V. I.   Lenin



Written: Written on January 19, 1917
Published: First published in 1949 in Bolshevik No. 1. Sent from Zurich to Clarens (Switzerland). Printed from the original.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, [1976], Moscow, Volume 35, pages 272-274.
Translated: Andrew Rothstein
Transcription\Markup: R. Cymbala
Public Domain: Lenin Internet Archive.   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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Dear Friend,

About Engels. If you have run across the issue of Neue Zeit with Kautsky’s story (and Engels’s letters) about how they distorted Engels’s preface to Klassenkämpfe, it would be a good thing if you copied it out in full detail in a special notebook. If you can’t, then send me the exact number of Neue Zeit, the year, volume and page.[2]

Your attacks on Engels, I am convinced, are totally groundless. Excuse my frankness. One must prepare much more seriously before writing like that! Otherwise it’s easy to disgrace oneself—I warn you entre nous, as a friend, between ourselves, in case you begin talking in this way some day in the press or at a meeting.

The Belgian strike? First of all it is possible that on this question of fact, an individual question, Engels was mistaken. Of course, that is possible. One must collect every thing he wrote on this question. Secondly, events in recent times in general, 1905 definitely, have provided something new about general strikes, which Engels did not know. Engels had been accustomed for decades to hear about the “general strike” only the empty phrases of the anarchists, whom he legitimately hated and despised. But later events have demonstrated a new type of “mass strike”, a political one, i.e., a particularly non-anarchist one. This new feature Engels did not know yet, and could not know.

This must not be forgotten.

Was not the Belgian strike a transition from the old to the new? Could Engels at that time (1891–92?? He was already 71–72; dying) see that this was not the old Belgian   belch (the Belgians for a long time were Proudhonists), but the transition to something new? This must be thought over.

As regards “defence of the fatherland”, in my opinion, you are falling into abstraction and unhistoricalness. I repeat what I said in the article against Yuri[1] : defence of the fatherland = justification for taking part in the war. Nothing more. To generalise this, to make it a “general principle”, is ridiculous, supremely unscientific. (I will send you the American programme of the S.L.P., with this ridiculous generalisation.) Wars are a supremely varied, diverse, complex thing. One cannot approach them with a general pattern.

(I) Three main types: the relation of an oppressed nation to the oppressor (every war is the continuation of politics; politics is the relationship between nations, classes, etc.). As a general rule, war is legitimate on the part of the oppressed (irrespective of whether it is defensive or offensive in the military sense).

(II) The relation. between two oppressor nations. The struggle for colonies, for markets, etc. (Rome and Carthage; Britain and Germany 1914–17). As a general rule, a war of that kind is robbery on both sides; and the attitude of democracy (and socialism) to it comes under the rule: “Two thieves are fighting, may they both perish”....

(III) The third type. A system of nations with equal rights. This question is much more complex!!!! Especially if side by side with civilised, comparatively democratic nations there stands tsarism. That’s how it was (approximately) in Europe from 1815 to 1905.

1891. The colonial policy of France and Germany was insignificant. Italy, Japan, the United States had no colonies at all (now they have). In Western Europe a system had come into being (N.B. this!! Think over this!! Don’t forget this!! We live not only in separate states, but also in a certain system of states; it is permissible for the anarchists to ignore this; we are not anarchists), a system of states, on the whole constitutional and national. Side by side with them was powerful, unshaken, pre-revolutionary tsarism, which had plundered and oppressed everyone for hundreds of years, which crushed the revolutions of 1849 and 1863.

Germany (in 1891) was the country of advanced socialism. And this country was menaced by tsarism in alliance with Boulangism!

The situation was quite, quite different from what it is in 1914–17, when tsarism has been undermined by 1905, while Germany is waging a war to dominate the world. A different pair of shoes!!

To identify, even to compare the international situations of 1891 and 1914, is the height of unhistoricalness.

Stupid Radek wrote recently in the Polish manifesto (“Befreiung Polens”) that “Staatenbau” is not the aim of the Social-Democratic struggle. This is arch-stupidity! It is half-anarchism, half-idiocy! No, no, we are not at all indifferent to the Staatenbau, to the system of states, to their mutual relations.

Engels was the father of “passive radicalism”?? Untrue! Nothing of the kind. You will never be able to prove this. (Bogdanov and Co. tried, but only disgraced themselves.)

In the imperialist war of 1914–17, between two imperialist coalitions, we must be against “defence of the fatherland”, since (1) imperialism is the eve of socialism, (2) imperialist war is a war of thieves over their booty, (3) in both coalitions there is an advanced proletariat, (4) in both a socialist revolution is ripe. Only for these reasons are we against “defence of the fatherland”, only for these reasons!!

Best greetings and wishes.

Yours, Lenin

I have sent for the addresses of the youth organisations. They have been promised me.

And so, as regards the plan of publication: push ahead with the affair. And your lecture on pacifism?[3]

P.S. I got both your last two letters at once, but it must have been my own fault.


[1] See present edition, Vol. 23, pp. 28–76.—Ed.

[2] Lenin has in mind Kautsky’s article “Einige Feststellungen über Marx und Engels” (“Some Facts about Marx and Engels”) printed in Die Neue Zeit, 1908, No. 1, October 2, pp. 5–7.

[3] Inessa Armand gave her lecture on pacifism on January 21, 1917 (see Letter 119).

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