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The Seventh (April) All-Russia Conference of the R.S.D.L.P.(B.)

8) Speech in Favour of the Resolution on the War May 10 (April 27)

Comrades, the original draft resolution on the war was read by me at the City Conference. Because of the crisis that absorbed the attention and energy of all our comrades in Petrograd, we were unable to amend the draft. Since yesterday, however, the committee working on it has made satisfactory progress: the draft has been changed, considerably shortened and, in our opinion, improved.

I wish to say a few words about the construction of this resolution. It consists of three parts. The first is devoted to a class analysis of the war; it also contains our statement of principles explaining why our Party warns against placing any trust in promises made by the Provisional Government, as well as against any support for that government. The second part of the resolution deals with the question of revolutionary defencism as an extremely broad mass movement which has now united against us the overwhelming majority of the nation. Our task is to define the class significance of this revolutionary defencism, its essence, and the real balance of forces, and find a way to fight this trend. The third part of the resolution deals with the question of how to end the war. This practical question, which is of supreme importance to our Party, required a detailed answer. We think that we have succeeded in meeting this requirement satistactorily. The articles in Pravda and numerous articles on the war published in provincial newspapers (the latter reach us very irregularly) because the postal service is disorganised, and we have to take every convenient opportunity of getting them for the Central Committee) reveal a negative attitude towards the war and the loan. I think that the vote against the loan settled the question as to our opposition to revolutionary defencism. I do not think it is possible to go into greater detail on this.

“The present war is, on the part of both groups of the belligerent powers, an imperialist war, i. e., one waged by the capitalists for the division of the profits obtained from world domination; for markets for finance (banking) capital, for the subjugation of the weaker nationalities, etc.”

The primary and basic issue is the meaning of the war, a question of a general and political character, a moot question which the capitalists and the social-chauvinists carefully evade. This is why we must put this question first, with this addition to it:

“Each day of war enriches the financial and industrial bourgeoisie and impoverishes and saps the strength of the proletariat and the peasantry of all the belligerents, as well as of the neutral countries. In Russia, moreover, prolongation of the war involves a grave danger to the revolution’s gains and its further development.

“The passing of state power in Russia to the Provisional Government, a government of the landowners and capitalists, did not and could not alter the character and meaning of the war as far as Russia is concerned.”

The words I have just read to you are of great importance in all our propaganda and agitation. Has the class character of the war changed now? Can it change? Our reply is based on the fact that power has passed to the landowners and capitalists, the same government that had engineered this war. We then pass on to one of the facts that reveal most clearly the character of the war. Class character as expressed by the entire policy carried on for decades by definite classes is one thing, the obvious class character of the war is another.

“This fact was most strikingly demonstrated when the new government not only failed to publish the secret treaties between Tsar Nicholas II and the capitalist governments of Britain, France, etc., but even formally and without consulting the nation confirmed these secret treaties, which promise the Russian capitalists a free hand to rob China, Persia, Turkey, Austria, etc. By concealing these treaties from the people of Russia the latter are being deceived as to the true character of the war.”

And so, I emphasise again, we are pointing out one particularly striking confirmation of the character of the war. Even if there were no treaties at all, the character of the war would be the same because groups of capitalists can very often come to an agreement without any treaties. But the treaties exist and their implications are apparent. For the purpose of co-ordinating the work of our agitators and propagandists, we think this fact should be especially emphasised, and so we have made a special point of it. The people’s attention is and should be called to this fact, all the more so as the treaties were concluded by the tsar, who has been overthrown. The people ought to be made aware that the present governments are carrying on the war on the basis of treaties concluded between the old governments. This, I feel, makes the contradictions between the capitalist interests and the will of the people stand out most strikingly, and it is for the propagandists to expose these contradictions, to draw the people’s attention to them, to strive to explain them to the masses by appealing to their class-consciousness. The contents of these treaties leave no room for doubt that they promise enormous profits to the capitalists to be derived from robbing other countries. That is why they are always kept secret. There is not a republic in the world whose foreign policy is conducted in the open. It is fatuous, while the capitalist system exists, to expect the capitalists to open up their ledgers. While there is private ownership of the means of production, there is bound to be private ownership of shares and financial operations. The corner-stone of contemporary diplomacy is financial operations, which amount to robbing and strangling the weak nationalities. These, we believe, are the fundamental premises upon which the evaluation of the war rests.

--> Proceeding from these premises we conclude that:

--> “For this reason, no proletarian party that does not wish to break completely. with internationalism, i. e., with the fraternal solidarity of the workers of all countries in their struggle against the yoke of capital, can support the present war, or the present government, or its loans.”

This is our chief and basic conclusion. It determines our whole tactics and sets us apart from all the other parties, no matter how socialistic they claim to be. This proposition, which is irrefutable to all of us, predetermines our attitude towards all the other political parties.

The next point concerns the wide use which our government is making of promises. These promises are the object of a prolonged campaign by the Soviets, which have become muddled by these promises, and which are trying the people’s patience. We, therefore, consider it necessary to add to our purely objective analysis of the class relations an analysis of those promises, promises which in themselves have, of course, no significance to a Marxist, but which mean a great deal to the people, and mean even more in politics. The Petrograd Soviet has become muddled by these promises, has given weight to them by promising its support. This is the reason why we add the following statement to this point:

“No trust can be placed in the present government’s promises to renounce annexations, i. e., conquests of foreign countries or retention by force of any nationality within the confines of Russia.”

“Annexation” being a foreign word, we give it an exact political definition, such as neither the Cadets nor the petty-bourgeois democratic parties (the Narodniks and Mensheviks) can give. Few words have been used so meaninglessly and slovenly.

“For, in the first place, the capitalists, bound together by the thousand threads of banking capital, cannot renounce annexations in this war without renouncing the profits from the thousands of millions invested in loans, concessions, war industries, etc. And secondly, the new government, after renouncing annexations to mislead the people, declared through Milyukov (Moscow, April 9, 1917) that it had no intention of renouncing them, and, in the Note of April 18 and its elucidation of April 22, confirmed the expansionist character of its policy.

“Therefore, in warning the people against the capitalists’ empty promises, the Conference declares that it is necessary to make a clear distinction between a renunciation of annexations in word and a renunciation of annexations in deed, i. e., the immediate publication and abrogation of all the secret, predatory treaties and the immediate granting to all nationalities of the right to determine by free voting whether they wish to be independent states or to be part of another state.”

We have found it necessary to mention this, because the question of peace without annexations is the basic issue in all these discussions of peace terms. All parties recognise that peace will become the alternative, and that peace with annexations will be an unheard-of catastrophe for all countries. In a country where there is political liberty, the question of peace cannot be placed before the people otherwise than in terms of peace without annexations. It is therefore necessary to declare for peace without annexations, and so the only thing to do is to lie by wrapping up the meaning of annexations or evading the question altogether. Rech, for instance, cries that the return of Kurland means renunciation of annexations. When I was addressing the Soviet of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies, a soldier handed me a slip of paper with the following question: “We have to fight to win back Kurland. Does winning back Kurland mean that you stand for annexations?” I had to reply in the affirmative. We are against Germany annexing Kurland, but we are also against Russia holding Kurland by force. For example, our government has issued a manifesto proclaiming the independence of Poland. This manifesto, chock-full of meaningless phrases, states that Poland must form a free military alliance with Russia. These three words contain the whole truth. A free military alliance of little Poland with huge Russia is, in point of fact, complete military subjection of Poland. Poland May be granted political freedom but her boundaries will be determined by the military alliance.

If we fight for the Russian capitalists keeping possession of the former annexed territories of Kurland and Poland, then the German capitalists have the right to rob Kurland. They May argue this way: we looted Poland together. at the end of the eighteenth century, when we began to tear Poland to pieces, Prussia was a very small and weak country while Russia was a giant, and therefore she grabbed more. Now we have grown and it is our intention, if you please, to snatch a larger share. You can say nothing against this capitalist logic. In 1863 Japan was a mere nothing in comparison with Russia, but in 1905 Japan thrashed Russia. From 1863 to 1873 Germany was a mere nothing in comparison with Britain, but now Germany is stronger than Britain. The Germans May argue: we were weak when Kurland was taken from us, but we have now grown stronger than you, and we wish to take it back. Not to renounce annexations means to justify endless wars over the conquest of weaker nationalities. To renounce annexations means to let each nation determine freely whether it wants to live separately or together with others. Of course, for this purpose, armies must be with drawn. To show the slightest hesitation on the question of annexations means to justify endless wars. It follows that we could allow no hesitation on this question. With regard to annexations, our answer is that nations must be free to make their own decisions. How can we secure economic freedom alongside this political freedom? To accomplish this, power must pass into the hands of the proletariat and the yoke of capital must be overthrown.

I now pass on to the second part of the resolution.

“The ’revolutionary defencism”, which in Russia has now permeated all the Narodnik parties (the Popular Socialists, Trudoviks, and Socialist-Revolutionaries), the opportunist party of the Menshevik Social-Democrats (the Organising Committee, Chkheidze, Tsereteli, etc.), and the majority of the non-party revolutionaries, reflects, in point of class significance, the interests and point of view of the well-to-do peasants and a part of the small proprietors, who, like the capitalists, profit by oppressing weak peoples. on the other hand, revolutionary defencism is a result of the deception by the capitalists of a part of the urban and rural proletariat and semi-proletariat, who, by their class position, have no interest in the profits of the capitalists and in the imperialist war.”

Consequently, our task here is to determine from what sections of society this defencist tendency could emerge. Russia is the most petty-bourgeois country in the world, and the upper sections of the petty bourgeoisie are directly interested in continuing the war. The well-to-do peasants, like the capitalists, are profiting by the war. on the other hand, the mass of proletarians and semi-proletarians have no interest in annexations because they make no profit on banking capital. How, then, have these classes come to adopt the position of revolutionary defencism? Their attitude towards revolutionary defencism is due to the influence of capitalist ideology, which the resolution designates by the word “deception”. They are unable to differentiate between the interests of the capitalists and the interests of the country. Hence we conclude:

“The Conference recognises that any concessions to revolutionary defencism are absolutely impermissible and virtually signify a complete break with internationalism and socialism. As for the defencist tendencies among the broad masses, our Party will fight against these tendencies by ceaselessly explaining the truth that the attitude of unreasoning trust in the government of the capitalists, at the moment, is one of the chief obstacles to a speedy termination of the war.”

The last words express the specific feature that sharply distinguishes Russia from the other Western capitalist countries and from all capitalist democratic republics. For it cannot be said of those countries that the trustfulness of the unenlightened masses there is the chief cause of the prolongation of the war. The masses there are now in the iron grip of military discipline. The more democratic the republic, the stronger discipline is, since law in a republic rests on “the will of the people”. Owing to the revolution there is no such discipline in Russia. The masses freely elect representatives to the Soviets, which is something that does not exist now anywhere else in the world. But the masses have unreasoning trust, and are therefore used for the purposes of the struggle. So far we can do nothing but explain. Our explanations must deal with the immediate revolutionary tasks and methods of action. When the masses are free, any attempts to act in the name of a minority, without explaining things to the masses, would be senseless Blanquism, mere adventurism. Only by winning over the masses, if they can be won, can we lay a solid foundation for the victory of the proletarian class struggle.

I now pass on to the third part of the resolution:

“In regard to the most important question of all, namely, how to end the present capitalist war as soon as possible, not by a coercive peace, but by a truly democratic peace, the Conference recognises and declares the following:

“This war cannot be ended by a refusal of the soldiers of one side only to continue the war, by a simple cessation of hostilities by one of the belligerents.”

The idea of terminating the war in this way has been attributed to us over and over again by persons who wish to win an easy victory over their opponents by distorting the latter’s views—a typical method used by the capitalists, who ascribe to us the absurd idea of wishing to end the war by a one-sided refusal to fight. They say “the war cannot be ended by sticking your bayonet in the ground”, to quote a soldier, a typical revolutionary defencist. This is no argument, I say. The idea that the war can be terminated without changing the classes in power is an anarchist idea. Either this idea is anarchistic, in which case it has no meaning, no state significance, or it is a hazy pacifist idea that fails completely to appreciate the connection between politics and the oppressing class. War is an evil, peace is a blessing....Certainly this idea must be made clear to the people, must be popularised. Incidentally, all our resolutions are being written for leading Party members, for Marxists, and do not make reading matter for the masses. But they must serve as unifying and guiding political principles for every propagandist and agitator. To meet this requirement, one more paragraph was added to the resolution:

“The Conference reiterates its protest against the base slander spread by the capitalists against our Party to the effect that we are in favour of a separate peace with Germany. We consider the German capitalists to be as predatory as the Russian, British, French, and other capitalists, and Emperor Wilhelm as bad a crowned brigand as Nicholas II or the British, Italian, Rumanian, and all other monarchs.”

On this point there was some disagreement in the committee, some maintaining that in this passage our language became too popular, others, that the British, Italian. and Rumanian monarchs did not deserve the honour of being mentioned. After a detailed discussion, however, we all agreed that, since our present aim is to refute all the slanders which Birzhevka[1] has tried to spread against us rather crudely, Rech more subtly, Yedinstvo by direct implication, we must, on a question of this nature, come out with a most sharp and trenchant criticism of these ideas, having in mind the broadest masses of the people. Asked why we do not help to over throw Wilhelm if we consider him a brigand, we can say that the others, too, are brigands, that we ought to fight against them as well, that one must not forget the kings of Italy and Rumania, that brigands can also be found among our Allies. These two paragraphs are intended to combat the slander, which is meant to lead to riot-mongering and squabbling. This is the reason why we must now pass on to the serious practical question of how to terminate the war.

“Our Party will patiently but persistently explain to the people the truth that wars are waged by governments, that wars are always indissolubly bound up with the policies of definite classes, that this war can be terminated by a democratic peace only if the entire state power, in at least several of the belligerent countries, has passed to the class of the proletarians and semi-proletarians which is really capable of putting an end to the oppressive rule of capital.”

To a Marxist these truths—that wars are waged by the capitalists and are bound up with the capitalists’ class interests—are absolute truths. A Marxist need not dwell on that. But as far as the masses are concerned, skilful agitators and propagandists should be able to explain this truth simply, without using foreign words, for with us discussions usually degenerate into empty and futile squabbling. The explaining of this truth is what we have been trying to do in every part of the resolution. We say that in order to understand what the war is about, you must ask who gains by it; in order to understand how to put an end to the war, you must ask which classes do not gain by it. The connection here is clear, hence we conclude:

“In Russia, the revolutionary class, having taken state power, would adopt a series of measures that would lead to the destruction of the economic rule of the capitalists, as well as measures that would render them completely harmless politically, and would immediately and frankly offer to all nations a democratic peace on the basis of a complete renunciation of every possible form of annexation.”

Once we speak in the name of the revolutionary class, the people have the right to ask: and what about you, what would you do in their place to end the war? This is an inevitable question. The people are electing us now as their representatives, and we must give a very precise answer. The revolutionary class, having taken power, would set out to undermine the rule of the capitalists, and would then offer to all nations well-defined peace terms, because, unless the economic rule of the capitalists is undermined, all we can have are scraps of paper. Only a victorious class can accomplish this, can bring about a change in policy.

I repeat: to bring this truth home to the uneducated mass, we need intermediate links that would help to introduce this question to them. The mistake and falsehood of popular literature on the war is the evasion of this question; it ignores this question and presents the matter as if there had been no class struggle, as if two countries had lived amicably until one attacked the other, and the attacked has been defending itself. This is vulgar reasoning in which there is not a shadow of objective truth, and which is a deliberate deception of the people by educated persons. If we approach this question properly, anyone would be able to grasp the essential point; for the interests of the ruling classes are one thing, and the interests of the oppressed classes are another.

What would happen if the revolutionary class took power?

“Such measures and such a frank offer of peace would bring about complete confidence of the workers of the belligerent countries in each other....”

Such confidence is impossible now, and the words of manifestos will not create it. Where the philosopher once said that speech has been given to man to enable him to conceal his thoughts, the diplomats always say: “Conferences are held to deceive the people.” Not only the capitalists, but the socialists too reason this way. This particularly applies to the conference which Borgbjerg is calling.

“...and would inevitably lead to uprisings of the proletariat against those imperialist governments as might resist the offered peace.”

Nobody now believes the capitalist government when it says: “We are for peace without annexations.” The masses have the instinct of oppressed classes which tells them that nothing has changed. Only if the policy were actually changed in one country, confidence would appear and attempts at uprisings would be made. We speak of “uprisings” because we are now discussing all countries. To say “a revolution has taken place in one country, so now it must take place in Germany”—is false reasoning. There is a tendency to form an order of sequence, but this cannot be done. We all went through the revolution of 1905. We all heard or witnessed how that revolution gave birth to revolutionary ideas throughout the world, a fact which Marx constantly referred to. Revolutions cannot be made, they cannot be taken in turns. A revolution cannot be made to order—it develops. This form of charlatanism is now frequently being practised in Russia. The people are told: You in Russia have made a revolution, now it is the Germans’ turn. If the objective conditions change, then an uprising is inevitable, but we do not know whose turn it will be, when it will take place, and with what degree of success. We are asked: If the revolutionary class takes power in Russia, and if no uprisings break out in other countries, what will the revolutionary party do? What will happen then? This question is answered in the last paragraph of our resolution.

“Until the revolutionary class in Russia takes the entire state power, our Party will do all it can to support those proletarian parties and groups abroad that are in fact, already during the war, conducting a revolutionary struggle against their imperialist governments and their bourgeoisie.”

This is all that we can promise and must do now. The revolution is mounting in every country, but no one knows to what extent it is mounting and when it will break out. In every country there are people who are carrying on a revolutionary struggle against their governments. They are the people, the only people, we must support. This is the real thing—all else is falsehood. And so we add:

“Our Party will particularly support the mass fraternisation of the soldiers of all the belligerent countries that has already begun at the front....”

This is to meet Plekhanov’s argument: “What will come of it? Suppose you do fraternise, then what? Does this not suggest the possibility of a separate peace at the front?” This is jiggery-pokery, not a serious argument. We want fraternisation on all fronts, and we are taking pains to encourage it. When we worked in Switzerland, we published an appeal in two languages, with French on one side and German on the other, urging those soldiers to do the same thing we are now urging the Russian soldiers to do. We do not confine ourselves to fraternisation between German and Russian soldiers, we call upon all to fraternise. This, then, is what we mean by fraternisation:

“...endeavouring to turn this instinctive expression of solidarity of the oppressed into a politically-conscious movement as well organised as possible for the transfer of all state power in all the belligerent countries to the revolutionary proletariat.”

Fraternisation, so far, is instinctive, and we must not deceive ourselves on this score. We must admit this in order not to delude the people. The fraternising soldiers are actuated not by a clear-cut political idea but by the instinct of oppressed people, who are tired, exhausted and begin to lose confidence in capitalist promises. They say: “While you keep on talking about peace—we have been hearing it now for two and a half years—we shall start things moving ourselves.” This is a true class instinct. Without this instinct the cause of the revolution would be hopeless. As you know, nobody would free the workers if they did not free themselves. But is instinct alone sufficient? You would not get far if you rely on instinct alone. This instinct must be transformed into political awareness.

In our “Appeal to the Soldiers of All the Belligerent Countries” we explain into what this fraternisation should develop—into the passing of political power to the Soviets of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies.[2] Naturally, the German workers will call their Soviets by a different name, but this does not matter. The point is that we undoubtedly recognise as correct that fraternisation is instinctive, that we do not simply confine ourselves to encouraging fraternisation, but set ourselves the task of turning this instinctive fraternisation of workers and peasants in soldiers’ uniforms into a politically-conscious movement, whose aim is the transfer of power in all the belligerent countries into the hands of the revolutionary proletariat. This is a very difficult task, but the position in which humanity finds itself under capitalist rule is tremendously difficult, too, and leads to destruction. This is why it will call forth that explosion of discontent which is the guarantee of proletarian revolution.

This is our resolution, which we submit for consideration to the Conference.

A brief report published May 12 (April 29), 1917 in Pravda No. 44 Published according to the typewritten copy of the Minutes
First published in full in 1921 in N. Lenin(V. Ulyanov), Works, Volume XIV, Part 2  


[1] [PLACEHOLDER.] —Lenin

[2] [PLACEHOLDER.] —Lenin


The February Revolution
Strikes and protests erupt on women's day in Petrograd and develop into a mass movement involving hundreds of thousands of workers; within 5 days the workers win over the army and bring down the hated and seemingly omnipotent Tsarist Monarchy.
Lenin Returns
Lenin returns to Russia and presents his ‘April Theses’ denouncing the Bourgeois Provisional Government and calling for “All Power to the Soviets!”
The June Days
Following the First All-Russian Congress of Soviets, the reformist leaders called a demonstration to show the strength of "democracy". 400,000 people attended, the vast majority carried banners with Bolshevik slogans.
The July Days
Spontaneous, armed demonstrations against the Provisional Government erupt in Petrograd. The workers and soldiers are suppressed by force, introducing a period of reaction and making the peaceful development of the revolution impossible.
The Kornilov Affair
Following the July days, the Bolsheviks were driven underground and the forces of reaction were emboldened. This process culminated in the reactionary forces coalescing around General Kornilov, who attempt to march on Petrograd and crush the revolutionary movement in its entirety.
The October Revolution
The Provisional Government is overthrown. State power passes to the Soviets on the morningm of 26th October, after the Bolsheviks’ Military Revolutionary Committee seize the city and the cabinet surrenders.
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    “Astounding speeches, fanfares of orders, the unceasing electrifier of a weakening army.”
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