goods because of the depreciating currency, unomploymont is growing to incredible proportions everywhere, and an unprecedented economic crisis is looming all over the world.

Meanwhile, the working class—which its capitalists had bribed by giving sizable hand-outs from their profits to the upper strata of the working class to entice it away from the revolution—is recovering from its blindness after the three-and-a-half-year war against Soviet Russia, while the communist movement is growing steadily and taking on depth not only in the parties, but also in the trade unions all over the world, although not as fast as we should like. The ruling classes all over the world are particularly apprehensive of the changes that are taking place in the trade union movement. In Europe, they are not afraid of the prospect of facing a party that could lead the revolutionary proletariat, as was the case in the Russian revolution, when in the course of a few months, no, weeks, the Party was transformed from an illegal one into one commanding nation-wide forces, and backed by millions of people. Europe has net had such a party for years. But every capitalist sees the trade unions, and knows that they unite millions of workers and that the machinery of capitalism is bound to break down, unless the capitalists control them through the leaders who call themselves socialists but pursue the policy of the capitalists. This they know, feel and sense. The most telltale fact, for instance, was that in Germany the whole bourgeois press and the whole press of the social-traitors meeting in the Second International and calling themselves socialists, but loyally serving the capitalists, was whipped into a frenzy not so much because of Zinoviev’s.visit to Germany, as of that of the Russian trade unionists, for no one has stirred up the German trade unions to such an extent as they did on their first short visit to that country. This savage fury of the German bourgeois press and all the Communist-hating capitalists shows how precarious their position is. An international, world-wide struggle has flared up for influence with the trade unions, with millions of members in all civilised countries, for on them depends this inner work, which is not always readily perceptible. The inexorable growth of the economic crisis is deciding the fate of the capitalist countries.

The attempted coup[3] by the German monarchist party was thwarted by the resistance of the German trade unions, when the workers who had followed Scheidemann and the murderers of Liebknecht and Luxemburg rose and crushed the military forces. As the economic crisis gains momentum, we find the same thing happening in Great Britain, and to a large extent in America as well. That is why it is the international situation that gives us most hope and conviction that the internal situation in the capitalist countries tends to sap all of their strength, and that our international position, which was difficult yesterday and remains such today, despite our great successes, will undoubtedly improve, and that we shall be able to devote all our efforts to solving our internal tasks. I shall not enlarge on these tasks, because all of you who are engaged in industry are more familiar with the tasks of construction than I am, and it would be superfluous for me to deal with them at length.

I heard the final remark made by the preceding speaker, and I join him in saying that every member must now concentrate most attention on the practical tasks of production and economic construction now before us. The trade unions now unite nearly all the industrial workers; they unite the class that has borne the brunt of the burden of the past three years. In Russia, the working class is exercising its dictatorship; it is the ruling class in a country where workers are in a minority. But it is precisely because the working class is ruling the country and because the workers had borne the brunt of capitalist exploitation, that it is assured of the sympathy and massive support of the working peasantry and all those who do not live on the labour of others. This explains what is a sealed book not only to the capitalists but also to the socialists who have remained enemies of the Third International, and what they take to be a trick on the part of our government. They cannot understand how the working class could fight on for three years, against enormous odds, and beat them. But the majority of the peasants must support the working class because the workers have come to power for the first time in history, and because power has been taken by the class that had been most exploited. They have realised that the working class is right, and have withdrawn their support from the bourgeoisie, which, by the way, they regard as a term of abuse. I met a peasant who complained about present conditions and was obviously not in sympathy with the Soviet government’s food policy, and certain other issues. The poor peasants of his district had called him a "bourgeois", and he felt this to be an affront. "I refuse to be called by such a disgraceful name," he said. And there is a world of meaning in the fact that this term has come to be regarded as an odious one by the peasants—even the well-to-do middle peasants who have worked with their own hands, who know what it takes to earn a living, and who have been exploited by landowners and capitalists (and that is something they have all experienced). It is the basis of our propaganda and agitation, and the influence exercised by the working class through the state. It is this support of the peasant masses that the working class is assured of in spite of the resistance of the rich and profiteering crowd. And that is why our trade unions are not only associations of working people, not only the builders of our economy—that is their main task—but also a political force building a new state without landowners and capitalists. Although a minority, they can and will build a new communist society, because we are assured of the support of the millions upon millions of those who have always lived by their own labour. In greeting your Congress, I want to say that I am quite sure that we shall succeed in our tasks despite all the difficulties confronting us. (Prolonged applause.)


[1] The Congress was held in Moscow on February 16, 1921, and was attended by 287 delegates. The items on the agenda were: activity of the trade union’s Central Committee; economic tasks; output norms; international trade union federation, etc. The Congress sent a message of greetings to Lenin.

Lenin addressed the ninth plenary sitting on the morning of February 6, and mentioned a conflict which had arisen at a Communist group meeting to discuss nominations for the new trade union Central Committee. The disagreements were so acute that the Party’s CC. deemed it necessary to step in.

[2] The reference is to the newspaper Volya Rossii (The Will of Russia). It was the Central Organ of the Right Socialist-Revolutionaries, and was published in Prague from September 12, 1920, to October 9, 1921.

[3]The reference is to the monarchist Kapp putsch in Germany in March 1920, organised by a reactionary military clique headed by Kapp. The Kapp government fell after a few days under pressure from the workers.