V. I.   Lenin

A Separate Peace

Published: Sotsial-Demokrat No. 56, November 6, 1916. Published according to the Sotsial-Demokrat text.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1964, Moscow, Volume 23, pages 125-133.
Translated: M. S. Levin, The Late Joe Fineberg and and Others
Transcription\Markup: R. Cymbala
Public Domain: Lenin Internet Archive 2002 (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.README

Russia and Germany are already negotiating a separate peace. The negotiations are official, and the two powers have already reached agreement on the main points.

A statement to that effect appeared recently in the Berne socialist paper and is based on information in its possession.[2] The Russian Embassy in Berne hastened to issue an official denial, and the French chauvinists ascribed these rumours to “German dirty work”, but the socialist paper refused to attach any importance whatsoever to these denials. In support of its statement it pointed to the presence in Switzerland of German (Billow) and Russian “statesmen” (Stürmer, Giers and a diplomat who arrived from Spain), and to the fact that Swiss commercial circles were in possession of similar reliable information obtained from Russian commercial circles.

Of course, deception on both sides is quite possible. Russia cannot very well admit that she is negotiating a separate peace, and Germany cannot miss an opportunity to create discord between Russia and England, irrespective of whether or not there are negotiations, and if so, how successfully they are proceeding.

To understand the question of a separate peace we must proceed not from rumours and reports about what is taking place in Switzerland, which cannot be effectively verified, but from indisputably established political facts of the last few decades. Let Messrs. Plekhanov, Chkhenkeli, Potresov and Co., now cast in the role of Marxist-livened lackeys or jesters of Purishkevich and Milyukov, try as they will to prove “Germany’s war guilt” and that Russia is fighting a “war of defence”—the class-conscious workers   have not listened and will not listen to these clowns. The war was engendered by the Great Power imperialist relations, i.e., by their struggle for division of the loot, a struggle to decide which of them is to gobble up this or that colony or small state. Two conflicts are in the foreground in this war. First, between England arid Germany. Second, between Germany and Russia. These three Great Powers, these three great freebooters, are the principal figures in the present war. The rest are dependent allies.

Both conflicts were prepared by the whole policy these powers pursued for several decades before the war. England is fighting to rob Germany of her colonies and to ruin her principal competitor, who has ruthlessly outrivalled her by his superior technique, organisation and commercial drive—and so thoroughly that England could not retain her world domination without war. Germany is fighting because her capitalists consider themselves—and rightly so—entitled to the “sacred” bourgeois right to world supremacy in looting and plundering colonies and dependent countries. In particular, Germany is fighting to sub jugate the Balkan countries and Turkey. Russia is fighting for possession of Galicia, which she needs, in particular, to throttle the Ukrainian people (for Galicia is the only place where the Ukrainians have, or can have, liberty—relatively speaking, of course), Armenia and Constantinople, and also to subjugate the Balkan countries.

Parallel with the Russo-German conflict of predatory “interests” is another no less—if not more—profound conflict between Russia and England. The aim of Russia’s imperialist policy, determined by the age-long rivalry and objective international strength-ratio of the Great Powers, may be briefly defined as follows: smash Germany’s power in Europe with the aid of England and France in order to rob Austria (by annexing Galicia) and Turkey (by annexing Armenia and, especially, Constantinople); and, after that, smash England’s power in Asia with the aid of Japan and Germany in order to seize the whole of Persia, complete the partition of China, etc.

For centuries tsarism has been striving to conquer Constantinople and a larger and larger part of Asia. It   has systematically shaped its policy accordingly and has exploited every antagonism and conflict between the Great Powers. England has resisted these efforts longer, and with more persistence and vigour, than Germany. From 1878, when the Russian armies were approaching Constantinople and the English fleet appeared at the Dardanelles and threatened to bombard the Russians if they dared enter “Tsargrad”,[1] to 1885, when Russia was on the verge of war with England over division of the spoils in Central Asia (Afghanistan; the Russian army’s advance into the heart of Central Asia threatened British rule in India), and down to 1902, when England concluded a treaty with Japan, in preparation for the latter’s war against Russia—throughout all these years.England was the most resolute opponent of Russia’s predatory policies, because Russia threatened to undermine British domination over a number of other nations.

And now? Just see what is happening in the present war. One loses patience with the “socialists”, who have deserted the proletariat to go over to the bourgeoisie and talk about Russia waging a “war of defence”, or to “save the country” (Chkheidze). One loses patience with sentimental Kautsky and Co. and their talk of a democratic peace, as if the present governments, or any bourgeois government for that matter, could conclude such a peace. As a matter of fact, they are enmeshed in a net of secret treaties with each other, with their allies, and against their allies. And the content of these treaties is not accidental, it was not determined merely by “malice”, but by the whole course and development of imperialist foreign policy. Those “socialists” who hoodwink the workers with banal phrases about nice things in general (defence of the fatherland, democratic peace) without exposing the secret treaties their own governments have concluded to rob foreign countries—such “socialists” are downright traitors to socialism.

The German, the English, and the Russian governments only stand to gain from speeches in the socialist camp about a nice little peace, because, firstly, they   instil belief in the possibility of such a peace under the present governments, and, secondly, divert attention from these governments’ predatory policies.

War is the continuation of policy. But policy also “continues” during war! Germany has secret treaties with Bulgaria and Austria on the division of spoils and continues to conduct secret negotiations on the subject. Russia has secret treaties with England, France, etc., and all of them concern plunder and robbery, robbing Germany of her colonies, robbing Austria, partitioning Turkey, etc.

The “socialist” who under such circumstances delivers speeches to the people and the governments about a nice little peace resembles the clergyman who, seeing before him in the front pews the mistress of a brothel and a police officer, who are working hand in glove, “preaches” to them, and to the people, love of one’s neighbour and observance of the Christian commandments.

There is undoubtedly a secret treaty between Russia and England, and among other things it concerns Constantinople. That Russia hopes to get Constantinople, and that England does not want to give it to her is well known. If England does give Russia Constantinople, she will either attempt to take it from her later, or else will make this “concession” on terms directed against Russia. The text of the secret treaty is unknown, but that the struggle between England and Russia centres around precisely this question, that this struggle is going on even now, is not only known, but beyond the slightest doubt. It is also known that, in addition to the old treaties between Russia and Japan (the 1910 treaty, for instance, which allowed Japan to “gobble up” Korea and Russia to gobble up Mongolia), a new secret treaty was concluded during the present war, directed not only against China, but, to a certain extent, also against England. That is beyond doubt, although the text of the treaty is unknown. In 1904–05 Japan defeated Russia with England’s aid; now she is carefully preparing to defeat England with Russia’s aid.

There is a pro-German party in Russian “governing circles”—the Court gang of Nicholas the Bloody, the nobility, army, etc. In Germany, the bourgeoisie (followed by   the socialist-chauvinists) has of late markedly turned towards a pro-Russian policy, towards a separate peace with Russia, towards placating Russia in order to strike with full force against England. As far as Germany is concerned, this plan is clear and leaves no room for doubt. As for Russia, the situation is that tsarism would, of course, prefer to smash Germany first in order to “take” as much as possible—the whole of Galicia, the whole of Poland, Armenia, Constantinople—“crush” Austria, etc. It would then be much easier, with the aid of Japan, to turn against England. But, apparently, Russia has not the strength for that. That’s at the bottom of it.

Mr. Plekhanov, the ex-socialist, has tried to make out that the Russian reactionaries are generally in favour of peace with Germany, whereas the “progressive bourgeoisie” are in favour of crushing “Prussian militarism” and sup port friendship with “democratic” England. That is a fairy-tale suitable to the mental level of political infants. The fact is that tsarism and all the Russian reactionaries and the “progressive” bourgeoisie (Octobrists and Cadets) want the same thing: rob Germany, Austria and Turkey in Europe, and defeat England in Asia (so as to take the whole of Persia, Mongolia, Tibet, etc.). These “dear friends” disagree only as to when and how to turn from a struggle against Germany to a struggle against England. Only about when and how!

This question, the only one on which the dear friends differ, will be determined by military and diplomatic considerations known in full only to the tsarist government; the Milyukovs and Guchkovs know only a quarter of them.

Take the whole of Poland from Germany and Austria! Tsarism is in favour of that, but has it the strength? And will England allow it?

Take Constantinople and the Straits! Crush and dismember Austria! Tsarism is entirely in favour of that. But has it the strength? And will England allow it?

Tsarism knows just how many millions of soldiers have been slaughtered and how many more may be drawn from the people; it knows just how many shells are being expended and how many more can be obtained (in the event of   war with China, which is threatening, and which is quite possible, Japan will not supply any more ammunition!). Tsarism knows how its secret negotiations with England concerning Constantinople have been and are progressing; it knows the strength of the British forces in Salonika, Mesopotamia, etc. Tsarism knows all this. It has all the cards in its hands and is making exact calculations—insofar as exact calculations are possible in such matters where that very doubtful and elusive element, the “fortune of war”, plays so great a part.

As for the Milyukovs and Guchkovs, the less they know the more they talk. And the Plekhanovs, the Chkhenkelis, the Potresovs know nothing at all of tsarism’s secret pacts; they are forgetting even what they knew before, do not study what can be learned from the foreign press, do not examine the course of tsarism’s foreign policy before the war, do not trace its course during the war, and are consequently playing the part of socialist Simple Simons.

If tsarism has become convinced that even with all the aid of liberal society, with all the zeal of the war industries committees, with all the help the Plekhanovs, Gvozdyovs, Potresovs, Bulkins, Chirkins, Chkheidzes (“Save the country”, don’t laugh!), Kropotkins, and the whole of that menial crowd are giving to the noble cause of producing more shells—that even with all this help and with the present state of military strength (or military impotence) of all the allies it can possibly drag and has dragged into the war, it cannot achieve more, it cannot hit Germany harder, or that it can do so only at excessive cost (for example, the loss of ten million more Russian soldiers, the recruiting, training and equipment of whom would cost so many more billions of rubles and so many more years of war), then tsarism cannot but seek a separate peace with Germany.

If “we” go after too much booty in Europe, “we” run the risk of utterly exhausting “our” military resources, of gaining almost nothing in Europe and of losing the opportunity of getting “our share” in Asia. This is how tsarism argues, and it argues correctly from the standpoint of imperialist, interests. It argues more correctly than the   bourgeois and opportunist chatterboxes, the Milyukovs, Plekhanovs, Guchkovs and Potresovs.

If no more can be obtained in Europe even after Rumania and Greece (from which “we” have taken all we could) have joined in, then let us take what can still be had! England cannot give us anything just now. Germany will perhaps return to us Courland and a part of Poland, certainly Eastern Galicia—which “we” particularly need for the purpose of throttling the Ukrainian movement, the movement of historically hitherto dormant people numbering many millions, for freedom and the right to use their native language—and, very likely, Turkish Armenia also. If we take this now, we may emerge from the war with increased strength, and tomorrow we may, with the aid of Japan and Germany, with a wise policy and with the further aid of the Milyukovs, Plekhanovs and Potresovs in “saving” the beloved “fatherland”, get a good slice of Asia in a war against England (the whole of Persia and the Persian Gulf with an outlet to the ocean much better than Constantinople, which is an outlet only to the Mediterranean and is guarded by islands which England can easily take and fortify, thus depriving “us” of every outlet to the open sea), etc.

This is exactly how tsarism argues, and, we repeat, it argues correctly, not only from the narrow monarchist point of view, but also from the general imperialist point of view. It knows more and sees farther than the liberals, the Plekhanovs and the Potresovs.

It is quite possible, therefore, that tomorrow, or the day after we shall wake up and hear the three monarchs proclaim: “Hearkening to the voices of our beloved peoples, we have resolved to endow them with the blessings of peace, to sign an armistice and to convene a general European Peace Congress.” The three monarchs may even display their sense of humour by quoting fragments of the speeches of Vandervelde, Plekhanov and Kautsky, such as: we “promise”—promises are the only thing that is cheap, even in this period of soaring prices—“to discuss the question of reducing armaments and of a ‘lasting’ peace”, etc. Vandervelde, Plekhanov and Kautsky will run along and arrange their “socialist” congress in the same city   as the Peace Congress; and there will be no end of pious wishes, sentimental phrases and talk of the need to “defend the fatherland” in all languages. The stage will be well set for concealing the transition from an imperialist Anglo-Russian alliance against Germany to an imperialist Russo-German alliance against England!

But whether the war ends in this way in the very near future, or whether Russia “holds out” a little longer in her effort to vanquish Germany and rob Austria more; whether the separate peace negotiations will prove a shrewd blackmailer’s trick (tsarism showing England a draft of a treaty with Germany and saying: “Either so many billion rubles and such-and-such concessions or guarantees, or I sign this treaty tomorrow”), in all cases the imperialist war cannot end otherwise than in an imperialist peace, unless it is transformed into a civil war of the proletariat against the bourgeoisie for socialism. In all cases, unless this happens, the imperialist war will result in the strengthening of one or two of the three strongest imperialist powers—England, Germany and Russia—at the expense of the weak (Serbia, Turkey, Belgium, etc.), and it is quite possible that all three robbers will become stronger after the war, having divided the booty among themselves (the colonies, Belgium, Serbia, Armenia). The only argument will be over the share each should get.

In all cases, both the full-fledged and avowed social chauvinists, i.e., the individuals who openly accept “defence of the fatherland” in the present war, and the disguised, half-way social-chauvinists, i.e., the Kautskyites with their preachment of “peace” in general, “without victors or vanquished”, etc., will inevitably, unavoidably and undoubtedly be fooled and discredited. For any peace concluded by the same, or similar, bourgeois governments that started the war will glaringly show the peoples what a servile role both, these types of socialists played in relation to imperialism.

Whatever the outcome of the present war, those who maintained that the only possible socialist way out of it is through civil war by the proletariat for socialism, will have been proved correct. The Russian Social-Democrats   who maintained that the defeat of tsarism, its complete military smash-up, is, “in all cases”, the lesser evil, will have been proved correct. For history never stands still; it continues its forward movement during this war too. And if the European proletariat cannot advance to socialism now, cannot cast off the social-chauvinist and Kautskyite yoke in the course of this first 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.

The war will kill and destroy everything weak, social chauvinism and Kautskyism included. An imperialist peace would further accentuate these weaknesses, show them up in a still more despicable and abhorrent light.


[1] Tsargrad is the old Russian name for Constantinople.—Ed.

[2] Lenin is here referring to the Berner Tagwacht, which published the following articles on the Russo-German negotiations for a separate peace: “Die Vorbereitung des Separatfriedens” (“Preparation of a Separate Peace”) in its issue of October 11, 1916, No. 230; an editorial, “Die Friedensgerüchte” (“Peace Rumours”), in No. 241 of October 13, and a shorter item, “Zum Separatfrieden” (“On a Separate Peace”), in No. 242 of October 14.

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