V. I. Lenin

Speech to Students of the Sverdlov University
Leaving for the Front

Delivered: October 24, 1919
Source: Collected Works, Volume 30, p. 76-84 Progress Publishers, 1965
First Published: Pravda Nos. 240 and 241, October 26 and 28, 1919
Translated: George Hanna
Online Version: marx.org 1997; marxists.org 1999
Transcribed/HTML Markup: Robert Cymbala & Brian Baggins and David Walters
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, you know it is not only the desire to celebrate the completion of the course of instruction at the Soviet school by the majority of you that has brought us here together, but also the decision taken by about a half the graduates to leave for the front to render fresh, extraordinary and substantial aid to the troops in action there.

Comrades, we are well aware of the great difficulties being experienced by our entire administration in the towns and, especially, in the rural areas because of the shortage of experienced, knowledgeable comrades. We are also well aware that the advanced workers of Petrograd, Moscow, Ivanovo-Voznesensk and other towns, those advanced comrades who until now have been bearing what one might call the main burden of administering the country under unprecedentedly difficult conditions, who have been bearing the main burden of uniting the workers and peasants and giving them guidance—we are well aware that these comrades are extremely exhausted by the superhuman efforts at times required of them for the defence of the Soviet Republic. Therefore, the opportunity to gather together here several hundred workers and peasants and give them the possibility of studying regularly for a few months, to complete a course of Soviet studies and then leave here in a body, organised, mustered, politically conscious to do the work of government and to make good the tremendous defects that still remain—such an opportunity is of great value to us and it was with great difficulty and reluctance, and after considerable wavering that we took a decision to permit half the present graduation class to go to work at the front. The conditions obtaining at the front, however, are such that we were left with no other choice. And we were of the opinion that the decision, adopted voluntarily and for the purpose of dispatching to the front a number of the best people who would have been valuable in all administrative and organising work—this decision was called for by circumstances of undoubted necessity.

Comrades, permit me to give you a short review of the situation now obtaining on the various fronts so that you may judge how urgent this necessity has become.

On a number of fronts that were formerly extremely important and on which the enemy had placed great hopes, victory for our side has recently drawn nearer and it will, by all the signs, be complete and irrevocable. On the Northern Front, where the offensive against Murmansk promised the enemy particularly great advantages and where the British had long ago mustered huge, excellently equipped forces and where we had unbelievable difficulty in fighting because of the lack of food and equipment—there, it seemed, the prospects for the British and French imperialists were of the brightest. It was there, however, that the enemy offensive collapsed completely. The British had to withdraw their troops, and we now have full confirmation that the British workers do not want war against Russia and even now, when Britain is far from the revolutionary struggle, they are able to bring such pressure to bear on their government of predators and plunderers that they can force them to withdraw their troops from Russia. They have been forced to abandon this front which was particularly dangerous because the enemy there was in possession of a sea route and was in a most favourable position. There are Russian whiteguard forces of practically no significance left there.

Take another front—the Kolchak front. You know that when Kolchak's army advanced towards the Volga the capitalist press of Europe hurried to inform the whole world of the collapse of Soviet power and to recognise Kolchak as the Supreme Ruler of Russia. Before the document announcing this recognition reached Kolchak, however, our troops had pushed him back into Siberia and, as you know, we approached Petropavlovsk and the River Irtysh and Kolchak was compelled to deploy his forces differently from the way he had intended. Time was when we had to withdraw because the local workers and peasants were late in mustering their forces. Information received from behind Kolchak's lines tells of his undoubted debacle, and the population, even the affluent peasants, are rising against him to a man. We are approaching the time when the last stronghold of Kolchak's forces will be smashed and that will bring us to the end of a year of revolution in the course of which all Siberia was under Kolchak's rule and when he was helped by the Socialist-Revolutionaries and the Mensheviks who again went through the business of coining to an agreement with a bourgeois government. You know that all the European bourgeoisie helped Kolchak. You know that the Siberian line was held by the Poles and Czechs, that there were also Italians there and American officer volunteers. Everything that might paralyse the revolution came to the aid of Kolchak. And it all collapsed because the peasants, the Siberian peasants, who least of all submit to the influence of communism because they see least of it, were given such a lesson by Kolchak, such a practical comparison (and peasants like practical comparisons) that we may say that Kolchak has given us a million supporters in districts the farthest removed from industrial centres where we should have had difficulty in winning them over. That is how Kolchak's power came to an end and that is why we feel our position to be most stable on that front.

We can see that the Polish offensive on the Western Front is coming to an end. The Poles got help from Britain, France and America who all tried to arouse Poland's ancient hatred towards her Great-Russian oppressors, tried to transfer the Polish workers' hatred of the landowners and tsars, a hundred times deserved, to the Russian workers and peasants, and tried to make the Polish workers think that the Bolsheviks, like the Russian chauvinists, dream of conquering Poland. For the time being they were successful in this. But there are definite signs that the time when this fraud was effective is now over and that disintegration has set in in the Polish army. American reports that cannot be suspected of sympathy for communism affirm that there is a growing demand among the Polish peasants to finish the war by October 1 at all costs, and that this demand is supported by even the most patriotic of the Polish social-chauvinists (P.S.P.) who occupy the same position as our Mensheviks and Socialist-Revolutionaries and are offering greater and greater opposition to their government. In recent times the mood of the Poles has changed considerably.

That leaves two other fronts, the Petrograd and Southern fronts, where the most important events are taking place. Here, too, all the signs indicate that the enemy is mustering his last forces. We have precise information to the effect that Secretary for War Churchill and the capitalist party in Britain undertook this military venture against Petrograd to demonstrate the possibility of making a speedy end of Soviet Russia, and that the British press regards this venture as the last stake made by Mr. Churchill and the chauvinists against the undoubted will of the majority of the people.

We may regard the Petrograd attack as a measure of help to Denikin; this conclusion may be drawn from the situation on the Petrograd Front.

You know that the Latvian, Lithuanian and Estonian governments have agreed to our proposal to start peace negotiations. Naturally this last piece of news has caused some wavering among our troops, giving them hopes that the war is drawing to an end. The negotiations have begun. In the meantime Britain collected her remaining vessels and landed several thousand whiteguards equipped with magnificent war materiel. They cannot transport them to us, however, unless they lull the people by deception, because in both Britain and France there have been cases of attempts to load war materiel on to ships having failed because the dockers struck work and said that they would not allow steamers carrying weapons of destruction to Soviet Russia to be loaded. The British imperialists had to get armaments from other countries, hoodwinking their own people. No wonder, then, that they dispatched against Soviet Russia a few hundred or a few thousand Russian whiteguard officers. There are camps in Britain where these whiteguard officers are housed, fed and trained for the invasion of Russia; and then they say that this is an internal war brought about by the terrorism of the Bolsheviks. Camps that were once full of Russian prisoners of war are now full of Russian whiteguard officers. This accounts for the tremendous successes achieved by the enemy when he brought these forces up to the Petrograd Front at a time when we were expecting Latvia and Lithuania to conclude an armistice. You now know that the turning-point has been reached on the Petrograd Front. You know from the reports of Zinoviev and Trotsky that losses have been made up, that the former wavering has come to an end and that our forces are attacking, and attacking successfully, overcoming the most desperate resistance. These battles are outstanding in their extraordinary ferocity. Comrade Trotsky informed me by telephone from Petrograd that in Detskoye Selo, which we recently captured, whiteguards, and bourgeois who had remained behind, fired from individual houses, offering stubborn resistance, greater resistance than in any previous battles. The enemy feels that a turning-point has been reached in the entire war and that Denikin is in a position in which he must be helped and our forces attacking him diverted. It can be said definitely that they did not succeed in doing this. Everything we sent to help Petrograd was obtained without the slightest weakening of the Southern Front. Not a single unit for Petrograd was withdrawn from the Southern Front and that victory which we have begun to achieve and which we shall pursue to the end will be achieved without any weakening of the Southern Front where the outcome of the war against the landowners and the imperialists is being decided. That outcome will be there on the Southern Front, and in the near future.

Comrades, you know that on the Southern Front on the one hand, the enemy relied mainly on the Cossacks who were fighting for their privileges, and on the other hand, more regiments of the volunteer army had been formed there than elsewhere; these were troops full of savage resentment who fought for the interests of their class, for the restoration of the power of the landowners and capitalists. It is here, therefore, that we have to engage them in the decisive battle, and here we see the same as we saw in the case of Kolchak; at first he achieved tremendous success, but the longer the fighting went on, the thinner became the ranks of the officers and politically-conscious kulaks who formed the backbone of Kolchak's army, and the more workers and peasants he had to enlist. They like other people to do their fighting for them, they do not like making sacrifices themselves and prefer that the workers risk their necks in their interests. And when Kolchak had to expand his army, the expansion led to hundreds of thousands coming over to our side. Dozens of whiteguard officers and Cossacks who deserted to our side said that they had become convinced that Kolchak was selling Russia right and left, and although they did not share the views of the Bolsheviks they came over to the side of the Red Army. That is how Kolchak finished up and that is how Denikin will end up, too. Today you were able to read in the evening newspapers that there had been risings behind Denikin's lines—the Ukraine is aflame. We have reports of the events in the Caucasus where the mountain people, driven to despair, attacked Shkuro's regiments and took their rifles and ammunition away from them. Yesterday we received a foreign wireless message that admitted that Denikin's situation was a difficult one—he had been compelled to send his best forces into battle because the Ukraine was aflame and there was an uprising in the Caucasus. The time is coming when Denikin will have to stake everything. Never before have there been such ferocious, bloody battles as that at Orel, where the enemy sent his best regiments, the so-called "Kornilov" regiments, into battle; one-third of them were the most counter-revolutionary officers, the best trained and fiercest in their hatred of the workers and peasants, officers who were defending the restoration of their own landowners' rule. That is why we have every reason to believe that the decisive moment is approaching on the Southern Front. The victories at Orel and Voronezh where the pursuit of the enemy continues, show that here, as on the Petrograd Front, the turning-point has been reached. We must ensure that our offensive will develop from a petty, partial attack into a gigantic mass offensive that will bring us the final victory.

That is why, no matter how great this sacrifice may be for us—the dispatch to the front of the hundreds of students gathered here and very obviously needed for work in Russia—we have nevertheless granted you your wish. There, on the Petrograd and Southern fronts, the fate of the war will be decided, if not in weeks, then at most in months. At such a moment every politically-conscious Communist should say to himself, "My place is there, ahead of the others at the front, where every politically-conscious Communist who has graduated from this school is of value."

If there has been some wavering among the troops it is only because the people have become tired of war. You are well aware of the hunger, ruination and torment that the workers and peasants have endured during these two years of struggle against the imperialists of the whole world. You know that those suffering mostly from fatigue will not stand up to the tension for long, and this is taken advantage of by the enemy who has better communications, a better staff and no traitors, and he attacks in full force. This is the reason for our failures on the Southern Front. That is why the most politically-conscious of the workers and peasants, those who have had courses of military training or courses similar to yours, must go to the front organised and solid, dividing up into large or small groups as agreed upon by the military authorities, and distributing duties among themselves so as to help the troops among whom a certain instability is manifest and where the enemy is pressing most strongly. Throughout the two years' existence of Soviet power, whenever a certain instability has made its appearance among the peasant masses who have never seen and do not know Soviet work, we have always appealed to the more organised section of the urban proletariat for help and have received the most heroic support from them.

Today I saw comrades from among the Ivanovo-Voznesensk workers who have allotted half the Party officials in responsible posts for dispatch to the front. One of them told me today of the enthusiasm with which tens of thousands of non-party workers saw them off; one old man, a non-party worker, came up to them and said, "Don't worry, you may go, your place is there, we'll work for you here." When this mood makes itself apparent among non-party workers, when the non-party masses who are not yet quite clear on political questions see that we are sending the best of the workers and peasants to the front where they undertake the most difficult and most burdensome duties, duties of the greatest responsibility, where they will fight in the front ranks and make the greatest number of sacrifices, will die in desperate battles, then the number of our supporters among the less-developed non-party workers and peasants will increase tenfold and miracles will occur among troops that are wavering, weak and tired.

That, comrades, is the magnificent, onerous and difficult task with which you are faced. There is no choice for those who are leaving for the front as representatives of the workers and peasants. Their slogan must be victory or death. Each of you must be able to approach the most backward, the least developed Red Army men in order to explain the situation to them in the most comprehensible language, from the standpoint of a man of labour, help them in a moment of difficulty, eliminate all wavering, teach them to fight against numerous manifestations of inertia, sabotage, deception or treachery. You know that there are still many such manifestations in the ranks and among the commanders. Here people are needed who have been through a certain course of study, who understand the political situation and are able to help the masses of workers and peasants in their struggle against treachery and sabotage. Soviet power expects that you, in addition to displaying personal courage, will afford all-round help to those masses and so put an end to all wavering among them and show them that Soviet power possesses forces to resort to in a moment of difficulty. Those forces we possess in sufficient numbers.

I repeat that we must now make this great sacrifice only because this is the main and the last front where, by all the signs, the fate of the whole Civil War will be decided within the next few weeks or months. Here we can once and for all deliver the enemy a blow that he will never recover from. After this bloody struggle against the whiteguards, a struggle that they imposed on us, we shall at last be able to get on with our own affairs, with real development, more freely and with redoubled energy. That is why I greet those of you, comrades, who have taken upon yourselves the difficult and magnificent task of fighting to the end in the ranks at the front, and I bid you farewell in the full confidence that you will bring us complete and final victory.