V. I. Lenin

Letter to the Workers of Europe and America[1]

Written: 21 December, 1918
First Published: Pravda;No. 16, January 24, 1919; Published according to the manuscript
Source: Lenin’s Collected Works, 4th English Edition, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1972 Volume 28, pages 453-477
Translated: Jim Riordan
Transcription/HTML Markup: David Walters & Robert Cymbala
Online Version: Lenin Internet Archive May, 2002

Comrades, at the end of my letter to American workers dated August 20, 1918, I wrote that we are in a besieged fortress so long as the other armies of the world socialist revolution do not come to our aid. I added that the workers are breaking away from their social-traitors, the Gomperses and Renners. The workers are slowly but surely coming round to communist and Bolshevik tactics.

Less than five months have passed since those words were written, and it must be said that during this time, in view of the fact that workers of various countries have turned to communism and Bolshevism, the maturing of the world proletarian revolution has proceeded very rapidly.

Then, on August 20, 1918, only our Party, the Bolshevik Party, had resolutely broken with the old, Second International of 1889-1914 which so shamefully collapsed during the imperialist war of 1914-18. Only our Party had unreservedly taken the new path, from the socialists and social-democracy which had disgraced themselves by alliance with the predatory bourgeoisie, to communism; from petty-bourgeois reformism and opportunism, which had thoroughly permeated, and now permeate, the official Social-Democratic and socialist parties, to genuinely proletarian, revolutionary tactics.

Now, on January 12, 1919, we already see quite a number of communist proletarian parties, not only within the boundaries of the former tsarist empire—in Latvia, Finland and Poland, for example—but also in Western Europe—Austria, Hungary, Holland and, lastly, Germany. The foundation of a genuinely proletarian, genuinely internationalist, genuinely revolutionary Third International, the Communist International, became a fact when the German Spartacus League, with such world-known and world-famous leaders, with such staunch working-class champions as Liebknecht, Rosa Luxemburg, Clara Zetkin and Franz Mehring, made a clean break with socialists like Scheidemann and Südekum, social-chauvinists (socialists in words, but chauvinists in deeds) who have earned eternal shame by their alliance with the predatory, imperialist German bourgeoisie and Wilhelm II. It became a fact when the Spartacus League changed its name to the Communist Party of Germany. Though it has not yet been officially inaugurated, the Third International actually exists.

No class-conscious worker, no sincere socialist can now fail to see how dastardly was the betrayal of socialism by those who, like the Mensheviks and “Socialist-Revolutionaries” in Russia, the Scheidemanns and Südekuns in Germany, the Renaudels and Vanderveldes in France, the Hendersons and Webbs in Britain, and Gompers and Co. in America, supported “their” bourgeoisie in the 1914-18 war. That war fully exposed itself as an imperialist, reactionary, predatory war both on the part of Germany and on the part of the capitalists of Britain, France, Italy and America. The latter are now beginning to quarrel over the spoils, over the division of Turkey, Russia, the African and Polynesian colonies, the Balkans, and so on. The hypocritical phrases uttered by Wilson and his followers about “democracy” and “union of nations” are exposed with amazing rapidity when we see the capture of the left bank of the Rhine by the French bourgeoisie, the capture of Turkey (Syria, Mesopotamia) and part of Russia (Siberia, Archangel, Baku, Krasnovodsk, Ashkhabad, and so on) by the French, British and American capitalists, and the increasing animosity over the division of the spoils between Italy and France, France and Britain, Britain and America, America and Japan.

Beside the craven, half-hearted “socialists” who are thoroughly imbued with the prejudices of bourgeois democracy, who yesterday defended “their” imperialist governments and today limit themselves to platonic “protests” against military intervention in Russia - beside these there is a growing number of people in the Allied countries who have taken the communist path, the path of Maclean, Debs, Loriot, Lazzari and Serrati. These are men who have realised that if imperialism is to be crushed and the victory of socialism and lasting peace ensured, the bourgeoisie must be overthrown, bourgeois parliaments abolished, and Soviet power and the dictatorship of the proletariat established.

Then, on August 20, 1918, the proletarian revolution was confined to Russia, and “Soviet government”, i.e., the system under which all state power is vested in Soviets of Workers’, Soldiers’ and Peasants’ Deputies, still seemed to be (and actually was) only a Russian institution.

Now, on January 12, 1919, we see a mighty “Soviet” movement not only in parts of the former tsarist empire, for example, in Latvia, Poland and the Ukraine, but also in West-European countries, in neutral countries (Switzerland, Holland and Norway) and in countries which have suffered from the war (Austria and Germany). The revolution in Germany—which is particularly important and characteristic as one of the most advanced capitalist countries—at once assumed “Soviet” forms. The whole course of the German revolution, and particularly the struggle of the Spartacists, i.e., the true and only representatives of the proletariat, against the alliance of those treacherous scoundrels, the Scheidemanns and Südekums, with the bourgeoisie—all this clearly shows how history has formulated the question in relation to Germany:

“Soviet power” or the bourgeois parliament, no matter under what signboard (such as “National” or “Constituent” Assembly) it may appear.

That is how world history has formulated the question. Now, this can and must be said without any exaggeration.

“Soviet power” is the second historical step, or stage, in the development of the proletarian dictatorship. The first step was the Paris Commune. The brilliant analysis of its nature and significance given by Marx in his The Civil War in France showed that the Commune had created a new type of state, a proletarian state. Every state, including the most democratic republic, is nothing but a machine for the suppression of one class by another. The proletarian state is a machine for the suppression of the bourgeoisie by the proletariat. Such suppression is necessary because of the furious, desperate resistance put up by the landowners and capitalists, by the entire bourgeoisie and all their hangers-on, by all the exploiters, who stop at nothing when their overthrow, when the expropriation of the expropriators, begins.

The bourgeois parliament, even the most democratic in the most democratic republic, in which the property and rule of the capitalists are preserved, is a machine for the suppression of the working millions by small groups of exploiters. The socialists, the fighters for the emancipation of the working people from exploitation, had to utilise the bourgeois parliaments as a platform, as a base, for propaganda, agitation and organisation as long as our struggle was confined to the framework of the bourgeois system. Now that world history has brought up the question of destroying the whole of that system, of overthrowing and suppressing the exploiters, of passing from capitalism to socialism, it would be a shameful betrayal of the proletariat, deserting to its class enemy, the bourgeoisie, and being a traitor and a renegade to confine oneself to bourgeois parliamentarism, to bourgeois democracy, to present it as “democracy” in general, to obscure its bourgeois character, to forget that as long as capitalist property exists universal suffrage is an instrument of the bourgeois state.

The three trends in world socialism, about which the Bolshevik press has been speaking incessantly since 1915, stand out with particular distinctness today, against the background of the bloody struggle and civil war in Germany.

Karl Liebknecht is a name known to the workers of all countries. Everywhere, and particularly in the Allied countries, it is the symbol of a leader’s devotion to the interests of the proletariat and loyalty to the socialist revolution. It is the symbol of really sincere, really self-sacrificing and ruthless struggle against capitalism. It is the symbol of uncompromising struggle against imperialism not in words, but in deeds, of self-sacrificing struggle precisely in the period when “one’s own” country is flushed with imperialist victories. With Liebknecht and the Spartacists are all those German socialists who have remained honest and really revolutionary, all the best and dedicated men among the proletariat, the exploited masses who are seething with indignation and among whom there is a growing readiness for revolution.

Against Liebknecht are the Scheidemanns, the Südekums and the whole gang of despicable lackeys of the Kaiser and the bourgeoisie. They are just as much traitors to socialism as the Gomperses and Victor Bergers, the Hendersons and Webbs, the Renaudels and Vanderveldes. They represent that top section of workers who have been bribed by the bourgeoisie, those whom we Bolsheviks called (applying the name to the Russian Südekums, the Mensheviks) “agents of the bourgeoisie in the working-class movement”, and to whom the best socialists in America gave the magnificently expressive and very fitting title: “labour lieutenants of the capitalist class”. They represent the latest, “modern”, type of socialist treachery, for in all the civilised, advanced countries the bourgeoisie rob—either by colonial oppression or by financially extracting “gain” from formally independent weak countries—they rob a population many times larger than that of “their own” country. This is the economic factor that enables the imperialist bourgeoisie to obtain superprofits, part of which is used to bribe the top section of the proletariat and convert it into a reformist, opportunist petty bourgeoisie that fears revolution.

Between the Spartacists and the Scheidemann men are the wavering, spineless “Kautskyites”, who in words are “independent”, but in deeds are entirely, and all along the line, dependent upon the bourgeoisie and the Scheidemann men one day, upon the Spartacists the next, some following the former and some the latter. These are people without ideas, without backbone, without policy, without honour, without conscience, the living embodiment of the bewilderment of philistines who stand for socialist revolution in words, but are actually incapable of understanding it when it has begun and, in renegade fashion, defend “democracy” in general, that is, actually defend bourgeois democracy.

In every capitalist country, every thinking worker will, in the situation varying with national and historical conditions, perceive these three main trends among the socialists and among the syndicalists, for the imperialist war and the incipient world proletarian revolution engender identical ideological and political trends all over the world.

*     *

The foregoing lines were written before the brutal and dastardly murder of Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg by the Ebert and Scheidemann government. Those butchers, in their servility to the bourgeoisie, allowed the German whiteguards, the watchdogs of sacred capitalist property, to lynch Rosa Luxemburg, to murder Karl Liebknecht by shooting him in the back on the patently false plea that he “attempted to escape” (Russian tsarism often used that excuse to murder prisoners during its bloody suppression of the 1905 Revolution). At the same time those butchers protected the whiteguards with the authority of the government, which claims to be quite innocent and to stand above classes! No words can describe the foul and abominable character of the butchery perpetrated by alleged socialists. Evidently, history has chosen a path on which the role of “labour lieutenants of the capitalist class” must be played to the “last degree” of brutality, baseness and meanness. Let those simpletons, the Kautskyites, talk in their newspaper Freiheit[2] about a “court” of representatives of “all” “socialist” parties (those servile souls insist that the Scheidemann executioners are socialists)! Those heroes of philistine stupidity and petty-bourgeois cowardice even fail to understand that the courts are organs of state power, and that the issue in the struggle and civil war now being waged in Germany is precisely one of who is to hold this power—the bourgeoisie, “served” by the Scheidemanns as executioners and instigators of pogroms, and by the Kautskys as glorifiers of “pure democracy”, or the proletariat, which will overthrow the capitalist exploiters and crush their resistance.

The blood of the best representatives of the world proletarian International, of the unforgettable leaders of the world socialist revolution, will steel ever new masses of workers for the life-and-death struggle. And this struggle will lead to victory. We in Russia, in the summer of 1917, lived through the “July days”,[3] when the Russian Scheidemanns, the Mensheviks and Socialist-Revolutionaries, also provided “state” protection for the “victory” of the whiteguards over the Bolsheviks, and when Cossacks shot the worker Voinov in the streets of Petrograd for distributing Bolshevik leaflets.[4] We know from experience how quickly such “victories” of the bourgeoisie and their henchmen cure the people of their illusions about bourgeois democracy, “universal suffrage”, and so forth.

*     *

The bourgeoisie and the governments of the Allied countries seem to be wavering. One section sees that demoralisation is already setting in among the Allied troops in Russia, who are helping the whiteguards and serving the blackest monarchist and landlord reaction. It realises that continuation of the military intervention and attempts to defeat Russia—which would mean maintaining a million strong army of occupation for a long time—is the surest and quickest way of carrying the proletarian revolution to the Allied countries. The example of the German occupation forces in the Ukraine is convincing enough of that.

Another section of the Allied bourgeoisie persists in its policy of military intervention, “economic encirclement” (Clemenceau) and strangulation of the Soviet Republic. The entire press in the service of that bourgeoisie, i.e., the majority of the capitalist-bought daily newspapers in Britain and France, predicts the early collapse of the Soviet government, draws lurid pictures of the horrors of the famine in Russia, lies about “disorders” and the “instability” of the Soviet Government. The whiteguard armies of the landowners and capitalists, whom the Allies are helping with officers, ammunition, money and auxiliary detachments, are cutting off the starving central and northern parts of Russia from the most fertile regions, Siberia and the Don.

The distress of the starving workers in Petrograd and Moscow, in Ivanovo-Voznesensk and other industrial centres is indeed great. If the workers did not understand that they are defending the cause of socialism in Russia and throughout the world they would never be able to bear the hardships, the torments of hunger to which they are doomed by the Allied military intervention (often covered up by hypocritical promises not to send their “own” troops, while continuing to send “black” troops, and also ammunition, money and officers).

The “Allied” and whiteguard troops hold Archangel, Perm, Orenburg, Rostov-on-Don, Baku and Ashkhabad, but the “Soviet movement” has won Riga and Kharkov. Latvia and the Ukraine are becoming Soviet republics. The workers see that their great sacrifices are not in vain, that the victory of Soviet power is approaching, spreading, growing and gaining strength the world over. Every month of hard fighting and heavy sacrifice strengthens the cause of Soviet power throughout the world and weakens its enemies, the exploiters.

The exploiters are still strong enough to murder the finest leaders of the world proletarian revolution,[5] to in crease the sacrifices and suffering of the workers in occupied or conquered countries and regions. But the exploiters all over the world are not strong enough to prevent the victory of the world proletarian revolution, which will free mankind from the yoke of capital and the eternal menace of new imperialist wars, which are inevitable under capitalism.

N. Lenin

January 21, 1919


[1] Lenin’s letter to the workers of Europe and America helped the advanced workers to rally round the Communist Parties and unite their forces in the struggle against international imperialism.

[2]The letter was published in Berlin in the March issue of the magazine Die Aktion and in the April issue of the magazine Der Arbeiter-Rat (The Workers’ Council ) for 1919. It also appeared as a separate pamphlet in English.

[3] Die Freiheit—a daily newspaper, organ of the Independent Social-Democratic Party of Germany, published in Berlin from November 15, 1918, to September 30, 1922.

[4] This refers to mass demonstrations in Petrograd on July 3-4 (16-17) 1917. The obviously hopeless offensive launched by the Provisional Government and which ended in expected failure aroused indignation among the workers, soldiers and sailors who turned out for a demonstration. The movement was initiated by the 1st Machine Gun Regiment which took action on July 3 (16) in the Vyborg District. The demonstration threatened to develop into armed action against the government.

The Bolshevik Party was opposed to armed action, considering that a revolutionary crisis had not yet matured in the country. At a meeting of the Central Committee called on July 3 (16) at 4 p.m. it was decided to attempt to stop the demonstration. A similar decision was adopted at the Second Petrograd City Conference of the Bolsheviks, which met at the same time. The delegates went to the factories and the districts to dissuade the people from demonstrating. But it was too late, the demonstration had already begun.

Late at night on July 3 (16) the Central und Petrograd Committees and the Military Organisation, taking into account the popular mood, decided to take part in the demonstration with a view to keeping it peaceful and organised. Lenin had been out of town at the time, resting for a few days from the strain of his work. As soon as he learned about the developments in Petrograd, he left for the city where he arrived on the morning of July 4 (17) and took over the leadership of the movement. That same day he addressed the Kronstadt sailors from the balcony of the Kshesinskaya Palace. He called on them to be staunch, steadfast and vigilant.

Over 500,000 people took part in the demonstration under the slogan “All Power to the Soviets!” and other Bolshevik slogans. The demonstrators demanded that the Central Executive Committee take over power. The Socialist-Revolutionary and Menshevik leaders did not comply with the demand.

With the knowledge and connivance of the Socialist-Revolutionary-Menshevik Central Executive Committee, the Provisional Government ordered officer cadet and Cossack units to deal with the demonstrators. The troops opened fire. Counter-revolutionary units had been brought from the front to crush the demonstration.

The meeting of the Central and Petrograd Committees, which took place on the night of July 4-5 with Lenin in the chair, decided to call off the demonstration in an organised way. It was a wise move, as it enabled the Party to make a timely retreat and stave off the defeat of the main forces of the revolution. The Mensheviks and Socialist-Revolutionaries actually turned out to have aided and abetted the counter-revolutionary repression. They lined up with the bourgeoisie to attack the Bolshevik Party. Pravda, Soldatskaya Pravda and other Bolshevik papers were suppressed and the printing-plant Trud, acquired with workers’ money, was wrecked. Workers were disarmed and arrests, house searches and pogroms began. Revolutionary units of the Petrograd garrison were withdrawn from the capital and sent to the front.

After the July days power in the country completely passed into the hands of the Provisional Government, and the Soviets became its impotent appendage. Dual power came to an end, as did the peaceful period of the revolution’s development. The Bolsheviks were now faced with the task of preparing an armed uprising to overthrow the Provisional Government. Lenin described the July days in his articles “Three Crises”, “An Answer”, “Marxism and Insurrection”, “The Russian Revolution and Civil War” and others (Collected Works. Vol. 25, pp. 169-73 and 208-18, and Vol. 26, pp. 22-27 and 28-42).

[5] Lenin refers to the murder on July 6 (19), 1917, of the Bolshevik I. A. Voinov, an active correspondent of Pravda and a worker at the Pravda print-shop. After the Pravda offices had been wrecked, he took part in the publication of Listok Pravdy;(Pravda Newssheet ) during the July days and was killed as he was distributing the newspaper on Shpalernaya Street (now Voinov Street).