Delivered: 6 March, 1920
First Published: Communist International No. 10, 1920; Published according to the magazine text
Source: Lenin’s Collected Works, 4th English Edition, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1965, Volume 30, page 417-425
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, a year has passed since the founding of the Communist International. During this year the Communist International has been successful beyond all expectation; we may say boldly that at the tithe of its foundation no one expected such immense successes.
In the early period of the revolution many entertained the hope that the socialist revolution would begin in Western Europe immediately the imperialist war ended; at the time when the masses were armed there could have been a successful revolution in some of the Western countries as well. It could have taken place, had it not been for the split within the proletariat of Western Europe being deeper and the treachery of the former socialist leaders greater than had been imagined.
To this day we lack exact information on how the demobilisation proceeded and how the war is being wound up. We do not know, for example, what happened in Holland, and only from an article containing an account of a Dutch Communist’s speech (from one chance article—there were many such articles) have I been able to learn that the revolutionary movement in Holland, a neutral country that was less involved in the imperialist war, assumed such dimensions that the formation of Soviets was started, and Troelstra, one of the most important figures in the opportunist Dutch Social-Democratic Party, admitted that the workers could have seized power.
Had the International not been in the hands of traitors who worked to save the bourgeoisie at the critical moment, there would have been many chances of a speedy revolution in many belligerent countries as soon as the war ended and also in some neutral countries, where the people were armed; then the outcome would have been different.
Things did not turn out that way, revolution did not succeed so quickly, and it now has to follow the whole path of development that we began even before the first revolution, before 1905; for it was only due to more than ten years having passed before 1917 that we were capable of leading the proletariat.
What happened in 1905 was, so to speak, a rehearsal for the revolution, and it was partly because of this that we in Russia succeeded in using the moment of the collapse of the imperialist war for the proletariat to seize power. Owing to historical developments, owing to the utter rottenness of the autocracy, we were able to begin the revolution with ease; but the easier it was to begin it the harder it has been for this solitary country to continue it, and with the experience of this year behind us we can say to ourselves that in other countries, where the workers are more developed, where there is more industry, where the workers are far more numerous, the revolution has developed more slowly. It has taken our path, but at a much slower pace.
The workers are continuing this slow development, paving the way for the proletarian victory which is advancing with undoubtedly greater speed than was the case with us; because when you look at the Third International you wonder that it has spread so rapidly, moving from success to success.
Look at the way our ugly words, such as “Bolshevism”, for example, are spreading throughout the world. Despite the fact that we call ourselves the Communist Party, and that the name “Communist” is a scientific, European term, it is not as widespread in European and other countries as the word “Bolshevik” is. Our Russian word “Soviet” is one of the most widely used; it is not even translated into other languages, but is pronounced everywhere in Russian.
Despite the lies in the bourgeois press, despite the furious resistance offered by the entire bourgeoisie, the sympathies of the masses of the workers are on the side of the Soviets, Soviet power and Bolshevism. The more the bourgeoisie lied the more they helped to spread throughout the world what we had experienced with Kerensky.
On their arrival from Germany, some of the Bolsheviks were met here with attacks and persecutions, organised in the “democratic republic” in real American style. Kerensky, the Socialist-Revolutionaries and the Monsheviks did their best to assist this witch-hunt. In this way they stirred up sections of the proletariat and made them think that there must be something good about the Bolsheviks if they are subjected to such persecution. (Applause,)
And when you get fragmentary information from abroad from time to time, when—being unable to follow the entire press—you read, for example, Britain’s richest newspaper, The Times, and find it quoting Bolshevik statements to prove that during the war the Bolsheviks were preaching civil war, you draw the conclusion that even the cleverest representatives of the bourgeoisie have completely lost their heads, This British newspaper directs attention to the book Against the Stream, recommends it to British readers and gives quotations to show that the Bolsheviks are the very worst of people, who speak of the criminal character of the imperialist war and preach civil war; it convinces you that the entire bourgeoisie, while they hate us, are helping us—and we bow to them and thank them. (Applause.)
We have no daily press either in Europe or in America; information about our work is very meagre, and our comrades are suffering the most severe persecution. But when you see that the very wealthy Allied imperialist press, from which hundreds of thousands of other newspapers draw their information, has lost its sense of proportion to such a degree that in its desire to injure the Bolsheviks it prints numerous quotations from the writings of Bolsheviks, digging them up from war-time publications in order to prove that we spoke of the criminal character of the war and worked to transform it into a civil war, it shows that these very clever gentlemen will become as stupid as our Kerensky and his comrades were. We can therefore vouch for it that these people, the leaders of British imperialism, will make aclean and enduring job of helping the communist revolution. (Applause.)
Comrades, before the war it seemed that the main division in the working-class movement was the division into socialists and anarchists. Not only did it seem so; it was so. In the protracted period that preceded the imperialist war and the revolution, no objective revolutionary situation existed in the overwhelming majority of European countries. What had to be done at that time was to use this slow process for revolutionary preparation. The socialists began it, but the anarchists did not see the need for it. The war created a revolutionary situation, and the old division proved to be outdated. On the one hand, the top leaders of anarchism and socialism became chauvinists; they showed what it meant to defend their own bourgeois robbers against other bourgeois robbers, both of whom were responsible for the loss of millions of lives in the war. On the other hand, new trends arose among the rank and file of the old parties—against the war, against imperialism and for social revolution. A most profound crisis thus developed owing to the war; both the anarchists and the socialists split, because the parliamentary leaders of the socialists were in the chauvinist wing while an ever-growing minority of the rank and file left them and began to take the side of the revolution.
Thus the working-class movement in all countries followed a new line, not the line of the anarchists and the socialists, but one that could lead to the dictatorship of the proletariat. This split had become apparent throughout the world and had started before the Third International was founded.
If our Party has been successful it is because it came into being when the situation was revolutionary and when the labour movement was already in existence in all countries; and we therefore see now that a split has taken place in socialism and anarchism All over the world, this is leading to communist workers participating in the formation of new organisations and to their uniting in the Third International. That is the most correct attitude.
Disagreements are again arising, for example, over the question of using parliaments, but since the experience of the Russian revolution and the Civil War, since the figure of Liebknecht and his role and importance among parliamentarians, have become known to the world, it is absurd to reject the revolutionary use of parliaments. It has become clear to people of the old way of thinking that the question of the state cannot be presented in the old way, that the old, bookish approach to this question has been succeeded by a new one based on practice and born of the revolutionary movement.
A united and centralised force of the proletariat must be counterposed to the united and centralised force of the bourgeoisie. The question of the state has thus now been shifted to a new plane, and the old disagreement has begun to lose its meaning. The old division of the working-class movement has yielded to new ones, the attitude towards Soviet government and to the dictatorship of the proletariat having assumed prime importance.
The Soviet Constitution is clear evidence of what the Russian revolution has produced. Our experience and the study of it have shown that all the groups of the old issues are now reduced to one: for or against Soviet rule, either for bourgeois rule, for democracy (for those forms of democracy which promise equality between the well-fed and the hungry, equality between the capitalist and the worker at the ballot-box, between the exploiters and the exploited, and serve to camouflage capitalist slavery), or for proletarian rule, for the ruthless suppression of the exploiters, for the Soviet state.
Only supporters of capitalist slavery can favour bourgeois democracy. We can see that in the whiteguard literature of Koichak and Denikin, Many Russian cities have been cleared of this filth, and the literature collected and sent to Moscow. When you scan the writings of Russian intellectuals like Chirikov, or of bourgeois thinkers like Y. Trubetskoi, it is interesting to see that they help Denikin and at the same time argue about the Constituent Assembly, equality, etc. These arguments about the Constituent Assembly are of service to us; when they conducted this propaganda among the whiteguard rank and file they helped us in the same way as the entire course of the Civil War, all the events, helped us. By their own arguments they proved that Soviet rule is backed by sincere revolutionaries who sympathise with the struggle against the capitalists. That has been made perfectly clear during the Civil War.
After the experience gained, after what has happened in Russia, Finland and Hungary, after a year’s experience in the democratic republics, in Germany, one cannot object to, and write disquisitions about, the need for a central authority, for dictatorship and a united will to ensure that the vanguard of the proletariat shall close its ranks, develop the state and place it upon a new footing, while firmly holding the reins of power. Democracy has completely exposed itself; that is why signs of the strengthening of the communist movement for Soviet rule, for the dictatorship of the proletariat, have increased tremendously in all countries and have taken on the most diverse forms.
This has reached a point where such parties as the German Independents and the French Socialist Party, which are dominated by leaders of the old type who have failed to understand either the new propaganda or the new conditions, and have not in the least changed their parliamentary activity, but are turning it into a means of dodging important issues and engaging the workers’ attention with parliamentary debates—even these leaders have to recognise the dictatorship of the proletariat and Soviet power. This is because the masses of the workers are making themselves felt and forcing them to recognise it.
You know from the speeches of other comrades that the breakaway of the German Party of Independents, the recognition of the dictatorship of the proletariat and of Soviet government was the last decisive blow dealt to the Second International. Taking the existing state of affairs into consideration, it may be said that the Second International has been killed, and that the proletarian masses in Germany, Britain and France are taking the side of the Communists. In Britain there is also a party of Independents which persists in adhering to legality and in condemning the violence of the Bolsheviks, A discussion forum was recently opened in their newspaper. Well, the question of Soviets is being discussed there, and next to an article printed in British working-class newspapers we see an article by an Englishman who refuses to reckon with the theory of socialism and persists in his stupid contempt for theory, but who, taking the conditions of life in Britain into consideration, reaches a definite conclusion and says that they cannot condemn the Soviets, but should support them.
This shows that things have begun to change even among the backward sections of the workers in countries like Britain, and it may be said that the old forms of socialism have been killed for ever.
Europe is not moving towards revolution the way we did, although essentially Europe is going through the same experience. In its own way, every country must go through, and has begun to go through, an internal struggle against its own Mensheviks and against its own opportunists and Socialist-Revolutionaries, which exist under different names to a greater or lesser degree in all countries.
And it is because they are experiencing this independently that we can be sure the victory of the communist revolution in all countries is inevitable and that the greater the vacillations in the enemies’ ranks, and the uncertainty in their declarations that the Bolsheviks are criminals and that they will never conclude peace with them, the better for us.
They are now saying that even if they do trade with the Bolsheviks they will not recognise them. We have nothing against that; try it, gentlemen, please. As for your not recognising us, we can understand that. We would consider it a mistake on your part if you did recognise us. But if you have become so muddled that you first declare that the Bolsheviks are violators of all the laws of God and man, and that you will not talk or make peace with them and then say that you will begin exchanges, without recognising our policy, that is a victory for us which will give an impulse to and strengthen the communist movement among the masses in every country. So deep is the movement that, in addition to those that are officially affiliated to the Third International, a number of movements are to be seen in the advanced countries, movements that do not adhere either to socialism or communism, but which are being drawn towards Bolshevism by the force of circumstances although they continue to condemn it.
War in the twentieth century, in a civilised country, compels governments to expose their own actions. A French newspaper has published some documents belonging to the ex-Emperor Charles of Austria who in 1916 offered peace to France. Now that his letter has been published, the workers are asking Albert Thomas, the socialist loader, who was in the government at the time, what he did when an offer of peace was made to that government. When Albert Thomas was asked about it, he made no reply.
These exposures have only just begun. The masses of the people are literate, and neither in Europe nor in America can they retain the old attitude towards war. They are asking for what cause 10 million people were killed and 20 million crippled. The presentation of this question makes the popular Masses turn towards the dictatorship of the proletariat. To present this question is to answer it: 10 million people were killed and 20 million crippled in order to settle the issue of who would amass the greater wealth, the German or the British capitalists. That is the truth, and no matter what efforts are made to conceal it, it is spreading.
The fall of the capitalist governments is unavoidable, because everybody can see that another war like the last is inevitable if the imperialists and the bourgeoisie remain in power. New disputes and conflicts are developing between Japan and America. They have been prepared by decades in the diplomatic history of the two countries. Wars are inevitable because of private property. War is inevitable between Britain, which has acquired colonies through plunder, and France, which considers herself robbed of her full share. No one knows where and how it will break out, but everybody sees, knows and says that war is inevitable, and is being prepared again.
This situation in the twentieth century, in countries with a totally literate population, is our guarantee that the old reformism and anarchism are out of the question. They were killed by the war. To talk of using reforms in order to remake the capitalist society which spent thousands of millions of rubles on the war, to talk of remaking this society without a revolutionary government and without force, without tremendous upheavals, is impermissible. Anyone who speaks and thinks that way is of no importance.
The Communist International is strong because it is based on the lessons of the world imperialist slaughter. In every country the correctness of its position finds increasing confirmation in the experience of millions of people, and the movement towards the Communist International is now a hundred times wider and deeper than before. It has brought about the complete breakdown of the Second International in one year.
In every country (even the most undeveloped) in the world, all thinking workers are aligning themselves with the Communist International, and are accepting its ideas. Therein lies the full guarantee that the victory of the Communist International throughout the world, in the not very distant future, is assured. (Applause.)