Strange and Monstrous
V. I. Lenin
The Moscow Regional Bureau of our Party, in a resolution adopted on February 24, 1918, has expressed lack of confidence in the Central Committee, refused to obey those of its decisions "that will be connected with the implementation of the terms of the peace treaty with Austria and Germany", and, in an "explanatory note" to the resolution, declared that it "considers a split in the Party in the very near future hardly avoidable".
There is nothing monstrous, nor even strange in all this. It is quite natural that comrades who sharply disagree with the Central Committee over the question of a separate peace should sharply condemn the Central Committee and express their conviction that a split is inevitable. All that is the most legitimate right of Party members, which is quite understandable.
But here is what is strange and monstrous. An "explanatory note" is appended to the resolution. Here it is in full:
"The Moscow Regional Bureau considers a split in the Party in the very near future hardly avoidable, and it sets itself the aim of helping to unite all consistent revolutionary communists who equally oppose both the advocates of the conclusion of a separate peace and all moderate opportunists in the Party. In the interests of the world revolution, we consider it expedient to accept the possibility of losing Soviet power which is now becoming purely formal. We maintain as before that our primary task is to spread the ideas of the socialist revolution to all other countries and resolutely to promote the workers’ dictatorship, ruthlessly to suppress bourgeois counter-revolution in Russia."
It is the words we have stressed in this passage which are—strange and monstrous.
It is in these words that the crux of the matter lies.
These words reduce to an absurdity the whole line put forward by the authors of the resolution. These words expose the root of their error with exceptional clarity.
"In the interests of the world revolution it is expedient to accept the possibility of losing Soviet power. . . ." That is strange, for there is not even any connection between the premises and the conclusion. "In the interests of the world revolution it is expedient to accept the military defeat of Soviet power" —such a proposition might be right or wrong, but it could not be called strange. That is the first thing.
Second thing: Soviet power "is now becoming purely formal". Now this is not only strange but downright monstrous. Obviously, the authors have got themselves thoroughly entangled. We shall have to disentangle them.
As regards the first question, the authors’ idea evidently is that it would be expedient in the interests of tho world revolution to accept the possibility of defeat in war, which would lead to the loss of Soviet power, in other words, to the triumph of the bourgeoisie in Russia. By voicing this idea the authors indirectly admit the truth of what I said in the theses (on January 8, 1918, published in Pravda on February 24, 1918), namely, that refusal to accept the peace terms presented by Germany would lead to Russia’s defeat and the overthrow of Soviet power.
And so, la raison finit toujours par avoir raison— the truth always triumphs! My "extremist" opponents, the Muscovites who threaten a split, have been obliged—just because they have got to the point of talking openly of a split—to be equally explicit about their real reasons, the reasons which people who confine themselves to general phrase-making about revolutionary war prefer to pass over in silence. The very essence of my theses and arguments (as anyone who cares to read attentively my theses of January 7, 1918, may see) is that we must accept this extremely harsh peace now, at once, while at the same time seriously preparing for a revolutionary war (and accept it, moreover, precisely in the interest of such serious preparations). Those who confined themselves to general phrase-making about a revolutionary war ignored or failed to notice, or did not want to notice, the very essence of my arguments. And now it is my "extremist" opponents, the Muscovites, whom I have to thank from the bottom of my heart for having broken the "conspiracy of silence" over the essence of my arguments. The Muscovites have been the first to reply to them.
And what is their reply?
Their reply is an admission of the correctness of my concrete argument. Yes, the Muscovites have admitted, we shall certainly be defeated if we fight the Germans now. Yes, this defeat would certainly lead to the fall of Soviet power.
Again and again I thank my "extremist" opponents, the Muscovites, from the bottom of my heart for having broken the "conspiracy of silence" against the essence of my arguments, i.e., against my concrete statement as to what the conditions of war would be, if we were to accept it at once, and for having fearlessly admitted the correctness of my concrete statement.
Further, on what grounds are my arguments, the substantial correctness of which the Muscovites have been compelled to admit, rejected?
On the grounds that in the interests of the world revolution we must accept the loss of Soviet power.
Why should the interests of the world revolution demand it? This is the crux of the matter; this is the very essence of the reasoning of those who would like to defeat my arguments. And it is on this, the most important, fundamental and vital point, that not a word is said, either in the resolution or in the explanatory note. The authors of the resolution found time and space to speak of what is universally known and indisputable—of "ruthlessly suppressing bourgeois counter-revolution in Russia" (using the methods and means of a policy which would lead to the loss of Soviet power?), and of opposing all moderate opportunists in the Party—but of that which is really disputable and which concerns the very essence of the position of the opponents of peace—not a word!
Strange. Extremely strange. Did the authors of the resolution keep silent about this because they felt that on this point they were particularly weak? To have plainly stated why (this is demanded by the interests of the world revolution) would most likely have meant exposing themselves. . . .
However that may be, we have to seek out the arguments which may have guided the authors of the resolution.
Perhaps the authors believe that the interests of the world revolution forbid making any peace at all with imperialists? This opinion was expressed by some of the opponents of peace at one of the Petrograd meetings, but only an insignificant minority of those who objected to a separate peace supported it. It is clear that this opinion would lead to a denial of the expediency of the Brest negotiations and to a rejection of peace, "even" if accompanied by the return of Poland, Latvia and Courland. The incorrectness of this view (which was rejected, for example, by a majority of the Petrograd opponents of peace) is as clear as day. A socialist republic surrounded by imperialist powers could not, from this point of view, conclude any economic treaties, and could not exist at all, without flying to the moon.
Perhaps the authors believe that the interests of the world revolution require that it should be given a push, and that such a push can be given only by war, never by peace, which might give the people the impression that imperialism was being "legitimised"? Such a "theory" would be completely at variance with Marxism, for Marxism has always been opposed to "pushing" revolutions, which develop with the growing acuteness of the class antagonisms that engender revolutions. Such a theory would be tantamount to the view that armed uprising is a form of struggle which is obligatory always and under all conditions. Actually, however, the interests of the world revolution demand that Soviet power, having overthrown the bourgeoisie in our country, should help that revolution, but that it should choose a form of help which is commensurate with its own strength. To help the socialist revolution on an international scale by accepting the possibility of defeat of that revolution in one’s own country is a view that does not follow even from the "pushing" theory.
Perhaps the authors of the resolution believe that revolution has already begun in Germany and has already reached the stage of an open, nation-wide civil war, that we must therefore devote our strength to helping the German workers, and must perish ourselves ("losing Soviet power") to save a German revolution which has already started its decisive fight and is being hard pressed? According to this theory, we, while perishing ourselves, would be diverting part of the forces of German counter-revolution, thereby saving the German revolution.
It is quite conceivable that, given these premises, it would not only be "expedient" (as the authors of the resolution put it) but a downright duty to accept the possibility of defeat and the possibility of the loss of Soviet power. But obviously these premises do not exist. The German revolution is ripening, but it has obviously not reached the stage of an explosion in Germany, of civil war in Germany. By "accepting the possibility of losing Soviet power", we certainly would not be helping the German revolution to reach maturity, but would be hindering it. We would be helping German reaction, playing into its hands, hampering the socialist movement in Germany and frightening away from socialism large masses of German proletarians and semi-proletarians who have not yet come over to socialism and would be scared by the defeat of Soviet Russia, just as the British workers were scared by the defeat of the Paris Commune in 1871.
Twist and turn them how you will, but you can find no logic in the authors’ contentions. There are no sensible arguments to support the view that "in the interests of the world revolution it is expedient to accept the possibility of losing Soviet power".
"Soviet power is now becoming purely formal"—this, as we see, is the monstrous view the authors of the Moscow resolution have come to proclaim.
Since the German imperialists are going to make us pay indemnities and forbid us to carry on propaganda and agitation against Germany, Soviet power loses all significance and "becomes purely formal"—this is probably the line of "reasoning" of the authors of the resolution. We say "probably", for the authors offer nothing clear and specific in support of their thesis.
Profound and hopeless pessimism and complete despair—such is the sum and substance of the "theory" that the significance of Soviet power is purely formal, and that tactics which will risk the possible loss of Soviet power are permissible. Since there is no salvation anyway, then let even Soviet power perish—such is the sentiment that dictated this monstrous resolution. The allegedly "economic" arguments in which such ideas are sometimes clothed reveal the same hopeless pessimism: what sort of Soviet republic is it—the implication is—when not just tribute, but tribute on such a scale can be exacted from it?
Nothing but despair: we shall perish anyhow!
It is a quite understandable mood in the extremely desperate situation in which Russia finds herself. But it is not "understandable" among conscious revolutionaries. The typical thing about it is that here we have the views of the Muscovites reduced to absurdity. The Frenchmen of 1793 would never have said that their gains —the republic and democracy—were becoming purely formal and that they would have to accept the possibility of losing the republic. They were not filled with despair, but with faith in victory. To call for a revolutionary war, and at the same time to talk in an official resolution of "accepting the possibility of losing Soviet power", is to expose oneself completely.
Early in the nineteenth century, at the time of the Napoleonic wars, Prussia and a number of other countries suffered incomparably and immeasurably greater hardships and burdens of defeat, conquest, humiliation and oppression on the part of the conqueror than Russia is suffering in 1918. Yet the best men of Prussia, when Napoleon’s military jack boots trampled upon them a hundred times more heavily than we can be trampled upon now, did not despair, and did not say that their national political institutions were "purely formal". They did not give up, did not succumb to the feeling: "We shall perish anyhow." They signed peace treaties infinitely more drastic, brutal, humiliating and oppressive than the Brest Treaty, and then knew how to bide their time; they staunchly bore the conqueror’s yoke, fought again, fell under the conqueror’s yoke again, again signed the vilest of vile peace treaties, and again rose, and in the end liberated themselves (not without exploiting the dissensions among the stronger competing conquerors).
Why shouldn’t this be repeated in our history?
Why should we give way to despair and write resolutions—which, by heavens, are more disgraceful than the most disgraceful peace—saying that "Soviet power is becoming purely formal"?
Why shouldn’t the most crushing military defeats in the struggle against the giants of modern imperialism steel the national character in Russia, too, strengthen self-discipline, put an end to the bragging and phrase-making, teach fortitude and bring the people round to the correct tactics of the Prussians when they were crushed by Napoleon—the tactics of signing the most humiliating of peace treaties when you haven’t an army, then mustering your forces and rising again and again?
Why should we give way to despair at the first peace treaty, incredibly harsh though it be, when other nations were able staunchly to bear even bitterer misfortunes?
Is it the staunchness of the proletarian who knows that one must submit when strength is lacking, and is then nevertheless is able to rise again and again at any price and to build up strength under all circumstances, that corresponds to these tactics of despair, or, rather, the spinelessness of the petty bourgeois, who in our country, in the shape of the Left Socialist-Revolutionary Party, has beaten the record for phrase-making about a revolutionary war?
No, dear Moscow "extremist" comrades, every day of trial will drive away from you those very workers who are the most class-conscious and the staunchest. Soviet power, they will say, is not becoming, and will not become, purely formal; and not only now, when the conqueror is in Pskov and is making us pay a ten-thousand-million-ruble tribute in grain, ore and money, but even if he gets as far as Nizhni-Novgorod and Rostov-on-Don and makes us pay a tribute of twenty thousand million rubles.
Never will any foreign conquest render a popular political institution "purely formal" (and Soviet power is not only a political institution far and away superior to any thing known to history). On the contrary, alien conquest will only strengthen popular sympathy for Soviet power, provided—provided it does not indulge in reckless follies.
And to refuse to conclude even the vilest peace when you have no army would be a reckless gamble, for which the people would be justified in condemning the government that refused to do so.
Immensely more harsh and humiliating peace treaties than the Brest Treaty have been signed before in history (we gave some instances above) without discrediting the regime or turning it into a formality; they ruined neither the regime nor the people, but rather steeled the people, taught them the stern and difficult science of building up an effective army even in the most desperate conditions and under the heel of the conqueror.
Russia is making for a new and genuine patriotic war, a war for the preservation and consolidation of Soviet power. It is possible that another epoch will—like the epoch of the Napoleonic wars—be an epoch of liberation wars (not one war, but wars) imposed by aggressors upon Soviet Russia. That is possible.
And, therefore, more humiliating than any harsh or even extremely harsh peace, rendered imperative owing to the lack of an army—more humiliating than any humiliating peace is humiliating despair. We shall not perish even from a dozen obnoxious peace treaties if we take revolt and war seriously. No conquerors can destroy us if we do not destroy ourselves by despair and phrase-making.
Here is the full text of the resolution: "Having discussed the activities of the Central Committee, the Moscow Regional Bureau of the R.S.D.L.P. expresses lack of confidence in the Central Committee in view of its political line and composition, and will at the first opportunity insist that a new Central Committee be elected. Further more, the Moscow Regional Bureau does not consider itself bound to obey unreservedly those decisions of the Central Committee that will be connected with the implementation of the terms of the peace treaty with Austria and Germany." The resolution was adopted unanimously.
See On the History of the Question of the Unfortunate Peace
As to the counter-argument, that to avoid fighting was anyway impossible, the reply has been given by the facts: On January 8 my theses were read; by January 15 we might have had peace. A respite would have been certainly assured (and for us even the briefest respite would have been of gigantic significance, both materially and morally, for the Germans would have had to declare a new war), if . . . if it had not been for revolutionary phrase-making.
This refers to the voting on the question of peace with Germany at a meeting of the Party Central Committee representing various trends in the Party on January 21 (February 3), 1918. Two "Left Communists", Osinsky (Obolensky) and Stukov, voted against any possibility of peace between socialist and imperialist countries. The majority of the "Left Communists", however, took an ambivalent stand. While admitting the possibility of peace being concluded between socialist and imperialist states, they voted against the immediate conclusion of peace with Germany (see Minutes of the Central Committee of the R.S.D.L.P.(B.), August 1917 to February 1918, 1958, pp. 190-91).
Written: February 28, 1918|
First Published: Pravda Nos. 37 and 38, February 28 and March 1, 1918; Izvestia VTsIK No. 43, March 8, 1918
Published according to the Pravda text.
Source: Lenin's Collected Works, Progress Publishers, Moscow, Volume 27, 1972, pp. 68-75
Translated: Clemans Dutt, Edited by Robert Daglish
eSource: Marxists.org - Marxists Internet Archive