Lenin’s first writing after getting news of the February Revolution:
Information reaching Zurich from Russia at this moment, March 17, 1917, is so scanty, and events in our country are developing so rapidly, that any judgement of the situation must of needs be very cautious.
Yesterday’s dispatches indicated that the tsar had already abdicated and that the new, Octobrist-Cadet government had already made an agreement with other representatives of the Romanov dynasty. Today there are reports from England that the tsar has not yet abdicated, and that his whereabouts are unknown. This suggests that he is trying to put up resistance, organize a party, perhaps even an armed force, in an attempt to restore the monarchy. If he succeeds in fleeing from Russia or winning over part of the armed forces, the tsar might, to mislead the people, issue a manifesto announcing immediate conclusion of a separate peace with Germany!
That being the position, the proletariat’s task is a pretty complex one. There can be no doubt that it must organize itself in the most efficient way, rally all its forces, arm, strengthen and extend its alliance with all sections of the working masses of town and country in order to put up a stubborn resistance to tsarist reaction and crush the tsarist monarchy once and for all.
Another factor to bear in mind is that the new government that has seized power in St. Petersburg, or, more correctly, wrested it from the proletariat, which has waged a victorious, heroic and fierce struggle, consists of liberal bourgeois and landlords whose lead is being followed by Kerensky, the spokesman of the democratic peasants and, possibly, of that part of the workers who have forgotten their internationalism and have been led on to the bourgeois path. The new government is composed of avowed advocates and sup porters of the imperialist war with Germany, i.e., a war in alliance with the English and French imperialist governments, a war for the plunder and conquest of foreign lands—Armenia, Galicia, Constantinople, etc.
The new government cannot give the peoples of Russia (and the nations tied to us by the war) either peace, bread, or full freedom. The working class must therefore continue its fight for socialism and peace, utilizing for this purpose the new situation and explaining it as widely as possible among the masses.
The new government cannot give the people peace, because it represents the capitalists and landlords and because it is tied to the English and French capitalists by treaties and financial commitments. Russian Social-Democracy must therefore, while remaining true to internationalism, first and foremost explain to the people who long for peace that it cannot be won under the present government. Its first appeal to the people (March 17) does not as much as mention the chief and basic issue of the time, peace. It is keeping secret the predatory treaties tsarism concluded with England, France, Italy, Japan, etc. It wants to conceal from the people the truth about its war program, the fact that it stands for continuation of the war, for victory over Germany. It is not in a position to do what the people so vitally need: directly and frankly propose to all belligerent countries an immediate ceasefire, to be followed by peace based on complete liberation of all the colonies and dependent and unequal nations. That requires a workers’ government acting in alliance with, first, the poorest section of the rural population, and, second, the revolutionary workers of all countries in the war.
The new government cannot give the people bread. And no freedom can satisfy the masses suffering from hunger due to shortages and inefficient distribution of available stocks, and, most important, to the seizure of these stocks by the landlords and capitalists. It requires revolutionary measures against the landlords and capitalists to give the people bread, and such measures can be carried out only by a workers’ government.
Lastly, the new government is not in a position to give the people full freedom, though in its March 17 manifesto it speaks of nothing but political freedom and is silent on other, no less important, issues. The new government has already endeavored to reach agreement with the Romanov dynasty, for it has suggested recognizing the Romanovs, in defiance of the people’s will, on the understanding that Nicholas II would abdicate in favor of his son, with a member of the Romanov family appointed regent. In its manifesto, the new government promises every kind of freedom, but has failed in its direct and unconditional duty immediately to implement such freedoms as election of officers, etc., by the soldiers, elections to the St. Petersburg, Moscow and other City Councils on a basis of genuinely universal, and not merely male, suffrage, make all government and public buildings available for public meetings, appoint elections to all local institutions and Zemstvos, likewise on the basis of genuinely universal suffrage, repeal all restrictions on the rights of local government bodies, dismiss all officials appointed to supervise local government bodies, introduce not only freedom of religion, but also freedom from religion, immediately separate the school from the church and free it of control by government officials, etc.
The new government’s March 17 manifesto arouses the deepest distrust, for it consists entirely of promises and does not provide for the immediate carrying out of a single one of the vital measures that can and should be carried out right now.
The new government’s program does not contain a single word on the eight-hour day or on any other economic measure to improve the worker’s position. It contains not a single word about land for the peasants, about the uncompensated transfer to the peasants of all the estates. By its silence on these vital issues the new government reveals its capitalist and landlord nature.
Only a workers’ government that relies, first, on the overwhelming majority of the peasant population, the farm laborers and poor peasants, and, second, on an alliance with the revolutionary workers of all countries in the war, can give the people peace, bread and full freedom.
The revolutionary proletariat can therefore only regard the revolution of March 1 (14) as its initial, and by no means complete, victory on its momentous path. It cannot but set itself the task of continuing the fight for a democratic republic and socialism.
To do that, the proletariat and the R.S.D.L.P. must above all utilize the relative and partial freedom the new government is introducing, and which can be guaranteed and extended only by continued, persistent and persevering revolutionary struggle.
The truth about the present government and its real attitude on pressing issues must be made known to all working people in town and country, and also to the army. Soviets of Workers’ Deputies must be organised, the workers must be armed. Proletarian organisations must be extended to the army (which the new government has likewise promised political rights) and to the rural areas. In particular there must be a separate class organisation for farm laborers.
Only by making the truth known to the widest masses of the population, only by organizing them, can we guarantee full victory in the next stage of the revolution and the winning of power by a workers’ government.
Fulfillment of this task, which in revolutionary times and under the impact of the severe lessons of the war can be brought home to the people in an immeasurably shorter time than under ordinary conditions, requires the revolutionary proletarian party to be ideologically and organizationally independent. It must remain true to internationalism and not succumb to the false bourgeois phraseology meant to dupe the people by talk of “defending the fatherland” in the present imperialist and predatory war.
Not only this government, but even a democratic bourgeois republican government, were it to consist exclusively of Kerensky and other Narodnik and “Marxist” social-patriots, cannot lead the people out of the imperialist war and guarantee peace.
For that reason we cannot consent to any blocs, or alliances, or even agreements with the defensists among the workers, nor with the Gvozdyov-Potresov-Chkhenkeli Kerensky, etc., trend, nor with men who, like Chkheidze and others, have taken a vacillating and indefinite stand on this crucial issue. Those agreements would not only inject an element of falseness in the minds of the masses, making them dependent on the Russian imperialist bourgeoisie, but would also weaken and undermine the leading role of the proletariat in ridding the people of imperialist war and guaranteeing a genuinely durable peace between the workers’ governments of all countries.
V.I. Lenin, Draft Theses, March 4 (17), 1917