V. I. Lenin

Extraordinary Seventh Congress of the R.C.P.(B.)

MARCH 6-8, 1918

Section Two


Reply to the Debate on the Political Report of the Central Committee
March 8

First published on January 1, 1919 in the newspaper Kommunar No. 1; Published according to the newspaper text, collated with the manuscript

Comrades, let me begin with some relatively minor remarks, let me begin from the end. At the end of his speech Comrade Bukharin went so far as to compare us to Petlyura. If he thinks that is so, how can he remain with us in the same party? Isn’t it just empty talk? If things were really as he said, we should not, of course, be members of the same party. The fact that we are together shows that we are ninety per cent in agreement with Bukharin. It is true he added a few revolutionary phrases about our wanting to betray the Ukraine. I am sure it is not worth while talking about such obvious nonsense. I shall return to Comrade Ryazanov, and here I want to say that in the same way as an exception that occurs once in ten years proves the rule, so has Comrade Ryazanov chanced to say a serious word. (Applause.) He said that Lenin was surrendering space to gain time. That is almost philosophical reasoning. This time it happened that we heard from Comrade Ryazanov a serious phrase—true it is only a phrase—which fully expresses the case; to gain time I want to surrender space to the actual victor. That and that alone is the whole point at issue. All else is mere talk—the need for a revolutionary war, rousing the peasantry, etc. When Comrade Bukharin pictures things as though there could not be two opinions as to whether war is possible and says—“ask any soldier” (I wrote down his actual words)—since he puts the question this way and wants to ask any soldier, I’ll answer him. “Any soldier” turned out to be a French officer that I had a talk with. That French officer looked at me, with anger in his eyes, of course—had I not sold Russia to the Germans?—and said: “I am a royalist, I am also a champion of the monarchy in France, a champion of the defeat of Germany, so don’t think I support Soviet power—who would, if he was a royalist?—but I favour your signing the Brest Treaty because it’s necessary.”[15] That’s “asking any soldier” for you. Any soldier would say what I have said—we had to sign the Brest Treaty. If it now emerges from Bukharin’s speech that our differences have greatly diminished, it is only because his supporters have concealed the chief point on which we differ.

Now that Bukharin is thundering against us for having demoralised the masses, he is perfectly correct, except that it is himself and not us that he is attacking. Who caused this mess in the Central Committee?—You, Comrade Bukharin. (Laughter.) No matter how much you shout “No”, the truth will out; we are here in our own comradely family, we are at our own Congress, we have nothing to hide, the truth must be told. And the truth is that there were three trends in the Central Committee. On February 17 Lomov and Bukharin did not vote. I have asked for the record of the voting to be reproduced and copies made so that every Party member who wishes to do so can go into the secretariat and see how people voted—the historic voting of January 21, which shows that they wavered and we did not, not in the least; we said, “Let us accept the Brest peace—you’ll get nothing better—so as to prepare for a revolutionary war”. Now we have gained five days in which to evacuate Petrograd. Now the manifesto signed by Krylenko and Podvoisky[16] has been published, they were not among the Lefts, and Bukharin insulted them by saying that Krylenko had been “dragged in”, as though we had invented what Krylenko reported. We agree in full with what they said; that is how matters stand, for it was these army men who gave proof of what I had said; and you dismiss the matter by saying the Germans won’t attack. How can this situation be compared with October, when the question of equipment did not arise? If you want to take facts into consideration, then consider this one—that the disagreement arose over the statement that we cannot start a war that is obviously to our disadvantage. When Comrade Bukharin began his concluding speech with the thunderous question “Is war possible in the near future?” he greatly surprised me. I answer without hesitation—yes, it is possible, but today we must accept peace. There is no contradiction in this.

After these brief remarks I shall give detailed answers to previous speakers. As far as Radek is concerned I must make an exception. But there was another speech, that of Comrade Uritsky. What was there in that speech apart from Canossa,[17] “treachery”, “retreated”, “adapted”? What is all this about? Haven’t you borrowed your criticism from a Left Socialist-Revolutionary newspaper? Comrade Bubnov read us a statement submitted to the Central Committee by those of its members who consider themselves very Left-wing and who gave us a striking example of a demonstration before the eyes of the whole world—“the behaviour of the Central Committee strikes a blow at the international proletariat”. Is that anything but an empty phrase? “Demonstrate weakness before the eyes of the whole world!” How are we demonstrating? By proposing peace? Because our army has run away? Have we not proved that to begin war with Germany at this moment, and not to accept the Brest peace, would mean showing the world that our army is sick and does not want to give battle? Bubnov’s statement was quite empty when he asserted that the wavering was entirely of our making—it was due to our army’s being sick. Sooner or later, there had to be a respite. If we had had the correct strategy we should have had a month’s breathing space, but since your strategy was incorrect we have only five days—even that is good. The history of war shows that even days are sometimes enough to halt a panic-stricken army. Anyone who does not accept, does not conclude this devilish peace now, is a man of empty phrases and not a strategist. That is the pity of it. When Central Committee members write to me about “demonstrations of weakness”, “treachery”, they are writing the most damaging, empty, childish phrases. We demonstrated our weakness by attempting to fight at a time when the demonstration should not have been made, when an offensive against us was inevitable. As for the peasants of Pskov, we shall bring them to the Congress of Soviets to relate how the Germans treat people, so that they can change the mood of the soldier in panic- stricken night and he will begin to recover from his panic and say, “This is certainly not the war the Bolsheviks promised to put an end to, this is a new war the Germans are waging against Soviet power.” Then recovery will come. But you raise a question that cannot be answered. Nobody knows how long the respite will last.

Now I must say something about Comrade Trotsky’s position. There are two aspects to his activities; when he began the negotiations at Brest and made splendid use of them for agitation, we all agreed with Comrade Trotsky. He has quoted part of a conversation with me, but I must add that it was agreed between us that we would hold out until the Germans presented an ultimatum, and then we would give way. The Germans deceived us—they stole five days out of seven from us.[18] Trotsky’s tactics were correct as long as they were aimed at delaying matters; they became incorrect when it was announced that the state of war had been terminated but peace had not been concluded. I proposed quite definitely that peace be concluded. We could not have got anything better than the Brest peace. It is now clear to everybody that we would have had a month’s respite and that we would not have lost anything. Since history has swept that away it is not worth recalling, but it is funny to hear Bukharin say, “Events will show that we were right.” I was right because I wrote about it back in 1915—“We must prepare to wage war, it is inevitable, it is coming, it will come.” But we had to accept peace and not try vain blustering. And because war is coming, it was all the more necessary to accept peace, and now we are at least making easier the evacuation of Petrograd—we have made it, easier. That is a fact. And when Comrade Trotsky makes fresh demands; “Promise not to conclude peace with Vinnichenko”, I say that under no circumstances will I take that obligation upon myself.[19] If the Congress accepts this obligation, neither I, nor those who agree with me, will accept responsibility for it. It would mean tying our hands again with a formal decision instead of following a clear line of manoeuvre—retreat when possible, and at times attack. In war you must never tie yourself down with formal decisions. It is ridiculous not to know the history of war, not to know that a treaty is a means of gathering strength—I have already mentioned Prussian history. There are some people who are just like children, they think that if we have signed a treaty we have sold ourselves to Satan and have gone to hell. That is simply ridiculous when it is quite obvious from the history of war that the conclusion of a treaty after defeat is a means of gathering strength. There have been cases in history of one war following immediately after another, we have all forgotten that, we see that the old war is turning into. . . [Several words are missing in the verbatim report. —Ed.] If you like, you can bind yourselves for ever with formal decisions and then hand over all the responsible posts to the Left Socialist-Revolutionaries. We shall not accept responsibility for it. There is not the least desire for a split here. I am sure that events will teach you—March 12 is not far away, and you will obtain plenty of material.[20]

Comrade Trotsky says that it will be treachery in the full sense of the word. I maintain that that is an absolutely wrong point of view. To demonstrate this concretely, I will give you an example: two men are walking together and are attacked by ten men, one fights and the other runs away—that is treachery; but suppose we have two armies of a hundred thousand each and there are five armies against them; one army is surrounded by two hundred thousand, and the other must go to its aid; knowing that the other three hundred thousand of the enemy are ambushed to trap it, should the second army go to the aid of the first? It should not. That is not treachery, that is not cowardice; a simple increase in numbers has changed all concepts, any soldier knows this; it is no longer a personal concept. By acting in this way I preserve my army; let the other army be captured, I shall be able to renew mine, I have allies, I shall wait till the allies arrive. That is the only way to argue; when military arguments are mixed up with others, you get nothing but empty phrases. That is not the way to conduct politics.

We have done everything that could be done. By signing the treaty we have saved Petrograd, even if only for a few days. (The secretaries and stenographers should not think of putting that on record.) The treaty requires us to withdraw our troops from Finland, troops that are clearly no good, but we are not forbidden to take arms into Finland. If Petrograd had fallen a few days ago, the city would have been in a panic and we should not have been able to take anything away; but in those five days we have helped our Finnish comrades—how much I shall not say, they know it themselves.

The statement that we have betrayed Finland is just a childish phrase. We helped the Finns precisely by retreating before the Germans in good time. Russia will never perish just because Petrograd falls. Comrade Bukharin is a thousand times right in that, but if we manoeuvre in Bukharin’s way we may ruin a good revolution. (Laughter.)

We have not betrayed either Finland or the Ukraine. No class-conscious worker would accuse us of this. We are helping as best we can. We have not taken one good man away from our army and shall not do so. You say that Hoffmann will catch us—of course he may, I do not doubt it, but how many days it will take him, he does not know and nobody knows. Furthermore, your arguments about his catching us are arguments about the political alignment of forces, of which I shall speak later.

Now that I have explained why I am absolutely unable to accept Trotsky’s proposal—you cannot conduct politics in that way—I must say that Radek has given us an example of how far the comrades at our Congress have departed from empty phrases such as Uritsky still sticks to. I certainly cannot accuse him of empty phrases in that speech. He said, “There is not a shadow of treachery, not a shadow of disgrace, because it is clear that you retreated in the face of overpowering military force.” That is an appraisal that destroys Trotsky’s position. When Radek said, “We must grit our teeth and prepare our forces,” he was right—I agree with that in full—don’t bluster, grit your teeth and make preparations.

Grit your teeth, don’t bluster and muster your forces. The revolutionary war will come, there is no disagreement on this; the difference of opinion is on the Peace of Tilsit—should we conclude it or not ? The worst of it is that we have a sick army, and the Central Committee, therefore, must have a firm line and not differences of opinion or the middle line that Comrade Bukharin also supported. I am not painting the respite in bright colours; nobody knows how long it will last and I don’t know. The efforts that are being made to force me to say how long it will last are ridiculous. As long as we hold the main lines we are helping the Ukraine and Finland. We are taking advantage of the respite, manoeuvring and retreating.

The German worker cannot now be told that the Russians are being awkward, for it is now clear that German and Japanese imperialism is attacking—it will be clear to everybody; apart from a desire to strangle the Bolsheviks, the Germans also want to do some strangling in the West, everything is all mixed up, and in this war we shall have to and must be able to manoeuvre.

With regard to Comrade Bukharin’s speech, I must say that when he runs short of arguments he puts forward something in the Uritsky manner and says, “The treaty disgraces us.” Here no arguments are needed; if we have been disgraced we should collect our papers and run, but, although we have been “disgraced”, I do not think our position has been shaken. Comrade Bukharin attempted to analyse the class basis of our position, but instead of doing so told us an anecdote about a deceased Moscow economist. When you discovered some connection between our tactics and food speculation—this was really ridiculous—you forgot that the attitude of the class as a whole, the class, and not the food speculators, shows that the Russian bourgeoisie and their hangers-on—the Dyelo Naroda and Novaya Zhizn writers—are bending all their efforts to goad us on to war. You do not stress that class fact. To declare war on Germany at the moment would be to fall for the provocation of the Russian bourgeoisie. That is not new because it is the surest—I do not say absolutely certain, because nothing is absolutely certain—the surest way of getting rid of us today. When Comrade Bukharin said that events were on their side, that in the long run we would recognise revolutionary war, he was celebrating an easy victory since we prophesied the inevitability of a revolutionary war in 1915. Our differences were on the following—would the Germans attack or not; that we should have declared the state of war terminated; that in the interests of revolutionary war we should have to retreat, surrendering territory to gain time. Strategy and politics prescribe the most disgusting peace treaty imaginable. Our differences will all disappear once we recognise these tactics.


[15] Lenin is referring to his conversation with the French officer, the Comte de Lubersac, which took place on February 27, 1918.

[16] The reference is to the appeal of the People’s Commissariat for Military Affairs, which called upon all workers and peasants to take up voluntary military training. Military training had to be made voluntary because the Russian Army under the terms of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk was to be completely demobilised. The appeal was published on March 5, 1918 in the newspaper Izvestia VTsIK No. 40.

[17] Canossa—castle in Northern Italy. In 1077, the Roman Emperor Henry IV, who had been defeated by Pope Gregory VII, stood for three days in the robes of repentance before the gates of this castle in order to save himself from excommunication and regain his power as emperor. Hence the phrase “to go to Canossa”, i.e., to humiliate oneself before a person whom one has previously resisted.

[18] According to the terms of the armistice concluded on December 2 (15), 1917 at Brest-Litovsk between the Soviet Government and the powers of the Quadruple Alliance (Germany, Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria and Turkey), either side could renew hostilities at seven days’ notice. The German military command broke this condition by launching an offensive along the whole front on February 18, two days after denouncing the armistice.

[19] According to Clause VI of the Treaty of Brest, signed on March 3, 1918 Russia undertook to conclude peace with the counter-revolutionary Ukrainian Central Rada. The peace negotiations between the Soviet Government and the Rada did not take place, however. On April 29, 1918 the German occupation forces in collusion with the Constitutional-Democrat and Octobrist bourgeoisie engineered a coup in the Ukraine. The Rada was overthrown and replaced by the dictatorial regime of Hetman Skoropadsky. Negotiations between Soviet Russia and the Skoropadsky government began on May 23 and an armistice was signed on June 14, 1918.

[20] March 12 was the provisional date for the assembly of the Extraordinary Fourth All-Russia Congress of Soviets to decide the ques- tion of ratifying the peace treaty. The Congress was held March 14-16, 1918.