Imperialist War and the Question of Peace

The Peace Politics of the Bolsheviks Before the November 1917 Revolution

4 The peace programme of the Bolsheviks

 That is sufficient on Lenin's critique of the peace programme of the reformist socialists. But what was the Bolshevik programme on the peace-question?

We must firstly differentiate between the negative and positive aspects of this programme. The former can be expressed most concisely in Lenin's slogan: 'Transformation of the imperialist war into a civil war.'

This transformation, says Lenin, was the only - and at the same time the least painful - road to a truly just, truly democratic peace.[115] Mankind had to choose: either the victory of one of the two imperialist coalitions —_ and as a consequence the further enslavement of classes and nations, along with the inevitability of new, still more inhuman wars; or on the other hand - the socialist revolution of the proletariat. This was the only way the question could-be posed.

Nevertheless, this perspective seemed a fantastic distortion of reality to the social-pacifist labour-leaders, who before the war had so often terrified the ruling classes with the perspective of a socialist revolution in Europe.[116] They overlooked the fact that imperialism historically represented the stage of declining, fading capitalism, and that the possibility of a socialist revolution actually grew out of the imperialist war:

'... this is not only because the horrors of the war give rise to proletarian revolt - no revolt can bring about socialism unless the economic conditions for socialism are ripe - but because state-monopoly capitalism is a complete material preparation for socialism, the threshold of socialism, a rung on the ladder of history between which and the rung called socialism there are no intermediate rungs.'[117]

In this sense, imperialism could and had to be characterised as the 'last' stage of capitalism. Yet

'How long this stage will last, no one can say: there can even be several such wars (like that of 1914 - RR)' [118]

It had to be understood that, as compared to earlier capitalist wars, wars in the imperialist epoch had a completely different meaning, and that consequently the tasks of socialists were completely different.[119]

The transformation of the imperialist war into a civil war was certainly an extremely difficult matter, and could not be accomplished at will by the separate socialist parties. Nevertheless, this was the only direction in which the 'Left' should work! That meant carrying out tenacious, systematic and bold mass propaganda, which would arouse all kinds of resistance to the war and ultimately lead to a proletarian uprising against capital. This is the dividing line between the revolutionary Marxists and the reformist 'social patriots'.

What then, did Lenin think that the actual revolutionary activity of the 'Left' should be?

In contrast to social-patriotic practice, which renounced the proletarian class struggle, which - according to Kautsky's formula - declared that it was postponed, suspended 'for the duration of the war[120] the Marxist Left had to direct their main struggle against any collaboration by the labour-organisations (trade unions and parties) with the bourgeoisie and the government. As the 'first steps' in this activity, the RSDLP's[121] émigré organisation - led by Lenin - proposed in March 1915: (1) a complete break with the policy of 'class peace' ('bloc national'); (2) the bringing down of the bourgeois-socialist coalition governments and the resignation of all socialist ministers; (3) refusal to vote for war-credits in parliament; (4) the formation of illegal organisations wherever governments violated or suspended the constitutional rights of the citizens; and lastly (5) spreading and promoting fraternisation among the front-line soldiers of all belligerent nations.[122]

It cannot be denied that this programme of the RSDLP anticipated the tendencies lying dormant in the war-time labour movement. In particular, from the second year of the war onwards, their call for the breaking of the 'class peace', increasingly met with spirited approval from the masses. This can be seen clearly from the international conferences of the left and left-centrist socialist groups in Zimmerwald and Kienthal (The split by the 'independents' from the socialists allied with the government in Germany must also be considered as a symptom of this radicalisation of the working-masses.) Of course, up until 1917 these were still only modest beginnings, and in this respect the March revolution in Russia was first to bring about a far-reaching change.

This can best be illustrated by the slogan - spread by the Bolsheviks - of 'fraternisation of the front-line soldiers!' As early as February and March 1915, Lenin referred several times to bourgeois press reports of sporadic cases of fraternisation by the soldiers in the trenches.[123] He says on this occasion:

'Try to imagine Hyndman, Guesde, Vandervelde, Plekhanov, Kautsky and the rest - instead of aiding the bourgeoisie (something they are now engaged in) - forming an international committee to agitate for "fraternisation and attempts to establish friendly relations" between the socialists of the belligerent countries, both in the "trenches" and among the troops in general. What would the results be several months from now, if today, only six months after the outbreak of the war and despite all the political bosses, leaders and luminaries. who have betrayed socialism, opposition is mounting on all sides against those who have voted for war credits and those who have accepted ministerial jobs, and the military authorities are threatening that "fraternisation" carries the death sentence?' [124]

And in the pamphlet 'Socialism and War', written by Lenin and Zinoviev in August 1915, it says:

`If such cases of fraternisation have proved possible even when ... social chauvinism has the support of the entire Social-Democratic press and all the authorities of the Second International, then that shows us how possible it would be to shorten the present criminal, reactionary and slave-holders' war and to organise a revolutionary international movement, if systematic work were conducted in this direction, at least by the Left-wing socialists in all the belligerent countries.' [125]

Yet, this systematic work by the Left-wing socialist forces was precisely what was lacking all over Western and Central Europe, with the result that the attempts at fraternisation which broke out from time to time in the trenches, could soon be crushed, and suppressed by the discipline of blind military obedience. This only shows that the slogan of 'Fraternisation of front-line soldiers' was at that time (the beginning of 1915) still premature, and that in isolation it could not have led to any tangible results.[126] Only with the outbreak of the March Revolution in Russia did the fraternisation of soldiers on the Eastern Front[127] become an everyday occurrence, and it contributed most significantly to the disintegration of military discipline in the Russian and then also in the German and Austrian armies.

In a political report given to the Conference of the Bolshevik Party on April 27th 1917, Lenin dealt with this question from precisely this standpoint. His report read:

`To end the war by pacifist means is utopia. it may be terminated by an imperialist peace. But the masses do not want such a peace. War is a continuation of the policies of a class; to change the character of the war one must change the class in power.'

This 'other class' was the working class; only the working class, if it came to power, could bring to the nation a truly democratic peace without annexations. But the Russian masses were not yet prepared to give up their allegiance to the Provisional Government and transfer all power to the Soviets. In view of this the Bolsheviks have 'only one practical means of bringing this butchery of peoples to a speedy end. This means is fraternisation at the front.'

There are numerous reports in the press and in communications from soldiers' councils created at the front:

`By starting to fraternise the Russian and German soldiers, the proletarians and peasants of both countries dressed in soldiers' uniforms, have proved to the whole world that intuitively the classes oppressed by the capitalists have discovered the right road to the cessation of the butchery of peoples.'

`By fraternisation,' Lenin continues, `we understand, first the publication of proclamations in the Russian and the German languages for distribution at the front; second, the holding of meetings between the Russian and the German soldiers at the front with the aid of interpreters, those to be arranged in such a way that the capitalists, and the generals and officers of both countries, who for the most part are the capitalist class, will not dare to interfere with these meetings ... Those proclamations and meetings must make clear the above-stated views of war and peace, must bring home the fact that if the state power in the two countries, Germany and Russia, were to pass wholly and exclusively into the hands of the Soviets of Workers' and Soldiers' Deputies, the whole of humanity would heave a sigh of relief, for then we would really be assured of a speedy termination of the war, of a really lasting, truly democratic peace among all the nations, and at the same time, the transition of all countries to socialism.'[128]

The same line of thought is continued in Lenin's 'Speech in Favour of the Resolution on the War' (8 May 1917), in which he says:

`Fraternisation (of front-line soldiers - RR), so far, is instinctive, and we must not deceive ourselves in this score ... The fraternising soldiers are actuated not by a clear-cut political idea but by the instinct of oppressed people, who are tired, exhausted and begin to lose confidence in capitalist promises ... Without this instinct the cause of the revolution would be hopeless. As you know, nobody would free the workers if they did not free themselves. But is instinct alone sufficient? You would not get far if you rely on instinct alone. This instinct must be transformed into a political awareness. in our "Appeal to the Soldiers of All the Belligerent Countries"[129] we explain into what this fraternisation should develop - into the passing of political power to the Soviets of Workers' and Soldiers' Deputies. Naturally, the German workers will call their Soviets by a different name, but this does not matter. The point is that we undoubtedly recognise as correct that fraternisation is instinctive, that we do not simply confine ourselves to encouraging fraternisation, but set ourselves the task of turning this instinctive fraternisation of workers and peasants in soldiers' uniforms into a politically-conscious movement, whose aim is the transfer of power in all the belligerent countries into the hands of the revolutionary proletariat.' [130]

And finally in the article 'The Significance of Fraternisation' (11 May 1917), Lenin wrote:

`The capitalists either sneer at the fraternisation of the soldiers at the front or savagely attack it. By lies and slander they try to make out that the whole thing is "deception" of the Russians by the Germans, and threaten - through their generals and officers - punishment for fraternisation.

From the point of view of safeguarding the "sacred right of property" in capital and the profits on capital, such a policy of the capitalists is quite correct. Indeed, if the proletarian socialist revolution is to be suppressed at its inception it is essential that fraternisation be regarded the way the capitalists regard it.'

The class-conscious workers however

'regard fraternisation with profound sympathy. Clearly, fraternisation is a path to peace. Clearly, this path does not run through the capitalist governments, through an alliance with them, but runs against them. Clearly, this path tends to develop, strengthen, and consolidate fraternal confidence between the workers of different countries. Clearly, this path is beginning to wreck the hateful discipline of the barrack prisons, the discipline of blind obedience of the soldier to "his" officers and generals ... (and) clearly, fraternisation is the revolutionary initiative of the masses, ... in other words, it is a rung in the ladder leading up to the socialist proletarian revolution.' [131]

Enough on the 'fraternisation' slogan. It must also be emphasized that Lenin's opponents (the Mensheviks and the Social-Revolutionaries) fiercely condemned this slogan, because they saw in it simply 'a means of ruining the technical and strategic defence' of the country.[132] But also the foreign critics of Bolshevism (e.g. Bauer,[133] Kautsky amongst others) never missed an opportunity of warning the Bolsheviks of this `Achilles heel' of their tactics.

It must be admitted that Lenin and Trotsky underestimated the extent to which the army inherited from Tsarism had disintegrated, and that at the time of the Brest peace-negotiations they were utterly dismayed by the military defencelessness of Russia. Yet, their opponents' critique was in every respect wrong and philistine, - it simply amounted to renouncing revolution entirely, so as to preserve the army and its fighting strength!

Kautsky did not perceive (says Lenin in his pamphlet 'The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky[134]), that

'under Kerensky maintaining the fighting strength of the army meant its preservation under bourgeois (albeit republican) command. Everybody knows, and the progress of events has strikingly confirmed it, that this republican army preserved the Kornilov spirit because its officers were Kornilov men. The bourgeois officers could not help being Kornilov men; they could not help gravitating towards imperialism and towards the forcible suppression of the proletariat. All that the Menshevik tactics amounted to in practice was to leave all the foundations of the imperialist war and all the foundations of the bourgeois dictatorship intact, to patch up details and to daub over a few trifles "reforms").'

On the other hand (Lenin continues)

'Not a single great revolution has ever taken place, or ever can take place, without the "disorganisation" of the army. For the army is the most ossified instrument for supporting the old regime, the most hardened bulwark of bourgeois discipline ... Counter-revolution has never tolerated, and never could tolerate, armed workers side by side with the army ... The first commandment of the bourgeoisie was (always - RR) to crush this nucleus and prevent it from growing. The first commandment of every victorious revolution, as Marx and Engels repeatedly emphasised, was to smash the old army, dissolve it and replace it by a new one. A new social class, when rising to power, never could, and cannot now, attain power and consolidate it except by completely disintegrating the old army ( ), except by passing through a 'most difficult and painful period without any army (the great French Revolution also passed through such a painful period), and by gradually building up, in the midst of hard civil war, a new army, a new discipline, a new military organisation of the new class. Formerly, Kautsky the historian understood this. Now, Kautsky the renegade has forgotten it.'[135]

We saw how the Bolsheviks, in their proclamations to the soldiers calling for 'fraternisation' pointed out that if state-power in Russia and Germany was transferred to the Councils, this would lead to the speediest conclusion of a democratic peace. What were the conditions of such a peace?

It is typical of Lenin's methodical mind that he was already dealing with this question while in exile in Switzerland. Here we are referring to his 'Several Theses' of 13 October 1915, in which it says inter al:

'To the question of what the party of the proletariat would do if the revolution placed power in its hands in the present war, our answer is as follows: we would propose peace to all the belligerents on the condition that freedom is given to the colonies and all peoples that are dependent, oppressed and deprived of tights. Under the present governments, neither Germany, nor Britain and France would accept this condition. In that case, we would have to prepare for and wage a revolutionary war, i.e. not only resolutely carry out the whole of our minimum programme,[136] but work systematically to bring about an uprising among all peoples now oppressed by the Great Russians, all colonies and dependent countries in Asia (India, China, Persia etc), and also, and rust and foremost, we would raise up the socialist proletariat of Europe for an insurrection against their governments and despite the social-chauvinists. There is no doubt that a victory of the proletariat in Russia would create extraordinarily favourable conditions for the development of the revolution in both Asia[137] and Europe. Even 1905 proved that'[138]

Of course, Lenin spoke in far greater detail on this particular question once the March Revolution had broken out, in one of his 'Letters from Afar' (Zurich, 2 March 1917). There we read:

'If political power in Russia were in the hands of the Soviets of Workers', Soldiers' and Peasants' Deputies, these Soviets, and the All-Russia Soviet elected by them, could, and no doubt would, agree to carry out the peace programme which our Party ( ) outlined as early as 13 October 1915 ...

This programme would probably be the following

1. The All-Russia Soviet of Workers', Soldiers' and Peasants! Deputies ... would forthwith declare that it is not bound by any treaties concluded either by the tsarist monarchy or by the bourgeois governments.    -

2. It would forthwith publish all these treaties in order to hold up to public shame the predatory aims of the tsarist monarchy and of all the bourgeois governments without exception.

3. It would forthwith publicly call upon all the belligerent powers to conclude an immediate armistice.

4. It would immediately bring to the knowledge of all the people our, the workers' and peasants', peace terms:
liberation of all colonies;
liberation of all dependent, oppressed and unequal nations.

5. It would declare that it expects nothing good from the bourgeois governments and call upon the workers of all countries to overthrow them and to transfer all political power to. Soviets of Workers' Deputies.[139]

Thus: Lenin's 'Several Theses' (which he reiterated - with a few additions - five times in the following months[140]) included in essence everything, which the Soviet Government later put before the world in its `Peace Decree'. In spite of the somewhat toned-down and less `provocative' language of the decree, this was certainly an unprecedentedly bold programme. Its demands went far beyond the bounds of what was acceptable for bourgeois democracy; it ignored without hesitation the customs of traditional diplomacy, and dealt with the peoples themselves, rather than with the governments.[141]

Of course, as such it had to face the bitter resistance of all its opponents (and occasionally even from within its own ranks), and it is very profitable to see how Lenin dealt with this opposition.

Initially, people tried to ascribe to him the idea that the Russian front-line soldiers should simply `stick their bayonets in the ground', abandon the front and in this way `end' the war.

Lenin indignantly rejected this interpretation of his politics. On 10 April 1917, he wrote:

'The war cannot be ended "at will". It cannot be ended by the decision of one of the belligerents.[142] It cannot be ended by "sticking your bayonet into the ground", as one soldier, a defencist, expressed it.'

This was either an anarchist or pacifist idea, which did not perceive the necessary connection between the economic organisation of society and politics. The Bolsheviks were not anarchists. They knew that the slogan `Down with the war' could only be realized through the transfer of state-power to another class, i.e. only through a `revolution in several countries'. The objection was therefore pure demagogy.[I43]

Even more meaningless (and more malicious) was the insinuation that the Bolsheviks were striving simply for a separate peace with the Central Powers! This is a

`vile slander, fabricated by the capitalists', for: 'We consider the German capitalists to be as predatory as the Russian, British, French, and other capitalists, and Emperor Wilhelm II to be as bad a crowned brigand as Nicholas II or the British, Italian, Rumanian and all other monarchs.'[144]

Lenin turns on his socialist opponents:

`when you reject a separate peace treaty, saying you don't want to serve the German imperialists, you are perfectly right, and that is why we, too, are against a separate peace treaty. Yet in effect, and in spite of yourselves, you continue to serve the Anglo-French imperialists, for 'the tsarist treaties remain, and they, too, help to plunder and strangle other peoples.[145]

For this very reason, `Coming to terms with Russian capital within the Russian Provisional Government' also represented a 'separate peace'! Moreover, Mensheviks and the Social-Revolutionaries were for the restoration of the status quo, - which also amounted to a separate peace, since only the Central Powers would be prepared to agree to a peace on the basis of the status quo ... Lenin concludes:

`We do not want a separate peace with Germany, we want peace for all nations, we want the victory of the workers of all countries over the capitalists of all countries' [146]

'The first step we should take if we had power would be to arrest the biggest capitalists and cut all the threads of their intrigues. ... Our second step would be to declare to all people over the head of their governments that we regard all capitalists (of all countries - RR) as robbers' [147]

and that a truly democratic peace could only be won in the struggle against the ruling classes.

But would the imperialists of the Central Powers and the Entente submit without resistance to a democratic peace imposed on them by the masses? - Of course not! In the final analysis, therefore, the question must be resolved by means of the revolution of the working classes in Europe as a whole. We saw how in his `Several Theses' of 1915 Lenin had already stressed the necessity and probability of a `revolutionary war' against imperialism. From the March Revolution of 1917 onwards this idea becomes a constant theme of his speeches and articles.[148] In his `Farewell Letter to the Swiss Workers' (8 April 1917) he says about this possibility:

`We would be forced to wage a revolutionary war against the German - and not only the German - bourgeoisie. And we would wage this war. We are not pacifists. We are opposed to imperialist wars over the division of spoils among the capitalists, but we have always considered it absurd for the revolutionary proletariat to disavow revolutionary wars that may prove necessary in the interests of socialism.'[149]

But would the Soviet Republic be capable of taking up armed struggle against the imperialist Great Powers? Lenin's revolutionary optimism leads him to consider the matter in all too rosy a light: Should the Russian working class seize power, he declared on 20 June 1917, then their example would be followed

`inevitably, perhaps not tomorrow (revolutions are not made to order), but inevitably all the same by the workers and all the waking people of at least two great countries, Germany and France. For both are perishing, the first of hunger, the second of depopulation. Both will conclude peace on our terms, which are just, in defiance of their capitalist governments ... (But - RR) should the capitalists of England, Japan and America try to resist this peace, the oppressed classes of Russia and other countries will not shrink from a revolutionary war against the capitalists. In this war they will defeat the capitalists of the whole world, not just those of the three countries lying far from Russia, and taken up with their own rivalries. The road to a just peace lies before us. Let us not be afraid to take it.'[150]

Even more confident is the tone of the 'Draft resolution on the present political situation' (16 September 1917), drawn up by Lenin:

'If, however, the highly improbable were to happen and the capitalists were to reject the peace terms of the Russian workers' government, against the will of their peoples, a revolution in Europe would become a hundred times nearer, and our workers' and peasants' army would elect for itself not hated but respected commanders and military leaders. The army would see the justice of the war once peace had been offered, the secret treaties torn up, the alliance with the land-owners and the bourgeoisie severed, and all land given to the peasants. Only then would the war become a just war for Russia, only this war would the workers and peasants fight of their own free will, without being bludgeoned into fighting; and this war would bring even nearer the inevitable workers' revolution in-the advanced countries.'[151]

And lastly, in his article 'The Tasks of the Revolution' (written 9-10 October 1917), Lenin declared:

`Such peace terms will not meet with the approval of the capitalists but they will meet with such tremendous sympathy on the part of all the peoples and will cause such a great world-wide outburst of enthusiasm and of general indignation against the continuation of the predatory war that it is extremely probable that we shall at once obtain a truce and a consent to open peace negotiations. For the workers' revolution against the war is irresistibly growing everywhere ... If the least probable thing happens, i.e. if not a single belligerent state accepts even a truce, then as far as we are concerned the war becomes truly forced upon us, it becomes a truly just war of defence. If this is understood by the proletariat and the poor peasantry Russia will become many times stronger even in the military sense, especially after a complete break with the capitalists who are robbing the people; furthermore, under such conditions it would, as far as we are concerned, be a war in league with the oppressed classes of all countries, a war in league with 4, the oppressed peoples of the whole world, not in word, but in deed.'[152]

We have quoted so extensively so that the reader who knows of Lenin's powerful revolutionary conception, is also made aware of the weak points of this conception.

For, in reality, many things happened in a completely different way! In the first place, Lenin's hopes of immediate help from the West- and Central European proletariat were plainly far. too optimistic and way off the mark. True, the unbearably long war of position not only cut down millions of young lives[153] and hurled the popular masses of the belligerent countries into unspeakable misery; it also created an explosive social and political situation without precedent, which by any reckoning should have turned into a revolution against capital and against the imperialist bourgeoisie. What was lacking (and what was necessarily lacking, as a consequence of the decades of peaceful-reformist development which had preceded the war) was a conscious social force, which would direct the process of awakening the tortured masses and set it on a precise course. The left-socialist elements of the former International were far too weak and inexperienced to be able to fulfil this historic role. So in the final analysis the bourgeoisie, and the social-democratic parties allied to it,[154] succeeded in overcoming the - apparently fatal - crisis of European [155] capitalism, and crushing the hopes of a socialist revolution in the West, which appeared to Lenin and his comrades as the real and most important aim of their endeavours. [156]

In this way one precondition for the 'revolutionary war' - spoken of in such glowing terms by Lenin - was not met. Equally fallacious was his expectation that the millions in the army inherited from Tsarism would be transformed - solely through the election of 'commanders not hated, but respected' - into a new, revolutionary army! The Bolshevik leaders only learnt this through bitter historical experience, which made them realize that a revolutionary army could only be built on the ruins of the old army.[157] Of course, the idea of simply 'sticking your bayonet in the ground' - hadn't the slightest connection with the tactics and aspirations of the Bolshevik Party, and it was nothing but a demagogic trick to saddle them with it. Yet, this idea did correspond to the mentality of broad masses of soldiers, who - in abandoning the front - 'voted with their feet for peace', and left the young Soviet Republic defenceless at the most critical moment of its existence ... It would be foolish, of course, not to realise that these soldiers had the horrors of three years of carnage behind them, and that the Provisional Government lead by Kerensky did everything to disappoint their hopes of peace! On the other hand it would be very unwise to forget that later on the Bolshevik Party succeeded under Trotsky's direction in creating out of the same manpower, in an amazingly short time, a new Red Army, fully prepared for battle, However: in the first months of its existence the Soviet Republic was practically defenceless and could not therefore entertain the remotest thoughts of an armed struggle against the imperialist powers. In this way the second precondition for a 'revolutionary war' was removed.

A direct consequence of both these facts - the failure of the western proletariat and the failure of the soldier-masses - was that the Soviet Republic was forced to do precisely what earlier on the Bolsheviks had indignantly rejected - that is, it had to agree to the conditions of the Brest peace-treaty dictated by German imperialism ... True, it was forced to do so by the hostile attitude of the Entente[158] as well as by the anti-revolutionary politics of social-democracy in the Central Powers - and it would be unworthy of a historian to forget this even for a moment. On the other hand, in the space of eight months the Soviet state was able to free itself - as a result of the collapse of German and Austrian imperialism —from the conditions of this 'peace'. Nevertheless the Brest peace-treaty already indicated the obstacles standing in the way of the Russian Revolution spreading to the West, which finally brought about its tragic isolation.

In this sense, that is in the sense of a historical necessity which no-one foresaw, the conclusion of this treaty must be regarded as a `weak point' in Lenin's conception of the course of the Russian revolution.

Of course, it would be quite wrong to argue that the 'narrow constraints' placed on the Russian Revolution which we have just described went unnoticed by Lenin and other Bolsheviks, and that they did not pose problems for them. Quite the contrary.

It is well-known that among the leaders of the Bolshevik party before the November revolution there was a minority[1591 led by Kamenev and Zinoviev), which was against seizing power. It based its opposition to the revolution precisely by referring to these 'narrow- constraints'. Kamenev and Zinoviev's statement of 24 October 1917 read:

`They say: 1. The majority of the people in Russia are already on our side and 2. the majority of the international proletariat is on our side. Alas! Neither one nor the other is true, and that is the whole point.

In Russia we have the majority of the workers and a considerable section of the soldiers on our side. But all the rest are doubtful. We are all convinced, for example, that if things now get as far as the Constituent Assembly elections, the peasants will vote in the main for the Social Revolutionaries.(160] What is this then - chance? The masses of the soldiers support us not for the cry of war but for the cry of peace. This factor is extremely important and if we do not take account of it we risk building all our calculations on sand. lf, after taking power now and alone, we are faced (because of the world situation as a whole) with the need to wage a revolutionary war, the soldier masses will leave us in a rush ...

Kamenev and Zinoviev go on to argue that it is claimed that:

`the majority of the international proletariat now supports us. Unfortunately, it is not so. The revolt in the German navy has enormous significance as a symptom. The first signs of a serious movement exist in Italy. But from this to any active support of proletarian revolution in Russia, declaring war on the whole bourgeois world, is still a very long way. It can do great harm to overestimate one's strength. There is no doubt that much is given to us and much is required of us. But if we stake everything now and suffer defeat, we will also be striking a cruel blow at the international proletarian revolution, which is growing extremely slowly but undoubtedly growing all the same. And yet it is only the growth of revolution in Europe which would make it obligatory for us, with no hesitation at all, to take power into our hands immediately. This is also the only guarantee of victory for a proletarian rising in Russia. It will come but it is not here yet.'[161]

It is not the task of this work to offer idle reflections on the correctness or incorrectness of the course Lenin set for armed insurrection. (This question was settled by history itself). We are only concerned here with the arguments used by Kamenev and Zinoviev against the possibility of a 'revolutionary war' being waged by the future Soviet government. And on this point, both sides were clearly right. In the first weeks and months of its existence, the Soviet Republic could not initially organise an effective army against external enemies, nor could it count on active support from the proletariat of Central and Western Europe in a 'revolutionary war'. However important both these factors may have seemed to the leaders of the Bolshevik Party, they were not decisive, that is, they could not be the preconditions, the necessary conditions for the insurrection. (This is 'why in Lenin's polemic against Kamenev and Zinoviev they played only a subordinate role).[162] The really decisive fact was that the revolutionary situation in September and October could not be prolonged at will - it was pressing towards a violent and final solution. For the most part, politics - and this is especially true in critical and revolutionary periods - consists of the ability to make decisions. If therefore the Bolshevik party had let slip the historic opportunity offered to them, the crisis of state and society would have been resolved in one way or another by Russian (and foreign) reaction. In those weeks, Lenin tirelessly warned his party of the dangers threatening the revolution and the country: on the one hand, of the danger of a separate peace between the counterrevolution and German imperialism (a reactionary variant of the Brest peace!); on the other hand of the 'wave of anarchy, which could become stronger than us' .[163] He correctly emphasised the fact that if the Soviet government brought peace to the country, 'no power on earth would be able to overthrow (this) government.[164] From this point of view, both the temporary military- defencelessness of Soviet Russia and the inactivity of the Western working class (in the eyes of Lenin and Trotsky, equally temporary) had to be tolerated as a necessary evil.


115. Lenin CW Vol 23 p229-30.

116. Here Lenin is thinking mainly of the resolutions of the Stuttgart and Basle Congresses of the Second International (1907 and 1912), in which the threat was made to the ruling-classes, 'that the mere thought of the monstrosity of a world-war would inevitably call forth the indignation and the revolt of the working class.' (c.f. Gankin and Fisher op cit p59 and 84).

117. Lenin 'The Impending Catastrophe and how to combat it' CW Vol 25 p359.

118. C.f. Rosdolsky 'Imperialist War and the Question of Peace' (Part I) in Revolutionary,Communist 8 p36-7 [i.e Part 1, above].

119. Lenin 'Lecture on "The Proletariat and the War" ' CW Vol 36 p297-302.

120. In December 1915, V Adler declared: 'I really would like everything to go on its calm, orderly way again ... , the well-ordered class struggle!' (Ermers, op cit p332 - all emphasis by RR).

121. Russian Social Democratic Labour Party.

122. Lenin 'The Conference of the RSDLP Groups Abroad' CW Vol 21 p161.

123. We read in his article 'The Slogan of Civil-War Illustrated': 'On January 8 (New Style), Swiss papers received the following message from Berlin: "Of late the press has repeatedly carried reports of peaceable attempts made by men in the German and French trenches to enter into friendly relations. According to Tagliche Rundschau, an army order dated December 29 (1914 - RR) bans any fraternisation and any kind of intercourse with the enemy in the trenches. Disregard of this order is punishable as high treason." ... The British Labour Leader of January 7, 1915, published a series of quotations from the British bourgeois press on instances of fraternisation between British and German soldiers, who arranged a "forty eight hour truce" at Christmas, met amicably in no-man's land, and so on. The British military authorities issued a special order forbidding fraternisation.' (CW Vol 21 p181).

124. Ibid p181-2.

125. Lenin `Socialism and War' op cit p314.

126. That was the reason why Lenin did not succeed in convincing the majority of the participants at the Zimmerwald Conference (beginning of September 1910, that the slogan supporting fraternisation at the front must be inserted in the resolutions of the Conference; they were not prepared to go as far as that. (c.f. the draft-resolution of the "Zimmerwald Lefts" reproduced in Gankin and Fisher op cit p356).

127. We leave aside here the great `rebellion' of the French frontline troops, which broke out in May and June 1917 as a reaction to the March Revolution in Russia. As a result of the immaturity and weakness of the French socialist Lefts, it remained unsuccessful.

128. Lenin 'The Petrograd City Conference of the RSDLP (Bolsheviks) CW Vol 24 p150-1 and 165-6.

129. The appeal mentioned here was published in the Bolshevik Pravda at the beginning of May 1917.

130. Lenin 'The Seventh (April) All-Russia Conference of the RSDLP(B)' CW Vol 24 p268-9.

131. Lenin 'The Significance of Fraternisation' CW Vol 24 p318.

132. See Gankin and Fisher op cit p585-6.

133. Dealt with in a later chapter (of the book planned, but uncompleted by RR on the Brest-Litovsk treaty - Ed)..

134. Written in October-November 1918.

135. Lenin 'The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky' CW Vol 28 p283-4.

136. In the same 'Several Theses' it also says: 'The most correct slogans are the "three pillars" (a democratic republic, confiscation of the landed estates and an eight-hour working day), with the addition of a call for the workers' international solidarity in the struggle for socialism and the revolutionary overthrow of the belligerent governments and against the war ... The task confronting the proletariat of Russia is the consummation of the bourgeois-democratic revolution in Russia in order to kindle the socialist revolution in Europe.' (Emphasis by RR) (As one can see, there is not yet any talk here of the socialist transformation, of Russia itself). (op cit p401-2)

137. C.f. Lenin's article 'A Separate Peace' (6 November 1916): 'And if the European proletariat cannot advance to socialism now, cannot cast off the social-chauvinist and Kautskyite yoke in the course of this rust great imperialist war, then East Europe and Asia can advance to democracy with seven-league strides only if tsarism is utterly smashed and deprived of all possibility to pursue its semi-feudal type imperialist policy.' (op cit p 133).

138. Lenin 'Several Theses' CW Vol 21 p403-4. Even earlier, Lenin wrote to Shlyapnikov (Letter of 23 August 1915): 'People (the social-patriots - RR) say: What will "you" do, if "you", the revolutionaries, defeat tsarism? I reply: 1) our victory will fan the flames of the "Left" movement in Germany a hundredfold; 2) if "we" defeated tsarism completely, we would propose peace to all the belligerent powers on democratic terms and if this were rejected, we would conduct a revolutionary war.' (CW Vol 35 p204-5; quoted in Gankin and Fisher op cit p206).

139. Lenin 'Letters from Afar' CW Vol 23 p337-8.

140. On 17 and 31 March; 8 April; mid May; September 1917. The additional conditions which are mentioned here referred to the withdrawal of troops, not only from all territories occupied during the war, but also from all nationally-disputed areas, as well as to the cancellation of war-debts. The first of these demands played a very great role in the Brest negotiations, but only in relation to the German-occupied, former Russian areas.

141. Sometimes Lenin also stated that the Soviet Government would engage in peace-negotiations directly with the people them selves. Thus he wrote to Hanecki on 30 March 1917: `Only the proletariat is capable, if it rids itself of the influence of its national bourgeoisie, of winning the genuine confidence of the proletarians of all the belligerent countries, and entering into peace negotiations with them.' (CW Vol 35 p311) However, this remark is certainly not to be taken literally.

142. Ten months later in Brest, Trotsky had to resort to precisely this course of action (i.e. unilateral ending of the war) ...

143. Lenin 'The Tasks of the proletariat in Our Revolution' op cit p66; 'Speech in favour of the resolution on the War' CW Vol 24 p264.

144. Lenin 'The Petrograd City Conference of the RSDLP (Bolsheviks)' op cit p164.

145. Lenin 'First All-Russia Congress of Soviets of Workers' and Soldiers' Deputies' (Speech on the War) CW Vol 25 p33-4. `Neither a separate peace with the Germans, nor secret treaties. with the Anglo-French capitalists!' was one of the slogans at the Bolshevik July-demonstration in Petrograd.

146. Lenin ‘First All Russia Conference of Soviets of Workers’ and Soldier’s Deputies’ CW Vol. 25, p34; ‘To the Soldiers and Sailors’ CW 24, p125.

147. Lenin CW Vol 25 p22 (Speech on the attitude towards the Provisional Government).

148. We found in Lenin's writings from this period (8 months) at least 20 examples of his calling for a revolutionary war.

149. Lenin 'Farewell Letter to the Swiss Workers' CW Vol 23 p370.

150. Lenin 'Is there a way to a just peace?' CW Vol 25 p56.

151. Lenin 'Draft Resolution on the present political situation' CW Vol 25 p319.

152. Lenin 'The Tasks of the Revolution' CW Vol 26 p63. Lenin continues: 'As to the possibility of the Russian people being threatened with, war by their present Allies, it is obviously absurd to assume that the French and Italians could unite their armies with those of the Germans and move them against Russia who offers a just peace. As to Britain, America, and Japan, even if, they were able to declare war against Russia (which for them is extremely difficult, both because of the extreme unpopularity of such a war among the masses and because of the divergence of material interests of the capitalists of those countries over the partitioning of Asia, especially over the plunder of China), they could not cause Russia one-hundredth part of the damage and misery which the war with Germany, Austria, and Turkey is causing her! (ibid p53-4)

153. Luxemburg R wrote in her Junius Pamphlet `The bloodletting of the June battle laid low the French labour movement for a decade and a half. The bloodletting of the Commune massacre again threw it back for more than a decade. What is happening now is a massacre such as the world has never seen before, that is reducing the -labouring population in all of the leading nations to the aged, the women and the maimed; a bloodletting that threatens to bleed white the European labour movement ... But here is proof also that the war is not only a grandiose murder, but the suicide of the European working class. The soldiers of socialism, the workers of England, of France, of Germany, of Italy, of Belgium are murdering each other at the bidding of capitalism, are thrusting cold, murderous irons into each others' breasts, are tottering over their graves, grappling in each others' death-bringing arms.' (op cit p327-8).

154. The role of social-democracy in preserving both state and regime during the First World War was so great that we will have to devote a special chapter to it (in the book planned by RR - Ed).

155. We emphasise: European, for at that time North-American capitalism was not in a crisis threatening its existence, on the world. was just preparing to begin its domination of the world.

156. 'If the proletariat gains power' wrote Lenin in September 1917 'it will have every chance of retaining it and of leading Russia until there is a victorious revolution in the West.' (`The Russian Revolution and Civil War' CW Vol 26 p40-1). And in 1918: `The Russian proletariat clearly realises that an essential condition and prime requisite for its victory is the united action of the workers of the whole world, or of several capitalistically advanced countries.' ('Report delivered at a Moscow Gubernia Conference of Factory Committees' CW Vol 27 p545). 'The complete victory of the socialist revolution in one country alone is inconceivable and demands the most active co-operation of• at least several advanced countries, which do not include Russia' (`Extraordinary Sixth All-Russia Congress of Soviets of Workers', Peasants', Cossacks' and Red Army Deputies' CW Vol 28 p151).

157. C.f. p 52 this text (Lenin's polemic against Kautsky).

158. In August 1918 Lenin wrote: 'It is difficult to imagine anything more disgusting than the hypocrisy with which the Anglo-French and American bourgeoisie are now "blaming" us for: the Brest Treaty. The very capitalists of those countries which.. (by agreeing to general peace-negotiations - RR) could have turned the Brest negotiations into general negotiations for a general peace are now our "accusers'! The Anglo-French imperialist vultures, who have profited from the plunder of colonies and the slaughter of nations, have prolonged the war for nearly a whole year after Brest, and yet they "accuse" us, the Bolsheviks, who proposed a just peace to all countries, they accuse us, who tore up,. published and exposed to public disgrace the secret, criminal treaties concluded between the ex-tsar and the Anglo-French. capitalists.' (Letter to American Workers' CW Vol 28 p65).

159. It must be emphasised that without the revolutionary determination of Lenin and Trotsky, this minority would very soon have become a majority.

160. This claim soon proved to be correct. But it should not be forgotten that in October all Russia was in the grip of a mighty wave of peasant insurrections against the nobility, that therefore in practice the peasantry was against the Social Revolutionaries (or at least against the centre and right wing of this party). From the standpoint of the maturity 'of the revolution, this was decisive.

161. Quoted in The Bolsheviks and the October Revolution Pluto Press 1974 p91-2.

162. Lenin: 'Letter to the Comrades' (29-30 October 1917).

163. Translated by IL: Lenin Coll Works XXI/2 p122, XXI/1 p69.

164. Lenin 'The Russian Revolution and Civil War' CW Vol 26 p41. (c.f. 'The Bolsheviks must assume power' CW Vol 26 p19)