V. I. Lenin

A Serious Lesson And A Serious Responsibility

Written: Mach 5, 1918
First Published: Pravda No. 42, March 6, 1918; Published according to the manuscript
Source: Lenin’s Collected Works, Progress Publishers, Moscow, Volume 27, 1972, pages 79-84
Translated: Clemans Dutt, Edited by Robert Daglish
Transcription\HTML Markup:Robert Cymbala and David Walters
Online Version: Lenin Internet Archive March, 2002

Our pseudo-Lefts, who yesterday brought out their own paper, the Kommunist (Communist of the pre-Marxian era, one should add), are trying to dodge the lesson and lessons of history, are trying to dodge responsibility.

But they are dodging in vain. They will not succeed in dodging it.

The dodgers are trying their hardest, are filling countless newspaper columns, are sweating and straining, are not sparing even”, as they put it, printer’s ink to represent the “breathing-space” “theory” as an unfounded and unsound “theory”.

Alas, their efforts are powerless to refute the facts. Facts are stubborn things, as the English proverb rightly says. It is a fact that from March 3, when at 1 p.m. the Germans ceased hostilities, to March 5, at 7 p.m., when I am writing these lines, we have had a breathing-space, and we have already made use of these two days for the business like (as expressed in deeds, not phrase-making) defence of the socialist fatherland. This is a fact which will become more evident to the masses every day. It is a fact that at a moment when the army at the front, being in no condition to fight, is fleeing in panic, abandoning its guns and not even stopping to blow up bridges, the defence of the fatherland and the raising of its defensive capacity lie not in babbling about a revolutionary war (to babble in the face of this panic-stricken flight of the army—not one detachment of which was stopped by the advocates of revolutionary war—is downright shameful), but in retreating in good order, so as to save the remnants of the army, taking advantage of every day’s respite for this purpose.

Facts are stubborn things.

Our pseudo-Lefts, in their efforts to dodge the facts, the lessons to be derived from them and the question of responsibility, are endeavouring to conceal from their readers the recent, quite fresh and historically important past, and to gloss it over by references to the distant and unimportant past. For example, K. Radek in his article recalls that he wrote about the necessity of helping the army to hold out in December (December, mind you!), in a “memorandum to the Council of People’s Commissars”. I have not had the opportunity to read this memorandum and I ask myself: why does not Karl Radek print it in full? Why does he not explain clearly and frankly what exactly he meant then by a “compromise peace”? Why does he not recall the more recent past, when he wrote in Pravda about his illusion (the worst of all illusions) that peace could be concluded with the German imperialists on condition of the restoration of Poland.?


Because the pseudo-Lefts are compelled to gloss over facts which reveal their, the “Lefts”, responsibility for sowing illusions which actually helped the German imperialists and hindered the growth and development of the revolution in Germany.

N. Bukharin is now even attempting to deny the fact that he and his friends asserted that it was impossible for the Germans to attack. But very, very many people know that it is a fact, that Bukharin and his friends did assert this, and that by sowing such an illusion they helped German imperialism and hindered the growth of the German revolution, which has now been weakened by the fact that the Great Russian Soviet Republic, during the panic-stricken flight of the peasant army, has been deprived of thousands upon thousands of guns and of wealth to the value of hundreds upon hundreds of millions. I had predicted this definitely and clearly in my theses of January 7.* If N. Bukharin is now compelled to eat his words, so much the worse for him. All who remember that Bukharin and his friends said that it was impossible for the Germans to attack will only shrug * See present edition, Vol. 26, pp. 442-50.-Ed. their shoulders now that N. Bukharin is compelled to eat his own words.

And for the benefit of those who do not remember them, of those who did not hear them, let us refer to a document, which is a little more valuable, interesting and instructive now that what K. Radek wrote in December. This document, which unfortunately is being concealed by the “Lefts” from their readers, is the record (1) of the vote on January 21, 1918, at the meeting of the Central Committee of our Party with the present “Left” opposition, and (2) of the vote in the Central Committee on February 17, 1918.

On January 21, 1918, on the question of whether to break off negotiations with the Germans immediately, Stukov alone (of the contributors to the pseudo-Left Kommunist) voted in favour. All the rest voted against.

On the question of whether it was permissible to sign an annexationist treaty if the Germans should break off negotiations or present an ultimatum, only Obolensky (When will “his” theses be published? Why is the Kommunist silent about them?) and Stukov voted against. All the rest voted in favour.

On the question of whether in this event the proposed peace should be concluded, only Oboleusky and Stukov voted against. The rest of the “Lefts” abstained!! That is a fact.

On February 17, 1918, when the question was put: who is in favour of a revolutionary war?-Bukharin and Lomov “refused to vote on the question as put”. None voted in favour. That is a fact!

On the question of whether to “refrain from resuming peace negotiations until the German attack becomes sufficiently (sic!) evident and its influence upon the German working-class movement becomes clear”, Bukharin, Lomov and Uritsky, of the present contributors to the. “Left” paper, voted in favour.

On the question, “Should we conclude peace if a German offensive becomes a fact and a revolutionary upsurge fails to eventuate in Germany and Austria?”- Lomov, Bukharin and Uritsky abstained.

Facts are stubborn things. And the facts show that Bukharin denied the possibility of a German offensive and sowed illusions by which he actually, against his own wishes, helped the German imperialists arid hindered the growth of the German revolution. That indeed is the essence of revolutionary phrase-making. You strive for one thing and achieve the opposite.

N. Bukharin rebukes me for not giving a concrete analysis of the terms of the present peace. But it should not be difficult to understand that from the point of view of my argument and of the essence of the matter there was not, nor is there now, any necessity for that. It was enough to show that we are facing only one real-not imagined-dilemma: either to accept such terms as would afford us a breathing space for a few days at least, or the position of Belgium and Serbia. And this Bukharin did not refute, even in the eyes of Petrograd. That his colleague, M. N. Pokrovsky, admitted.

And if the new terms are worse, more onerous and humiliating than the bad, onerous and humiliating Brest terms, it is our pseudo-Lefts, Bukharin, Lomov, Uritsky and Co., who are to blame for this happening to the Great-Russian Soviet Republic. This is a historical fact, as is proved by the voting referred to above. It is a fact you cannot escape, wriggle, as you will. You were offered the Brest terms, and you replied by blustering and swaggering, which led to worse terms. That is a fact. And you cannot absolve yourselves of the responsibility for it.

In my theses of January 7, 1918, it was predicted with the utmost clarity that in view of the state of our army (which could not be changed by phrase-making “against” the tired peasant masses), Russia would have to conclude a worse separate peace if she did not accept the Brest peace.

The “Lefts” fell into a trap set by the Russian bourgeoisie, who had to embroil us in the worst kind of war we could possibly become embroiled in.

That these Left Socialist-Revolutionaries, in declaring for war now, have obviously parted company with the peasantry, is a fact. And this fact attests to the frivolity of the policy of Left Socialist-Revolutionaries, just as the seemingly “revolutionary” policy of all the Socialist-Revolutionaries in the summer of 1907 was frivolous.

That the more class-conscious and advanced workers are quickly shaking off the fumes of revolutionary phrase-making is shown by the example of Petrograd and Moscow. In Petrograd the best of the workers’ districts-Vyborg and Vasilyevsky Island-have already sobered up. The Petrograd Soviet of Workers’ Deputies is not in favour of war now; they have realised that it is necessary to prepare for it, and are preparing for it.[1] In Moscow, at the Bolshevik city conference on March 3 and 4, 1918, the opponents of revolutionary phrase-making won the day.[2]

To what monstrous lengths of self-deception our “Lefts” have gone is evident from one sentence in Pokrovsky’s article, which says: “If we are to fight, we must fight now” (Pokrovsky’s italics), “while” (listen to this!) “the Russian army, including the newly-formed units, has still not been demobilised.”

But everybody who does not shut his eyes to the facts knows that the greatest hindrance to resisting the Germans in February 1918, whether in Great Russia, the Ukraine, or Finland, was our undemobilised army. That is a fact. For it could not help fleeing in panic, carrying the Red Army detachments along with it.

Anyone who wants to benefit by the lessons of history, and not to hide from the responsibility they impose, or shut his eyes to them, let him recall at least the wars of Napoleon I against Germany.

Many a time did Prussia and Germany conclude with the conqueror peace treaties ten times more onerous and humiliating (than ours), even to the extent of accepting a foreign police, even to the extent of undertaking to furnish troops to help Napoleon I in his campaigns of conquest. Napoleon I in his treaties with Prussia harassed and dismembered Germany ten times worse than Hindenburg and Wilhelm have pinned us down iiow. Yet there were people in Prussia who did not bluster, but signed tiltra-“disgraceful” peace treaties signed them because they had no army, signed terms ten times more oppressive and humiliating, and then in spite of everything rose up in revolt and to wage war. That happened not once, but many times. History knows of several such peace treaties and wars. Of several cases of respite. Of several new declarations of war by the conqueror. Of several cases of an alliance between an oppres.sed nation and an oppressing nation, which was a rival of the conqueror and no less a conqueror itself (be it noted by the advocates of a “revolutionary war” without accepting aid from imperialists!).

Such was the course of history.

So it was. So it will be. We have entered an epoch of a succession of wars. We are moving towards a new, patriotic war. We will arrive at that war in the midst of a ripening socialist revolution. And while on that difficult road the Russian proletariat and the Russian revolution will be able to cure themselves of blustering and revolutionary phrasemaking, will know how to accept even the most onerous peace treaties, and then rise again.

We have signed a Tilsit Peace. We shall attain our victory and our liberation, just as the Germans after the Peace of Tilsit of 1807 attained their liberation from Napoleon in 1813 and 1814. The interval between our Tilsit Peace and our liberation will probably be shorter, for history is moving faster.

Down with blustering! On with the improvement of discipline and organisation in all earnest!


[1] On February 24, 1918 the Petrograd Soviet of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies passed a resolution approving the decision of the All-Russia C.E.C., which stated that the conclusion of peace was essential as “the only way out of the present grave situation”. At the same time the Petrograd Soviet decided “to take all necessary measures to organise troop trains to be sent to the front”.

[2] At a meeting of the Moscow Soviet of Workers’, Soldiers’ and Peasants’ Deputies in Moscow on March 3, 1918, in which factory committees, trade unions, district Soviets, responsible officials and others took part, the majority of those present spoke in favour of peace. On March 4 the question of peace was discussed at a meeting of the Moscow Committee of the R.S.D.L.P.(B.); by 10 votes to 7 a resolution in favour of making peace was passed. On the night of March 4, a Moscow city conference of the R.S.D.L.P.(B.) was held at which a large number of workers were also present, besides the delegates. The majority at the conference voted for a resolution approving the position of the C.C. of the R.S.D.L.P.(B.) on the question of peace.