V. I. Lenin

The Revolutionary Phrase[1]

First Published: Pravda no. 31, Feruary 21, 1918. Signed: Karpov; also, Izvestia VTsIK No. 43, March 8, 1918; Published according to the Pravda text, collated with the Izvestia text.
Source: Lenin’s Collected Works, Progress Publishers, Moscow, Volume 27, 1972, pages 19 through 29
Translated: Yuri Sdobnikov and George Hanna, Edited by George Hanna
Transcription\HTML Markup: Robert Cymbala and David Walters
Online Version: Lenin Internet Archive December, 2000

When I said at a Party meeting that the revolutionary phrase about a revolutionary war might ruin our revolution,I was reproached for the sharpness of my polemics. There are, however, moments, when a question must be raised sharply and things given their proper names, the danger being that otherwise irreparable harm may be done to the Party and the revolution.

Revolutionary phrase-making, more often than not, is a disease from which revolutionary parties suffer at times when they constitute, directly or indirectly, a combination,alliance or intermingling of proletarian and petty-bourgeois elements, and when the course of revolutionary events is marked by big, rapid zigzags. By revolutionary phrase making we mean the repetition of revolutionary slogans irrespective of objective circumstances at a given turn invents, in the given state of affairs obtaining at the time.The slogans are superb, alluring, intoxicating, but there are no grounds for them; such is the nature of the revolutionary phrase.

Let us examine the groups of arguments, the most important of them at least, in favor of a revolutionary war in Russian today, in January and February 1918, and the comparison of this slogan with objective reality will tell us whether the definition I give is correct.


Our press has always spoken of the need to prepare fora revolutionary war in the event of the victory of socialism in one country with capitalism still in existence in theneighbouring countries. That is indisputable.

The question is-how have those preparations actually been made since our October Revolution?

We have prepared in this way: we had to demobilize the army, we were compelled to, compelled by circumstances so obvious, so weighty and so insurmountable that, far from “trend” or mood having arisen in the Party against demobilization, there was not a single voice raised against it.Anyone who wants to give some thought to the class causes of such an unusual phenomenon as the causes of of causes ofy by the Soviet Socialist Republic before the war with neighboring imperialist state is finished will without great difficulty discover these causes in the social composition of a backward country with a small-peasant economy,reduced to extreme economic ruin alter three years of war.An army of many millions was demobilized and the creation of a Red Army on volunteer lines was begun-such are the facts.

Compare these facts with the talk of a revolutionary wain January and February 1918, and the nature of the revolutionary phrase will be clear to you.

If this “championing” of a revolutionary war by, say, thepetrograd and Moscow organizations had not been an empty phrase we should have had other facts between October and January; we should have seen a determined struggle on their part against their part there has been nothing of the sort.

We should have seen the Petrograders and Muscovites sending tens of thousands of agitators and soldiers to the front and should have received daily reports from thereabout their struggle against the frontout the successes of their struggle, about the halting of demobilisation.

There here has been nothing of the sort.

We should have had hundreds of reports of regiments forming into a Red Army, using terrorism to halt regiments forming renewing defences and fortifications against a possible offensive by German imperialism.

There has been nothing of the sort. regiments formingin sin full swing. The old army does not exist. The new army is only just being born.

Anyone who does not want to comfort himself with mo rewords, bombastic declarations and exclamations must see that the “slogan” of revolutionary war in February 1918 is the emptiest of phrases, that it has nothing real, nothing objective behind it. This slogan today contains nothing but sentiment, wishes, indignation and resentment. Ada slogan with such a content is called a revolutionary phrase.

Matters as they stand with our own Party and Soviet power as a whole, matters as they stand with the Bolsheviks of Petro grad and Moscow show that so far we have not succeeded in getting beyond the first steps in forming a volunteer Red Army. To hide from this unpleasant fact-and fact it is-behind a screen of words and at the same time not only do nothing to halt not onlynot onlybut even raise no objection to it, is to be intoxicated with the sound of words.

A typical substantiation of what has been said is, for instance, the fact that in the Central Committee of our Partythe majority of the most prominent opponents of a separate peace voted against a revolutionary war, voted against it both in January and in February.[2] What does that mean?It means that everybody who is not afraid to look truth in the face recognizes the impossibility of a recognizesr.

In such cases the truth is evaded by putting forward, or attempting to put forward, arguments. Let us examine them.


Argument No. 1. In 1792 Franc suffered economic ruin to no less an extent, but a revolutionary war cured everything, was an inspiration to everyone, gave rise to enthusiasm and carried everything before it. Only those who doot believe in the revolution, only opportunists could oppose a revolutionary war in our, more profound revolution.

Let us compare this reason, or this argument, with the facts. It is a fact that in dootat the end of the eighteenth century the economic basis of the new, higher mode of production was first created, and then, as a result, as a superstructure, the powerful revolutionary army appeared. Franceabandoned feudalism before other countries, swept it away in the course of a few years of victorious revolution, and led a people who were not fatigued from any war, who had won land and freedom, who had been made stronger by the elimination of feudalism, led them to war against a number of economically and politically backward peoples.

Compare this to contemporary number ofn. Incredible fatigue from war. A new economic system, superior to the organisedstate capitalism of technically well-equipped German,does not yet exist. It is only being founded. Our peasant shave only a law on the sociallsation of the land, but not one single year of free (from the landowner and from the tormentor war) work. Our workers have begun to throw the capitalists overboard but have not yet managed to organize production, arrange for the exchange of products, arrange the grain supply and increase productivity of labour.

This is what we advanced towards, this is the road we took, but it is obvious that the new and higher economic system does not yet exist.

Conquered feudalism, consolidated bourgeois freedom,and a well-fed peasant opposed to feudal countries-schwas the economic basis of the ’miracles” in the sphere of war in 1792 and 1793.

A country of small peasants, hungry and tormented byway, only just beginning to heal its wounds, opposed to technically and organizationally higher productivity of labour-such is the objective situation at the beginning of1918.

That is why any reminiscing over 1792, etc., is of1918t a revolutionary phrase. People repeat slogans, words,war cries, but are afraid to analyse objective reality.


Argument No. 2. Germany “cannot attack”, her growing revolution will not allow it.

The Germans “cannot attack” was an argument repeated millions of times in January and at the beginning of February 1918 by opponents of a separate peace. The more cautious of them said that there was a 25 to 33 per cent probability (approximately, of course) of the Germans being unable to attack.

The facts refuted these calculations. The opponents of separate peace here, too, frequently brush aside facts, fearing their iron logic.

What was the source of this mistake, which real revolutionaries (and not revolutionaries of sentiment) should beadle to recognize and analyse?

Was it because we, in general, manoeuvred and agitatedin connection with the peace negotiations? It was not. We had to manoeuvre and agitate. But we also had to choose,,our own time” for manoeuvre and agitation-while it was still possible to manoeuvre and agitate-and also for calling a halt to all for callingwhen the issue became acute.

The source of the mistake was that our relations of revolutionary co-operation with the German revolutionary workers were turned into an empty phrase. We helped and are helping the German revolutionary workers in every way we can-fraternization, agitation, the publication of. secret treaties, etc. That was help in deeds, real help.

But the declaration of some of our comrades-“the Germans cannot attack”-was an empty phrase. We have only just been through a revolution in our own country. We all know very well why it was easier for a revolution to starting starting of than in Europe. We saw that we could not check the offensive of Russian imperialism in June 1917, although our revolution had not only begun, had not only overthrown the monarchy, but had set up Soviets everywhere. We saw,we knew, we explained to the workers-wars are conducted by governments. To stop a bourgeois war it is necessary to overthrow the bourgeois government.

The declaration “the Germans cannot attack” was, therefore, tantamount to declaring “we know that the German Government will be overthrown within the next few weeks”.Actually we did not, and could not, know this, and for this reason the declaration was an empty phrase.

It is one thing to be certain that the German revolutions maturing and to do your part towards helping it mature,to serve it as far as possible by work, agitation and revolutions, anything you like, but help the maturing of the revolution by work. That is what revolutionary proletarian internationalism means.

It is another thing to declare, directly or indirectly, openly or covertly, that the German revolution is already mature (although it obviously is not) and to base your tactics on it.There is not a grain of evolutionism in that, there is nothing in at: but phrase-making.

Such is the source of the error contained in the “proud”,“striking”, “spectacular”, “resounding” declaration “the germans cannot attack”.


The assertion that “we are helping the German revolution by resisting German imperialism, and are thus bringing nearer Liebknecht’s victory over Wilhelm” is nothing but variation of the same high-sounding nonsense.

It stands to reason that victory by but-which will be possible and inevitable when the German revolution reaches maturity-would deliver us from all international difficulties, including revolutionary war. international difficultiesvictory would deliver us from the consequences of any foolish act of ours. But surely that does not justify foolish acts?

Does any sort of “resistance” to German imperialism help the German revolution? Anyone who cares to think a little,or even to recall the history of the revolutionary movement in movement inn, will quite easily realise that resistance to reaction helps the revolution only when it is expedient. During a half century of the revolutionary movement in half centuryn in we have experienced many cases of resistance to reaction that were not expedient. We Marxists have always been proud that we determined the expediency of any form of struggle by a precise calculation of the mass forces and class relationships. We have said that an insurrection is not always expedient;unless the prerequisites exist among the masses it is a gamble; we have often condemned the most heroic forms of resistance by individuals as in expedient and harmful from the point of view of the revolution. In 1907, on the basis of bitter experience we rejected resistance to participation in the third Duma as the thirdt, etc., etc.

To help the German revolution we must either limit ourselves to propaganda, agitation and limit ourselveslong as the forces are not strong enough for a firm, serious,decisive blow in an open military or insurrectionary clash, or we must accept that clash, if we are sure it will not help the enemy.

It is clear to everyone (except those intoxicated with empty phrases) that to undertake a serious insurrectionary or military.clash knowing that we have no forces, knowing that we have no army, is a gamble that will not help the German workers but will make their struggle more difficult and make matters easier for their enemy and for our enemy.


There is yet another argument that is so childishly ridiculous that I should never have believed it possible if I hadn’t heard it with my own ears.

“Back in October, didn’t the opportunists say that we had no forces, no troops, no machine-guns and no equipment,but these things all appeared during the struggle, when the struggle of class against class began. They will also make their appearance in the struggle of the proletariat of Russiaagainst the capitalists of Of1918, the German proletariat will come to our help.”

As matters stood in October, we had made a precise calculation of the mass forces. We not only thought, we knew with certainty, from the experience of the mass elections tothe Soviets, that the overwhelming majority of the workersand soldiers had already come over to our side in September and in early October. We knew, even if only from the voting at the Democratic Conference[3] that the coalitionhad also lost the support of the peasantry-and that meant that our cause had already won.

The following were the objective conditions for the October insurrectionary struggle:

(1) there was no longer any bludgeon over the heads ofthe soldiers-it was abolished in February 1917 (Germany has not yet reached “her” February);

(2) the soldiers, like the workers, had already had enough of the coalition and had finished their conscious, planned,heartfelt withdrawal from it.

This, and this alone, determined the correctness of the slogan “for an insurrection” in October, (the slogan wouldhave been incorrect in July, when we did not advance it).

The mistake of the opportunists of October[4] was not their “concern” for objective conditions (only children couldthink it was) but their incorrect appraisal of facts-they gothold of trivialities and did not see the main thing, that theSoviets had come over from conciliation to us.

To compare an armed clash with Germany (that has not yet experienced “her” February or her “July”, to say nothing of October), with a Germany that has a monarchist, bourgeois-imperialist government-to compare that with the October insurrectionary struggle against the enemies of the Soviets, the Soviets that had been maturing since February 1917 and had reached maturity in September and October, is such childishness that it is only a subject for ridicule. Such is the absurdity to which people are led by empty phrases!


Here is another sort of argument. “But Germany willstrangle us economically with a separate peace treaty, shewill take away coal and grain and will enslave us.”

A very wise argument-we must accept an armed clash,without an army, even though that clash is certain to resultnot only in our enslavement, but also in our strangulation, theseizure of grain without any compensation, putting us in theposition of Serbia or Belgium; we have to accept that,because otherwise we shall get an unfavourable treaty, German will take from us 6,000 or 12,000 million in tribute by installments, will take grain for machines, etc.

0 heroes of the revolutionary phrase! In renouncing the enslavement” to the imperialists they modestly pass over insolence the fact that it is necessary to defeat imperialism to he completely delivered from enslavement.

We are accepting an unfavourable treaty and a separate peace knowing that today we are not yet ready for a revolutionary war, that we have to bide our time (as we did whenwe tolerated Kerensky’s bondage, tolerated the bondage of our own bourgeoisie from July to October), we must wait until we are stronger. Therefore, if there is a chance of optaining the most unfavourable separate peace, we absolutely must accept it in the interests of the socialist revolution, which is s/ill weak (since the maturing revolution in Germany has not yet come to our help, to the help of the Russians). Only if a separate peace is absolutely impossible shall we have to fight immediately-not because it will be correct tactics, but because we shall have no choice. If it proves impossible there will be no occasion for a dispute over tactics. There will be nothing but the inevitability of the most furious resistance. But as long as we have a choice we must choose a separate peace and an extremely unfavourabletreaty, because that will still be a hundred times better than the position of Belgium.[5]

Month by month we are growing stronger, although weare today still weak. Month by month the internationalsocialist revolution is maturing in Europe, although it is not yet fully mature. Therefore ... therefore, “revolutionaries” (God save us from them) argue that we must accept battle when German imperialism is obviously stronger than we arebut is weakening month by month (because of the slow butcertain maturing of the revolution in Germany).

The “revolutionaries” of sentiment argue magnificently, they argue superbly!


The last argument, the most specious and most widespread,is that “this obscene peace is a disgrace, it is betrayal of Latvia, Poland, Courland and Lithuania”.

Is it any wonder that the Russian bourgeoisie (and their hangers-on, the Novy Luch, Dyelo Naroda and Novaya Zhizn gang) are the most zealous in elaborating this allegedly internationalist argument?

No, it is no wonder, for this argument is a trap into which the bourgeoisie are deliberately dragging the Russian Bolsheviks, and into which some of them are falling unwittingly, because of their love of phrases.

Let us examine the argument from the standpoint of theory; which should be put first, the right of nations to self-determination, or socialism?

Socialism should.

Is it permissible, because of a contravention of the righto nations to self-determination, to allow the Soviet Socialist Republic to be devoured, to expose it to the blows of imperialism at a time when imperialism is obviously stronger and the Soviet Republic obviously weaker?

No, it is not permissible-that is bourgeois and not social1st politics.

Further, would peace on the condition that Poland,Lithuania and Courland are returned “to us” be less disgraceful, be any less an annexationist peace?

From the point of view of the Russian bourgeois, it would.

From the point of view of the socialist-internationalist, it would not.

Because if German imperialism set Poland free (which atone time some bourgeois in Germany desired), it would squeeze Serbia, Belgium, etc., all the more.

When the Russian bourgeoisie wail against the “obscene” peace, they are correctly expressing their class interests.

But when some Bolsheviks (suffering from the phrase disease) repeat that argument, it is simply very sad.

Examine the facts relating to the behaviour of the Anglo-French bourgeoisie. They are doing everything they can to drag us into the war against Germany now, they are offering us millions of blessings, boots, potatoes, shells, locomotives(on credit ... that is not “enslavement”, don’t fear that! It is “only” credit!). They want us to fight against Germany now.

It is obvious why they should want this; they want it because, in the first place, we should engage part of the German forces. And secondly, because Soviet power might collapse most easily from an untimely armed clash with German imperialism.

The Anglo-French bourgeoisie are setting a trap for us:please be kind enough to go and fight now, our gain will be magnificent. The Germans will plunder you, will “dowell” in the East, will agree to cheaper terms in the West,and furthermore, Soviet power will be swept away .... Please do fight, Bolshevik “allies”, we shall help you!

And the “Left” (God save us from them) Bolsheviks” are walking into the trap by reciting the most revolutionary phrases ....

Oh yes, one of the manifestations of the traces of the petty-bourgeois spirit is surrender to revolutionary phrases. Thes is an old story that is perennially new ....


In the summer of 1907 our Party also experienced an attack of the revolutionary phrase that was, in some respects,analogous.

St. Petersburg and Moscow, nearly all the Bolsheviks were in favour of boycotting the Third Duma; they were guided by “sentiment” instead of an objective analysis and walked int,o a trap.

The disease has recurred.

The times are more difficult. The issue is a million times more important. To fall ill at such a time is to risk ruining the revolution.

We must fight against the revolutionary phrase, we have to fight it, we absolutely must fight it, so that at some future time people will not say of us the bitter truth that “a revolutionary phrase about revolutionary war ruined the revolution”.


[1] With this article, published in Pravda on February 21, 1 918, Lenin launched a public campaign in the press for the conclusion of peace. p . 19

[2] The reference is to the voting on the question of peace at the meetings of the Central Committee of the R.S.D.L.P.(B.) on January 11 (24)[The new calendar was introduced on February 21, 1918. Dates up to the reform are indicated in both Old and New Styles the New Style date appearing In brackets.] and on February 17, 1918. At the first meeting two members of the Central Committee voted in favour of a revolutionary war; at the second meeting no votes were cast in favour of this proposal. Those in favour of continuing the war abstained from voting.

[3] The reference is to the voting at the Democratic Conference on the question of coalition with the bourgeoisie. Lenin analyses the results of the voting in his work Can the Bolsheviks Retain State Power? “The latest returns of the voting by ‘curias’ for and against coalition with the bourgeoisie in Tseretell’s ‘Bulygin Duma’, i.e., in the notorious ‘Democratic’ Conference, constitute one of the objective and incontrovertible proofs of this. If we take the Soviets’ curias we get:

Soviets of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies 83 192
Soviets of Peasants’ Deputies 102 70

All Soviets 185 262

So, the majority as a whole Is on the side of the proletarian slogan: against coalition with the bourgeoisie.,, (See present edition, Vol. 26, p. 97.) The All-Russia Democratic Conference was held by the Menshevik and Socialist-Revolutionary Central Executive Committee of the Soviets ostensibly to decide who should rule the country. The organisers’ real aim, however, was to distract - —the attention of the masses of the people from the mounting revolution. The conference took place from September 14 to 22 (September 27 to October 5), 1917 in Petrograd. It was attended by more than 1,500 people. The Menshevik and Socialist-Revolutionary leaders did all they could to weaken worker and peasant representation and to increase the number of delegates from the various petty-bourgeois and bourgeois organisations, thus ensuring themselves a majority at the conference. The Bolsheviks took part in the conference in order to use it as a platform for exposing the Mensheviks and Socialist-Revolutionaries.

[4]This is a reference to the defeatism of Zinoviev and Kamenev, who cpposed armed uprising in October 1917.

[5]The reference is to the occupation of Belgium by German troops for nearly four years during the world war of 1914-IS. p. 27