March 16, 1917
Works, Vol. 3, March - October, 1917
The other day General Kornilov informed the Pet-rograd Soviet of Workers' and Soldiers' Deputies that the Germans were planning an offensive against Russia.
Rodzyanko and Guchkov took advantage of the opportunity to appeal to the army and the people to prepare to fight the war to a finish.
And the bourgeois press sounded the alarm: "Liberty is in danger! Long live the war!" Moreover, a section of the Russian revolutionary democracy took a hand in raising the alarm. . . .
To listen to the alarmists, one might think that the situation of Russia today resembles that of France in 1792, when the reactionary monarchs of Central and Eastern Europe formed an alliance against republican France with the object of restoring the old regime in that country.
And if the external situation of Russia today really did correspond to that of France in 1792, if we really were faced with a specific coalition of counter-revolutionary monarchs whose specific purpose it was to restore the old regime in Russia, there can be no doubt that the Social-Democrats, like the French revolutionaries of that period, would rise up as one man in defence of liberty. For it is self-evident that liberty won at the price of blood must be safeguarded by force of arms against all counter-revolutionary assaults, from whatever quarter they may proceed. But is this really the case?
The war of 1792 was a dynastic war fought by absolute feudal monarchs against republican France, because they were terrified of the revolutionary conflagration in that country. The aim of the war was to extinguish the conflagration, restore the old order in France, and thus guarantee the scared monarchs against the spread of the revolutionary contagion to their own countries. It was for this reason that the French revolutionaries fought the armies of the monarchs so heroically.
But this is not the case with the present war. The present war is an imperialist war. Its principal aim is the seizure (annexation) of foreign, chiefly agrarian, territories by capitalistically developed states. The latter need new markets, convenient communications with these markets, raw materials and mineral wealth, and they endeavour to secure them everywhere, regardless of the internal regimes in the countries they seek to annex.
This explains why, generally speaking, the present war does not, and cannot, lead necessarily to interference in the internal affairs of the territories annexed, in the sense of restoring their old regimes.
And precisely for this reason the present situation of Russia provides no warrant for sounding the alarm and proclaiming: "Liberty is in danger! Long live the war!"
It would be truer to say that the present situation of Russia resembles that of the France of 1914, the France of the time of the outbreak of the war, of the time when war between Germany and France had become inevitable.
Just as in the bourgeois press of Russia today, so in the bourgeois camp of France at that time the alarm was sounded: "The Republic is in danger! Fight the Germans!"
And just as in France at that time the alarm spread to many of the Socialists (Guesde, Sembat, etc.), so now in Russia quite a number of Socialists are following in the footsteps of the bourgeois bellmen of "revolutionary defence."
The subsequent course of events in France showed that it was a false alarm, and that the cries about liberty and the Republic were a screen to cover up the fact that the French imperialists were lusting after Alsace-Lorraine and Westphalia.
We are profoundly convinced that the course of events in Russia will reveal the utter falsity of the immoderate howling that "liberty is in danger": the "patriotic" smoke screen will disperse, and people will see for themselves that what the Russian imperialists are really after is—The Straits and Persia. . . .
The behaviour of Guesde, Sembat and their like was duly and authoritatively assessed in the anti-war resolutions of the Zimmerwald and Kienthal Socialist Congresses (1915-16) [1.]
Subsequent events fully proved the correctness and fruitfulness of the Zimmerwald and Kienthal theses.
It would be deplorable if the Russian revolutionary democracy, which was able to overthrow the detested tsarist regime, were to succumb to the false alarm raised by the imperialist bourgeoisie and repeat the mistakes of Guesde and Sembat. . . .
What should be our attitude, as a party, to the present war?
What are the practical ways and means capable of leading to the speediest termination of the war?
First of all, it is unquestionable that the stark slogan, "Down with the war!" is absolutely unsuitable as a practical means, because, since it does not go beyond propaganda of the idea of peace in general, it does not and cannot provide anything capable of exerting practical influence on the belligerent forces to compel them to stop the war.
Further, one cannot but welcome yesterday's appeal of the Petrograd Soviet of Workers' and Soldiers' Deputies to the peoples of the world, urging them to compel their respective governments to stop the slaughter. This appeal, if it reaches the broad masses, will undoubtedly bring back hundreds and thousands of workers to the forgotten slogan—"Workers of all countries, Unite!" It must be observed, nevertheless, that it does not lead directly to the goal. For even assuming that the appeal becomes widely known among the peoples of the warring countries, it is hard to believe that they would act on it, seeing that they have not yet realized the predatory nature of the present war and its annexationist aims. We say nothing of the fact that, since the appeal makes the "cessation of the terrible slaughter" dependent upon the preliminary overthrow of the "semi-absolute regime" in Germany, it actually postpones the "cessation of the terrible slaughter" indefinitely, and thereby tends to espouse the position of a "war to a finish"; for no one can say exactly when the German people will succeed in overthrowing the "semi-absolute regime," or whether they will succeed at all in the near future. . . .
What, then, is the solution?
The solution is to bring pressure on the Provisional Government to make it declare its consent to start peace negotiations immediately.
The workers, soldiers and peasants must arrange meetings and demonstrations and demand that the Provisional Government shall come out openly and publicly in an effort to induce all the belligerent powers to start peace negotiations immediately, on the basis of recognition of the right of nations to self-determination.
Only then will the slogan "Down with the war!" not run the risk of being transformed into empty and meaningless pacifism; only then will it be capable of developing into a mighty political campaign which will unmask the imperialists and disclose the actual motives for the present war.
For even assuming that one of the sides refuses to negotiate on a given basis—even this refusal, that is, unwillingness to renounce annexationist ambitions, will objectively serve as a means of speeding the cessation of the "terrible slaughter," for then the peoples will be able to see for themselves the predatory character of the war and the bloodstained countenance of the imperialist groups in whose rapacious interests they are sacrificing the lives of their sons.
But unmasking the imperialists and opening the eyes of the masses to the real motives for the present war actually is declaring war on war and rendering the present war impossible.
Pravda, No. 10, March 16, 1917
[1.] The International Conference of Internationalists was held in Zimmerwald on September 5-8, 1915. It issued a manifesto characterizing the world war as an imperialist war, condemning "Socialists" who voted war credits and joined bourgeois governments, and calling upon the workers of Europe to campaign against the war and for a peace without annexations or indemnities. The Internationalists held a second conference on April 24-30, 1916, in Kienthal. Its manifesto and resolutions represented a further advance in the international revolutionary movement against the war. But, like the Zimmerwald Conference, it did not endorse the Bolshevik slogans: conversion of the imperialist war into a civil war, defeat of one's own imperialist government, organization of a Third International.