V. I.   Lenin

The Defeat of Russia and the Revolutionary Crisis

Written: Written in the second half of September, 1915
Published: First published in Pravda No. 260, November 7, 1928. Published according to the manuscript.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, [197[4]], Moscow, Volume 21, pages 378-382.
Transcription\Markup: D. Walters and R. Cymbala
Public Domain: Lenin Internet Archive 2003 (2005). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.
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The dissolution of the Fourth Duma in retaliation for the formation of an Opposition bloc consisting of liberals, Octobrists and nationalists, is one of the most vivid manifestations of the revolutionary crisis in Russia. The defeat of the armies of the tsarist monarchy; the growth of the strike movement and the revolutionary movement of the proletariat; the discontent of the masses and the formation of the liberal-Octobrist bloc for the purpose of reaching an understanding with the tsar on a programme of reforms and mobilising industry for the victory over Germanysuch is the sequence and texture of events at the end of the first year of war.

There is obviously a revolutionary crisis in Russia, but its significance and the attendant tasks of the proletariat are not correctly understood by all.

History seems to be repeating itself: again there is a war, as in 1905, a war tsarism has dragged the country into with definite, patently annexationist, predatory and reactionary aims. Again there is military defeat, and a revolutionary crisis accelerated by it. Again the liberal bourgeoisie—in this case even in conjunction with large sections of the conservative bourgeoisie and the landowners are advocating a programme of reform and of an understanding with the tsar. The situation is almost like that in the summer of 1905, prior to the Bulygin Duma, or in the summer of 1900, after the dissolution of the First Duma.

There is, however, actually a vast difference, viz., that this war has involved all Europe, all the most advanced countries with mass and powerful socialist movements.   The imperialist war has linked up the Russian revolutionary crisis, which stems from a bourgeois-democratic revolution, with the growing crisis of the proletarian socialist revolution in the West. This link is so direct that no individual solution of revolutionary [problems] is possible in any single country—the Russian bourgeois-democratic revolution is now not only a prologue to, but an indivisible and integral part of, the socialist revolution in the West.

In 1905, it was the proletariat’s task to consummate the bourgeois revolution in Russia so as to kindle the proletarian revolution in the West. In 1915, the second part of this task has acquired an urgency that puts it on a level with the first part. A new political division has arisen in Russia on the basis of new, higher, more developed and more complex international relations. This new division is between the chauvinist revolutionaries, who desire revolution so as to defeat Germany, and the proletarian internationalist revolutionaries, who desire a revolution in Russia for the sake of the proletarian revolution in the West, and simultaneously with that revolution. This new division is, in essence, one between the urban and the rural petty bourgeoisie in Russia, and the socialist proletariat. The new division must be clearly understood, for the impending revolution makes it the prime duty of a Marxist, i.e., of any class-conscious socialist, to realise the position of the various classes, and to interpret general differences over tactics and principles as differences in the positions of the various classes.

There is nothing more puerile, contemptible and harmful, than the idea current among revolutionary philistines, namely, that differences should he “forgotten” “in view” of the immediate common aim in the approaching revolution. People whom the experience of the 1905-14 decade has not taught the folly of this idea are hopeless from the revolutionary standpoint. Those who confine themselves, at this stage, to revolutionary exclamations, without analysing which classes have proved their ability to adopt, and have indeed adopted, a definite revolutionary programme, do not really differ from “revolutionaries” like Khrustalyov, Aladyin and Alexinsky.

We have before us the clear-cut stand of the monarchy and the feudal-minded landowners—“no surrender” of Russia to the liberal bourgeoisie; better an understanding with the German monarchy. Equally clear is the liberal bourgeoisie’s stand—exploit the defeat and the mounting revolution in order to wrest concessions from a frightened monarchy and compel it to share power with the bourgeoisie. Just as clear, too, is the stand of the revolutionary proletariat, which is striving to consummate the revolution by exploiting the vacillation and embarrassment of the government and the bourgeoisie. The petty bourgeoisie, however, i. e,, the vast mass of the barely, awakening population of Russia, is groping blindly in the wake of the bourgeoisie, a captive to nationalist prejudices, on the one hand, prodded into the revolution by the unparalleled horror and misery of war, the high cost of living, impoverishment, ruin and starvation, but on the other hand, glancing backward at every step towards the idea of defence of the fatherland, towards the idea of Russia’s state integrity, or towards the idea of small-peasant prosperity, to be achieved through a victory over tsarism and over Germany, but without a victory over capitalism.

This vacillation of the petty bourgeois, of the small peasant, is no accident, but the inevitable outcome of his economic position. It is foolish to shut one’s eyes to this bitter but profound truth; it must be understood and traced back in the existing political currents and groupings, so as not to deceive ourselves and the people, and not to weaken and paralyse the revolutionary party of the Social-Democratic proletariat. The proletariat will debilitate itself if it permits its party to vacillate as the petty bourgeoisie does. The proletariat will accomplish its task only if it is able to march unfalteringly towards its great goal, pushing the petty bourgeoisie forward, letting the latter learn from its mistakes when it wavers to the right, and utilising all the petty bourgeoisie’s forces to the utmost when life compels it to move to the left.

The Trudoviks, the S.R.s, and the Organising Committee’s liquidationist supporters—these are the political trends in Russia which have taken shape during the past decade, have proved their links with the various groups, elements and   strata in the petty bourgeoisie, and shown vacillation from extreme revolutionism in word, to an alliance with the chauvinist Popular Socialists, or with Nasha Zarya , in deed. On September 3, 1915, for instance, the five secretaries of the Organising Committee abroad issued a manifesto on the tasks of the proletariat, which said not a word about opportunism and social-chauvinism, but called for a “revolt” in the rear of the German army (this after a whole year of struggle against the slogan of civil war!) and proclaimed a slogan praised so highly in 1905 by the Cadets, viz., a “constituent assembly for the liquidation of the war” and for the abolition of the autocratic [June 3[1]] regime”! People who have failed to understand the need for a cleavage between the party of the proletariat and these petty-bourgeois trends so that the revolution may he successful, have assumed the name of Social-Democrats in vain.

No, in the face of the revolutionary crisis in Russia, which is being accelerated by defeat—and this is what the motley opponents of “defeatism” are afraid to admit it will be the proletariat’s duty to carry on the struggle against opportunism and chauvinism, or otherwise it will be impossible to develop the revolutionary consciousness of the masses, and to assist their movement by means of straightforward revolutionary slogans. Not a constituent assembly, but the overthrow of the monarchy, a republic, the confiscation of landed estates, and an eight-hour day will, as hitherto, he the slogans of the Social-Democratic proletariat, the slogans of our Party. In direct connection with this, and to make it possible really to single out the socialist tasks and contrast them with the tasks of bourgeois chauvinism (including the Plekhanov and the Kautsky brands) in all its propaganda and agitation, and in all working-class action, our Party will preserve the slogan of “transform the imperialist war into a civil war”, i.e., the slogan of the socialist revolution in the West.

The lessons of the war are compelling even our opponents to recognise in practice both the stand of “defeatism” and the necessity of issuing—at first as a spirited phrase in a manifesto, but later more seriously and thoughtfully—the slogan of “a revolt in the rear” of the German militarists,   in other words, the slogan of a civil war. The lessons of the war, it appears, are knocking into their heads that which we have been insisting on since the very outset of the war. The defeat of Russia has proved the lesser evil, for it has tremendously enhanced the revolutionary crisis and has aroused millions, tens and hundreds of millions. Moreover, in conditions of an imperialist war, a revolutionary crisis in Russia could not but lead people’s thoughts to the only salvation for the people-the idea of “a revolt in the rear” of the German army, i.e., the idea of a civil war in all the belligerent countries.

Life teaches. Life is advancing, through the defeat of Russia, towards a revolution in Russia and, through that revolution and in connection with it, towards a civil war in Europe. Life has taken this direction. And, drawing fresh strength from these lessons of life, which have justified its position, the party of the revolutionary proletariat of Russia will, with ever greater energy, follow the path it has chosen.


[1] This refers to the period of the Stolypin reaction ushered in by the coup d’état of June 3.

On June 3 (10), 1907, the tsar issued a manifesto dissolving the Second Duma and modifying the electoral law. The new law considerably increased the Duma representation of the landowners and of the trade and industrial bourgeoisie, and greatly reduced the number of peasants’ and workers’ representatives, which was small enough as it was. This was a gross violation of the Manifesto of October 17, 1905, and the Fundamental Law of 1908 by which no laws could be passed by the government without approval by the Duma. The Third Duma, which was elected on the basis of this law and convened on November 1 (14), 1907, was a Black-Hundred Octobrist Duma.

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