V. I. Lenin

Letter to the British Workers[1]

Written: 30 May, 1920
First Published: Pravda No. 130, June 17, 1920; Published according to the newspaper text
Source: Lenin’s Collected Works, 4th English Edition, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1965, Volume 31, pages 139-143
Translated: Julius Katzer
Transcription\HTML Markup: David Walters & R. 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


First of all permit me to thank you for sending your delegation here to acquaint themselves with Soviet Russia. When your delegation suggested to me that I should send a letter through them to the British workers and perhaps also proposals to the British Government, I replied that I gratefully accepted the first suggestion but that I must address myself to the government, not through a workers’ delegation but directly, on behalf of our government, through Comrade Chicherin. We have on very many occasions addressed ourselves this way to the British Government, making the most formal and solemn proposals to start peace talks. All our representatives—Comrade Litvinov, Comrade Krasin and the rest—are unceasingly continuing to make these proposals. The British Government stubbornly refuses to accept them. It is not surprising, therefore, that I desired to speak to the delegates of the British workers exclusively as delegates of the workers, not as a representative of the government of Soviet Russia, but simply as a Communist.

I was not surprised to find that several members of your delegation hold a standpoint, not of the working class but of the bourgeoisie, of the exploiting class: in all capitalist countries the imperialist war fully revealed an old ulcer, namely, the desertion of the majority of the workers’ parliamentary and trade union leaders to the side of the bourgeoisie. On the false pretext of “defence of country” they were actually defending the predatory interests of either of the two groups of robbers of the entire world—the Anglo-American-French group, or the German group; they entered into an alliance with the bourgeoisie, against the revolutionary struggle of the proletariat; they covered up this treachery with sentimental petty-bourgeois reformist and pacifist phrases about peaceful evolution, constitutional methods, democracy, etc. This is what happened in all countries; it is not surprising that in Britain this state of affairs has also been reflected in the composition of your delegation.

Members of your delegation, Shaw and Guest—obviously surprised and hurt by my statement that Britain, notwithstanding our peace proposals and notwithstanding the declarations of her government, is continuing her intervention, waging war against us and helping Wrangel in the Crimea and whiteguard Poland—asked me whether I had proof of this, and whether I could show how many trainloads of military supplies Britain had provided Poland with, etc. I replied that, to obtain the secret treaties of the British Government, it was necessary to overthrow it in a revolutionary manner and to seize all its foreign policy documents in the same way as we did in 1917. Any educated man, anybody sincerely interested in politics, was aware even prior to our revolution that the tsar had secret treaties with the predatory governments of Britain, France, America, Italy and Japan concerning the division of the spoils, concerning Constantinople, Galicia, Armenia, Syria, Mesopotamia, etc. Only liars and hypocrites (excluding, of course, absolutely ignorant, backward and illiterate people) could deny this, or pretend not to know of this. However, without a revolution, we could never have obtained the secret documents of the predatory governments of the capitalist class. Those leaders or representatives of the British proletariat—whether they are members of Parliament, trade union leaders, journalists, or others—who pretend ignorance of the secret treaties between Britain, France, America, Italy, Japan and Poland concerning the plunder of other countries, concerning the division of the spoils, and who do not wage a revolutionary struggle in order to expose these treaties, are merely once again showing that they are faithful servants of the capitalists. We have known this for a long time; we are exposing this in our own country and in all other countries of the world. The visit to Russia of a delegation of the British workers will hasten the exposure of such leaders in Britain too.

I had a conversation with your delegation on Wednesday, May 26. On the following day telegrams arrived stating that Bonar Law had admitted in the British Parliament that military aid had been given to Poland in October “for defence against Russia” (of course only for defence, and only in October! There are still “influential labour leaders” in Britain who are helping the capitalists to dupe the workers!), but the New Statesman, the most moderate of moderate petty-bourgeois newspapers or journals, wrote of tanks being supplied to Poland, which were more powerful than those used against the Germans during the war. After this, can one refrain from ridiculing such “leaders” of the British workers that ask with an air of injured innocence whether there is any “proof” that Britain is fighting against Russia and is helping Poland and the whiteguards in the Crimea?

Members of the delegation asked me which I considered more important: the formation in Britain of a consistently revolutionary Communist Party, or obtaining the immediate aid of the masses of the workers in Britain for the cause of peace with Russia. I replied that this is a matter of one’s convictions. Sincere supporters of the emancipation of the workers from the yoke of capital cannot possibly be opposed to the formation of a Communist Party, which alone is capable of training the workers in a non-bourgeois and non-petty-bourgeois manner, and is alone capable of genuinely exposing, ridiculing and disgracing “leaders” who can doubt whether Britain is helping Poland, etc. There is no need to fear the Communists will be too numerous in Britain, because there is not even a small Communist Party there. But if anyone continues to remain in intellectual slavery to the bourgeoisie, and continues to share petty-bourgeois prejudices about “democracy “ (bourgeois democracy), pacifism, etc., then of course such people would only do more harm to the proletariat if they took it into their heads to call themselves Communists, and affiliate to the Third International. All that these people are capable of doing is to pass sentimental “resolutions” against intervention couched exclusively in philistine phrases. In a certain sense these resolutions are also useful, namely, in the sense that the old “leaders” (adherents of bourgeois democracy, of peaceful methods, etc., etc.) will make themselves ridiculous in the eyes of the masses, and the more they pass empty, non-committal resolutions unaccompanied by revolutionary action, the sooner will they expose themselves. Let each man stick to his job: let the Communists work directly through their Party, awakening the revolutionary consciousness of the workers. Let those who supported the “defence of country” during the imperialist war for the partitioning of the world, “defence” of the secret treaty between the British capitalists and the tsar to plunder Turkey, let those who “do not see” that Britain is helping Poland and the whiteguards in Russia—let such people hasten to increase the number of their “peace resolutions” to the point of becoming ridiculous; the more they do that, the sooner will they meet with the fate of Kerensky, the Mensheviks and the Socialist-Revolutionaries in Russia.

Several members of your delegation questioned me with surprise about the Red terror, about the absence of freedom of the press in Russia, of freedom of assembly, about our persecution of Mensheviks and pro-Menshevik workers, etc. My reply was that the real cause of the terror is the British imperialists and their “allies", who practised and are still practising a White terror in Finland and in Hungary, in India and in Ireland, who have been supporting Yudenich, Kolchak, Denikin, Pilsudski and Wrangel. Our Red terror is a defence of the working class against the exploiters, the crushing of resistance from the exploiters with whom the Socialist-Revolutionaries, the Mensheviks and an insignificant number of pro-Menshevik workers have sided. Freedom of the press and assembly under bourgeois democracy is freedom for the wealthy to conspire against the working people, freedom for the capitalists to bribe and buy up the press. I have explained this in newspaper articles so often that I have derived no pleasure in repeating myself.

Two days after my talk with your delegation, the news papers reported that, besides the arrests of Monatte and Loriot in France, Sylvia Pankhurst had been arrested in Britain. This is the best possible reply the British Government could give to a question that the non-Communist British labour “leaders", who are captives to bourgeois prejudices, are afraid even to ask, namely, which class the terror is directed against—the oppressed and exploited, or the oppressors and exploiters? Is it a question of the “freedom” of the capitalists to rob, deceive and dupe the working people, or of the “freedom” of the toilers from the yoke of the capitalists, the speculators and the property-owners? Comrade Sylvia Pankhurst represents the interests of hundreds upon hundreds of millions of people that are oppressed by the British and other capitalists. That is why she is subjected to a White terror, has been deprived of liberty, etc. The labour “leaders” who pursue a non-Communist policy are 99 per cent representatives of the bourgeoisie, of its deceit, its prejudices.

In conclusion, I want to thank you once again, comrades, for having sent your delegation here. Despite the hostility of many of the delegates towards the Soviet system and the dictatorship of the proletariat, and although many of them are in the grip of bourgeois prejudices, their acquaintance with Soviet Russia will inevitably accelerate the collapse of capitalism throughout the world.

N. Lenin



[1] “Letter to the British Workers” was published on June 17, 1920, in Pravda, Izvestia, Kommuniitichesky Trud, and Gudok ; on the same day it was published in Britain in The Call, the weekly of the British Socialist Party. On June 19, the letter was published in The Workers’ Dreadnought, organ of the Workers’ Socialist Federation of England and in the journal The Russia Outlook, and on June 22, in the Labour The Daily Herald. Later the “Letter to the British Workers” was repeatedly published both in Russia and abroad.—Editor.