Lenin to Soviet congress: ‘The way out of this war lies only through revolution’


Speech On The War, June 9 (June 22 on the modern calendar)

Comrades, allow me, by way of an introduction to an analysis of the war issue, to remind you of two passages in the Manifesto to all countries published by the Petrograd Soviet of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies on March 14. “The time has come,” said the Manifesto, “to begin a resolute struggle against the predatory designs of the governments of all countries. The time has come for the people to take the decision on war and peace into their own hands.” Another passage in the Manifesto, addressed to the workers of the Austro-German coalition, reads: “Refuse to serve as tools of conquest and violence in the hands of kings, landowners and bankers.” These are the two passages that have been repeated in different wordings in dozens, hundreds and, I should even imagine, thousands of resolutions by Russia’s workers and peasants.

I am sure these two passages show best of all the contradictory and hopelessly complicated position in which the revolutionary workers and peasants find themselves owing to the present policy of the Mensheviks and Narodniks. On the one hand, they support the war. On the other, they belong to classes which have no interest in the predatory designs of the government of any country, and they cannot help saying so. This psychology and ideology, much as it may be vague, is unusually deep-rooted in every worker and peasant. It is realization that the war is being waged because of the predatory designs of the governments of all countries. But, together with this, it is very vaguely understood, or even not understood at all, that a government, whatever its form, expresses the interests of definite classes and that,   therefore, to contrast the government to the people, as the first passage I quoted does, is an awful theoretical muddle, utter political helplessness, and means condemning yourself and the whole of your policy to the shakiest and most unstable position and trend. By exactly the same token, the closing words in the second passage I have quoted—that excellent call, “Refuse to serve as tools of conquest and violence in the hands of kings, landowners and bankers”—are splendid. Only including your own, because if you Russian workers and peasants turn to the workers and peasants of Austria and Germany, whose governments and ruling classes are waging the same kind of predatory war of plunder as the Russian capitalists and bankers, and as those of Britain and France—if you say: “Refuse to serve as tools in the hands of your bankers” but admit your own bankers into the Ministry and give them a seat next to socialist Ministers, you are reducing all your appeals to nothing, and in fact you are refuting your whole policy. Your excellent aspirations or wishes might just as well not exist, for you are helping Russia to wage the very same imperialist war, the very same predatory war. You are coming into conflict with the masses you represent, because these masses will never adopt the capitalist point of view, openly expressed by Milyukov, Maklakov and others, who say: “No idea could be more criminal than that the war is being waged in the interests of capital.

I wonder whether that idea is criminal. I have no doubt that from the point of view of those who half-exist today and will perhaps no longer exist tomorrow, the idea actually is criminal. But it is the only correct idea. It alone expresses our conception of this war. It alone expresses the interests of the oppressed classes as a struggle against their oppressors. And when we say the war is capitalist and predatory, we must have no illusions—there is not the slightest hint that the crimes of individuals, of individual kings, could have provoked this kind of war.


Imperialism is a definite stage in the development of world capital. Capitalism, which has been developing for decades, created a situation in which a small group of immensely rich countries—there are no more than four: Britain, France, Germany and the U.S.A.—amassed wealth amounting to hundreds of thousands of millions, and concentrated vast power in the hands of the big banks and big capitalists—there are only a couple or half a dozen of them at most in each of these countries—immense power encompassing the whole world, and literally divided the whole globe territorially by setting up colonies. These powers had colonies in every country of the world. They re-divided the globe among themselves economically as well, because concessions, and the threads of finance capital, penetrated into every single part of the globe. This is the basis for annexations. Annexations are not a figment of the imagination. They did not arrive because people who loved liberty unexpectedly became reactionaries. Annexations are nothing but a political expression and political form of the domination of giant banks that has arisen inevitably from capitalism, through no one’s fault, because shares are the basis of banks and because the accumulation of shares is the basis of imperialism. And the big banks, which dominate the whole world through hundreds and thousands of millions in capital and link entire industries with capitalist and monopoly alliances—that is where we have imperialism, which has split the whole world into three groups of immensely rich plunderers.

One group—the first, which is closer to us in Europe—is headed by Britain, and the other two, by Germany and the U.S.A. The other accomplices are compelled to help while capitalist relations persist. Therefore, if you have a clear idea of the essence of the matter, which every oppressed person realizes instinctively and which every Russian worker and the vast majority of peasants realize instinctively—if you have a clear idea of it, you will see how laughable is the idea of fighting the war with words, manifestos, leaflets and socialist congresses. It is laughable because the banks are still omnipotent no matter how many declarations you issue, no matter how many political revolutions you carry out—you have overthrown Nicholas Romanov in Russia and have to some extent made her a republic; Russia has taken a gigantic stride forward, and may be said to have overtaken, almost overnight, France, which in different conditions required a hundred years to do as much and yet remained a capitalist country. And the capitalists are still there. They have lost some ground. They did so in 1905 as well, but did that undermine their strength? While this may be new to Russians, in Europe every revolution showed that with every upswing of the revolutionary movement the workers achieved something more than they had before, but capitalist power remained. The struggle against the imperialist war is impossible unless it is a struggle waged by the revolutionary classes against the ruling classes on a world scale. It is not a question of landowners in general. There are landowners in Russia and they play a greater role in Russia than in any other country but they are not the class which brought imperialism into being. It is a question of the capitalist class led by the biggest finance magnates and banks, and there will be no way out of this war until this class, which dominates the oppressed workers allied with the poor peasants, the semi-proletarians, as our program calls them, until this class is overthrown. The illusion that you can unite the working people of the world by leaflets and appeals to other nations can only come from the narrow Russian outlook, ignorant of how the press in Western Europe, where the workers and peasants are used to political revolutions and have seen dozens of them, laughs at such phrases and appeals. They don’t know that the mass of workers has actually risen in Russia, where most of the workers are absolutely sincere in their faith and condemn the predatory designs of the capitalists of every country and want to see the people freed from the bankers. But they, the Europeans, cannot understand why you, who have an organisation which no one else on earth has, the Soviets of Workers’, Peasants’ and Soldiers’ Deputies, which are armed—why you make Ministers of your socialists. After all, you are handing power to the bankers. People abroad accuse you not only of naïveté—this is not the worst—Europeans can no longer understand naïveté in politics, they cannot understand that there are tens of millions of people in Russia who are stirring to life for the first time, and that people in Russia know nothing of the link between the classes and the government, of the link between the government and war. War is a continuation of bourgeois politics, nothing else. The ruling class shapes the country’s policy in war-time as well. War is politics from beginning to end. It is pursuit of the same old aims by these classes using a different method. That is why, when you write in your workers’ and peasants’ appeals   “overthrow your bankers”, every politically-conscious worker in a European country either laughs at you or cries bitterly over you, saying to himself: “What can we do since people there have overthrown a half-savage idiot and monster of a monarch, the kind we did away with a long time ago—this is the only crime we have committed—and now, with their ’near-socialist’ Ministers, they back the Russian bankers?!”

The bankers remain in power. They pursue a foreign policy through an imperialist war, fully supporting the treaties concluded by Nicholas II in Russia. This is particularly evident in our country. All the principles of Russia’s imperialist foreign policy were predetermined not by the present day capitalists, but by the previous government and Nicholas Romanov whom we have overthrown. He concluded those treaties, they remain secret, and the capitalists cannot publish them because they are capitalists. But no worker or peasant can see his way clear of this tangle because he tells himself: “Since we call for the overthrow of the capitalists in other countries, we must first of all get rid of our own bankers, otherwise nobody will believe in us and nobody will take us seriously. People will say we are naïve Russian savages who put on paper words that are excellent in themselves but lack political substance, or, worse still, they will think us hypocrites. You would see these things in the foreign press if that press, every shade of it, passed freely into Russia across the frontier instead of being stopped by the British and French authorities at Tornea. You would see from a mere selection of quotations from foreign newspapers the glaring contradiction in which you find yourselves. You would see how incredibly ridiculous and erroneous is this idea of fighting the war with socialist-conferences, with agreements with the socialists at congresses. Had imperialism been the fault or crime of individuals, socialism could remain socialism. Imperialism is the final stage of capitalism’s development, a stage at which it has gone as far as to divide the whole world, and two gigantic groups are locked in a life-and-death struggle. You must serve one group or the other, or overthrow both groups. There is no other way. When you reject a separate peace treaty, saying you don’t want to serve the German imperialists, you are perfectly right, and that is why we, too, are against a separate peace treaty. Yet in effect, and in spite of yourselves, you continue to serve the Anglo-French imperialists, who have predatory designs of the kind that the Russian capitalists have translated into treaties with the aid of Nicholas Romanov. We do not know the texts of those treaties, but anyone who has followed political writing and has glanced through at least one book on economics or diplomacy must be familiar with the content of the treaties. Moreover, as far as I can remember, Milyukov wrote in his books about those treaties and promises that they would plunder Galicia, the Straits and Armenia, retain what they had annexed earlier and get plenty of other territories. Everyone knows that, but still the treaties are kept secret, and we are told that if we annul them it will mean breaking with our Allies.

With regard to a separate peace treaty, I have already said there can be no separate peace treaty for us, and our Party resolution leaves not the slightest room for doubt that we reject it as we reject all agreement with the capitalists. To us, a separate peace treaty means coming to terms with the German plunderers, because they are plundering in the same way as the others. Coming to terms with Russian capital within the Russian Provisional Government is the same kind of separate peace treaty. The tsarist treaties remain, and they, too, help to plunder and strangle other peoples. When it is said, “Peace without annexations and indemnities”, as every worker and every peasant in Russia should say because life teaches him so, because he has no interest in bank profits and because he wants to live, I reply: Your leaders in the present Soviet of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies from the Narodnik and Menshevik parties have become tangled up in that slogan. They have said in their Izvestia that it means retaining the status quo, that is, the pre-war state of affairs, going back to what existed before the war. Isn’t that capitalist peace? And what capitalist peace, too! Since you are putting forward that slogan, you must remember that the course of events may bring your parties to power. That is possible during a revolution, and you will have to do what you say. But if you propose peace without annexations now, the Germans will accept and the British will not, because the British capitalists have not lost an inch of territory but have grabbed plenty in every part of the world. The Germans grabbed a lot too, but they also lost a lot, and not only lost a lot but found themselves up against the U.S.A., a most formidable enemy. If you who propose peace without annexations mean retaining the status quo, you are drifting into a situation in which your proposal will produce a separate peace treaty with the capitalists, because, if you propose that, the German capitalists, being faced by the U.S.A. and Italy with whom they signed treaties in the past, will say: “We shall accept that peace treaty without annexations. It will not be a defeat for us, it will be victory over the U.S.A. and Italy.” Objectively, you are drifting into the same kind of separate peace treaty with the capitalists which you accuse us of, because fundamentally you are not breaking—in your policy, in reality, in your practical moves—with those bankers expressing imperialist domination all over the world whom you and your “socialist” Ministers support in the Provisional Government.

You are thereby creating a contradictory and precarious situation for yourselves in which the masses misunderstand you. The masses, who have no interest in annexations, say: “We refuse to fight for any capitalist’s sake.” When we are told that this sort of policy can be ended by means of congresses and agreements among the socialists of the world, we reply: “It probably could, if only imperialism were the handiwork of individual criminals; but imperialism is an outgrowth of world capitalism with which the working-class movement is connected.”

Imperialism’s victory is the beginning of an inevitable, unavoidable split of the socialists of all countries into two camps. Anyone who keeps on talking about the socialists as an integral body, as something that can be integral, is deceiving himself and others. The entire course of the war, the two and a half years of it, has been leading to this split—ever since the Basle Manifesto, signed unanimously, which said that imperialist capitalism was at the root of this war. The Basle Manifesto does not say a word about “defense of the fatherland”. No other manifesto could have been written before the war, just as today no socialist would propose writing a manifesto about “defense of the fatherland” in the war between Japan and the U.S.A., in which it is not a matter of risking his own skin, his own capitalists and his   own Ministers. Draft a resolution for international congresses! You know that war between Japan and the U.S.A. is a foregone conclusion. This war has been brewing for decades. It is no accident. Tactics do not depend on who fires the first shot. That is ridiculous. You know very well that Japanese and U.S. capitalism are equally predatory. There will be talk about “defense of the fatherland” on both sides. It will be a crime or an indication of terrible weakness due to the “defense” of the interests of our capitalist enemies. That is why we say that socialism has been split irrevocably. The socialists have completely departed from socialism—or rather, those who have deserted to their government, their bankers and their capitalists, no matter what they may say against them and however much they may condemn them. Condemnation is beside the point. Sometimes, however, condemnation of the Germans’ backing for their capitalists covers up defense of the same “sin” by the Russians! If you accuse the German social-chauvinists, i.e., people who are socialists in words—many of them may well be socialists at heart—but chauvinists in fact, people who actually defend the dirty, selfish and predatory German capitalists rather than the German people, then don’t defend the British, French and Russian capitalists. The German social-chauvinists are no worse than those in our Ministry who continue the policy of secret treaties, of plunder, and cover this up with pious wishes in which there is much that is kind, and which I admit are absolutely sincere from the point of view of the masses, but in which I do not and cannot see a single word of political truth. It is merely your wish, while the war remains as imperialist and is being waged for the same secret treaties as ever! You are calling on other peoples to overthrow the bankers, yet you are backing your own! When you spoke of peace, you did not say what peace. No one answered us when we pointed out the glaring contradiction in a peace treaty on the basis of the status quo. In your resolution, speaking of peace without annexations, you cannot say that it will not mean retaining the status quo. You cannot say that it will mean retaining the status quo, that is, restoration of the pre-war state of affairs. What will it be, then? Taking the German colonies away from Britain? Try that through peaceful agreements! Everyone will laugh at you. Try to take away from Japan, without a revolution, Kiaochow or the Pacific islands she has grabbed!

You have got yourselves mixed up in hopeless contradictions. When we say “without annexations”, we mean that this slogan is only a subordinate part of the struggle against world imperialism. We say we want to liberate all peoples and begin with our own. You talk of war against annexations and of peace without annexations, but in Russia you continue the policy of annexations. That’s simply ridiculous. You and your government, your new Ministers, actually continue the policy of annexations in regard to Finland and the Ukraine. You find fault with the Ukrainian congress and, through your Ministers, prohibit its sittings. Isn’t that annexation? It amounts to a mockery of the rights of a nationality which was tormented by the tsars because its children wanted to speak their mother tongue. That means being afraid of separate republics. From the point of view of the workers and peasants, there is nothing terrible about that. Let Russia be a union of free republics. The workers and peasants will not fight to prevent that. Let every nation be free, and first of all let all the nationalities with which you are making the revolution in Russia be free. By not taking that step, you are condemning yourselves to being “revolutionary democrats” in words while your entire policy is in fact counter-revolutionary.

Your foreign policy is anti-democratic and counter-revolutionary. A revolutionary policy may mean you have to wage a revolutionary war. But that is not inevitable. This point has been dealt with at length by the main speaker, and lately by the newspapers as well. I should very much like to dwell on this point.

What is the practical way out of this war as we see it? We say: the way out of this war lies only through revolution. Support the revolution of the classes oppressed by the capitalists, overthrow the capitalist class in your country and thereby set an example to other countries. That alone is socialism. That alone means fighting the war. Everything else is empty promises, phrase-mongering or pious wishes. Socialism has been split all over the world. You continue to confuse things by associating with socialists who back their governments. You forget that in Britain and Germany, the true socialists, who express the socialism of the masses, are isolated and have been thrown into gaol. Yet they alone express the interests of the proletarian movement. But what if in Russia the oppressed class found itself in power? When asked how we shall break out of the war by ourselves, we answer: you cannot break out of it by yourself. All our Party resolutions and all speakers at our public meetings call it absurd to say you can break out of this war by yourself. This war involves hundreds of millions of people and hundreds of thousands of millions in capital. The only way out is the transfer of power to the revolutionary class which must really break imperialism, its financial, banking and annexationist threads. Until this happens nothing will have been done. The revolution was limited to your getting, in place of tsarism and imperialism, a near-republic which is imperialist through and through and which cannot treat Finland and the Ukraine democratically, i.e., without being afraid of division, even through revolutionary worker and peasant representatives.

It is untrue to say that we are seeking a separate peace treaty. We say: No separate peace treaty with any capitalists, least of all with the Russian capitalists. But the Provisional Government has a separate peace treaty with the Russian capitalists. Down with that separate peace treaty! (Applause.) We recognize no separate peace treaty with the German capitalists and we shall not enter into any negotiations. Nor must there be a separate peace treaty with the British and French imperialists. We are told that to break with them would mean coming to terms with the German imperialists. That is not true. We must break with them immediately because it is an alliance for plunder. It is said that the treaties cannot be published because that would mean showing up the whole of our government and the whole of our policy in the eyes of every worker and peasant. If we were to publish these treaties and plainly tell the Russian workers and peasants at meetings, especially in every remote hamlet: “What you are now fighting for is the Straits, and because they want to keep Armenia,” they would all say: “We want no such war.” (The Chairman: “Your time is up.” Voices: “Let him speak.”) I ask for ten minutes more. (Voices: “Let him speak.”)

I say that this contrast—”either with the British or with the German imperialists”—is wrong. It implies that if we make peace with the German imperialists we must fight the British, and vice versa. This contrasting suits those who are not breaking with their capitalists and bankers, and who accept any alliance with them. But it doesn’t suit us. We speak of our defending the alliance with the oppressed class, with the oppressed people. Remain loyal to this alliance, and then you will be revolutionary democrats. It’s no easy task. This task will not let you forget that under certain circumstances we shall be unable to do without a revolutionary war. No revolutionary class can rule out revolutionary war, or it will doom itself to ridiculous pacifism. We are not Tolstoyans. If the revolutionary class takes power, if its state keeps no annexed territories, and if no power is left to the banks and big capital, which is not easy to do in Russia, then that class will be waging a revolutionary war in reality and not merely in words. You cannot rule out this kind of war. That would mean succumbing to the Tolstoyan philosophy and to philistinism, forgetting the whole of Marxist science and the experience of all European revolutions.

You cannot pull Russia alone out of the war. But she is winning more and more great allies who do not believe you now because your attitude is contradictory or naïve, and because you advise other peoples to “end annexations” while introducing them in your own country. You tell other peoples to overthrow the bankers. Yet you do not overthrow your own. Try another policy. Publish the treaties and show them up in front of every worker and peasant and at public meetings Say: No peace with the German capitalists, and a complete break with the Anglo-French capitalists. Let the British get out of Turkey and stop fighting for Baghdad. Let them get out of India and Egypt. We refuse to fight for the retention of booty that has been seized, just as we shall not put an ounce of energy into helping the German plunderers to keep their booty. If you do that—so far you have only talked about it, and in politics words are not credited, which is just as well—if you do that, and talk about it, then the allies you now have will show what they can do. Think of the mood of every oppressed worker and peasant. They sympathize with you and regret that you are so weak you leave the bankers alone even though you have arms. It is the oppressed workers of the world that are your allies. It will be just what the revolution of 1905 showed in practice. It was tremendously weak at first. But what is its international effect? How did that policy, and the history of 1905, shape the foreign policy of the Russian revolution? Today you are conducting the Russian revolution’s whole foreign policy with the capitalists. Yet 1905 showed what the Russian revolution’s foreign policy should be like. It is an indisputable fact that October 17, 1905, was followed by mass unrest and barricade-building in the streets of Vienna and Prague. After 1905 came 1908 in Turkey, 1909 in Persia and 1910 in China. If, instead of compromising with the capitalists, you call on the truly revolutionary democrats, the working class, the oppressed, you will have as allies the oppressed classes instead of the oppressors, and the nationalities which are now being rent to pieces instead of the nationalities in which the oppressing classes now temporarily predominate.

We have been reminded of the German front where the only change we proposed is the unrestricted dissemination of our appeals written in Russian on one side of the sheet and German on the reverse. In them we say: The capitalists of both countries are robbers. To get them out of the way would be merely a step towards peace. But there are other fronts. I don’t know how strong our army is on the Turkish front. Let us assume it is roughly three million strong. It would be better if that army, which is now kept in Armenia and is carrying out annexations that you tolerate while preaching peace without annexations to other peoples, although you have strength and authority—if that army adopted this program, and if it made Armenia an independent Armenian republic and gave her the money which the financiers of Britain and France take from us.

It is said that we cannot do without the financial support of Britain and France. But this support “supports” us like the rope supporting a hanged man. Let the Russian revolutionary class say: down with that support, I refuse to recognize debts contracted with the French and British capitalists, and I call for a general revolt against the capitalists. No peace treaty with the German capitalists and no alliance with the British and French! If this policy were actually pursued, our army fighting the Turks could be released and sent to other fronts, because all Asian peoples would see that the Russian people do not merely proclaim peace without annexations on the basis of self-determination but that the Russian worker and peasant are in fact placing themselves at the head of all oppressed nationalities, and that with them, the struggle against imperialism is not a pious wish nor a high-flown ministerial phrase but a matter of vital concern to the revolution.

As we stand now, a revolutionary war may threaten us, but this war is not bound to take place, since the British imperialists will hardly be able to wage war against us if you act as a practical example to the peoples surrounding Russia. Prove that you are liberating the Armenian republic and reaching agreement with the Soviets of Workers’ and Peasants’ Deputies in every country, that you are for a free republic, and then the Russian revolution’s foreign policy will become really revolutionary and really democratic. At present it is that only in words. In reality it is counter-revolutionary, because you are bound hand and foot by the Anglo-French imperialists and refuse to say so openly, you are afraid to admit it. Instead of issuing that appeal “to overthrow foreign bankers”, you would have done better to tell the Russian people, the workers and peasants, in so many words: “We are too weak, we cannot throw off the tyranny of the Anglo-French imperialists, we are their slaves and are therefore fighting.” It would have been a bitter truth that would have been of revolutionary significance. It would actually have brought this predatory war closer to its end. That means a thousand times more than an agreement with the French and British social-chauvinists, than the convening of congresses which they would agree to attend, than the continuation of this policy by which you are actually afraid to break with the imperialists of one country while remaining the allies of another. You can draw on the support of the oppressed classes of Europe, of the oppressed people of the weaker countries which Russia strangled under the tsars and which she is still strangling now, as she is strangling Armenia. With their support, you can bring freedom by helping their workers’ and peasants’ committees. You would put yourselves at the head of all the oppressed classes, all   oppressed peoples, in the war against the German and British imperialists, who cannot join forces against you because they are locked in a life-and-death struggle against each other, and because they are in a hopeless position, in which the Russian revolution’s foreign policy, a sincere and real alliance with the oppressed classes, the oppressed peoples, can be successful it has 99 chances in 100 of being successful!

Recently we read in our Moscow Party newspaper a letter from a peasant commenting on our program. I should like to bring my speech to a close with a brief quotation from that letter, showing what a peasant makes of our program. The letter was printed in No. 59 of Sotsial-Demokrat,our Moscow Party newspaper, and was reprinted in Pravda No. 68.

“We must,” says the letter, “press the bourgeoisie harder to make them burst at the seams. Then the war will be over. But things will turn out badly if we don’t press the bourgeoisie hard enough.” (Applause.)

V.I. Lenin, First All-Russia Congress of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies


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