THESES BY LENIN ON THE QUESTION OF THE IMMEDIATE CONCLUSION OF A SEPARATE AND ANNEXATIONIST PEACE
The Essentials of Lenin, ii, P. 269
20 January 1918
Lenin (i), xv, p. 63
1. The position of the Russian revolution at the present moment is that nearly all the workers and the vast majority of the peasants are undoubtedly in favour of Soviet government and of the Socialist revolution which it has started. To that extent the Socialist revolution in Russia is assured.
2. At the same time, the civil war, provoked by the frantic resistance of the wealthy classes, who fully realize that they are faced with the last, decisive fight for the preservation of private ownership of the land and means of production, has not yet reached its climax. The victory of Soviet government in this war is assured, but some time must inevitably elapse, no little exertion of effort will inevitably be demanded, a certain period of acute economic disruption and chaos, such as attend all wars, and civil war in particular, is inevitable, before the resistance of the bourgeoisie is crushed.
3. Furthermore, this resistance, in its less active and non-military forms-sabotage, corruption of the declassed elements and of agents of the bourgeoisie, who worm their way into the ranks of the Socialists in order to ruin their cause, and so on and so forth-has proved so stubborn and capable of assuming such diversified forms, that the fight to counter it will inevitably still take some time, and, in its main forms, is scarcely likely to end before several months. And unless the passive and covert resistance of the bourgeoisie and its supporters is definitely crushed, the Socialist revolution cannot possibly succeed.
4. Lastly, the organizational problems of the Socialist reformation of Russia are so immense and difficult that their solution-in view of the abundance of petty-bourgeois fellow-travellers of the Socialist proletariat, and of the latter's low cultural level-will demand a fairly long time.
5. All these circumstances taken together are such as to make it perfectly clear that for the success of Socialism in Russia a certain amount of time, not less than several months at least, will be necessary, during which the hands of the Socialist Government must be absolutely free for the job of vanquishing the bourgeoisie in our own country first, and of arranging widespread and far-reaching mass organizational work.
6. The situation of the Socialist revolution in Russia must form the basis of any definition of the international tasks of our Soviet state, for the international situation in the fourth year of the war is such that it is quite impossible to calculate the probable moment of outbreak of revolution or overthrow of any of the European imperialist govern ments (including the German). That the Socialist revolution in Europe must come, and will come, is beyond doubt. All our hopes for the final victory of Socialism are founded on this certainty and on this scientific prognosis. Our propagandist activities in general, and the organization of fraternization in particular, must be intensified and extended. But it would be a mistake to base the tactics of the Russian Socialist Government on an attempt to determine whether the European, and especially the German, Socialist revolution will take place in the next six months (or some such brief period), or not. Inasmuch as it is quite impossible to determine this, all such attempts, objectively speaking, would be nothing but a blind gamble.
7. The peace negotiations in Brest-Litovsk have by this date-7 [20 January 1918]-made it perfectly clear that the upper hand in the German government (which leads the other governments of the Quadruple Alliance by the halter) has undoubtedly been gained by the military party, which has virtually already presented Russia with an ultimatum (and it is to be expected, most certainly to be expected, that any day now it will be presented formally). The ultimatum is as follows: either the continuation of the war, or an annexationist peace, i.e., peace on condition that we surrender all the territory we occupy, while the Germans retain all the territory they occupy and impose upon us an indemnity (outwardly disguised as payment for the maintenance of prisoners)-an indemnity of about three thousand million rubles, payable over a period of several years.
8. The Socialist government of Russia is faced with the question which brooks no postponement-of whether to accept this annexationist peace now, or at once to wage a revolutionary war. Actually speaking, no middle course is possible. No further postponement is now feasible, for we have already done everything possible and impossible artificially to protract the negotiations.
9. Examining the arguments in favour of an immediate revolutionary war, the first we encounter is the argument that a separate peace at this juncture would, objectively speaking, be tantamount to an agreement with the German imperialists, an 'imperialistic deal', and so forth, and that, consequently, such a peace would be at complete variance with the fundamental principles of proletarian internationalism.
But this argument is clearly incorrect. Workers who lose a strike and [word illegible] terms for the resumption of work which are unfavourable to them and favourable to the capitalists, do not betray Socialism. Only those betray Socialism who barter to secure advantages for a section of the workers in exchange for advantages to the capitalists; only such agreements are impermissible in principle.
Whoever calls a war with German imperialism a defensive and just war, but actually receives support from the Anglo-French imperialists, and conceals from the people secret treaties concluded with them, betrays Socialism. Whoever, without concealing anything from the people, and without concluding any secret treaties with the imperialists, agrees to terms of peace which are unfavourable to the weak nation and favourable to the imperialists of one group, if at the given moment he has no strength to continue the war, does not betray Socialism in the slightest degree.
10. Another argument in favour of immediate war is that, by concluding peace, we, objectively speaking, become agents of German imperialism, for we afford it the opportunity to release troops from our front, surrender to it millions of prisoners, and the like. But this argument too is clearly incorrect, for a revolutionary war at the present juncture would, objectively speaking, make us agents of Anglo-French imperialism, by providing it with forces which would promote its aims. The British bluntly offered our commander-in-chief, Krylenko, one hundred rubles per month for every one of our soldiers provided we continued the war. Even if we did not take a single kopek from the Anglo-French, we nevertheless would be helping them, objectively speaking, by diverting part of the German army.
From that point of view, in neither case would we be entirely escaping some sort of imperialist tie, and it is obvious that it is impossible to do so entirely without overthrowing world imperialism. The correct conclusion from this is that the moment a Socialist government triumphs in any one country, questions must be decided, not from the point of view of whether this or that imperialism is preferable, but exclusively from the point of view of the conditions which best make for the development and consolidation of the Socialist revolution which has already begun.
In other words, the underlying principle of our tactics must not be, which of the two imperialisms is it more profitable to aid at this juncture, but rather, how can the Socialist revolution be most surely and reliably ensured the possibility of consolidating itself, or, at least, of maintaining itself in one country until it is joined by other countries.
11. It is said that the German Social-Democratic opponents of the war have now become 'defeatists' and are requesting us not to yield to German imperialism. But we recognized defeatism only in respect to one's own imperialist bourgeoisie, and we always discountenanced victory over an alien imperialism, victory attained in formal or actual alliance with a 'friendly' imperialism, as a method impermissible in principle and generally obnoxious.
This argument is therefore only a modification of the previous one. If the German Left Social-Democrats were proposing that we delay concluding a separate peace for a definite period, and guaranteed revolutionary action in Germany in this period, the question might assume a different aspect for us. But far from saying this, the German Lefts formally declare: 'Stick it out as long as you can, but decide the question from the standpoint of the state of affairs in the Russian Socialist revolution, for we cannot promise you anything positive regarding the German revolution.'
12. It is said that in a number of party statements we positively 'promised' a revolutionary war, and that by concluding a separate peace we would be going back on our word.
That is not true. We said that in the era of imperialism it was necessarily for a Socialist government to 'prepare for and wage' a revolutionary war; we said this as a means of countering abstract pacificism and the theory that 'defense of the fatherland' must be completely rejected in the era of imperialism, and, lastly, as a means of countering the purely egotistical instincts of a part of the soldiery, but we never gave any pledge to start a revolutionary war without taking account of how far it is possible to wage it at any given moment.
Unquestionably, even at this juncture we must prepare for a revolutionary war. We are carrying out this promise, as we have in general carried out all our promises that could be carried out at once; we annulled the secret treaties, offered all nations a fair peace, and several times did our best to drag out peace negotiations so as to give other nations a chance to join us.
But the question whether it is possible to wage a revolutionary war now and at once must be decided exclusively from the standpoint of whether material conditions permit it, and of the interests of the Socialist revolution which has already begun.
13. Having weighed up the arguments in favour of an immediate revolutionary war, we are forced to the conclusion that such a policy might perhaps answer the human yearning for the beautiful, dramatic and striking, but that it would absolutely ignore the objective relation of class forces and material factors in the present stage of the Socialist revolution which has begun.
14. There can be no doubt but that our army is absolutely in no condition at the present moment, and will not be for the next few weeks (and probably for the next few months), to resist a German offensive successfully; firstly, owing to the extreme fatigue and exhaustion of the majority of the soldiers, coupled with the incredible chaos in the matter of victualling, replacement of the overfatigued, etc.: secondly, owing to the utter unfitness of our horses, which would doom our artillery to inevitable destruction; and thirdly, owing to the utter impossibility of defending the coast from Riga to Revel, which affords the enemy a certain chance of conquering the rest of Livonia, and then Estonia, and of outflanking a large part of our forces, and lastly, of capturing Petrograd.
15. Further, there is not the slightest doubt that the peasant majority of our army would at the present juncture unreservedly declare in favour of an annexationist peace, and not of an immediate revolutionary war; for the Socialist reorganization of the army, the merging of the Red Guard detachments with it, and the like, have only just begun.
With the army completely democratized, to wage war in defiance of the wishes of the majority of the soldiers would be sheer recklessness, while to create a really staunch and ideologically-strong Socialist workers' and peasants' army will require months and months, at least.
16. The poor peasants in Russia are capable of supporting a Socialist revolution led by the working class, but they are not capable of a serious revolutionary war immediately, at the present juncture. To ignore this objective relation of class forces in the present instance would be a fatal error.
17. Consequently, the situation at present in regard to a revolutionary war is as follows:
If the German revolution were to break out and triumph in the coming three or four months, the tactics of an immediate revolutionary war might perhaps not ruin our Socialist revolution.
If, however, the German revolution does not eventuate in the next few months, the course of events, if the war is continued, will inevitably be such that a smashing defeat will compel Russia to conclude a far more disadvantageous separate peace, a peace, moreover, which would be concluded, not by a Socialist government, but by some other (for example, a bloc of the bourgeois Rada and the Chernovites, or something similar). For the peasant army, which is unendurably exhausted by the war, will, after the first defeats-and very likely within a matter not of months but of weeks-overthrow the Socialist workers' government.
18. Such being the state of affairs, it would be absolutely impermissible tactics to stake the fate of the Socialist revolution which has begun in Russia merely on the chance that the German revolution may begin in the immediate future, within a period measurable in weeks. Such tactics would be a reckless gamble. We have no right to take such risks.
19. And the German revolution will not be jeopardized, as far as its objective foundations are concerned, if we conclude a separate peace. Probably the chauvinist intoxication will weaken it for a time, but Germany's position will remain extremely grave, the war with Britain and America will be a protracted one, and the aggressive imperialism of both sides has been fully and completely exposed. A Socialist Soviet Republic in Russia will stand as a living example to the peoples of all countries, and the propaganda and revolutionizing effect of this example will be immense. There-the bourgeois system and an absolutely naked war of aggrandizement of two groups of marauders. Here-peace and a Socialist Soviet Republic.
20. In concluding a separate peace we free ourselves as much as is possible at the present moment from both hostile imperialist groups, we take advantage of their mutual enmity and warfare-which hamper concerted action on their part against us-and for a certain period have our hands free to advance and consolidate the Socialist revolution. The reorganization of Russia on the basis of the dictatorship of the proletariat, and the nationalization of the banks and large-scale industry, coupled with exchange of products in kind between the towns and the small peasants-consumers' societies, is economically quite feasible, provided we are assured a few months in which to work in peace. And such a reorganization will render Socialism invincible both in Russia and all over the world, and at the same time will create a solid economic basis for a mighty workers' and peasants' Red Army.
21. A really revolutionary war at this juncture would mean a war waged by a Socialist republic on the bourgeois countries, with the main aim clearly defined and fully approved by the Socialist army-of overthrowing the bourgeoisie in other countries. However, we obviously cannot set ourselves this aim at the given moment. Objectively, we would be fighting now for the liberation of Poland, Lithuania and Courland. But no Marxist, without flying in the face of the principles of Marxism and of Socialism generally, can deny that the interests of Socialism are higher than the interests of the right of nations to self-determination. Our Socialist republic has done all it could, and continues to do all it can to give effect to the right to self-determination of Finland ' the Ukraine, etc. But if the concrete position of affairs is such that the existence of the Socialist republic is being imperilled at the present moment on account of the violation of the right to self-determination of several nations (Poland, Lithuania, Courland, etc.), naturally the preservation of the Socialist republic has the higher claim.
Consequently, whoever says, 'We cannot sign a shameful, indecent, etc., peace, betray Poland, and so forth', fails to observe that by concluding peace on condition that Poland is liberated, we would only still further be strengthening German imperialism against England, Belgium, Serbia and other countries. Peace on condition of the liberation of Poland, Lithuania, and Courland would be a 'patriotic' peace from the Point of view of Russia, but would none the less be a peace with the amexationists, with the German imperialists.
Documents on Soviet Foreign Policy
[Subject] [Author] [Date]