Iosif Stalin, Address Delivered in the Kremlin Palace to the Graduates of the Red Army Academies. May 4, 1935
Comrades, it cannot be denied that in the last few years we have achieved great successes both in the sphere of construction and in the sphere of administration. In this connection there is too much talk about the services rendered by chiefs, by leaders. They are credited with all, or nearly all, of our achievements. That, of course, is wrong, it is incorrect. It is not merely a matter of leaders. But it is not of this I wanted to speak today. I should like to say a few words about cadres, about our cadres in general and about the cadres of our Red Army in particular.
You know that we inherited from the past a technically backward, impoverished and ruined country. Ruined by four years of imperialist war, and ruined again by three years of civil war, a country with a semi-illiterate population, with a low technical level, with isolated industrial oases lost in a sea of dwarf peasant farms — such was the country we inherited from the past. The task was to transfer this country from mediaeval darkness to modern industry and mechanized agriculture. A serious and difficult task, as you see. The question that confronted us was: Either we solve this problem in the shortest possible time and consolidate socialism in our country, or we do not solve it, in which case our country — weak technically and unenlightened in the cultural sense — will lose its independence and become a stake in the game of the imperialist powers.
At that time our country was passing through a period of an appalling dearth of technique. There were not enough machines for industry. There were no machines for agriculture. There were no machines for transport. There was not that elementary technical base without which the reorganization of a country on industrial lines is inconceivable. There were only a few of the necessary prerequisites for the creation of such a base. A first-class industry had to be built up. This industry had to be so directed as to be capable of technically reorganizing not only industry, but also agriculture and our railway transport. And to achieve this it was necessary to make sacrifices and to exercise the most rigorous economy in everything; it was necessary to economize on food, on schools, on textiles, in order to accumulate the funds required for building up industry. There was no other way of overcoming the dearth of technique. That is what Lenin taught us, and in this matter we followed in the footsteps of Lenin.
Naturally, uniform and rapid successes could not be expected in so great and difficult a task. In a task like this successes become apparent only after several years. We therefore had to arm ourselves with strong nerves, Bolshevik grit, and stubborn patience to overcome our first failures and to march unswervingly towards the great goal, permitting no wavering or uncertainty in our ranks.
You know that that is precisely how we set about this task. But not all our comrades had the necessary spirit, patience and grit. There turned out to be people among our comrades who at the first difficulties began to call for a retreat. “Let bygones be bygones,” it is said. That, of course, is true. But man is endowed with memory, and in summing up the results of our work one involuntarily recalls the past. (Animation.) Well, then, there were comrades among us who were frightened by the difficulties and began to call on the Party to retreat. They said: “What is the good of your industrialization and collectivization, your machines, your iron and steel industry, tractors, harvester combines, automobiles? You should rather have given us more textiles, bought more raw materials for the production of consumer goods, and given the population more of the small things that make life pleasant. The creation of an industry, and a first-class industry at that, when we are so backward, is a dangerous dream.”
Of course, we could have used the 3,000 million rubles in foreign currency obtained as a result of a most rigorous economy, and spent on building up our industry, for importing raw materials and for increasing the output of articles of general consumption. That is also a “plan,” in a way. But with such a “plan” we would not now have a metallurgical industry, or a machine-building industry, or tractors and automobiles, or aeroplanes and tanks. We would have found ourselves unarmed in face of foreign foes. We would have undermined the foundations of socialism in our country. We would have fallen captive to the bourgeoisie, domestic and foreign.
It is obvious that a choice had to be made between two plans: between the plan of retreat, which would have led, and was bound to lead, to the defeat of socialism, and the plan of advance, which led and, as you know, has already brought us to the victory of socialism in our country.
We chose the plan of advance, and moved forward along the Leninist road, brushing aside those comrades as people who could see more or less what was under tbeir noses, but who closed their eyes to the immediate future of our country, to the future of socialism in our country.
But these comrades did not always confine themselves to criticism and passive resistance. They threatened to raise a revolt in the Party against the Central Committee. More, they threatened some of us with bullets. Evidently, they reckoned on frightening us and compelling us to turn from the Leninist road. These people, apparently, forgot that wc Bolsheviks are people of a special cut. They forgot that neither difficulties nor threats can frighten Bolsheviks. They forgot that we had been trained and steeled by the great Lenin, our leader, our teacher, our father, who knew and tolerated no fear in the fight. They forgot that the more the enemies rage and the more hysterical the foes within the Party become, the more ardent the Bolsheviks become for fresh struggles and the more vigorously they push forward.
Of course, it never even occurred to us to turn from the Leninist road. Moreover, once we stood firmly on this road, we pushed forward still more vigorously, brushing every obstacle from our path. True, in pursuing this course we were obliged to handle some of these comrades roughly. But that cannot be helped. I must confess that I too had a hand in it. (Loud cheers and applause.)
Yes, comrades, we proceeded confidently and vigorously along the road of industrializing and collectivizing our coun- try. And now we may consider that the road has been traversed.
Everybody now admits that we have achieved tremendous successes along this road. Everybody now admits that we already have a powerful, first-class industry, a powerful mechanized agriculture, a growing and improving transport system, an organized and excellently equipped Red Army.
This means that we have in the main emerged from the period of dearth of technique.
But, having emerged from the period of dearth of technique. we have entered a new period, a period, I would say, of a dearth of people, of cadres, of workers capable of harnessing technique, and advancing it. The point is that we have factories, mills, collective farms, state farms, a transport system, an army; we have technique for all this; but we lack people with sufficient experience to squeeze out of this technique all that can be squeezed out of it. Formerly, we used to say that “technique decides everything.” That slogan helped us to put an end to the dearth of technique and to create a vast technical base in every branch of activity for the equipment of our people with first-class technique. That is very good. But it is not enough, it is not enough by far. In order to set technique going and to utilize it to the full, we need people who have mastered technique, we need cadres capable of mastering and utilizing this technique according to all the rules of the art. Without people who have mastered technique, technique is dead. In the charge of people who have mastered technique, technique can and should perform miracles. If in our first-class mills and factories, in our state farms and collective farms, in our transport system and in our Red Army we had sufficient cadres capable of harnessing this technique, our country would secure results three and four times as great as at present. That is why emphasis must now be laid on people, on cadres, on workers who have mastered technique. That is why the old slogan, “Technique decides everything,” which is a reflection of a period already passed, a period in which we suffered from a dearth of technique, must now be replaced by a new slogan, the slogan “Cadres decide everything.” That is the main thing now.
Can it be said that our people have fully grasped and realized the great significance of this new slogan? I would not say so. Otherwise, there would not have been the outrageous attitude towards people, towards cadres, towards workers, which we not infrequently observe in practice. The slogan “Cadres decide everything” demands that our leaders should display the most solicitous attitude towards our workers, “little” and “big,” no matter in what sphere they are engaged, training them assiduously, assisting them when they need support, encouraging them when they show their first successes, promoting them, and so forth. Yet in practice we meet in a number of cases with a soulless, bureaucratic, and positively outrageous attitude towards workers. This, indeed, explains why instead of being studied, and placed at their posts only after being studied, people are frequently flung about like pawns. People have learnt to value machinery and to make reports on how many machines we have in our mills and factories. But I do not know of a single instance when a report was made with equal zest on the number of people we have trained in a given period, on how we have assisted people to grow and become tempered in their work. How is this to be explained? It is to be explained by the fact that we have not yet learnt to value people, to value workers, to value cadres.
I recall an incident in Siberia, where I lived at one time in exile. It was in the spring, at the time of the spring floods.
About 30 men went to the river to pull out timber which had been carried away by the vast, swollen river. Towards evening they returned to the village, but with one comrade missing. When asked where the thirtieth man was, they replied indifferently that the thirtieth man had “remained there.” To my question, “How do you mean, remained there?” they replied with the same indifference, “Why ask — drowned, of course.” And thereupon one of them began to hurry away, saying, “I’ve got to go and water the mare.” When I reproached them with having more concern for animals than for men, one of them said, amid the general approval of the rest: “Why should we be concerned about men? We can always make men. But a mare. . . Just try and make a mare.” (Animation.) Here you have a case, not very significant, perhaps, but very characteristic. It seems to me that the indifference of certain of our leaders to people, to cadres, their inability to value people, is a survival of that strange attitude of man to man displayed in the episode in far-off Siberia that I have just related.
And so, comrades, if we want successfully to get over the dearth of people and to provide our country with sufficient cadres capable of advancing technique and setting it going, we must first of all learn to value people, to value cadres, to value every worker capable of benefiting our common cause. It is time to realize that of all the valuable capital the world possesses, the most valuable and most decisive is people, cadres. It must be realized that under our present conditions “cadres decide everything.” If we have good and numerous cadres in industry, agriculture, transport, and the army — our country will be invincible. If we do not have such cadres — we shall be lame on both legs.
In concluding my speech, permit me to offer a toast to the health and success of our graduates from the Red Army Academies. It wish them success in the work of organizing and directing the defence of our country.
Comrades, you have graduated from institutions of higher learning, in which you received your first tempering. But school is only a preparatory stage. Cadres receive their real tempering in practical work, outside school, in fighting difficulties, in overcoming difficulties. Remember, comrades, that only those cadres are any good who do not fear difficulties who do not hide from difficulties, but who, on the contrary, go out to meet difficulties, in order to overcome them and eliminate them. It is only in the fight against difficulties that real cadres are forged. And if our army possesses genuinely steeled cadres in sufficient numbers, it will be invincible.
Your health, comrades! (Stormy applause. All rise. Loud cheers for Comrade Stalin.)
Source: I. V. Stalin, Problems of Leninism (Moscow: Foreign Language Publishers, 1934), pp. 767-74.