V. I. Lenin

Speech Delivered at a Congress

Of Leather Industry Workers

October 2, 1920[1][96]

Delivered: 30 May, 1920
First Published: Pravda No, 225 and 226, October 9 and 10, 1920; Published according to the Pravda text
Source: Lenin’s Collected Works, 4th English Edition, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1965, Volume 31, pages 300-313
Translated: Julius Katzer
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, in compliance with the wish expressed by the organisers of your congress, the political position of our Republic will be the subject of my report. In this respect, the chief thing I have to deal with is undoubtedly our war with Poland, the general course of events in connection with that war, and what has consequently become revealed concerning the domestic and international position of our Republic.

You are all, of course, aware of the present gravity of our position at the front. In this connection it will be natural if we examine the circumstances that have made the situation so acute, and given it such a turn for the worse. You will of course remember that last April, when the Polish offensive had not yet begun, the line of the front lay farther eastward, in many places very much farther eastward, than at present. As it then was, the line left Minsk in Polish hands; the Poles held the whole of Byelorussia. Not only the Council of People’s Commissars, but the Presidium of the All-Russia Central Executive Committee itself&38212;the highest body in the R.S.F.S.R.—solemnly declared in a manifesto to the Polish people that they proposed peace, and rejected the idea of deciding by force of arms the fate of Byelorussia, which had never been Polish, and whose peasant population had long suffered from the Polish land owners and did not regard themselves as Poles. Nevertheless, we declared in the most official and solemn terms that we proposed peace on the basis of the then existing line, since we set so high a value on the workers who would have to lay down their lives in case of war that we considered no concessions too important by comparison. We presumed that the question of Byelorussia would be settled, not by force of arms, but exclusively through the development of the struggle within Poland. We knew that we could contribute to the liberation of Poland’s toilers, not so much by the force of arms as through the force of our propaganda.

That was last April, and you know that at first Poland replied to our solemn offer of peace with a manoeuvre, a proposal that peace should be signed in Borisov, a highly important strategic point, which was in their hands. Negotiations in Polish-held Borisov would have meant that the Poles could advance in the south-west while we would have been prevented from advancing in the north-west. Any other city but Borisov, was our reply. The Poles refused. I remind you of this so that, whenever you have to speak on this subject, you may the more emphatically stress the point that at first we proposed peace on the basis of a line lying farther eastward than the present one, that is, we agreed to a peace which was most disadvantageous to ourselves.

The Poles have forced the war on us; we know that it was not even the Polish landowners or the Polish capitalists that have played the chief role here, since Poland’s position was as desperate then as it is now. She has embarked on this venture in sheer desperation. But, of course, international capital, and in the first place French capital, was the chief force driving the Poles into a war with us. It has so far been established that hundreds of French officers have been serving with the Polish army, and that all the weapons, all the financial and military support Poland has received, have come from France.

Such are the conditions in which this war began. It marked a new attempt by the Allies to destroy the Soviet Republic, an attempt, following the collapse of the Yudenich plan, to crush the Soviet Republic, this time with the help of Poland. You are acquainted with the main events in this war with Poland, which began against our wish. You know that at first the Poles were successful, and captured Kiev in the south-west. Then there was a fairly long interval in which the Red Army was able to concentrate its forces and to start an offensive, whereupon the Poles began to lose one point after another. They lost Polotsk, and so on. But it was not until July that the Red Army began a decisive offensive, which proved so successful that we effected an advance almost unparalleled in military history. The Red Army advanced 500, 600, and in many cases even 800 versts without a stop, and almost reached Warsaw. Warsaw was considered practically lost to Poland. That, at least, was the opinion of the world press. Then the tide turned. By the time our troops had got within reach of Warsaw they were too exhausted to press home the victory, whereas the Polish troops supported by a wave of patriotism in Warsaw, and with a feeling that they were now on their own soil, found encouragement and a fresh opportunity to advance. The war, as it turned out, had enabled us almost to rout Poland completely, but at the decisive moment our strength failed us.

I could speak of this at greater length, but, in keeping with the topic of my report, I must dwell on the political situation that had developed at the time. We have seen that when, before the April offensive, we proposed peace to the Polish Republic on terms that were most advantageous to the Poles and disadvantageous to us, the bourgeois press all over the world raised a hullabaloo, and our outspoken declaration was taken as a sign of weakness. If the Bolsheviks were proposing peace on the basis of the line then held by the Polish troops, and if the Bolsheviks were even surrendering Minsk, then they must surely be weak. On the outbreak of the war, even the British monarch sent a message of congratulations to the head of the Polish landowner government.

On July 12, as you very likely remember, we suddenly received a telegram from the Secretary of the League of Nations to the effect that the Polish Government were willing to start negotiations for peace on the basis of ethnographic boundaries, and provided the whole of Galicia were given to Poland. An unparalleled uproar was raised in the world press. This time they were all for peace. When we proposed peace in April, or even earlier, in the spring of 1920, all these newspapers were silent, or else urged Poland to fight. But when we had defeated Poland and it was Poland that was asking for peace-to which we replied by clearly and frankly stating our opinion that the League of Nations did not represent any force and that we could not rely on any promise it made-they all raised a hullabaloo and demanded that w’e should call a halt. Now that the fortunes of war have changed, and we announced yesterday that we were offering Poland peace on terms more favourable than the League of Nations had proposed, on condition peace was signed before October 5, the whole bourgeois press has again fallen silent. They are silent about peace when the Bolshevik’s are attacked, but raise an outcry when it is the Bolsheviks who are attacking. And after all this, they want us to believe that the bourgeois press wants peace. At our Party’s conference, which ended a few days ago, we were able to hear a report by a Polish worker, representative of one of the largest trade unions in Poland,[2][97] who managed to get through from Warsaw. He told us of the persecution of the workers in Poland, how the Warsaw workers looked to the Red Army as their liberator, and how they were waiting for the coming of the Russian Red Army, which they regard, not as their enemy but, on the contrary, as their friend in their struggle against the landowners and the bourgeois oppressors of Poland. It is quite clear that Poland is the Entente’s cat’s-paw in a new attempt to destroy the Soviet Republic; however, when this attempt threatened to lead to a diametrically opposite result and we were on the point of helping the Polish workers overthrow their government, the entire European bourgeois press turned on us. Comrade Kamenev, who visited London, has told us here in the Bolshoi Theatre how he daily heard ultimatums and threats from the British Government, which was already prepared to mobilise its whole navy against Petrograd and concentrate it at Kronstadt, allegedly to defend Poland against us. Now that the fortunes of war have changed and we are withdrawing from our terms everything Poland has declared unacceptable, the bourgeois press has fallen silent. It is quite clear that French and British imperialism is inciting Poland to make a fresh attempt to overthrow the Soviets.

I think that this is a last attempt (and this is undoubtedly important) at an offensive against Soviet Russia. It appears that Poland is too closely bound up with the whole system of international mperialism. You know that, after defeating Germany, the Allied mperialists-France, Great Britain, America and Japan-signed the Peace of Versailles, which, to say the least, was far more brutal than the infamous Peace of Brest-Litovsk, over which such an outcry was raised. But while the French, the Americans and the British proclaimed from the house-tops that this was a war of liberation, that its purpose was to save Europe and the world from the barbarian Huns, as they called the Germans, to save the world from German militarism and the German Kaiser, we now find that the Peace of Versailles outdoes in atrocity anything the Kaiser was capable of when he was victor. The interference of British and French officers in economic life has proved to all the defeated countries, to Germany and to all the countries that made up the Austro-Hungarian Empire, that it is impossible to live under such conditions. One of the pillars of this monstrous peace is Poland’s cutting across Germany, since Polish territory stretches to the sea. Relations between Germany and Poland are at present strained to the utmost, In oppressing the German population, the Poles have the support of the Entente troops and officers. The Versailles Peace has turned Poland into a buffer state which is to guard against German contact with Soviet communism and is regarded by the Entente as a weapon against the Bolsheviks. Through Poland and with the help of Poland, the French are hoping to recover the tens of thousands of millions loaned to the tsarist government. That is why, when the war with Poland broke out, which we tried to avert even at the price of heavy concessions, it proved td be a more direct war against the Entente than previous wars had been. The latter, in which Koichak, Denikin and Yudenich attacked us, were also conducted with the aid of officers and hundreds of millions provided by the Allies, with the aid of their guns and tanks. The previous wars were also wars against the Entente, but they were fought on Russian territory against Russian whiteguard officers and the peasants they had mobilised and they could not become wars that could shake the Peace of Versailles. That is where they differed from the war against Poland. The war against Yudenich, Koichak and Denikin was also a war against the Entente, but at the same time it was a war of working-class Russia against the whole of bourgeois Russia. When it ended in victory and when we smashed Yudenich, Kolchak and Denikin, this was not a direct attack on the Peace of Versailles. The reverse is true of Poland; that is what distinguishes the war against Poland, and constitutes Poland’s international significance.

When we were victoriously pressing our offensive on Poland, the whole of Europe began to vociferate that they wanted peace, that the whole world was tired of war, and that it was time to make peace. But now that the Poles are advancing, there is no outcry that people are tired of war. Why is that? It is because, by defeating Yudenich, Kolchak and Denikin, we could not destroy the Peace of Versailles; we were merely falling upon Yudenich, Kolchak and Deni-. kin and driving them into the sea. However, in attacking Poland we are thereby attacking the Entente itself; by destroying the Polish army we are destroying the Peace of Versailles, on which the whole present system of international relations rests.

Had Poland turned Soviet, had the Warsaw workers received from Soviet Russia help they awaited and welcomed, the Peace of Versailles would have been smashed, and the entire international system set up as a result of the victory over Germany would have collapsed. France would then not have had a buffer protecting Germany against Soviet Russia. She would not have had a batteringram against the Soviet Republic. She would have had no hope of recovering her tens of thousands of millions, and would be heading for disaster even more rapidly than she now is. France is up to her ears in debt. Once the wealthiest of money-lenders, she now owes America three times as much as other countries do. She is. heading for bankruptcy. Her position is hopeless. That is why the approach of the Red troops to Warsaw meant an international crisis; that is why the entire bourgeois press was so agitated by it. Such was the position that, had the Red Army advanced victoriously another few days, not only would Warsaw have been captured (that would not have mattered so much),. but the Peace of Versailles would have been destroyed.

Therein lies the international significance of this Polish war. You know that we harboured no plans of conquest. I said at the beginning of my speech that in April 1920 we stood east of Minsk and proposed peace on those terms, if only we could save the workers and peasants of Russia from a new war. But since war has been forced upon us, we must fight it to a victorious finish. The Peace of Versailles is oppressing hundreds of millions of people. It is robbing Germany of coal, robbing her of her much herds, and is reducing her to an unparalleled and unprecedented state of servitude. Even the most backward sections of Germany’s peasant population have declared that they are for the Bolsheviks, that they are allies of the Bolsheviks; that is quite natural, for, in its struggle for existence, the Soviet Republic is the only force in the world which is combating imperialism-and imperialism now means an alliance of France, Britain and America. We are approaching the hub of the present international system. When the Red troops approached the frontier of Poland, the Red Army’s victorious advance created an unprecedented political crisis. The main feature of this crisis was that, when the British Government threatened us with war, and told us that if we advanced any farther they would fight us and send their warships against us, the British workers declared that they would not permit this war. Let me tell you that Bolshevism is spreading among the British workers. However, the Communists there are just as weak today as we were in March, April and May 1917, when we had one-tenth of the votes at conferences and congresses. At the First All-Russia Congress of Soviets in June 1917, we had no more than 13 per cent of the votes. A similar situation exists in Great Britain: there the Bolsheviks are in an insignificant minority. But the point is that the British Mensheviks have always been opposed to Bolshevism and direct revolution, and have favoured an alliance with the bourgeoisie. Today, however, the old leaders of the British workers have begun to waver and have changed their minds they were opposed to the dictatorship of the working class, but now they have come over to our side. They have set up a Council of Action over there in Britain. This is a radical change in British politics. Alongside of Parliament, which in Great Britain is now elected by almost universal suffrage (since 1918), there has arisen a self-appointed Council of Action which relies on support from the workers’ trade unions with a membership of over six million. When the government wanted to begin a war against Soviet Russia, the workers declared that they would not allow it, and said they would not let the French fight either, because the French depend upon British coal, and should this industry come to a standstill it would be a severe blow to France.

I repeat that this was a tremendous turning-point in British politics. Its significance to Great Britain is as great as the revolution of February 1917 was to us. The revolution of February 1917 overthrew tsarism. and set up a bourgeois republic in Russia. There is no republic in Great Britain, but her thoroughly bourgeois monarchy has existed for many centuries. The workers can vote in the parliamentary elections, but all foreign policy is conducted outside Parliament, for it is the province of the Cabinet. We have long known that the British Government are waging an undercover war on Russia and are helping Yudenich, Koichak and Denikin. We have often met with statements in the British press to the effect that Great Britain has no right to send a single soldier to Russia.. Who, then, voted for this measure? What act of Parliament authorised war on Russia in aid of Yudenich and Kolehak? There have been no such acts, and by actions like this Great Britain has violated her own constitution. What then is this Council of Action? Independently of Parliament, this Council of Action has presented an ultimatum to the government on behalf of the workers. This is a step towards dictatorship, and there is no other way out of the situation. This is taking place in Great Britain, which is an imperialist country with 400 or 500 million people enslaved in her colonies. She is a most important country, which rules the greater part of the population of the earth. The advance on Poland has led to such a turn of affairs that the British Mensheviks have entered into an alliance with the Russian Bolsheviks. That is what this offensive has done.

The entire British bourgeois press declared that the Council of Action meant the Soviets. They were right. It did not call itself by that name, but actually that is what it was. It is the same kind of dual power as we had under Kerensky from March 1917 onwards, a time when the Provisional Government was considered the only government, but actually could do nothing of significance without the Soviet of Workers’ and Peasants’ Deputies, a time when we said to the Soviets: “Take over all power.” A similar situation has now arisen in Britain, and the Mensheviks on this “Council of Action” have been obliged to adopt an anti-constitutional course. This will give you some idea of what our war with Poland has meant. Though the international bourgeoisie are still immeasurably stronger than we are, and the British Government has put the whole blame on Kamenev, expelled him from Great Britain, and will not let him return, this is but an empty and ridiculous threat, for the best defenders of the American and British capitalists, the moderate British labour leaders-those Right Mensheviks and Right Socialist-Revolutionaries-have joined the Council of Action, and Great Britain is now facing a new crisis. She is now threatened with a coal miners’ general strike. The strikers are demanding, not only higher pay but a cut in coal prices. One wave of strikes is following another in Great Britain. The strikers are demanding higher wages. However, if the workers win a 10 per cent wage rise today, prices go up 20 per cent tomorrow. Prices are rising, and the workers see that their struggle gets them nowhere and that, despite wage increases, they are losing, because of the higher prices. So the workers are demanding, not only higher pay for the coal miners but lower coal prices as well. This has led to the British bourgeois press panicking in even greater horror than when the Red Army entered Poland.

You know how the European crisis has affected Italy. Italy is one of the victor powers, and when the Red Army’s successes led to a movement in Germany and a change in British policy, the struggle in Italy became so acute that the workers began to seize the factories, take over the factory owners’ dwellings, and rouse the rural population. The present situation in Italy is far removed from any form of class peace.

That was the course taken by the Polish war. That is why, while realising that the Polish war was closely linked up with the international imperialism’s entire position, we agreed to make the greatest concessions to save the workers and peasants from the hardships of war. Then we clashed with the Peace of Versailles, and found that the bourgeoisie was just as incensed against us as ever; however, we also found that the workers were maturing daily and hourly, and that the workers’ revolution was steadily approaching, although all too slowly as compared with the speed of developments in Russia. It was possible to accomplish the revolution so rapidly in Russia because it took place in wartime. During the war tens of millions of Russian workers and peasants were armed, and against such a force the bourgeoisie and the officers were powerless. During the October days they threatened to lead an army against Petrograd. We used to receive tens of thousands of telegrams from all the fronts saying: “We are marching against you to wipe you out.” “Well have a try,” we said to ourselves. When delegates arrived from each of the armies, a thirty minutes’ talk was enough to show that the soldiers were with us, and the officers had to hold their tongues. The attempts at resistance, the plots of Yudenich, Koichak and Denikin came later, after the army had been demobilised. That is why the revolution could succeed so rapidly in Russia. The people were armed. The workers and peasants proved to be on our side to a man. In Europe, however, the war is over. The armies have been demobilised; the soldiers have returned to their homes; the workers and peasants are disarmed. Developments there are slow now, but they are on the move. The international bourgeoisie has only to raise a hand against us to have it seized by its own workers. That is the international significance of the war with Poland. That is the source of the international crisis. That, too, is the source of our new difficulties now. It was when, as you know, we lacked just a little strength to reach Warsaw, hand over power to the Warsaw workers, convene Soviets of Workers’ and Peasants’ Deputies in Warsaw, and say to them “We have come to your aid”, when, after heroic efforts without parallel or precedent in the past, our army’s strength was spent, that the moment of our military defeat came.

We have now fallen back very far to the east. In the north we have even lost the town of Lida; in the south we are almost on the line we held in April 9919-the Pilsudski line. In the north we are retreating very rapidly, and in the meantime Wrangel is making ever new attempts to advance. He recently threatened Ekaterinoslav, approached Sinelnikovo and got control of it. He has now captured Slavgorod. In the east, he has captured Mariupol, is approaching Taganrog and threatening the Donets Basin. We are again in difficult straits, and again we see the international imperialists attempting to strangle the Soviet Republic with both hands: the Polish offensive and the Wrangel offensive. In fact, Poland and Wrangel are the two hands of the French imperialists, who are supplying the troops both of Poland and of Wrangel with munitions. But these three forces are not getting along very well together. France tells the Poles that they should not grab too many resources, too much territory, because a tsarist Russia will never let them keep it. Then she tells Wrangel that he must not act so as to restore the power of the old landowners, for the example of Denikin, Kolchak and Yudenich shows that when the old landowners direct the whiteguard armies, or when their officers command the armies, the more territory they seize, the sooner that leads to their ruin, because in the end the peasants rise up in revolt against them.

As long as Wrangel has a crack officer army he can rely on it; Wrangel ’s strength lies in his possessing splendid weapons of the most up-to-date type and a crack officer army. When he effected a landing in the Kuban region, his army was so selected that every company and regiment could be developed into an entire division, because it consisted entirely of officers. But as soon as he attempts to repeat what Kolchak, Denikin and Yudenich did in the past, i.e., seize more territory, so as to mobilise a larger peasant population and create a mass army, his success will at once give way to defeat; just as the peasant army was opposed to Kolchak, Denikin and Yudenich, so it will never march with Wrangel’s officer army. The Warsaw worker who addressed the Party Conference formulated it as follows: the Polish army, which formerly consisted of youngsters (raw lads just called up for service), has been destroyed. Men up to the age of 35have now been mobilised; these are adults who have been through the imperialist war, and this army, as far as the Polish landowners and capitalists are concerned, is by no means as reliable as an army of youngsters.

That is how matters stand with regard to the international situation. In the war against the Entente, owing to the defeat we have suffered at Warsaw and the offensive now continuing on the Western and Wrangel fronts, our position is again highly critical. I must therefore conclude my brief report by appealing to our comrades in the leather industry and pointing out to them that we must once again bend every effort, for the defeat of Wrangel is now our principal task. This will call for tremendous effort and initiative on the part of the workers, the trade unions, the proletarian masses, and first and foremost of those workers who are closely associated with the branches of industry that are connected with defence. Our chief difficulty in the present war is not manpower-we have enough of that-but supplies. The chief difficulty on all the fronts is the shortage of supplies, the shortage of warm clothing and footwear. Greatcoats and boots-that is the main thing our soldiers lack, and it is on that account that quite successful advances have so often failed. That is the difficulty which prevents us from rapidly utilising for a victorious advance the new units, which we possess in sufficient numbers, but which, without sufficient supplies, cannot be formed and cannot be of any real combat value.

Both the leather workers’ union and this assembly, which represents the entire proletariat in this industry, must give their most serious attention to this. Comrades, it depends on you to make the forthcoming offensive against Wrangel, for which we are mustering all our forces, as rapid and successful as it can possibly be. It depends on you, because the measures being taken by the Soviet Government and the Communist Party are not enough. To give real help to the Red Army men, to secure a decisive turn for the better, and to improve supplies, the assistance of Soviet institutions, the decrees of the Council of People’s Commissars and the Council of Defence,[3][98] and Party decisions are not enough: what is required is help from the trade unions. The trade unions must realise that, despite our repeated offers of peace, the very existence of the workers’ and peasants’ power is once more at stake. You know how this power gained in strength after the collapse of Denikin, Kolchak and Yudenich. You know how the grain collections improved thanks to the recovery of Siberia and the Kuban region; you know that the capture of Baku has now enabled us to secure over a hundred million poods of oil, and how our industry has at last begun to acquire the foundation on which it is possible to create stocks of grain and bring the workers back to the factories, accumulate raw material and provide fuel, so that the factories may be started and economic life restored at last. But for all these possibilities to materialise, we must at all costs put an end to the war, and speed up the offensive against Wrangel. The Crimea must be recovered before winter comes in the south and that will depend on the energy and initiative of the workers themselves, and above all, perhaps, on the energy and initiative of every Russian leather worker and of the Leather Workers’ Union.

I appeal to you to follow the example of our Petrograd workers, who recently, after a report by a representative of the Communist International on the situation at the fronts, once more began to make tremendous efforts to help the cause, again beginning with munitions for the Red Army men, and building up the strength of the Red Army. You know that each step taken in the rear to help the Red Army has an immediate effect on the morale of the Red Army men. You know that the autumn cold affects the Red Army men, depresses them, creates new difficulties, increases the number of sick men and results in great hardships. All aid given by the rear to the Red Army men immediately helps strengthen the Red Army, fortify its morale, bring down the number of sick and increase its offensive power. At every meeting and in every workshop, every worker must now make the slogan “Everything for the Red Army!” the chief topic of his talks, reports and meetings.

What we must ask ourselves is: have we done everything in our power to help the Red Army? On this help depends how soon we settle final accounts with Wrangel and fully ensure for ourselves peace and the possibility of constructive work in the economic field. (Applause.)