Farewell Letter to the Swiss Workers

Written on March 26 (April 8), 1917.

Comrades, Swiss workers,

Leaving Switzerland for Russia, to continue revolutionary-internationalist activity in our country, we, members of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party united under the Central Committee (as distinct from another party bearing the same name, but united under the Organising Committee), wish to convey to you our fraternal greetings and expression of our profound comradely gratitude for your comradely treatment of the political émigrés.

If the avowed social-patriots and opportunists, the Swiss Grütlians who, like the social-patriots of all countries, have deserted the camp of the proletariat for the camp of the bourgeoisie; if these people have openly called upon you to fight the harmful influence of foreigners upon the Swiss labour movement; if the disguised social-patriots and opportunists who constitute a majority among the leaders of the Swiss Socialist Party have been pursuing similar tactics under cover, we consider it our duty to state that on the part of the revolutionary, internationalist socialist workers of Switzerland we have met with warm sympathy, and have greatly benefited from comradely relations with them.

We have always been particularly careful in dealing with questions, acquaintance with which requires prolonged participation in the Swiss movement. But those of us—and there were hardly more than 10 or 15—who have been members of the Swiss Socialist Party have considered it our duty steadfastly to maintain our point of view, the point of view of the Zimmerwald Left, on general and fundamental question is of the international socialist movement. We considered   it our duty determinedly to fight not only social-patriotism, but also the so-called “Centrist” trend to which belong R. Grimm, F. Schneider, Jacques Schmid and others in Switzerland, Kautsky, Haase, and the Arbeitsgemeinschaft in Germany, Longuet, Pressemane and others in France, Snowden, Ramsay MacDonald and others in England, Turati, Treves and their friends in Italy, and the above-mentioned party headed by the Organising Committee (Axelrod, Martov, Chkheidze, Skobelev and others) in Russia.

We have worked band in hand with the revolutionary Social-Democrats of Switzerland grouped, in particular, around the magazine Freie Jugend. They formulated and circulated (in the German and French languages) the proposals for a referendum in favour of a party congress in April 1917 to discuss the party’s attitude on the war. At the Zurich cantonal congress in Töss they tabled a resolution on behalf of the youth and the “Lefts” on the war issue, and in March 1917 issued and circulated in certain localities of French Switzerland a leaflet, in the German and French languages, entitled “Our Peace Terms”, etc.

To these comrades, whose views we share, and with whom we worked hand in hand, we convey our fraternal greetings.

We have never bad the slightest doubt that the imperialist government of England will under no circumstances permit the Russian internationalists, who are implacable opponents of the imperialist government of Guchkov-Milyukov and Co. and of Russia continuing the imperialist war, to return to Russia.

In this connection, we must briefly explain our under standing of the tasks of the Russian revolution. We believe this all the more necessary because through the Swiss workers we can and must address ourselves to the German, French and Italian workers, who speak the same languages as the population of Switzerland, a country that still enjoys the benefits of peace and, relatively, the largest measure of political freedom.

We abide unconditionally by our declaration, which appeared in the Central Organ of our Party, Sotsial-Demokrat (No. 47, October 13, 1915), published in Geneva. In it we stated that, should the revolution prove victorious in Russia, and should a republican government come to power, a   government intent on continuing the imperialist war, a war in alliance with the imperialist bourgeoisie of England and France, a war for the seizure of Constantinople, Armenia, Galicia, etc.,—we would most resolutely oppose such a government and would be against the “defence of the fatherland” in such a war.

A contingency approaching the above has now arisen. The new government of Russia, which has negotiated with the brother of Nicholas II for restoration of the monarchy, and in which the most important and influential posts are held by the monarchists Lvov and Guchkov, this government is trying to deceive the Russian workers with the slogan, “the Germans must overthrow Wilhelm” (correct! but why not add: the English, the Italians, etc., must overthrow their kings, and the Russians their monarchists, Lvov and Guchkov??). By issuing this slogan, but refusing to publish the imperialist, predatory treaties concluded by the tsar with France, England, etc., and confirmed by the government of Guchkov-Milyukov-Kerensky, this government is trying to represent its imperialist war with Germany as a war of “defence” (i.e., as a just war, legitimate even from the standpoint of the proletariat). It is trying to represent a war for the defence of the rapacious, imperialist, predatory aims of capital—Russian, English, etc., as “defence” of the Russian republic (which does not yet exist, and which the Lvovs and the Guchkovs have not even promised!).

If there is any truth in the latest press reports about a rapprochement between the avowed Russian social-patriots (such as Plekhanov, Zasulich, Potresov, etc.) and the “Centre party”, the party of the “Organising Committee”, the party of Chkheidze, Skobelev, etc., based on the common slogan: “Until the Germans overthrow Wilhelm, our war remains a defensive war,”—if this is true, then we shall redouble our energy in combating the party of Chkheidze, Skobelev, etc., which we have always fought for its opportunist, vacillating, unstable political behaviour.

Our slogan is: No support for the Guchkov-Milyukov government! He who says that such support is necessary to prevent restoration of the monarchy is deceiving the people.   On the contrary, the Guchkov government has already conducted negotiations for restoration of the monarchy in Russia. Only the arming and organisation of the proletariat can prevent Guchkov and Co. from restoring the monarchy in Russia. Only the revolutionary proletariat of Russia and the whole of Europe, remaining loyal to internationalism, is capable of ridding humanity of the horrors of the imperialist war.

We do not close our eyes to the tremendous difficulties facing the revolutionary—internationalist vanguard of the Russian proletariat. The most abrupt and swift changes are possible in times such as the present. In No. 47 of Sotsial-Demokrat we gave a clear and direct answer to the question that naturally arises; What would our Party do, if the revolution immediately placed it in power? Our answer was: (1) We would forthwith offer peace to all the warring nations; (2) we would announce our peace terms—immediate liberation of all the colonies and all the oppressed and non-sovereign peoples; (3) we would immediately begin and carry out the liberation of all the peoples oppressed by the Great Russians; (4) we do not deceive ourselves for one moment, we know that these terms would be unacceptable not only to the monarchist, but also to the republican bourgeoisie of Germany, and not only to Germany, but also to the capitalist governments of England and France.

We would be forced to wage a revolutionary war against the German—and not only the German—bourgeoisie. And we would wage this war. We are not pacifists. We are opposed to imperialist wars over the division of spoils among the capitalists, but we have always considered it absurd for the revolutionary proletariat to disavow revolutionary wars that may prove necessary in the interests of socialism.

The task we outlined in No. 47 of Sotsial-Demokrat is a gigantic one. It can be accomplished only by a long series of great class battles between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. However, it was not our impatience, nor our wishes, but the objective conditions created by the imperialist war that brought the whole of humanity to an impasse, that placed it in a dilemma: either allow the destruction of more millions of Jives and utterly ruin European civilisation, or band over power in all the civilised countries to the revolutionary   proletariat, carry through the socialist revolution.

To the Russian proletariat has fallen the great honour of beginning the series of revolutions which the imperialist war has made an objective inevitability. But the idea that the Russian proletariat is the chosen revolutionary proletariat among the workers of the world is absolutely alien to us. We know perfectly well that the proletariat of Russia is less organised, less prepared and less class-conscious than the proletariat, of other countries. It is not its special qualities, but rather the special conjuncture of historical circumstances that for a certain, perhaps vert short, time has made the proletariat of Russia the vanguard of the revolutionary proletariat of the whole world.

Russia is a peasant country, one of the most backward of European countries. Socialism cannot triumph there directly and immediately. But the peasant character of the country, the vast reserve of land in the hands of the nobility, may, to judge from the experience of 1905, give tremendous sweep to the bourgeois-democratic revolution in Russia and may make our revolution the prologue to the world socialist revolution, a step toward it.

Our Party was formed and developed in the struggle for these ideas, which have been fully confirmed by the experience of 1905 and the spring of 1917, in the uncompromising struggle against all the other parties; and we shall continue to fight for these ideas.

In Russia, socialism cannot triumph directly and immediately. But the peasant mass can bring the inevitable and matured agrarian upheaval to the point of confiscating all the immense holdings of the nobility. This has always been our slogan and it has now again been advanced in St. Petersburg by the Central Committee of our Party and by Pravda, our Party’s newspaper. The proletariat will fight for this slogan, without closing its eyes to the inevitability of cruel class conflicts between the agricultural labourers and the poorest peasants closely allied with them, on the one hand, and the rich peasants, whose position has been strengthened by Stolypin’s agrarian “reform” (1907–14), on the other. The fact should not be overlooked that the 104 peasant deputies in the First (1906) and Second (1907) Dumas introduced a revolutionary agrarian bill demanding the nationalisation of all lands and their distribution by local committees elected on the basis of complete democracy.

Such a revolution would not, in itself, be socialism. But it would give a great impetus to the world labour movement. It would immensely strengthen the position of the socialist proletariat in Russia and its influence on the agricultural labourers and the poorest peasants. It would enable the city proletariat to develop, on the strength of this influence, such revolutionary organisations as the Soviets of Workers’ Deputies to replace the old instruments of oppression employed by bourgeois states, the army, the police, the bureaucracy; to carry out—under pressure of the unbearably burdensome imperialist war and its consequences—a series of revolutionary measures to control the production and distribution of goods.

Single-handed, the Russian proletariat cannot bring the socialist revolution to a victorious conclusion. But it can give the Russian revolution a mighty sweep that would create the most favourable conditions for a socialist revolution, and would, in a sense, start it. It can facilitate the rise of a situation in which its chief, its most trustworthy and most reliable collaborator, the European and American socialist proletariat, could join the decisive battles.

Let the sceptics despair because of the temporary triumph within the European socialist movement of such disgusting lackeys of the imperialist bourgeoisie as the Scheidemanns, Legiens, Davids and Co. in Germany; Sembat, Guesde, Renaudel and Co. in France; the Fabians and the Labourites in England. We are firmly convinced that this filthy froth on the surface of the world labour movement will be soon swept away by the waves of revolution.

In Germany there is already a seething unrest of the proletarian masses, who contributed so much to humanity and socialism by their persistent, unyielding, sustained organisational work during the long decades of European “calm”, from 1871 to 1914. The future of German socialism is represented not by the traitors, the Scheidemanns, Legiens, Davids and Co., nor by the vacillating and spineless politicians, Haase, Kautsky and their ilk, who have been enfeebled by the routine of the period of “peace”.

The future belongs to the trend that has given us Karl Liebknecht, created the Spartacus group, has carried on its propaganda in the Bremen Arbeiterpolitik.

The objective circumstances of the imperialist war make it certain that the revolution will not be limited to the first stage of the Russian revolution, that the revolution will not be limited to Russia.

The German proletariat is the most trustworthy, the most reliable ally of the Russian and the world proletarian revolution.

When, in November 1914, our Party put forward the slogan: “Turn the imperialist war into a civil war” of the oppressed against the oppressors for the attainment of socialism, the social-patriots met this slogan with hatred and malicious ridicule, and the Social-Democratic “Centre”, with incredulous, sceptical, meek and expectant silence. David, the German social-chauvinist and social-imperialist, called it “insane”, while Mr. Plekhanov, the representative of Russian (and Anglo-French) social-chauvinism, of socialism in words, imperialism in deeds, called it a “farcical dream” (Mittelding zwischen Traum und Komödie ) The representatives of the Centre confined themselves to silence or to cheap little jokes about this “straight line drawn in empty space”.

Now, after March 1917, only the blind can fail to see that it is a correct slogan. Transformation of the imperialist war into civil war is becoming a fact.

Long live the proletarian revolution that is beginning in Europe!

On behalf of the departing comrades, members of the R.S.D.L.P. (united under the Central Committee), who approved this letter at a meeting held April 8 (new style), 1917.

N. Lenin


Source: Marxist Internet Archive