Vladimir Lenin

Speech In Polytechnical Museum

August 23, 1918

Delivered: 23 August, 1918.
First Published: Short report published in Izvestia No. 182, August 24, 1918; First published in full in 1926; Published according to the verbatim report
Source: Lenin’s Collected Works, Progress Publishers, Moscow, Volume 28, 1965, pages 78-83
Translated (and edited): Jim Riordan
Transcription/HTML Markup: David Walters
Online Version: V.I.Lenin Internet Archive, 2002

(Stormy applause.) What is the essence of our programme? Winning socialism. There is no way out of the world war at this moment except by the victory of socialism. But many do not realise this. Most people all over the world now oppose this bloody slaughter, but they cannot see its direct connection with the capitalist system. The horrors of this war are obvious even to the bourgeoisie, but you cannot expect them to associate the end of the war with the end of capitalism .... This, however, is the fundamental idea which has always distinguished the Bolsheviks, and the revolutionary socialists of all other countries, from those who would like to bring peace on earth while leaving the capitalist system intact.

What are wars fought for? We know the majority of wars were fought in the interests of dynasties, and were called dynastic wars. But some wars were fought in the interests of the oppressed. Spartacus set off a war in defence of the enslaved class. Wars of this nature were waged in the period of colonial oppression continuing to this day, in the period of slavery, etc. These wars were just wars and must not be condemned.

But when we talk about the present European war and condemn it, we do so only because it is being waged by the oppressor class.

What is the aim of the present war? If we are to believe the diplomats of all countries, it is being fought by France and Britain to defend the small nations from the barbarians, the German Huns. Germany, for her part, is fighting the Cossack barbarians who are menacing the civilised German people, and is defending the fatherland from the enemy attack.

But we know this war was carefully prepared, it matured and became inevitable. It was just as inevitable as war is between America and Japan. Why?

Because capitalism has concentrated the earth's wealth in the hands of a few states and divided the world up to the last little bit. Any further division, any further enrichment could take place only at the expense of others, as the enrichment of one state at the expense of another. The issue could only be settled by force-and, accordingly, war between the world marauders became inevitable.

This war has up to now been headed by two principal firms-Britain and Germany. Britain was the strongest of the colonialist countries. Although her population is not more than 40,000,000, that of her colonies exceeds 400,000,000. Long ago she took by force the colonies of others; she seized vast territories and exploited them. But economically she fell behind Germany during the last fifty years. German industry overhauled British industry. Germany's large-scale state capitalism combined with the bureaucracy-and Germany beat all records.

The rivalry for supremacy between these two giants could only be settled by force.

There was a time when Britain, by dint of her might, seized territory from Holland, Portugal and other countries. Then Germany appeared on the scene and declared that it was now her turn to enrich herself at the expense of others.

That is the root of the matter--the struggle between the strongest powers for the division of the world. And as both sides posses hundreds of millions of capital, their struggle has become world-wide.

We know how many secret crimes have been committed in connection with this war. The secret treaties we have published show that the lofty reasons given for the war are just a lot of empty talk, and that, just like Russia, all the states were involved in sordid treaties for getting rich at the expense of small and weak nations. The result was that those who were strong grew richer still, while those who were weak were crushed.

Individuals cannot be blamed for starting the war; it would be wrong to blame kings and tsars for having brought about this holocaust-it was brought about by capital. Capitalism has turned into a blind alley. This blind alley is imperialism, which dictated war among the rivals for world supremacy.

The claim that the war is being waged for the liberation of small nations is a monstrous lie. Both sets of marauders continue to stand glaring bloodthirstily at each other, while about them many a small nation lies crushed.

And we say there is no way out of the imperialist holocaust except by civil war.

When we said this in 1914 we were told it was like a straight line extending into space; but our analysis has been corroborated by the whole subsequent course of events. Today we find chauvinism's generals being left without an army. In France, which suffered most from the war and was most responsive to the call to defend the fatherland-for the enemy stood at the gates of Paris-the defence advocates have recently suffered a fiasco. True enough, it was at the hands of people like Longuet, who do not know whether they are coming or going, but that is not important.

We know that in the early days of the revolution in Russia power fell into the hands of people who spouted all sorts of words but kept the old tsarist treaties in their pockets. And if in Russia parties veered to the left more rapidly, this was due to the accursed regime that existed before the revolution and to our Revolution of 1905.

In Europe, though, where a shrewd and calculating capitalism rules, where it possesses a powerful and well-knit organisation, the fumes of nationalism are wearing off more slowly. Nevertheless, we can unmistakably see that the imperialist war is dying a slow and painful death.

There is quite reliable information to show that the German army is becoming demoralised, and has taken to profiteering. It could hardly be otherwise. The moment the soldier wakes up and begins to understand that he is being maimed and killed solely in the interests of the bourgeoisie, demoralisation is bound to spread among the mass of soldiers.

The French army, which kept its morale longer and more persistently than any of the others, likewise shows that it is not immune to demoralisation. The Malvy trial has somewhat lifted the curtain over the scene in France, too, and has revealed that thousands of soldiers have refused to go to the front.[1]

All this is but the herald of events similar to those in Russia, except that in the civilised countries the civil war will be far more brutal than in Russia. We can see that in the case of Finland, the most democratic country in Europe, the first country to give women the vote. Yet this country took savage and ruthless reprisals on the Red Army men; and the latter did not surrender easily. This shows what a terrible fate awaits these civilised countries.

You can see for yourselves how absurd it was to accuse the Bolsheviks of demoralising the Russian army.

We represent only one detachment, a detachment which has advanced some way ahead of the other workers' detachments—not because it is any better than the others, but because the stupid policy of our bourgeoisie enabled the working class of Russia to throw off its chains sooner. Today, in fighting for a socialist system in Russia, we are fighting for socialism all over the world. Today, the Bolsheviks are the sole subject of discussion at all workers' meetings and gatherings in all countries. They know us; they know that what we are now doing is furthering the cause of the whole world, that we are working for them.

When we abolish private ownership of land, nationalise the factories and the banks, which are now engaged in organising industry, cries are raised on all sides that we are committing hosts of mistakes. That may be true, but the workers are creating socialism themselves, and no matter what mistakes we make we are learning from experience and paving the way for the art of making revolution without mistakes.

That is why we are the objects of such savage hatred. That is why the French imperialists do not begrudge hundreds of millions to support counter-revolution, since this would bring the repayment to France of the Russian debts, running into billions, which the workers and peasants have annulled.

Today the whole bourgeois press is amusing itself by filling its columns with such lies as that the Council of People's Commissars has moved to Tula, that it was seen ten days ago in Kronstadt, and so on, that Moscow is about to fall and that the Soviet Government has fled.

The whole bourgeoisie, all the Romanovs, all the capitalists and landowners support the Czechs, whose revolt they associate with the possible fall of the Soviet government. The Allies know this, and they are launching one of their fiercest attacks. What they lacked in Russia was a nucleus, and now they have found it in the Czechs. The Czech revolt therefore must not be treated lightly. This revolt was the signal for a number of counter-revolutionary risings; our revolutionary history has recently been marked by many kulak and whiteguard revolts.

The position of the Soviet government is grave, and we must not close our eyes to the fact. But you have only to look around you to be filled with confidence in our victory.

Germany has suffered a number of defeats, and it is no secret that these defeats are the result of "treason" on the part of German soldiers; French soldiers refused to go to the front at a very critical moment because of the arrest of Comrade Andrieux whom the government was compelled to release to get the troops to move, and so on and so forth.

We have made many sacrifices. The Brest-Litovsk Peace was one painful wound; we expected a revolution in Germany, but the time for it was not yet ripe. It is ripening now; revolution is undoubtedly brewing and is inevitable. But only a fool can ask when revolution will break out in the West. Revolution can never be forecast; it cannot be foretold; it comes of itself. Revolution is brewing and is bound to flare up. Did anybody know a week before the February revolution it was about to break out? When the mad priest led the people to the palace,[2] did anybody think the Revolution of 1905 was about to break out? But revolution is brewing and is bound to come.

And we must keep the Soviet government intact until it begins. Our mistakes must serve as a lesson to the proletariat in the West, to the world socialist movement. The salvation of the world revolution as well as of the Russian revolution lies on the Czech front. And we already have news that the army which time and again was betrayed by the generals, which is terribly exhausted, that this army, with the coming of our comrades, the Communists, the workers, is beginning to win victories, is beginning to display revolutionary enthusiasm in the struggle against the world bourgeoisie.

We believe that victory will be ours and that by our victory we shall save the cause of socialism. (Stormy applause.)


[1] In the spring and summer of 1917 there was mounting discontent in the French army against the continuation of the war, inspired by the growth of an anti-war revolutionary movement among the French workers under the impact of the bourgeois-democratic revolution in Russia in February 1917. The presence of Russian soldiers in France, who had been seat there in 1916, also added to the ferment in the French armed forces. After the February 1917 revolution the Russian army units stationed in France set up Soviets of Soldiers' Deputies to control the actions of the offi- cers. Most Russian soldiers refused to fight and demanded from the Provisional Government that they be sent home. This had its inevitable effect on the French units. In mid-May, after the French offensive had failed and scores of thousands of French soldiers had been killed, a revolutionary movement began in the army and continued to the end of June. War-weary soldiers did not want to stay in the trenches and organised rallies demanding better conditions and cessation of the imperialist war. According to official data, the movement involved 75 infantry regiments, 23 rifle battalions and 12 artillery regiments. The soldiers not only refused to obey officers but even turned their weapons against the govern- ment. However, the soldiers were not prepared for consistent revolutionary action against the war, one reason being the absence of a workers' revolutionary party. The French Government quelled the unrest with the help of social-chauvinists and anarcho-syndicalists. Following this, the French Home Minister Malvy was brought for trial on the charge of failure to deal firmly enough with the "defeatists.

[2] Lenin refers to the priest Gapon, an agent of the secret police. Bent on provocation, he proposed to hold a peaceful march to the Winter Palace to submit a petition to the tsar on January 9,1905. The tsar gave the order to open fire on the unarmed workers, their wives and children. Over 1,000 were killed and some 5,000 wounded. On that very day barricades were thrown in in Petrograd and there were armed skirmishes between the workers, and the police and troops. January 9 marked the beginning of the First Russian Revolution.