V. I.   Lenin

The Harm of Phrase-Mongering

Published: Pravda No. 69, June 13 (May 31), 1917. Published according to the text in Pravda.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1964, Moscow, Volume 24, pages 546-548.
Translated: Isaacs Bernard
Transcription\Markup: B. Baggins and D. Walters
Public Domain: Lenin Internet Archive 1999 (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.

The answers of the French and the British governments clearly demonstrate the soundness of our repeated assertions that neither the Russian, nor the French, nor the British, nor the German capitalist government can throw over the policy of annexations, and that all such promises are designed to deceive the peoples.[1]

We are fighting to seize Alsace-Lorraine, we are fighting for victory, the French replied. Be good enough to comply with the treaty and fight for Russian and German Poland, the British replied.

The bitter truth that capitalism cannot be reconciled to a non-annexationist policy has been exposed once more. The policy of the “conciliators”, of those who wish to reconcile the capitalists and the proletariat, the policy of the Narodnik and Menshevik ministerialists, is an obvious failure. All their hopes on a coalition government have been shattered, all their promises have been exposed as mere verbiage.

And most harmful of all, as far as the cause of the revolution and the interests of the toiling masses are concerned, is the attempt to cover up the whole thing with phrases. Two shadings stand out in this torrent of phrases, one as bad as the other.

Rabochaya Gazeta, the organ of the Menshevik ministerialists, brings grist to the Cadet mill. On the one hand, it says: “On this basis [on the basis of the answers of the two Allied powers] there can be no agreement between them and us....” When they say “us”, do they mean the Russian capitalists? The theory of the class struggle is thrown overboard; it is much more profitable to spout phrases about “democracy” In the abstract, while trampling underfoot the elementary   truth of Marxism, namely, that it is precisely within a “democracy” that the gulf between the capitalists and the proletarians is widest.

On the other hand, Rabochaya Gazeta wishes to make “an attempt at revision [of the agreements and the treaties] through a conference of representatives of the Allied governments to be specially convened”. The same old story: agreement with the capitalists, which, in fact, signifies deception of the workers by playing at negotiations with their class foes.

The pressure of the rank and file of the French and British democracies, even pressure by the French and British proletariat alone upon their respective governments...” writes Rabochaya Gazeta. In Russia the Mensheviks are supporting their own imperialist government, but in other countries they want pressure to be brought to bear.... What is this, if not sheer phrase-mongering and humbug from beginning to end?

We are working for it [for world peace] by convening an international socialist conference” ... to be attended by ministers from among those ex-socialists who have sided with their governments! This is “working” with a vengeance to deceive the people on a major scale by means of a series of minor deceptions.

We have Dyelo Naroda phrase-mongering “à la Jacobin”. That stern tone, those spectacular revolutionary exclamations: “we know enough” ... “faith in the victory of our Revolution” (with a capital letter, of course), “upon this or that step ... of the Russian revolutionary democracy depend the destinies ... of the entire Uprising [with a capital letter, of course] which the working people have so happily and so victoriously begun.”

Obviously, if you write the words Revolution and Uprising with capital letters it makes the thing look “awfully” frightening, just like the Jacobins. Plenty of effect at small expense. For the people who write this are virtually helping to crush the revolution and impede the uprising of the working people by supporting the Russian government of the imperialists, by supporting their methods of concealing from the people the secret treaties, their tactics of putting off the immediate abolition of the landed estates, by supporting their war   policy of “offensive”, their high-handed insulting behaviour towards the local representative bodies, their presumption to appoint or endorse the local officers elected by the local population, and so on ad infinitum.

Gentlemen, heroes of the phrase, knights of revolutionary bombast! Socialism demands that we distinguish between capitalist democracy and proletarian democracy, between bourgeois revolution and proletarian revolution, between a rising of the rich against the tsar and a rising of the working people against the rich. Socialism demands that we distinguish our bourgeois revolution, which has ended (the bourgeoisie now is counter-revolutionary),from the mounting revolution of the proletarians and poor peasants. The former revolution is for war, for preserving the landed estates, for “subordinating” the local organs of self-government to the central government, for secret treaties. The latter revolution has begun to throttle the war by revolutionary fraternisation, by abolishing the power of the landowners in the local areas, by increasing the number and the power of the Soviets, and by introducing everywhere the elective principle.

The Narodnik and Menshevik ministerialists are spouting phrases about “democracy” in the abstract, about “Revolution” in the abstract in order to cover up their agreement with the imperialist, now definitely counter-revolutionary, bourgeoisie of their own country—an agreement which, in effect, is turning into a struggle against the revolution of the proletarians and semi-proletarians.


[1] This refers to the replies of the French and British governments to the declaration of the Provisional Government of March 27 (April 9), 1917, published in the newspapers on May 28 (June 10). The French Note (like the British) welcomed the intention of the Provisional Government to secure the independence of Poland, and mentioned France’s desire to fight in order to “liberate” Alsace-Lorraine and obtain indemnities from Germany. The British Note tried to justify Britain’s participation in the war. Both Notes expressed the hope of Russia’s continued co-operation in fighting to win the war.

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