V. I. Lenin

Report at the Meeting Of The All-Russia C.E.C. February 24, 1918[1]

Delivered: February 24, 1918
First Published: A brief report of this speech was published on the 26 February 1918 issue of Pravda No. 35. Firt published in full in 1926 in N. Lenin V. Ulyanov), Collected Works Volume XX, Part II. Published according the verbatim report
Source: Lenin’s Collected Works, Progress Publishers, Moscow, Volume 27, 1972, pages 42-47
Translated: Clemans Dutt, Edited by Robert Daglish
Transcription\HTML Markup:Robert Cymbala and David Walters
Online Version: Lenin Internet Archive March, 2002

Comrades, the terms put to us by the representatives of German imperialism are unprecedentedly severe, immeasurably oppressive, predatory terms. The German imperialists, taking advantage of the' weakness of Russia, have their knee on our chest. Not to conceal from you the bitter truth of which I am deeply convinced, the situation being what it is, I must tell you that we have no other way out than to subscribe to these terms. And that any other proposal means to incur, either voluntarily or involuntarily, still worse evils and further (if one can speak here of degrees) complete subjection of the Soviet Republic, its enslavement to German imperialism, or it is a pitiful attempt at using words to evade a terrible, immeasurably cruel, but undeniable reality. Comrades, you all know very well, and many of you know it from personal experience, that the burden Russia had to bear in the imperialist war was for indisputable reasons that everyone can understand more terrible and severe than that endured by other countries. You know, therefore, that our army was martyrised and tortured by the war as was no other, that all the slanders cast at us by the bourgeois press and the parties which supported it, or which were hostile to the Soviet government, alleging that the Bolsheviks were demoralising the troops, are nonsense. I shall remind you once again of the proclamation which Krylenko, while still an ensign under Kerensky, distributed to the troops when he left for Petrograd, and which was reprinted in Pravda, and in which he said: we do not urge upon you any kind of mutiny, we urge upon you organised political actions; strive to be as organised as possible.[2] Such was the propaganda of one of the most ardent representatives of the Bolsheviks, one who was most closely connected with the army. Everything that could be done to bold together this unprecedentedly, immeasurably fatigued army, and to make it stronger, was done. And if we see now, though I have entirely refrained, during the last month, for example, from setting out my view, which could seem pessimistic, if we have seen that, as regards the army during the past month, we have said all that could be said, and done all that could be done, to ease the situation, reality has shown us that after three years of war our army is altogether unable and unwilling to fight. That is the basic cause, simple, obvious, and in the highest degree bitter and painful, but absolutely clear, why, living side by side with an imperialist plunderer, we are compelled to sign peace terms when he puts his knee on our chest. That is why I say, fully conscious of the responsibility I bear, and repeat that no single member of the Soviet government ha.5 the right to evade this responsibility, of course, it is pleasant and easy to tell the workers, peasants and soldiers, as it has been pleasant and easy to observe, how the revolution has gone forward after the October uprising, but when we have to acknowledge the bitter, painful, undeniable truth—the impossibility of a revolutionary war-it is impermissible now to evade this responsibility and we must shoulder it frankly. I consider myself obliged, I consider it essential to fulfil my duty and state plainly how things are, and therefore I am convinced that the class of toilers of Russia, who know what war is, what it has cost the working people and the degree of exhaustion to which it has led them, that-I do not doubt it for a moment-they along with us recognise the unprecedented severity, grossness and vileness of these peace terms and nevertheless approve our conduct. They will say: you undertook to propose the terms of an immediate aDd just peace, you should have utilised every possibility of delaying peace in order to see whether other countries would join in, whether the European proletariat, without whose help we cannot achieve a lasting socialist victory, would come to our aid. We did everything possible to protract the negotiations, we did even more than was possible; what we did was that after the Brest negotiations we declared the state of war at an end, confident as many of us were that the situation in Germany would not allow her to make a brutal and savage attack on Russia.

This time we have had to endure a heavy defeat, and we have to be able to look the defeat straight in the face. Yes, hitherto the revolution has proceeded along an ascending line from victory to victory; now it has suffered a heavy defeat. The German working-class movement, which began so rapidly, has been interrupted for a time. We know that its main causes have not been abolished, and that they will grow and will inevitably extend because the excruciating war is being drawn out, because the bestiality of imperialism is being exposed ever more fully and obviously, and is opening the eyes of masses of people who might seem to be most remote from politics or incapable of understanding socialist policy. That is why this desperate, tragic situation has arisen, which compels us to accept peace now and will compel the masses of the working people to say: yes, they acted correctly, they did all they could to propose a just peace, they had to submit to a most oppressive and unfortunate peace because the country had no other way out. Their situation is such that they are forced to wage a life and-death struggle against the Soviet Republic; if they are unable now to continue their intention of advancing against Petrograd and Moscow it is only because they are tied up in a bloody and predatory war with Britain, and because there is an internal crisis as well. When it is pointed out to me that the German imperialists may present us with still worse conditions tomorrow or the day after, I say that we must be prepared for that; naturally, living side by side with bestial plunderers, the Soviet Republic must expect to be attacked. If at present we cannot reply by war it is because the forces are lacking, because war can be waged only together with the people. If the successes of the revolution cause many comrades to say the opposite, that is not a mass phenomenon, it does not express the will and opinion of the real masses. If you go to the class of real toilers, to the workers and peasants, you will hear only one answer, that we are quite unable towage war, we lack the physical strength, we are choked in blood, as one of the soldiers put it. These masses will understand us and approve of our.concluding this forced and unprecedentedly onerous peace. It may be that the respite needed for an upswing of the masses will take no little time, but those who had to live through the long years of revolutionary battles in the period of the upswing of the revolution and the period when the revolution fell into decline, when revolutionary calls to the masses obtained no response from them, know that all the same the revolution always arose afresh. Therefore we say: yes, at present the masses are not in a state to wage war, at present every representative of the Soviet government is obliged to tell the people to its face the whole bitter truth. The time of unheard-of hardship and of three years of war and of the desperate disruption left by tsarism will pass away, and the people will recover its strength and find itself capable of resistance. At present the oppressor confronts us; it is best, of course, to answer oppression by a revolutionary war, by an uprising, but, unfortunately, history has shown that it is not always possible to answer oppression by an uprising. But to refrain from an uprising does not mean refraining from the revolution. Do not succumb to the provocation coming from the bourgeois newspapers, the enemies of Soviet power. Indeed, they have nothing except talk about “an obscene peace” and cries of “shame!” about this peace, but in fact this bourgeoisie greets the German conquerors with delight. They say: “Now, at last, the Germans will come and restore order”, that is what they want and so they bait us with cries of “an obscene peace, a shameful peace”. They want the Soviet government to give battle, an unheard-of battle, knowing that we lack strength, and they are dragging us into complete enslavement to the German imperialists in order to do a deal with the German gendarmes, but they express only their own class interests, because they know that the Soviet government is growing stronger. These voices, these cries against peace, are in my view the best proof of the fact that those who reject this peace have not only been consoling themselves with unjustified illusions but have succumbed to provocation. No, we must look the disasterous truth squarely in the face: before us is the oppressor with his knee on our chest, and we shall fight with all the means of revolutionary struggle. At present, however, we are in a desperately difficult situation, our ally cannot hasten to our aid, the international proletariat cannot come just now, but it will come. This revolutionary movement, which at present has no possibility of offering armed resistance to the enemy, is rising and it will offer resistance later, but offer it it will. (Applause.)


[1] The meeting of the All-Russia C.E.C. to discuss the question of making peace with Germany opened on February 24, 1918 at 3 a. m. under the chairmanship of Y. M. Sverdlov. During the debate on Lenin’s report the conclusion of peace was opposed by representatives of the Mensheviks, the Right and Left Socialist- Revolutionaries and the anarchists. By 116 votes to 85, with 26 abstentions, the meeting passed the Bolshevik resolution on accepting the German peace terms. The majority of the “Left Communists” did not participate in the voting and left the hall while it was being taken.

[2] The reference is to N. V. Krylenko’s appeal to the troops quoted in Lenin’s article “Bolshevism and ‘Demoralisation’ of the Army”. Lenin's article was published in Pravda No. 72, June 3 (16), 1917.