V. I. Lenin

Advice of an Onlooker

Written: October 8 (21), 1917
First Published: November 7, 1920 in the newspaper Pravda No. 250; Published according to the Pravda text
Source:Lenin’s Collected Works, Progress Publishers, Moscow, Volume 26, 1972, pp. 149-178
Translated: Yuri Sdobnikov and George Hanna, Edited by George Hanna
Transcription & HTML Markup: Charles Farrell and David Walters
Online Version: Lenin Internet Archive November, 2000


I am writing these lines on October 8 and have little hope that they will reach Petrograd comrades by the 9th. It is possible that they will arrive too late, since the Congress of the Northern Soviets has been fixed for October 10. Nevertheless, I shall try to give my "Advice of an Onlooker" in the event that the probable action of the workers and soldiers of Petrograd and of the whole "region" will take place soon but has not yet taken place.

It is clear that all power must pass to the Soviets. It should be equally indisputable for every Bolshevik that proletarian revolutionary power (or Bolshevik power—which is now one and the same thing) is assured of the utmost sympathy and unreserved support of all the working and exploited people all over the world in general, in the belligerent countries in particular, and among the Russian peasants especially. There is no need to dwell on these all too well known and long established truths.

What must be dealt with is something that is probably not quite clear to all comrades, namely, that in practice the transfer of power to the Soviets now means armed uprising. This would seem obvious, but not everyone has or is giving thought to the point. To repudiate armed uprising now would mean to repudiate the key slogan of Bolshevism (All Power to the Soviets) and proletarian revolutionary internationalism in general.

But armed uprising is a special form of political struggle, one subject to special laws to which attentive thought must be given. Karl Marx expressed this truth with remarkable clarity when he wrote that "insurrection is an art quite as much as war".

Of the principal rules of this art, Marx noted the following:

(1) Never play with insurrection, but when beginning it realise firmly that you must go all the way.

(2) Concentrate a great superiority of forces at the decisive point and at the decisive moment, otherwise the enemy, who has the advantage of better preparation and organisation, will destroy the insurgents.

(3) Once the insurrection has begun, you must act with the greatest determination, and by all means, without fail, take the of offensive. "The defensive is the death of every armed rising."

(4) You must try to take the enemy by surprise and seize the moment when his forces are scattered.

(5) You must strive for daily successes, however small (one might say hourly, if it is the case of one town), and at all costs retain "moral superiority".

Marx summed up the lessons of all revolutions in respect to armed uprising in the words of "Danton, the greatest master of revolutionary policy yet known: de l'audace, de l'audace, encore de l'audace ".[1]

Applied to Russia and to October 1917, this means: a simultaneous offensive on Petrograd, as sudden and as rapid as possible, which must without fail be carried out from within and from without, from the working-class quarters and from Finland, from Revel and from Kronstadt, an offensive of the entire navy, the concentration of a gigantic superiority of forces over the 15,000 or 20,000 (perhaps more) of our "bourgeois guard" (the officers' schools), our "Vendee troops" (part of the Cossacks), etc.

Our three main forces—the fleet, the workers, and the army units—must be so combined as to occupy without fail and to hold at any cost: (a) the telephone exchange; (b) the telegraph office; (c) the railway stations; (d) and above all, the bridges.

The most determined elements (our "shock forces" and young workers, as well as the best of the sailors) must be formed into small detachments to occupy all the more important points and to take part everywhere in all important operations, for example:

to encircle and cut off Petrograd; to seize it by a combined attack of the sailors, the workers, and the troops—a task which requires art and triple audacity;

to form detachments from the best workers, armed with rifles and bombs, for the purpose of attacking and surrounding the enemy's "centres" (the officers' schools, the telegraph office, the telephone exchange, etc.). Their watch word must be: "Better die to a man than let the enemy pass!"

Let us hope that if action is decided on, the leaders will successfully apply the great precepts of Danton and Marx.

The success of both the Russian and the world revolution depends on two or three days' fighting.


[1] See Engels's Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Germany, which was published in instalments in the New York Daily Tribune in 1851 and 1852. It bore Marx's signature, who had intended to write the work but was too busy with his economic studies and asked Engels to do it. Engels consulted Marx on various points and submitted the articles for his perusal before dispatching them to the paper. The fact that the work was written by Engels came out later with the publication of their correspondence.