5 March 1937
Comrades, in my report I dealt with the main problems of the subject we are discussing. The debate has shown that there is now complete clarity among us, that we understand the tasks and that we are ready to remove the defects in our work. But the debate has also shown that there are several definite questions of our organizational and political practice on which there is not yet complete and clear understanding. I have counted seven such questions.
Permit me to say a few words about these questions.
1) We must assume that everybody now understands and realises that excessive absorption in economic campaigns and allowing ourselves to be carried away by economic successes while Party political problems are underestimated and forgotten, lead into a cul-de-sac. Consequently, the attention of Party workers must be turned in the direction of Party political problems so that economic successes may be combined and march side by side with successes in Party political work.
How, practically, can the task of reinforcing Party political work, the task of freeing Party organizations from minor economic details, be carried out? As is evident from the debate, some comrades are inclined to draw from this the wrong conclusion that economic work must now be abandoned entirely, At all events, there were voices which said in effect: Well, now, thank god, we shall be free from economic affairs, now we shall be able to devote our attention to Party political work. Is this conclusion correct? No, it is not correct. When our Party comrades who were carried away by economic successes abandoned politics, it meant going to the extreme, for which we had to pay dearly. If, now, some comrades, in setting to work to reinforce Party political work, think of abandoning economic work, this will be going to the other extreme, for which we shall pay no less dearly. You must not rush from one extreme to the other. Politics cannot be separated from economics. We can no more abandon economics than we can abandon politics. For convenience of study people usually, methodologically separate problems of economy from problems of politics. But this is only done methodologically, artificially, only for convenience of study. In real life, however, in practice, politics are inseparable from economics. They exist together and operate together. And whoever thinks of separating economics from politics in our practical work, of reinforcing economic work at the expense of political work, or, on the contrary, of reinforcing political work at the expense of economic work, will inevitably find himself in a cul-de-sac.
The meaning of the point in the draft resolution on freeing Party organizations from minor economic details and increasing Party political work is not that we must abandon economic work and economic leadership, but merely that we must no longer permit our Party organizations to supersede the business organizations, particularly the land departments, and deprive them of personal responsibility. Consequently, we must learn the Bolshevik method of leading business organizations, which is, systematically to help these organizations, systematically to strengthen them and to guide economy, not over the heads of these organizations, but through the medium of them. We must give the business organizations, and primarily the land departments, the best people, we must fill the staffs of these organizations with fresh workers of the best type who are capable of carrying out the duties entrusted to them. Only after this has been done can we count on the Party organizations being quite free from minor economic details. Of course, this is a serious matter and requires a certain amount of time. But until it is done the Party organizations will have to continue for a short period to deal very closely with agricultural affairs, with all the details of ploughing, sowing, harvesting, etc.
2) Two words about wreckers, diversionists, spies, etc. I think it is clear to everybody now that the present-day wreckers and diversionists, no matter what disguise they may adopt, either Trotskyite or Bukharinite, have long ceased to be a political trend in the labour movement, that they have become transformed into a gang of professional wreckers, diversionists, spies and assassins, without principles and without ideals. Of course, these gentlemen must be ruthlessly smashed and uprooted as the enemies of the working class, as betrayers of our country. This is clear and requires no further explanation.
But the question arises: how is this task of smashing and uprooting the Japano-German Trotskyite agents to be carried out in practice? Does that mean that we must strike at and uproot, not only real Trotskyites, but also those who at some time or other wavered in the direction of Trotskyism and then, long ago, abandoned Trotskyism; not only those who are really Trotskyite wrecking agents, but also those who, at some time or other, had occasion to walk down a street through which some Trotskyite had passed? At all events, such voices were heard at this Plenum. Can such an interpretation of the resolution be regarded as correct? No, it cannot be regarded as correct. In this matter, as in all others, an individual, discriminate approach is required. You cannot measure everybody with the same yardstick. Such a wholesale approach can only hinder the fight against the real Trotskyite wreckers and spies.
Among our responsible comrades there are a number of former Trotskyites who abandoned Trotskyism long ago and are fighting Trotskyism not less and perhaps more effectively than some of our respected comrades who have never wavered in the direction of Trotskyism. It would be foolish to cast a slur upon such comrades now.
Among our comrades there are some who ideologically were always opposed to Trotskyism, but who, notwithstanding this, maintained personal connections with individual Trotskyites which they did not hesitate to dissolve as soon as the practical features of Trotskyism became clear to them. Of course, it would have been better had they broken off their personal friendly connections with individual Trotskyites at once, and not only after some delay. But it would be foolish to lump such comrades with the Trotskyites.
3) What does choosing the right people and putting them in the right place mean?
It means, firstly, choosing workers according to political principle, i.e., whether they are worthy of political confidence, and secondly, according to business principle, i.e., whether they are fit for such and such a definite job.
This means that the business approach must not be transformed into a narrow business approach, when people interest themselves in the business qualifications of a worker but do not interest themselves in his political face.
It means that the political approach must not be transformed into the sole and exclusive approach, when people interest themselves in the political face of the worker but do not interest themselves in his business qualifications.
Can it be said that this Bolshevik rule is adhered to by our Party comrades? Unfortunately, this cannot be said. Reference was made to this at this Plenum. But not everything was said about it. The point is that this tried and tested rule is frequently violated in our practical work, and violated in the most flagrant manner. Most often, workers are not chosen for objective reasons, but for casual, subjective, philistine, petty-bourgeois reasons. Most often, so-called acquaintances, friends, fellow-townsmen, personally devoted people, masters in the art of praising their chiefs are chosen without regard for their political and business fitness.
Naturally, instead of a leading group of responsible workers we get a little family of intimate people, an artel, the members of which try to live in peace, try not to offend each other, not to wash dirty linen in public, to praise each other, and from time to time send vapid and sickening reports to the centre about successes.
It is not difficult to understand that in such a family atmosphere there can be no place for criticism of defects in the work, or for self-criticism by leaders of the work.
Of course, such a family atmosphere creates a favourable medium for the cultivation of toadies, of people who lack a sense of self - respect, and therefore, have nothing in common with Bolshevism.
Take for example Comrades Mirzoyan and Vainov. The first is the secretary of the Kazakhstan Territorial Party Organization, and the second is the secretary of the Yaroslavl Regional Party Organization. These people are not the worst in our midst. But how do they choose workers? The first dragged with him to Kazakhstan from Azerbaidjan and the Urals, where he had worked formerly, thirty to forty of his "own" people and placed them in responsible positions in Kazakhstan. The second dragged with him to Yaroslavl from the Donetz Basin, where he had worked formerly, over a dozen of his "own" people and also placed them in responsible positions. And so Comrade Mirzoyan has his own artel. And Comrade Vainov also has his own artel. Guided by the Bolshevik method of choosing and placing people, could they not choose workers from among the local people? Of course they could. Why, then, did they not do so? Because the Bolshevik method of choosing workers precludes the possibility of a philistine petty-bourgeois approach, precludes the possibility of choosing workers on the family and artel principle. Moreover, in choosing as workers people who were personally devoted to them these comrades evidently wanted to make themselves, to some extent, independent of the local people and independent of the Central Committee of the Party. Let us assume that Comrades Mirzoyan and Vainov, owing to some circumstance or other, are transferred from their present place of work to some other place. What, in such a case, will they do with their "tails"? Will they drag them again to the new places where they are going to work?
This is the absurd position to which the violation of the Bolshevik rule of properly choosing and placing people leads.
4) What does testing workers, verifying the fulfilment of tasks mean?
Testing workers means testing them, not by their promises and declarations, but by the results of their work,
Verifying the fulfilment of tasks means verifying and testing, not only in offices and only by means of formal reports, but primarily at the place of work, according to actual results.
Is such testing and verification required at all? Undoubtedly it is required. It is required, firstly, because only such testing and verification enables us to get to know the worker, to determine his real qualifications. It is required, secondly, because only such testing and verification enables us to determine the virtues and defects of the executive apparatus. It is required, thirdly, because only such testing and verification enables us to determine the virtues and defects of the tasks that are set.
Some comrades think that people can be tested only from above, when leaders test those who are led by the results of their work. That is not true. Of course, testing from above is needed as one of the effective measures for testing people and verifying the fulfilment of tasks. But testing from above far from exhausts the whole business of testing. There is another kind of test, the test from below, when the masses, when those who are led, test the leaders, draw attention to their mistakes and indicate the way in which these mistakes may be rectified. This sort of testing is one of the most effective methods of testing people.
The Party membership tests its leaders at meetings of Party actives, at conferences and at congresses by hearing their reports, by criticising defects and, finally, by electing or not electing this or that leading comrade to leading bodies. The strict adherence to democratic centralism in the Party, as the rules of our Party demand, the obligatory election of Party bodies, the right to nominate and to object to candidates, secret ballot, freedom of criticism and self-criticism – all these and similar measures must be carried out in order, among other things, to facilitate the testing and control of Party leaders by the Party membership.
The non-Party masses test their business, trade union and other leaders at meetings of non-Party actives, at mass conferences of all kinds, at which they hear the reports of their leaders, criticise defects and indicate the way in which these defects may be removed.
Finally, the people test the leaders of the country during elections of the government bodies of the Soviet Union by means of universal, equal, direct and secret suffrage.
The task is to combine testing from above with testing from below.
5) What does educating cadres on their own mistakes mean?
Lenin taught that conscientiously exposing the mistakes of the Party, studying the causes which gave rise to these mistakes and indicating the way in which these mistakes may be rectified are one of the surest means of properly training and educating Party cadres, of properly training and educating the working class and the toiling masses. Lenin says:
"The attitude of a political party toward its own mistakes is one of the most important and surest criteria of the seriousness of the party and of how it fulfils in practice its obligations toward its class and toward the toiling masses. To admit a mistake openly, to disclose its reasons, to analyse the conditions which gave rise to it, to study attentively the means of correcting it - these are the signs of a serious party; this means the performance of its duties, this means educating and training the class, and then the masses."
This means that it is the duty of Bolsheviks, not to gloss over their mistakes, not to wriggle out of admitting their mistakes, as often happens among us, but honestly and openly to admit their mistakes, honestly and openly to indicate the way in which these mistakes may be rectified, honestly and openly to rectify their mistakes.
I would not say that many of our comrades would cheerfully agree to do this. But Bolsheviks, if they really want to be Bolsheviks, must have the courage openly to admit their mistakes, to reveal their causes, indicate the way in which they may be rectified, and in that way help the Party to give the cadres a proper training and proper political education. For only in this way, only in an atmosphere of open and honest self - criticism, is it possible to educate real Bolshevik cadres, is it possible to educate real Bolshevik leaders.
Two examples to demonstrate the correctness of Lenin's thesis.
Take, for example, our mistakes in collective farm construction. You, no doubt, remember 1930, when our Party comrades thought they could solve the very complicated problem of transferring the peasantry to collective farm construction in a matter of three or four months, and when the Central Committee of the Party found itself obliged to curb these over-zealous comrades. This was one of the most dangerous periods in the life of our Party. The mistake was that our Party comrades forgot about the voluntary nature of collective farm construction, forgot that the peasants could not be transferred to the collective farm path by administrative pressure, they forgot that collective farm construction required, not several months, but several years of careful and thoughtful work. They forgot about this and did not want to admit their mistakes. You, no doubt, remember that the Central Committee's reference to comrades being dizzy with success and its warning to our comrades in the districts not to run too far ahead and ignore the real situation were met with hostility. But this did not restrain the Central Committee from going against the stream and turning our Party comrades to the right path. Well? It is now clear to everybody that the Party achieved its aim by turning our Party comrades to the right path. Now we have tens of thousands of excellent peasant cadres for collective farm construction and for collective farm leadership. These cadres were educated and trained on the mistakes of 1930. But we would not have had these cadres today had not the Party realised its mistakes then, and had it not rectified them in time.
The other example is taken from the sphere of industrial construction. I have in mind our mistakes in the period of the Shakhti wrecking. Our mistakes were that we did not fully appreciate the danger of the technical backwardness of our cadres in industry, we were reconciled to this backwardness and thought that we could develop extensive socialist industrial construction with the aid of specialists who were hostile to us, dooming our own business cadres to the role of bad commissars attached to bourgeois specialists. You, no doubt, remember how unwillingly our business cadres admitted their mistakes at that time, how unwillingly they admitted their technical backwardness, and how slowly they assimilated the slogan "master technique." Well? The facts show that the slogan "master technique" had good effects and produced good results. Now we have tens and hundreds of thousands of excellent Bolshevik business cadres who have already mastered technique and are advancing our industry. But we would not have had these cadres now had the Party yielded to the stubbornness of the business leaders who would not admit their technical backwardness, had not the Party realised its mistakes then, and had it not rectified them in time.
Some comrades say that it is inexpedient to talk openly about our mistakes, as the open admission of our mistakes may be construed by our enemies as our weakness and may be utilised by them. That is nonsense, comrades, sheer nonsense. On the contrary, the open admission of our mistakes and their honest rectification can only strengthen our Party, raise the prestige of our Party in the eyes of the workers, peasants and working intelligentsia, increase the strength and might of our state. And that is the main thing. If only the workers, peasants and working intelligentsia are with us, all the rest will come.
Other comrades say that the open admission of our mistakes may lead, not to the training and strengthening of our cadres, but to their becoming weaker and disturbed, that we must spare and take care of our cadres, that we must spare their self-esteem and peace of mind. And so they propose that we gloss over the mistakes of our comrades, relax criticism, and still better, ignore these mistakes. Such a line is not only radically wrong but extremely dangerous, dangerous first of all for the cadres whom they want to "spare" and "take care of." To spare and take care of cadres by glossing over their mistakes means killing these very cadres for certain. We would certainly have killed our collective farm Bolshevik cadres had we not exposed the mistakes of 1930, and had we not educated them on these mistakes. We would certainly have killed our industrial Bolshevik cadres had we not exposed the mistakes of our comrades in the period of the Shakhti wrecking, and had we not educated our industrial cadres on these mistakes. Whoever thinks of sparing the self-esteem of our cadres by glossing over their mistakes is killing the cadres and the self - esteem of cadres, for by glossing over their mistakes he helps them to make fresh and perhaps even more serious mistakes, which, we may assume, will lead to the complete breakdown of the cadres, to the detriment of their "self-esteem" and "peace of mind."
6) Lenin taught us not only to teach the masses, but also to learn from the masses.
What does that mean?
It means that we, the leaders, must not get swelled heads, must not think that because we are members of the Central Committee, or People's Commissars, we possess all the knowledge necessary to lead properly. Rank alone does not give knowledge and experience. Still less does title.
It means that our experience alone, the experience of the leaders, is not sufficient to enable us to lead properly, that, consequently, we must supplement our experience, the experience of the leaders, with the experience of the masses, the experience of the Party membership, the experience of the working class, the experience of the people.
It means that we must not for a moment relax, let alone sever our ties with the masses.
And finally, it means that we must listen attentively to the voice of the masses, to the voice of the rank-and-file members of the Party, to the voice of the so-called "little people," to the voice of the people.
What does leading properly mean?
It does not in the least mean sitting in offices and writing instructions.
Leading properly means:
Firstly, finding the proper solution to a problem; but it is impossible to find the proper solution to a problem without taking into account the experience of the masses who feel the results of our leadership on their own backs;
Secondly, organizing the application of the correct solution, which, however, cannot be done without the direct assistance of the masses;
Thirdly, organizing the verification of the fulfilment of this solution, which again cannot be done without the direct assistance of the masses.
We, the leaders, see things, events and people only from one side, I would say, from above; consequently, our field of vision is more or less limited. The masses, on the other hand, see things, events and people from the other side, I would say, from below; consequently, their field of vision is also to some extent limited. In order to find the proper solution to a problem these two experiences must be combined. Only then will the leadership be correct.
This is what not only teaching the masses but also learning from the masses means.
Two examples to demonstrate the correctness of Lenin's thesis.
This happened several years ago. We, the members of the Central Committee, were discussing the question of improving the situation in the Donetz Basin. The measures proposed by the People's Commissariat of Heavy Industry were obviously unsatisfactory. Three times we sent the proposals back to the People's Commissariat of Heavy Industry. And three times we got different proposals from the People's Commissariat of Heavy Industry. But even then we could not regard them as satisfactory. Finally, we decided to call several workers and lower business and trade union officials from the Donetz Basin. For three days we discussed matters with these comrades. And all of us members of the Central Committee had to admit that only these ordinary workers, these "little people," were able to suggest the proper solution to us. You no doubt remember the decision of the Central Committee and of the Council of People's Commissars on measures for increasing coal output in the Donetz Basin. Well, this decision of the Central Committee and the Council of People's Commissars, which all our comrades admitted was a correct and even a remarkable one, was suggested to us by simple people from the ranks.
The other example. I have in mind the case of Comrade Nikolayenko. Who is Nikolayenko? Nikolayenko is a rank-and-file member of the Party. She is an ordinary "little person." For a whole year she had been giving signals that all was not well in the Party organization in Kiev; she exposed the family spirit, the philistine petty-bourgeois approach to workers, the suppression of self-criticism, the prevalence of Trotskyite wreckers. But she was constantly brushed aside as if she were a pestiferous fly. Finally, in order to get rid of her they expelled her from the Party. Neither the Kiev organization nor the Central Committee of the C.P. of the Ukraine helped her to bring the truth to light. The intervention of the Central Committee of the Party alone helped to unravel the knot. And what transpired after the case was investigated? It transpired that Nikolayenko was right and the Kiev organization was wrong. Neither more nor less. And yet, who is Nikolayenko? Of course, she is not a member of the Central Committee, she is not a People's Commissar, she is not the secretary of the Kiev Regional Organization, she is not even the secretary of a Party cell, she is only a simple rank-and-file member of the Party,
As you see, simple people sometimes prove to be much nearer to the truth than some high institutions.
I could quote scores and hundreds of similar examples. Thus you see that our experience alone, the experience of the leaders, is far from enough for the leadership of our cause. In order to lead properly the experience of the leaders must be supplemented by the experience of the Party membership, the experience of the working class, the experience of the toilers, the experience of the so-called "little people."
But when is it possible to do that?
It is possible to do that only when the leaders are most closely connected with the masses, when they are connected with the Party membership, with the working class, with the peasantry, with the working intelligentsia.
Connection with the masses, strengthening this connection, readiness to heed the voice of the masses – herein lies the strength and invincibility of Bolshevik leadership.
We may take it as the rule that as long as the Bolsheviks maintain connection with the broad masses of the people they will be invincible. And, on the contrary, as soon as the Bolsheviks become severed from the masses and lose their connection with them, as soon as they become covered with bureaucratic rust, they will lose all their strength and become a mere squib.
In the mythology of the ancient Greeks there is the celebrated hero Antaeus who, so the legend goes, was the son of Poseidon, god of the seas, and Gaea, goddess of the earth. Antaeus was particularly attached to his mother who gave birth to him, suckled him and reared him. There was not a hero whom this Antaeus did not vanquish. He was regarded as an invincible hero, Wherein lay his strength? It lay in the fact that every time he was hard pressed in the fight against his adversary he touched the earth, his mother, who gave birth to him and suckled him, and that gave him new strength.
But he had a vulnerable spot – the danger of being detached from the earth in some way or other. His enemies took this into account and watched for it. One day an enemy appeared who took advantage of this vulnerable spot and vanquished Antaeus. This was Hercules. How did Hercules vanquish Antaeus? He lifted him off the ground, kept him suspended, prevented him from touching the ground and throttled him.
I think that the Bolsheviks remind us of the hero of Greek mythology, Antaeus. They, like Antaeus, are strong because they maintain connection with their mother, the masses who gave birth to them, suckled them and reared them. And as long as they maintain connection with their mother, with the people, they have every chance of remaining invincible.
This is the key to the invincibility of Bolshevik leadership.
7) Lastly, one more question. I have in mind the question of the formal and heartlessly bureaucratic attitude of some of our Party comrades towards the fate of individual members of the Party, to the question of expelling members from the Party, or the question of reinstating expelled members of the Party. The point is that some of our Party leaders suffer from a lack of concern for people, for members of the Party, for workers. More than that, they do not study members of the Party, do not know what interests they have, how they are developing; generally, they do not know the workers. That is why they have no individual approach to Party members and Party workers. And because they have no individual approach in appraising Party members and Party workers they usually act in a haphazard way: either they praise them wholesale, without measure, or roundly abuse them, also wholesale and without measure, and expel thousands and tens of thousands of members from the Party. Such leaders generally try to think in tens of thousands, not caring about "units," about individual members of the Party, about their fate. They regard the expulsion of thousands and tens of thousands of people from the Party as a mere trifle and console themselves with the thought that our Party has two million members and that the expulsion of tens of thousands cannot in any way affect the Party's position. But only those who are in fact profoundly anti-Party can have such an approach to members of the Party.
As a result of this heartless attitude towards people, towards members of the Party and Party workers, discontent and bitterness is artificially created among a section of the Party, and the Trotskyite double-dealers cunningly hook on to such embittered comrades and skilfully drag them into the bog of Trotskyite wrecking.
Taken by themselves, the Trotskyites never represented a big force in our Party. Recall the last discussion in our Party in 1927. That was a real Party referendum. Of a total of 854,000 members of the Party, 730,000 took part in the voting. Of these, 724,000 members of the Party voted for the Bolsheviks, for the Central Committee of the Party and against the Trotskyites, while 4,000 members of the Party, i.e., about one-half per cent, voted for the Trotskyites, and 2,600 members of the Party abstained from voting. One hundred and twenty-three thousand members of the Party did not take part in the voting. They did not take part in the voting either because they were away, or because they were working on night shift. If to the 4,000 who voted for the Trotskyites we add all those who abstained from voting on the assumption that they, too, sympathised with the Trotskyites, and if to this number we add, not half per cent of those who did not take part in the voting, as we should do by right, but five per cent, i.e., about 6,000 Party members, we will get about 12,000 Party members who, in one way or another, sympathised with Trotskyism. This is the whole strength of Messieurs the Trotskyites. Add to this the fact that many of them became disillusioned with Trotskyism and left it, and you will get an idea of the insignificance of the Trotskyite forces. And if in spite of this the Trotskyite wreckers have some reserves around our Party it is because the wrong policy of some of our comrades on the question of expelling and reinstating members of the Party, the heartless attitude of some of our comrades towards the fate of individual members of the Party and individual workers, artificially creates a number of discontented and embittered people, and thus creates these reserves for the Trotskyites.
For the most part people are expelled for so-called passivity. What is passivity? It transpires that if a member of the Party has not thoroughly mastered the Party program he is regarded as passive and subject to expulsion. But that is wrong, comrades. You cannot interpret the rules of our Party in such a pedantic fashion. In order to thoroughly master the Party program one must be a real Marxist, a tried and theoretically trained Marxist. I do not know whether we have many members of our Party who have thoroughly mastered our program, who have become real Marxists, theoretically trained and tried. If we continued further along this path we would have to leave only intellectuals and learned people generally in our Party. Who wants such a Party? We have Lenin's thoroughly tried and tested formula defining a member of the Party. According to this formula a member of the Party is one who accepts the program of the Party, pays membership dues and works in one of its organizations. Please note: Lenin's formula does not speak about thoroughly mastering the program, but about accepting the program. These are two very different things. It is not necessary to prove that Lenin is right here and not our Party comrades who chatter idly about thoroughly mastering the program. That should be clear. If the Party had proceeded from the assumption that only those comrades who have thoroughly mastered the program and have become theoretically trained Marxists could be members of the Party it would not have created thousands of Party circles, hundreds of Party schools where the members of the Party are taught Marxism, and where they are assisted to master our program. It is quite clear that if our Party organizes such schools and circles for the members of the Party it is because it knows that the members of the Party have not yet thoroughly mastered the Party program, have not yet become theoretically trained Marxists.
Consequently, in order to rectify our policy on the question of Party membership and on expulsion from the Party we must put a stop to the present blockhead interpretation of the question of passivity.
But there is another error in this sphere. It is that our comrades recognise no mean between two extremes. It is enough for a worker, a member of the Party, to commit a slight offence, to come late to a Party meeting once or twice, or to fail to pay membership dues for some reason or other, to be kicked out of the Party in a trice. No interest is taken in the degree to which he is to blame, the reason why he failed to attend a meeting, the reason why he did not pay membership dues. The bureaucratic approach displayed on these questions is positively unprecedented. It is not difficult to understand that it is precisely the result of this heartless policy that excellent, skilled workers, excellent Stakhanovites, found themselves expelled from the Party. Was it not possible to caution them before expelling them from the Party, or if that had no effect, to reprove or reprimand them, and if that had no effect, to put them on probation for a certain period, or, as an extreme measure, to reduce them to the position of candidates, but not expel them from the Party at one stroke? Of course it was. But this calls for concern for people, for the members of the Party, for the fate of members of the Party. And this is what some of our comrades lack.
It is time, comrades, high time, to put a stop to this disgraceful state of affairs. (Applause.)Pravda