Speech in the Kremlin Palace to Graduates of the Red Army Academy, 4 May 1935
(Printed in Pravda 6 May 1935)
Comrades! It cannot be denied that recently we have had many successes both in the area of construction and of administration. In this context, too much has been said about the services of leaders. They are given the credit for nearly all our achievements. That, of course, is untrue and incorrect. It is not just a matter of leaders. But that is not what I wanted to talk about today. I wanted to talk about cadres, cadres in general and in the Red Army in particular.
You know what sort of inheritance we had from the old times, worn out technology and a poverty-ridden wrecked country. Ravaged by four years of imperialist war, followed by three years of civil war, a country with an illiterate population, low technology and only a few oases of industry in a sea of small peasant homesteads - that was the country we inherited from the past. The task was to move the country from the rails of medieval darkness to the rails of modern industry and mechanised agriculture - a serious and difficult task. The question was this: EITHER we achieve this in the shortest possible time and strengthen socialism in our country, OR we fail, and our country, with its weak technology and dark cultural relations, loses its independence and is turned into a play thing of the imperialist powers.
At that time our country was suffering from an acute famine in the area of technology. There were no machines for industry. There were no machines for agriculture. There were no machines for transport. We did not have that elementary technical base without which the industrial transformation of the country is unimaginable. Only some of the prerequisites were there. Industry had to be created, industry had to be created to meet the needs of technology, agriculture and transport. So sacrifices had to be made, economies had to be made, food was rationed, expenditure on schools cut - to create the indispensable means for industrial construction. There was no other way to get over the technology famine. That is what Lenin taught us, and we followed in his footprints.
Of course, such a great and difficult affair was not always full of successes. Many successes could only be appreciated years after the event. So we had to be armed with strong nerves and Bolshevik restraint, to go forward towards that great target, without showing hesitation or uncertainty in our ranks.
You know that that is how we did things. But you also know that not all our comrades kept their nerve or showed restraint. There were those amongst us who at the first sign of difficulty called for retreat. Some say it is wrong to hark back to the past, but if you have a memory you inevitably recall the past when you count up the successes of the present. So, comrades, there were those among us who called for retreat. They said:
What do you mean by industrialisation and collectivisation, by machines, heavy industry, tractors and cars? Better to concentrate on light industrial manufactures, better to concentrate on consumer goods. Creating first rate modern industry in our backward state is a dangerous dream.
. . . Obviously, it was necessary to choose between these two plans, between the plan of retreat, which could only have led to the defeat of socialism, and the plan of advance, which, as you know, has led to the victory of socialism in our country.
We chose the plan of advance and are following Lenin’s path, rubbing out those comrades as people who could not see beyond their noses, and closed their eyes to the socialist future of our country.
But those comrades did not limit themselves to criticism and passive opposition. They threatened an uprising in the party against the Central Committee. More than that: they threatened some of us with bullets. Evidently they counted on frightening us and forcing us to turn from the Leninist path. These people clearly forgot that we are Bolsheviks, people of a special cut. They forgot that Bolsheviks are not frightened by difficulties or threats. They forgot that we were forged by Lenin, our leader, our teacher, our father who knew no defeat in battle. They forgot that the more our enemies rage and the more our opponents in the party have hysterics, the more Bolsheviks steel themselves for new struggles and the faster they move forward.
Of course, we never even considered turning from Lenin’s path. What is more, the more firmly we kept to this path the quicker we went forward, brushing all hindrances aside. It is true that on the way we had to push a few comrades to one side, but nothing can be done about that. I must confess, that I turned my hand to this as well.
Yes, comrades, we went surely and swiftly along the path of industrialisation and collectivisation; and now we can consider that path completed.
Now all recognise that we have achieved enormous successes by going along that path. Now all recognise that we have a powerful, first class industry, a powerful and mechanised agriculture, a developing and working transport system, and a marvellously equipped Red Army.
That means we have outlived to all intents and purposes the period of the technology famine.
But having outlived that period, we have entered a new period, a period which I would call the period of the people famine, the cadre famine, the workers famine, of those capable of getting into the technology saddle and moving forward. The point is that we have factories, collective farms, soviet farms, the army - we have the technology for all this, but we lack people with sufficient experience to get the maximum from that technology. Earlier we used to say ‘technology decides everything’. That slogan helped us in this respect, that we liquidated the technology famine and created a technical base wide enough for all aspects of life. That is good, but it is far from enough. To get technology moving, to use it to the very bottom, we need people who understand technology, cadres who can use technology in all its ramifications. Technology without people who understand technology is death. Technology headed by people who understand technology, can and must produce wonders. If our factories, soviet farms, collective farms and our Red Army had sufficient cadres capable of assimilating technology, that would have an impact on the country two or even four times the current state of affairs. That is why we must now rely on people, on cadres, on workers who possess technological skills. That is why the old slogan ‘technology decides everything’, a slogan which reflects a situation which has now passed when there was a technology famine, should be changed for a new slogan ‘cadres decide everything’. That is the main thing at present. (Emphasis added)
Can we say that our people have fully understood this slogan and taken it on board? I would not say so. If that were the case we would not have that appalling attitude towards people, cadres and workers which can frequently be observed. The slogan ‘cadres decide everything’ demands that our leaders show the most attentive concern for our workers, for the little man as well as the big man in whatever sphere they may work, that they train them attentively and help them if they need support, that they encourage them at the first signs of success, always moving them forward, and so on. But in fact in reality we have a whole series of incidents of bureaucratic indifference and simply appalling attitudes being shown to workers. This explains the sort of thing when, instead of training people and only after that training giving them a post, people are often flung around like pawns. We have learnt how to value machinery and report how good the technology is in our factories. But I know of no example where we have reported with such enthusiasm about how many people we have trained over that period and how many people we have helped to become experienced and tempered in their work. Why is this? It is because we have not yet learnt to value people, to value workers, to value cadres.
I remember an incident in Siberia when I was there as an exile. The incident occurred during the spring flooding. Thirty men set out to collect wood from the trees washed away by the huge river. When they returned to the village in the evening one of the comrades was missing. To the question, what has happened to the thirtieth, they replied calmly that he was still there. To my question, what do you mean he is still there, they replied with equanimity, what more is there to ask, he must have drowned. And then one of them hurried off, announcing that he had to go and water his horse. To my reproach that they cared more for the animals than their fellow human beings, one of them replied in defence of the others: ‘what is the point of caring for people - we can always make people but you try making a horse’. There's a trait for you, perhaps insignificant but very characteristic. It seems to me that this attitude of indifference that several of our leaders show towards people and cadres, and their inability to value people, is a survival of that sort of strange attitude towards people shown by that episode from distant Siberia.
And so, comrades, if we want to eliminate the people famine and get to a position where our country has the right quantity of cadres capable of advancing our technology further and putting it into action - we must above all else value cadres, value every worker capable of contributing usefully to our common cause. Finally, we must understand that of all the valuable capital available in the world, the most valuable, and the most decisive form of capital is people, is cadres. It must be understood that in our current circumstances ‘cadres decide everything’. If we have a large number of good cadres in industry, agriculture, transport and the army, then our country will be invincible. Without those cadres it will hobble along like a cripple.
I.V. Stalin, Sochineniya [Works], vol. 1 [XIV], 1934-1940, ed. R.H. McNeal and trans. Diana Swain, Stanford: Hoover Institution, Stanford University, 1967, pp.56-64.