A Painful But Necessary Lesson

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Author(s) Lenin
Written 25 February 1918

First Published: Pravda (evening edition), February 25, 1918, No. 35
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, Moscow, Volume 27, 1972, pages 62-66
Collection(s): Pravda

The week from February 18 to 24, 1918, has been one that will be remembered as a great turning-point in the history of the Russian—and the international-revolution.

On February 27, 1917, the Russian proletariat, jointly with part of the peasantry who had been aroused by the course the war was taking, and also with the bourgeoisie, overthrew the monarchy. On April 21, 1917, the proletariat overthrew the absolute rule of the imperialist bourgeoisie and shifted power into the hands of the petty-bourgeoisie advocates of compromise with the bourgeoisie, On July 3, the urban proletariat gave the compromisers’ government a severe shock by its spontaneous demonstration. On October 25, it overthrew that government and established the dictatorship of the proletariat and the poor peasantry.

This victory had to be defended in civil war. It took about three months, beginning with the victory over Kerensky near Gatchina, continued in the victories over the bourgeoisie, the officer cadets and part of the counter-revolutionary Cossacks in Moscow, lrkutsk, Orenburg and Kiev, and ending with the victory over Kaledin, Kornilov and Alexeyev at Restov-on-Don.

The fire of proletarian insurrection flared up in Finland, and the conflagration spread to Rumania.

Victories on the home front were achieved with relative ease since the enemy did not possess any material or organisational advantage, and, furthermore, did not have any sound economic basis or any support among the masses, the case with which these victories were gained was bound to turn the heads of many leaders, Their attitude has been: “We’ll have a walk-over.”

They have disregarded the widespread disintegration of the army, which is rapidly demobilising itself and abandoning the front. They have become intoxicated with revolutionary phrases. They have applied them to the struggle against world imperialism. They have mistaken Russia’s temporary “freedom” from imperialist pressure for something normal, although actually that “freedom” was due only to an interruption in the war between the German and Anglo-French plunderers, they have mistaken the mass strikes that are beginning in Austria and Germany for a revolution that is supposed to have delivered us from any serious danger from German imperialism. Instead of serious, effective, sustained work to aid the German revolution, which is coming to birth in a particularly difficult and painful manner, we have had people waving their arms—“what can those German imperialists do—with Liebknecht en our side we’ll kick them out in no time!”

The week from February 18 to February 24, 1918, from the capture of Dvinsk to the capture of Pskov (later recaptured), the week of imperialist Germany’s military offensive against the Soviet Socialist Republic, has been a bitter, distressing, and painful lessen, but it has been a necessary, useful and beneficial one. How highly instructive it has been to compare the two groups of telegraphic and telephonic communications that have reached the central government in the past week! On the one hand there has been the unrestrained flood of “resolution-type” revolutionary phrases—one might call them Steinberg phrases, if one recalls a chefd’oeuvre in that style, the speech of the “Left” (hm ... hm) Socialist-Revolutionary Steinberg at the Saturday meeting of the Central Executive Committee. On the other hand there have been the painful and humiliating reports of regiments refusing to retain their positions, of refusal to defend even the Narva Line, and of disobedience to the order to destroy everything in the event of a retreat, not to mention the running away, the chaos, ineptitude, helplessness and slovenliness.

A bitter, distressing, painful but necessary, useful and beneficial lesson!

The thoughtful, class-conscious worker will draw three conclusions from this historic lessen—on our attitude to the defence of the fatherland, its defence potential and to socialist revolutionary war; on the conditions under which we may come into collision with world imperialism; on the correct presentation of the question of our attitude to the world socialist movement.

We are and have been defencists since October 25, 1917, we champion the defence of the fatherland ever since that day. That is because we have shown by deeds that we have broken away from imperialism. We have denounced and published the filthy, bloodstained treaties of the imperialist plotters. We have overthrown our own bourgeoisie. We have given freedom to the peoples we formerly oppressed. We have given land to the people and introduced workers’ control. We are in favour of defending the Russian Soviet Socialist Republic.

And because we are in favour of defending the fatherland we demand a serious attitude towards the country’s defence potential and preparedness for war. We declare a ruthless war against revolutionary phrases about revolutionary war. There must be a lengthy, serious preparation for it, beginning with economic progress, the restoration of the railways (for without them modern warfare is an empty phrase) and with the establishment of the strictest revolutionary discipline and self-discipline everywhere.

From the point of view of the defence of the fatherland it would be a crime to enter into an armed conflict with an infinitely superior and well-prepared enemy when we obviously have no army. From the point of view of the defence of the fatherland we have to conclude the most harsh, oppressive, brutal, disgraceful peace—not in order to “capitulate” to imperialism but in order to learn and prepare to fight against imperialism in a serious and effective manner.

The past week has raised the Russian revolution to an immeasurably higher level of historical development. In the course of it history bas progressed, has ascended several steps at once.

Until now we have been faced with miserable, despicable (from the standpoint of world imperialism) enemies, an idiot called Romanov, Kerensky the boaster, gangs of officer cadets and bourgeois. Now there bas arisen against us the giant of world imperialism, a splendidly organised and technically well-equipped, civilised giant, that giant must be fought. And end must know how to fight him. A peasant country that has been subjected to unparalleled devastation by three years of war and that has begun the socialist revolution, must avoid armed conflicts-must avoid them while it is still possible, even at the cost of huge sacrifices-in order to be able to do something worthwhile before the “last, decisive battle” begins.

That battle will begin only when the socialist revolution breaks out in the leading imperialist countries. That revolution is undoubtedly maturating and growing stronger month by month, week by week. That growing strength must be helped. And we have to know how to help it. It would harm and not help that growing strength if we were to give up the neighbouring Soviet Socialist Republic to destruction at a moment when it obviously has no army.

We must not turn into an empty phrase the great slogan “We bank on the victory of socialism in Europe”. It is a true slogan if we have in mind the long and difficult path to the full victory of socialism. It is an indisputable philosophic-historical truth in respect of the entire “era of the socialist revolution”. But any abstract truth becomes an empty phrase if it is applied to any concrete situation. It is indisputable that “every strike conceals the hydra of the social revolution”. But it is nonsense to think that we can stride directly from a strike to the revolution. If we “bank en the victory of socialism in Europe” in the sense that we guarantee to the people that the European revolution will break out and is certain to be victorious within the next few weeks, certainly before the Germans have time to reach Petrograd, Moscow or Kiev, before they have time to “finish off” our railway transport, we shall be acting not as serious internationalist revolutionaries, but as adventurers.

If Liebknecht is victorious over the bourgeoisie in two or three weeks (it is not impossible), he will get us out of all difficulties. That is beyond doubt. If, however, we determine our tactics for today in the struggle against the imperialism of today in the hope that Liebknecht will probably be victorious within the next few weeks, we shall deserve nothing but ridicule. We shall be turning the greatest revolutionary slogans of the present day into an empty revolutionary phrase.

Worker comrades, learn from the painful but useful lessons of the revolution! Prepare seriously, vigorously and unwaveringly to defend the fatherland, to defend the Soviet Socialist Republic!