7 March 1918
Lenin (i), xv, p. 132

    . . . In any case, and in whatever conceivable circumstances, we are doomed if the German revolution does not break out. Nevertheless, that does not in the slightest degree weaken our duty to know how to endure the most difficult situation without blustering.

    The revolution will not come as quickly as we expected. History has shown this. We have to accept it as a fact. We have to recognize that the world socialist revolution in the most advanced countries cannot start as easily as in Russia where, for an enormous part of the population, it was a matter of complete indifference what peoples were living on its borders, and what was happening there. In such a country it was easy to start a revolution; it was as easy as lifting a feather; but to begin a revolution without hard work and without preparation in a country where capitalism has developed and flourished, to give a democratic culture and a well-ordered existence to everybody, to the very last person-that would be a foolish illusion. [1] ... We do not know, nobody knows, whether it will triumph in a few weeks, perhaps even in a few days. But we cannot gamble on it. We must be prepared for extraordinary difficulties, for extraordinarily heavy defeats, which are inevitable, because the revolution has not yet begun in Europe, although it may begin tomorrow. When it does begin, of course, we shall no longer be tortured by doubts, there will no longer be any question of a revolutionary war; there will be only an uninterrupted triumphal procession. That will be; that will certainly be; but it is not yet....

    We must know how to retreat. The incredibly bitter reality cannot be hidden by words. We must say: 'God grant that we retreat in semigood order.' We cannot retreat in good order; God grant that we retreat in semi-good order; that we gain even the smallest space of time to lick our wounds. The organism as a whole is sound, it will get over its sickness. We cannot ask that it should get over it instantaneously, in order to hold up the flight of the army.... The most serious defeats await us, because we have no army, because we have no organization, because we cannot solve these two problems all at once. If you cannot adjust yourself, if you cannot bring yourself to crawl on your belly in the mud, you are no revolutionary, but a chatterbox, because there is no other way, because history did not work out so agreeably as to start the revolution in both countries simultaneously.

    The civil war began as an attempt at a conflict with imperialism, a conflict which proved that imperialism is completely rotten, and that the proletarian elements within each army are rising. Yes, we shall see the international world revolution, but meanwhile it is a very nice fairy-tale, a very pretty fairy-tale. I quite understand that it is natural for children to like pretty fairy-tales, but I ask: is it natural for a serious revolutionary to believe fairy-tales? In every fairy-tale there is an element of reality. If you were to tell children a fairy-tale in which the cock and the cat did not talk in plausible human language, they would not be interested. It would be fine if the German proletariat were in a position to take the offensive, and you discovered, you found an instrument which would tell you the precise day on which the German revolution would break out. You do not know, and we do not know. You stake everything. If the revolution begins, everything is saved. Of course. But if it does not break out as we wish, what if it does not triumph tomorrow, what then? Then the masses will say to you: 'You acted like egoists. You staked everything on a lucky turn of events, which did not happen; you showed yourselves to be incompetent in the situation which actually arose instead of the expected international revolution, which will come imperceptibly, but which has not yet matured.'

    A period of most serious defeats has opened, inflicted by imperialism, armed to the teeth, on a country which had to demobilize its army. What I foretold has come to pass completely. Instead of the Brest peace we have received a peace far more humiliating, owing to those who did not accept the Brest terms. At Brest we sat at a table with Hoffmann, not with Liebknecht. Then we were helping the German revolution, and now you are helping German imperialism because you have given it millions of our wealth: guns, shells, food. What has happened is what everybody could have foretold who saw the incredibly painful state of the army. We should be destroyed, inevitably and unavoidably, if the Germans made the lightest attack; that is what every conscientious man from the front said. We did indeed become the enemy's prey in a few days. Having had this lesson, we shall get through our split and crisis, serious as the sickness is, because a far truer ally will be coming to our help-the world revolution. When they say to us, about the ratification of the new Tilsit peace, that it is unheard of, more rapacious than the Brest peace, I answer: 'Certainly, it is.' We must do this because we take the standpoint of the masses....

    I leave you to be captivated by the international revolution, because it will start just the same. Everything comes in its time, but now get down to self-discipline, submit at whatever cost, so that the workers learn to fight even for one hour out of the twenty-four. That is a little harder than writing beautiful fairy tales. In that way you will help the German and the international revolution. How many days' breathing space will be given us we do not know, but given it is. The army must be quickly demobilized, because it is sick, and meanwhile we shall help the Finnish revolution.

    Yes, of course we have broken the treaty, we have broken it thirty or forty times. Only children can fail to realize that at such a time, when a long and painful period of liberation is beginning, which has just created the Soviet power, and raised its development to the highest degree, only children can fail to understand that there must be a prolonged and prudent fight....

    If I stand for peace, when the army is in flight and cannot but be in flight without losing thousands of men, I do so in order to avoid worse. Is the treaty really shameful? But every serious peasant and worker will justify me because they understand that peace is the way to gather strength . History will say who was right. I have referred to history more than once. That is how it was with the history of the liberation of the Germans from Napoleon.

    I deliberately called it a Tilsit peace, although we did not sign what the Germans had to sign, an undertaking to send their troops to help their conquerors to subjugate other peoples. History reached such a point once and it will come to it again if we do nothing but hope for the international revolution. Make sure that history does not bring you too to such a form of military slavery. But until the socialist revolution has triumphed in all countries, the Soviet Republic can fall into slavery. At Tilsit Napoleon forced the Germans to accept the most shameful peace terms. Then the course of events was such that peace was concluded several times. The Hoffmann of that time, Napoleon, was after them for breaking the peace, and Hoffmann will be after us for doing the same. Only we shall try not to let him catch us quickly. The last flareup of the war has given the Russian people a bitter, painful, but serious lesson, forcing them to organize themselves, to discipline themselves, to learn how to submit, to create a model discipline. Learn from the Germans their discipline, otherwise we are a doomed people and shall forever be prostrate in slavery.

    That is the course history took, that and no other. History suggests that peace is a breathing space between wars, that war is a way of getting a better, if only slightly better peace. The history of wars of liberation shows us that if these wars involved large masses, then liberation came quickly. We say that if history proceeds in this fashion, we will have to abandon peace, to take to war once again, and that, maybe, within a few days. Everyone must be ready. I have not the slightest doubt that the Germans are preparing around Narva-if it is true that the town is not already taken, as all the papers say-not in Narva, but around Narva, not in Pskov, but around Pskov, the Germans are concentrating their scattered forces, repairing the railways, in order to seize Petersburg at the next leap. This animal jumps well. He has shown it, and he will jump again. There is not the shadow of a doubt about that. Therefore we must be ready, we must learn, not how to boast and brag, but how to seize even one day's respite, for even one day can be used to evacuate Petersburg, whose capture will cause untold sufferings to hundreds of thousands of our proletarians. I say again that I am ready to sign, and would consider it my duty to sign a treaty twenty and even a hundred times more humiliating, in order to gain even a few days to evacuate Petersburg, for in doing so I alleviate the sufferings of the workers when the Germans take it; I facilitate the removal from Petersburg of the supplies, ammunition, guns, and other things which I need, because I am a 'defencist', because I stand for getting the army ready, even if in the farthest rear, where the sick army, which demobilized itself, can be cured.

    We do not know how soon that will be; we shall try to seize the right moment. Perhaps the respite will be a long one, perhaps a few days. Anything may happen, nobody knows, nobody can know, because all the Great Powers are tied up, bard-pressed, compelled to fight on several fronts. What Hoffmann will do will be determined, on the one hand, by the need to smash the Soviet Republic, and on the other, by the need to wage war on a whole series of fronts, and thirdly, by the fact that in Germany the revolution is ripening and growing, and Hoffmann knows this and therefore he cannot take Petersburg and Moscow at this moment, as some contend. He may do it tomorrow, that is quite possible. I say again that at such a moment, when the army is really sick, when we use this moment, at-any cost, for a respite, even if only for one day, every sober-minded revolutionary who is in touch with the masses, knowing precisely what war is, what the masses are, must discipline them, must restore them to health, must rouse them for a new war. Every such revolutionary will justify us, will recognize the acceptance of a shameful treaty as right, because it is in the interests of the proletarian revolution and the revival of Russia by enabling the army, which is demobilizing itself in the most primitive fashion, to get rid of its diseased parts. When we sign this peace, and every right-minded person understands this, we are not putting a stop to our workers' revolution; everyone understands that, in signing peace with the Germans, we are not putting an end to our struggle. We are sending arms to the Finns, but no troops, which would be useless.

    Perhaps we shall accept war; perhaps tomorrow we shall give up Moscow too; we may have to go through that too; in reply to the enemy army we shall move our army, if there should occur that change in the mood of the people which is growing, which will maybe take a long time, but it will come, when large masses will say something different from what they are saying now. I am compelled to accept this most onerous peace, because I cannot say to myself now that that time has already come. When at last that time of rebirth does come, everybody will be aware of it. But until then we must hold back. That slogan must be carried through; that is the chief task of our Party Congress and the Soviet Congress. We must learn to work along new lines. This is immeasurably difficult, but it is far from hopeless. It does not mean the destruction of Soviet power, if only we ourselves do not destroy it by the most stupid gambles. No, when the people say, we shall no longer allow ourselves to be tortured, then we can begin to talk of war, and we will be right to do so. We shall not take the risk now, but we shall learn to work in difficult conditions, with an unprecedentedly humiliating treaty, which we shall sign in a few days, for such an historic crisis is not resolved by one war or by one peace treaty.

[1] What appears to be an error of transcription is corrected in the third edition of Lenin's works (vol- xxii, p. 322) where this passage reads: 'but to begin a revolution without preparation in a country where capitalism has developed, and has given a democratic culture and an orderly existence to the very last person-that is incorrect, that is nonsense.'

Documents on Soviet Foreign Policy

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