Delivered:March 12, 1918
First Published: Izvestia VTsIK No. 47, March 14, 1918; Published according to the text of Izvestia, collated with the verbatim report
Source: Lenin’s Collected Works, 4th English Edition, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1972 Volume 27, pp. 164-68.
Translated: Clemens Dutt Edited by Robert Daglish
Transcription/HTML Markup: David Walters & Robert Cymbala
Online Version: Lenin Internet Archive March, 2002
Comrades, we are celebrating the anniversary of the Russian revolution at a time when the revolution is passing through difficult days, when many are ready to give way to despondency and disillusionment. But if we look around us, if we recall what the revolution has achieved during this past year and how the international situation is shaping, then not one of us, I am sure, will find room for despair or despondency. There should be no room for doubt that the world socialist revolution, begun in October, will triumph over all difficulties and obstacles, over all the efforts of its enemies.
Comrades, remember how the Russian revolution developed.... Remember how, in a few days in February, thanks to the joint action of the proletariat and the bourgeoisie, who saw that under tsarism even a bourgeois society could not exist, thanks to the co-operation between the workers and the more enlightened section of the peasants, namely, the soldiers, who had lived through all the horrors of war—remember how in a few days they succeeded in overthrowing the monarchy, which in 1905, 1906 and 1907 had resisted incomparably heavier blows and drowned revolutionary Russia in blood. And when, after the February victory, the bourgeoisie found themselves in power, the revolution went forward with incredible speed.
The Russian revolution produced results which sharply distinguish it from the revolutions in Western Europe. It produced revolutionary people prepared by the events of 1905 to take independent action; it produced the Soviets of Workers’, Soldiers’ and Peasants’ Deputies, bodies incomparably more democratic than all those preceding them, able to educate, elevate and lead the oppressed mass of workers, soldiers and peasants. Thanks to these circumstances the Russian revolution within a few months passed through that period of compromise with the bourgeoisie which in Western Europe took entire decades. The bourgeoisie now say that the working class and its representatives, the Bolsheviks, are to blame for the fact that the army was unequal to the situation. But we can now see that if at that time—in March and April—power had not been in the hands of the conciliators, of the bourgeoisie who secured cushy jobs for themselves and placed the capitalists in power, while at the same time leaving the army ragged and starving, if power had not been in the hands of such gentlemen as Kerensky, who called themselves socialists, but who actually carried in their pockets secret treaties binding the Russian people to fight until 1918, then perhaps the Russian army and revolution might have been spared those incredibly severe trials and humiliations through which we have had to pass. If at that time power had passed to the Soviets, if the conciliators, instead of helping Kerensky to drive the army into battle, had come forward with a proposal for a democratic peace, then our army would not have been so badly shattered. They should have said to it: stand by. In one hand let it hold the torn-up secret treaty with the imperialists and the proposal to all nations for a democratic peace; in the other let it hold rifle and gun, and let the front remain absolutely intact. If that had been done, the army and the revolution could have been saved. Such a gesture, even before an enemy like German imperialism, even if it were aided by the whole bourgeoisie, by the entire capitalist world, by all the representatives of the bourgeois parties, such a gesture could, nevertheless, have been of help then. This gesture could have put the enemy in a situation where it would have seen, on the one hand, the proposed democratic peace and the unmasked treaties and, on the other hand, the guns. Today we have not such a strong front. We cannot reinforce it without artillery. The restoration of the front is too difficult, it is proceeding too slowly because we have never come into contact with such an enemy. It was one thing to struggle with that idiot Romanov or that boaster Kerensky, but here we have an enemy which has organised all its forces and the economic life of its country for defence against the revolution. We knew that in June 1917, instead of tearing up the imperialist treaties, Kerensky’s government hurled the soldiers into an offensive, which sapped their strength completely. And now, when the bourgeoisie scream about unparalleled disorganisation and national disgrace, do they imagine that a revolution, born of war, born of unprecedented destruction, can develop calmly, smoothly, peacefully, without suffering, without torment, without horror? Anyone who imagines the revolution beginning in this way is either nothing but a phrase-monger, or one of those flabby intellectuals incapable of understanding the significance of this war and of the revolution. Yes, that is how they reason. But to us it is clear that throughout this whole process a great national resurgence is taking place, which those who scream about national disgrace do not see.
However that may be, we have extricated ourselves from the war. We are not saying that we extricated ourselves without giving anything in return, without paying a price. But we managed to get out of the war. We gave the people a breathing-space. We do not know how long this breathing-space will last. Possibly it will be exceedingly brief because the imperialist robbers are bearing down on us from the West and the East, and a new war will inevitably begin. We do not close our eyes to the fact that the country lies in ruins. But the people have been able to rid themselves of the tsarist government, of the bourgeois government, and to create Soviet organisations which only now, when the soldiers have returned from the front, have reached the remotest villages. The necessity for them and their significance have been understood by the lowest strata of the people, by the most oppressed and downtrodden of the people, who were wronged and humiliated by tsars, landowners and capitalists, and who were seldom able to put heart and soul into anything or display their creative ability. They not only established Soviet power in the large towns and factory areas, but also in the most remote corners of the country. Every peasant who up to now has known only oppression and robbery at the hands of the authorities, now sees the government of the poor in power, the government which he himself elects, which has liberated him from oppression, and which, despite all the unparalleled obstacles and difficulties, will be able to lead him still farther.
Comrades, although we now have to live through days of heavy defeat and oppression, when the head of the Russian revolution is under the boot of the Prussian landowners and imperialists, I am sure, no matter how great may be the anger and indignation in some circles, that deep among the people a constructive process is taking place, an accumulation of energy and discipline, which will give us the strength to survive all blows, and which proves that we have not betrayed, and will not betray, the revolution. If we have been compelled to undergo these trials and defeats, it is because the course of history does not run smoothly and pleasantly, permitting the working people of all countries to rise simultaneously with us. We must not forget the sort of enemy we are dealing with. The enemies with whom we have had to deal before, Romanov, Kerensky and the Russian bourgeoisie—the stupid, unorganised, uncultured bourgeoisie that only yesterday licked the boots of Romanov and then ran about with secret treaties in their pockets—do these enemies amount to anything compared with the international bourgeoisie, who have turned all the achievements of the human mind into a weapon to suppress the will of the working people and have adapted the whole of their organisation to exterminating people?
This is the enemy that has hurled itself at us just at the moment when we have completely disarmed, when we have to state quite openly: we have no army, we are a country which has lost its army and is forced to accept a very humiliating peace.
We are not deceiving anybody, we are not betraying any one, we are not refusing to aid our brothers. But we shall have to accept a very onerous peace, we shall have to accept terrible conditions. We shall have to retreat in order to gain time while this is still possible, so that our allies can come to our aid. And we have got allies. No matter how great our hatred of imperialism, no matter how strong the feeling, a justified feeling, of anger and indignation against it, we must recognise that we are now defencists. It is not secret treaties that we are defending, we are defending socialism, we are defending our socialist fatherland. In order to be able to defend it, however, we have had to accept the most bitter humiliation. We know that there are periods in every nation’s history when it is obliged to retreat before the pressure of an enemy with stronger nerves. We have gained a breathing-space, and we must make use of it so that the army may have some sort of respite, so that as a mass (not those tens of thousands in the large cities who attend meetings, but the millions and tens of millions who have dispersed to the villages) it should understand that the old war is over, and a new war is beginning, a war to which we have replied with a peace offer, a war in which we have retreated in order to overcome our lack of discipline, our inertia, our flabbiness—despite which we were able to defeat tsarism and the Russian bourgeoisie, but not the European international bourgeoisie. If we overcome them we shall be the victors, because we have allies, and we are convinced of this.
However viciously the international imperialists now behave on seeing our defeat, their enemies, who are our allies, are maturing within their own countries. We know and have always known for certain that among the German working class this process is taking place, perhaps more slowly than we expected, than we would have liked, but there is no doubt that indignation against the imperialists is growing, that the number of allies in our work is increasing and that they will come to our aid.
You must give all your strength, provide the right watch word and enforce discipline. This is our duty to the socialist revolution. Then we shall be able to hold out until the allied proletariat comes to our aid and, together, we shall defeat all the imperialists and capitalists.