Delivered: 22 November, 1919
First Published: Bulletin of the CC. R.C.P.(B.) No. 9, December 20, 1919; Published according to the text of Bulletin of the CC., R.C.P.(B.)
Source: Lenin’s Collected Works, 4th English Edition, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1965, Volume 30, pages 151-162
Translated: George Hanna
Transcription/HTML Markup: David Walters & Robert Cymbala
Copyleft: V. I. Lenin Internet Archive (www.marx.org) 2002. Permission is granted to copy and/or distribute this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License
Comrades, I am very glad of the opportunity to greet this Congress of Communist comrades representing Moslem organisations of the East, and to say a few words about the situation now obtaining in Russia and throughout the world. The subject of my address is current affairs, and it seems to me that the most essential aspects of this question at present are the attitude of the peoples of the East to imperialism, and the revolutionary movement among those peoples. It is self-evident that this revolutionary movement of the peoples of the East can now develop effectively, can reach a successful issue, only in direct association with the revolutionary struggle of our Soviet Republic against international imperialism. Owing to a number of circumstances, among them the backwardness of Russia and her vast area, and the fact that she constitutes a frontier between Europe and Asia, between the West and the East, we had to bear the whole brunt-and we regard that as a great honour of being the pioneers of the world struggle against imperialism. Consequently, the whole course of development in the immediate future presages a still broader and more strenuous struggle against international imperialism, arid will inevitably be linked with the struggle of the Soviet Republic against the forces of united imperialism-of Germany, France, Britain and the U.S.A.
As regards the military aspect of the matter, you know how favourable our situation now is on all the fronts. I shall not dwell in detail on this question; I shall only say that the Civil War which was forced upon us by international imperialism has in two years inflicted incalculable hardship upon the Russian Socialist Federative Soviet Republic, and imposed upon the peasants and workers a burden so intolerable that it often seemed they would not be able to endure it. But at the same time, because of its brute violence, because of the ruthlessly brutal onslaught of our so-called allies, turned wild beasts, who robbed us even before the socialist revolution, this war has performed a miracle and turned people weary of fighting and seemingly incapable of bearing another war into warriors who have not only withstood the war for two years but are bringing it to a victorious end. The victories we are now gaining over Kolchak, Yudenich and Denikin signify the advent of a new phase in the history of the struggle of world imperialism against the countries and nations which have risen up to fight for their emancipation. In this respect, the two years of our Civil War have fully confirmed what has long been known to historythat the character of a war and its success depend chiefly upon the internal regime of the country that goes to war, that war is a reflection of the internal policy conducted by the given country before the war. All this is inevitably reflected in the prosecution of a war.
Which class waged the war, and is continuing to wage it, is a very important question. Only due to our Civil War being waged by workers and peasants who have emancipated themselves, and to its being a continuation of the political struggle for the emancipation of the working people from the capitalists of their own country and of the whole world-only thanks to this were people to be found in such a backward country as Russia, worn out as she was by four years of imperialist war, who were strong-willed enough to carry on that war during two years of incredible and unparalleled hardship and difficulty.
This was very strikingly illustrated in the history of the Civil War in the case of Kolchak. Kolchak was an enemy who had the assistance of all the world’s strongest powers; he had a railway which was protected by some hundred thousand foreign troops, including the finest troops of the world imperialists, such as the Japanese, for example, who had been trained for the imperialist war, but took practically no part in it and therefore suffered little; Kolchak had the backing of the Siberian peasants, who were the most prosperous and had never known serfdom, and therefore, naturally, were farthest of all from communism. It seemed that Kolchak was an invincible force, because his troops were the advance guard of international imperialism. To this day, Japanese and Czechoslovak troops and the troops of a number of other imperialist nations are operating in Siberia. Nevertheless, the more than a year’s experience of Kolchak’s rule over Siberia and her vast natural resources, which was at first supported by the socialist parties of the Second International, by the Mensheviks and the SocialistRevolutionaries, who set up the Constituent Assembly Committee front, and which therefore, under these conditions, from the standpoint of the man in the street and of the ordinary course ofhistory, appeared to be firm and invincible that experience actually revealed the following. The farther Kolchak advanced into the heart of Russia, the more he wore himself out, and in the end we have witnessed Soviet Russia’s complete triumph over Kolchak. Here we undoubtedly have practical proof that the united forces of workers and peasants who have been emancipated from the capitalist yoke can perform real miracles. Here we have practical proof that when a revolutionary war really does attract and interest the working and oppressed people, when it makes them conscious that they are fighting the exploiters-such a revolutionary war engenders the strength and ability to perform miracles.
I think that what the Red Army has accomplished, its struggle, and the history of its victory, will be of colossal, epochal significance for all the peoples of the East. It will show them that, weak as they may be, and invincible as may seem the power of the European oppressors, who in the struggle employ all the marvels of technology and of the military art-nevertheless, a revolutionary war waged by oppressed peoples, if it really succeeds in arousing the millions of working and exploited people, harbours such potentialities, such miracles, that the emancipation of the peoples of the East is now quite practicable, from the standpoint not only of the prospects of the international revolution, but also of the direct military experience acquired in Asia, in Siberia, the experience of the Soviet Republic, which has suffered the armed invasion of all the powerful imperialist countries.
Furthermore, the experience of the Civil War in Russia has shown us and the Communists of all countries that, in the crucible of civil war, the development of revolutionary enthusiasm is accompanied by a powerful inner cohesion. War tests all the economic and organisational forces of a nation. In the final analysis, infinitely hard as the war has been for the workers and peasants, who are suffering famine and cold, it may be said on the basis of these two years’ experience that we are winning and will continue to win, because we have a hinterland, and a strong one, because, despite famine and cold, the peasants and workers stand together, have grown strong, and answer every heavy blow with a greater cohesion of their forces and increased economic might. And it is this alone that has made possible the victories over Kolchak, Yudenich and their allies, the strongest powers in the world. The past two years have shown, on the one hand, that a revolutionary war can be developed, and, on the other, that the Soviet system is growing stronger under the heavy blows of the foreign invasion, the aim of which is to destroy quickly the revolutionary centre, the republic of workers and peasants who have dared to declare war on international imperialism. But instead of destroying the workers and peasants of Russia, these heavy blows have served to harden them.
That is the chief lesson, the chief content of the present period. We are on the eve of decisive victories over Denikin, the last enemy left on our soil. We feel strong and may reiterate a thousand times over that we are not mistaken when we say that internally the Republic has become consolidated, and that we shall emerge from the war against Denikin very much stronger and better prepared for the task of erecting the socialist edifice-to which we have been able to devote all too little time and energy during the Civil War, but to which, now that we are setting foot on a free road, we shall undoubtedly be able to devote ourselves entirely.
In Western Europe we see the decay of imperialism. You know that a year ago it seemed even to the German socialists, and to the vast majority of socialists-who did not understand the state of affairs-that what was in progress was a struggle of two world imperialist groups, and they believed that this struggle constituted the whole of history, that there was no force capable of producing anything else. It seemed to them that even socialists had no alternative but to join sides with one of the groups of powerful world predators. That is how it seemed at the close of October 1918. But we find that in the year that has since elapsed world history has witnessed unparalleled events, profound and far-reaching events, and these have opened the eyes of many socialists who during the imperialist war were patriots and justified their conduct on the plea that they were faced with an enemy; they justified their alliance with the British and French imperialists on the grounds that these were supposedly bringing delivery from German imperialism. See how many illusions were shattered by that war! We are witnessing the decay of German imperialism, a decay which has led not only to a republican, but even to a socialist revolution. You know that in Germany today the class struggle has become still more acute and that civil war is drawing nearer and nearer-a war of the German proletariat against the German imperialists, who have adopted republican colours, but who remain imperialists.
Everyone knows that the social revolution is maturing in Western Europe by leaps and bounds, and that the same thing is happening in America and in Britain, the countries ostensibly representing culture and civilisation, victors over the Huns, the German imperialists. Yet when it came to the Treaty of Versailles, everyone saw that it was a hundred times more rapacious than the Treaty of B rest which the German robbers forced upon us, and that it was the heaviest blow the capitalists and imperialists of those luckless victor countries could possibly have struck at themselves. The Treaty of Versailles opened the eyes of the people of the victor nations, and showed that in the case of Britain and France, even though they are democratic states, we have before us not representatives of culture and civilisation, but countries ruled by imperialist predators The internal struggle among these predators is developing so swiftly that we may rejoice in the knowledge that the Treaty of Versailles is only a seeming victory for the jubilant imperialists, and that in reality it signifies the bankruptcy of the entire imperialist world and the resolute abandonment by the working people of those socialists who during the war allied themselves with the representatives of decaying imperialism and defended one of the groups of belligerent predators. The eyes of the working people have been opened because the Treaty of Versailles was a rapacious peace and showed that France and Britain had actually fought Germany in order to strengthen their rule over the colonies and to enhance their imperialist might. That internal struggle grows broader as time goes on. Today I saw a wireless message from London dated November 21, in which American journalists—men who cannot be suspected of sympathising with revolutionaries—say that in France an unprecedented outburst of hatred towards the Americans is to be observed, because the Americans refuse to ratify the Treaty of Versailles.
Britain and France are victors, but they are up to their ears in debt to America, who has decided that the French and the British may consider themselves victors as much as they like, but that she is going to skim the cream and exact usurious interest for her assistance during the war; and the guarantee of this is to be the American Navy which is now being built and is overtaking the British Navy in size. And the crudeness of the Americans’ rapacious imperialism may be seen from the fact that American agents are buying white slaves, women and girls, and shipping them to America for the development of prostitution. Just think, free, cultured America supplying white slaves for brothels! Conflicts with American agents are occurring in Poland and Belgium. That is a tiny illustration of what is taking place on a vast scale in every little country which received assistance from the Entente. Take Poland, for instance. You find American agents and profiteers going there and buying up all the wealth of Poland, who boasts that she is now an independent power. Poland is being bought up by American agents. There is not a factory or branch of industry which is not in the pockets of the Americans. The Americans have become so brazen that they are beginning to enslave that “great and free victor”, France, who was formerly a country of usurers, but is now deep in debt to America, because she has lost her economic strength, and has not enough grain or coal of her own and cannot develop her material resources on a large scale, while America insists that the tribute be paid unreservedly and in full. It is thus becoming increasingly apparent that France, Britain and other powerful countries are economically bankrupt. In the French elections the Clericats have gained the upper hand. The French people, who were deceived into devoting all their strength supposedly to the defence of freedom and democracy against Germany, have now been rewarded with an interminable debt, with the sneers of the rapacious American imperialists and, or, top of it, with a Clerical majority consisting of representatives of the most savage reaction.
The situation all over the world has become immeasurably more complicated. Our victory over Kolchak and Yudenich, those lackeys of international capital, is a big one; but far bigger, though not so evident, is the victory we are gaining on an international scale. That victory consists in the internal decay of imperialism, which is unable to send its troops against us. The Entente tried it, but to no purpose, because its troops become demoralised when they contact our troops and acquaint themselves with our Russian Soviet Constitution, translated into their languages. Despite the influence of the leaders of putrid socialism, our Constitution will always win the sympathy of the working people. The word “Soviet” is now understood by everybody, and the Soviet Constitution has been translated into all languages and is known to every worker. He knows that it is the constitution of working people, the political system of working people who are calling for victory over international capital, that it is a triumph we have achieved over the international imperialists. This victory of ours has had its repercussions in all imperialist countries, since we have deprived them of their own troops, won them over, deprived them of the possibility of using those troops against Soviet Russia.
They tried to wage war with the troops of other countries-Finland, Poland, and Latvia-but nothing came of it. British Minister Churchill, speaking in the House of Commons several weeks ago, boasted-and it was cabled all over the world-that a campaign of fourteen nations against Soviet Russia had been organised, and that this would result in victory over Russia by the New Year. And it is true that many nations participated in it-Finland, the Ukraine, Poland, Georgia, as well as the Czechoslovaks, the Japanese, the French, the British, and the Germans. But we know what came of it! We know that the Estonians left Yudenich’s forces in the lurch; and now a fierce controversy is going on in the press because the Estonians do not want to help him, while Finland, much as her bourgeoisie wanted it, has not assisted Yudenich either. Thus the second attempt to attack us has likewise failed. The first stage was the dispatch by the Entente of its own troops, equipped according to all the rules of military technique, so that it seemed they would defeat the Soviet Republic. They have already withdrawn from the Caucasus, Archangel and the Crimea; they still remain in Murmansk, as the Czechoslovaks do in Siberia, but only as isolated groups. The first attempt of the Entente to defeat us with its own forces ended in victory for us. The second attempt consisted in launching against us nations which re our neighbours, and which are entirely dependent financially on the Entente, and in trying to force them to crush us, as a nest of socialism. But that attempt, too, ended in failure: it turned out that not one of these little countries is capable of waging such a war. What is more, hatred of the Entente has taken firm root in every little country. If Finland did not set out to capture Petrograd when Yudenich had already captured Krasnoye Solo, it was because she hesitated, realising that she could live independently side by side with Soviet Russia, but could not live in peace with the Entente. All little nations have felt that. It is felt in Finland, Lithuania, Estonia, and Poland, where chauvinism is rampant, but where there is hatred of the Entente, which is expanding its exploitation in those countries. And now, accurately assessing the course of developments, we may say without exaggeration that not only the first, but also the second stage of the international war against the Soviet Republic has failed. All that remains for us to do now is to defeat Denikin’s forces, and they are already half-defeated,
Such is the present Russian and international situation, which I have summarised briefly in my address. Permit me, in conclusion, to say something about the situation that is developing in respect of the nationalities of the East. You are representatives of the communist organisations and Communist Parties of various Eastern peoples. I must say that the Russian Bolsheviks have succeeded in forcing a breach in the old imperialism, in undertaking the exceedingly difficult, but also exceedingly noble task of blazing new paths of revolution, whereas you, the representatives of the working people of the East, have before you a task that is still greater and newer. It is becoming quite clear that the socialist revolution which is impending for the whole world will not be merely the victory of the proletariat of each country over its own bourgeoisie. That would be possible if revolutions came easily and swiftly. We know that the imperialists will not allow this, that all countries are armed against their domestic Bolshevism and that their one thought is how to defeat Bolshevism at home. That is why in every country a civil war is brewing in which the old socialist compromisers are enlisted on the side of the bourgeoisie. Hence, the socialist revolution will not be solely, or chiefly, a struggle of the revolutionary proletarians in each country against their bourgeoisie-no, it will be a struggle of all the imperialist-oppressed colonies and countries, of all dependent countries, against international imperialism. Characterising the approach of the world social revolution in the Party Programme we adopted last March, we said that the civil war of the working people against the imperialists and exploiters in all the advanced countries is beginning to be combined with national wars against international imperialism. That is confirmed by the course of the revolution, and will be more and more confirmed as time goes on. It will be the same in the East.
We know that in the East the masses will rise as independent participants, as builders of a new life, because hundreds of millions of the people belong to dependent, underprivileged nations, which until now have been objects of international imperialist policy, and have only existed as material to fertilise capitalist culture and civilisation. And when they talk of handing out mandates for colonies, we know very well that it means handing out mandates for spoliation and plunder-handing out to an insignificant section of the world’s population the right to exploit the majority of the population of the globe. That majority, which up till then had been completely outside the orbit of historical progress, because it could not constitute an independent revolutionary force, ceased, as we know, to play such a passive role at the beginning of the twentieth century. We know that 1905 was followed by revolutions in Turkey, Persia and China, and that a revolutionary movement developed in India. The imperialist war likewise contributed to the growth of the revolutionary movement, because the European imperialists had to enlist whole colonial regiments in their struggle. The imperialist war aroused the East also and drew its peoples into international politics. Britain and France armed colonial peoples and helped them to familiarise themselves with military technique and up-todate machines. That knowledge they will use against the imperialist gentry. The period of the awakening of the East in the contemporary revolution is being succeeded by a period in which all the Eastern peoples will participate in deciding the destiny of the whole world, so as not to be simply objects of the enrichment of others. The peoples of the East are becoming alive to the need for practical action, the need for every nation to take part in shaping the destiny of all mankind.
That is why I think that in the history of the development of the world revolution-which, judging by its beginning, will continue for many years and will demand much effort-that in the revolutionary struggle, in the revolutionary movement you will be called upon to play a big part and to merge with our struggle against international imperialism. Your participation in the international revolution will confront you with a complicated and difficult task, the accomplishment of which will serve as the foundation for our common success, because here the majority of the people for the first time begin to act independently and will be an active factor in the fight to overthrow international imperialism.
Most of the Eastern peoples are in a worse position than the most backward country in Europe-Russia. But in our struggle against feudal survivals and capitalism, we succeeded in uniting the peasants and workers of Russia; and it was because the peasants and workers united against capitalism and feudalism that our victory was so easy. Here contact with the peoples of the East is particularly important, because the majority of the Eastern peoples are typical representatives of the working people-not workers who have passed through the school of capitalist factories, but typical representatives of the working and exploited peasant masses who are victims of medieval oppression. The Russian revolution showed how the proletarians, after defeating capitalism and uniting with the vast diffuse mass of working peasants, rose up victoriously against medieval oppression. Our Soviet Republic must now muster all the awakening peoples of the East and, together with them, wage a struggle against international imperialism.
In this respect you are confronted with a task which has not previously confronted the Communists of the world: relying upon the general theory and practice of communism, you must adapt yourselves to specific conditions such as do not exist in the European countries; you must be able to apply that theory and practice to conditions in which the bulk of the population are peasants, and in which the task is to wage a struggle against medieval survivals and not against capitalism. That is a difficult and specific task, but a very thankful one, because masses that have taken no part in the struggle up to now are being drawn into it, and also because the organisation of communist cells in the East gives you an opportunity to maintain the closest contact with the Third International. You must find specific forms for this alliance of the foremost proletarians of the world with the labouring and exploited masses of the East whose conditions are in many cases medieval. We have accomplished on a small scale in our country what you will do on a big scale and in big countries. And that latter task you will, I hope, perform with success. Thanks to the communist organisations in the East, of which you here are the represelitatives, you have contact with the advanced revolutionary proletariat. Your task is to continue to ensure that communist propaganda is carried on in every country in a language the people understand.
It is self-evident that final victory can be won only by the proletariat of all the advanced countries of the world, and we, the Russians, are beginning the work which the British, French or German proletariat will consolidate. But we see that they will not be victorious without the aid of the working people of all the oppressed colonial nations, first and foremost, of Eastern nations. We must realise that the transition to communism cannot be accomplished by the vanguard alone. The task is to arouse the working masses to revolutionary activity, to independent action and to organisation, regardless of the level they have reached; to translate the true communist doctrine, which was intended for the Communists of the more advanced countries, into the language of every people; to carry out those practical tasks which must be carried out immediately, and to join the proletarians of other countries in a common struggle.
Such are the problems whose solution you will not find in any communist book, but will find in the common struggle begun by Russia. You will have to tackle that problem and solve it through your own independent experience. In that you will be assisted, on the one hand, by close alliance with the vanguard of the working people of other countries, and, on the other, by ability to find the right approach to the peoples of the East whom you here represent. You will have to base yourselves on the bourgeois nationalism which is awakening, and must awaken, among those peoples, and which has its historical justification. At the same time, you must find your way to the working and exploited masses of every country and tell them in a language they understand that their only hope of emancipation lies in the victory of the international revolution, and that the international proletariat is the only ally of all the hundreds of millions of the working and exploited peoples of the East.
Such is the immense task which confronts you, and which, thanks to the era of revolution and the growth of the revolutionary movement-of that there can be no doubt-will, by the joint efforts of the communist organisations of the East, be successfully accomplished and crowned by complete victory over international imperialism.
 This Congress was held in Moscow from November 22 to December 3, 1919, on the initiative of the Central Bureau of Communist Organisations of the Peoples of the East at the CC., B.C.P.(B.). On the eve of the Congress, November 21, a preliminary meeting of the Central Committee members with a group of delegates was held with Lenin presiding.The Congress was attended by 71 delegates with the right to vote and by 11 delegates with voice but no vote. On the opening day of the Congress, November 22, Lenin delivered a report on the current situation. The resolution adopted on his report was submitted to the presidium “for concretisation and drafting of the chief theses that should serve as a basis for work in the East”. The Congress heard the report on the work of the Central Bureau of Communist Organisations of the Peoples of the East, reports from the localities, the reports of the Central Moslem War Collegium, Central Moslem Commissariat of the People’s Commissariat of Nationalities; it discussed the national question of the Bashkirs and Tatars and heard reports of sections on state organisation and Party work, on work among women in the East and among the youth, etc. The Congress outlined the tasks of the Party and the government in the East, and elected a new Central Bureau of Communist Organisations of the Peoples of the East