The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

The Revolution or the War!

Jun 19, 2017

This article continues our series on the Russian Revolution, taken from the words of participants.

In June 1917, the military offensive launched by Kerensky's government provoked numerous discussions about peace and the foreign policy of the revolution. On this question, Lenin wanted to address the exploited in every country, whether they were from the West or whether they were among the nationalities oppressed by czarism. He did this in order to make them allies of the Russian workers and peasants. He expressed this in several articles in Pravda.

On June 7th (June 20th by our calendar), Lenin wrote an article in which he asked: "Is There a Way to a Just Peace?" and responded: "There is: through a workers' revolution against the capitalists of the world. … Only after the transfer of power to the oppressed classes could Russia approach the oppressed classes of other countries, not with empty words, not with mere appeals, but calling their attention to her example, and immediately and explicitly proposing clear-cut terms for universal peace.

'Comrade workers and toilers of the world,' she would say in the proposal for an immediate peace. 'Enough of the bloodshed. Peace is possible. A just peace means peace without annexations, without seizures. Let the German capitalist robbers and their crowned robber Wilhelm know that we shall not come to terms with them, that we regard as robbery on their part not only what they have grabbed since the war, but also Alsace and Lorraine, and the Danish and Polish areas of Prussia.

'We also consider that Poland, Finland, the Ukraine, and other non-Great-Russian lands were seized by the Russian czars and capitalists.

'We consider that all colonies, Ireland, and so on, were seized by the British, French, and other capitalists.

'We Russian workers and peasants shall not hold any of the non-Great-Russian lands or colonies (such as Turkestan, Mongolia, or Persia) by force. Down with war for the division of colonies, for the division of annexed (seized) lands, for the division of capitalist spoils!'

The example of the Russian workers will be followed inevitably, perhaps not tomorrow (revolutions are not made to order), but inevitably all the same by the workers and all the working people of at least two great countries, Germany and France.

For both are perishing, the first of hunger, the second of depopulation. Both will conclude peace on our terms, which are just, in defiance of their capitalist governments.

The road to peace lies before us.

Should the capitalists of England, Japan and America try to resist this peace, the oppressed classes of Russia and other countries will not shrink from a revolutionary war against the capitalists."

On June 15th (June 28th by our calendar), after the adoption of a "Universal Act" by the delegates from the Ukrainian regiments, Lenin wrote: "They demand autonomy without denying the need for the supreme authority of the 'All-Russia Parliament.' No democrat, let alone a socialist, will venture to deny … the Ukraine's right to freely secede from Russia. Only unqualified recognition of this right, and this alone, makes it possible to advocate a free union of the Ukrainians and the Great Russians, a voluntary association of the two peoples in one state. Only unqualified recognition of this right can actually break completely and irrevocably with the accursed czarist past, when everything was done to bring about a mutual estrangement of the two peoples so close to each other in language, territory, character, and history. Accursed czarism made the Great Russians executioners of the Ukrainian people, and fomented in them a hatred for those who even forbade Ukrainian children to speak and study in their native tongue.

Russia's revolutionary democrats, if they want to be truly revolutionary and truly democratic, must break with that past, must regain for themselves, for the workers and peasants of Russia, the brotherly trust of the Ukrainian workers and peasants. This cannot be done without full recognition of the Ukraine's rights, including the right to free secession.

We do not favor the existence of small states. We stand for the closest union of the workers of the world against 'their own' capitalists and those of all other countries. But for this union to be voluntary, the Russian worker, who does not for a moment trust the Russian or the Ukrainian bourgeoisie in anything, now stands for the right of the Ukrainians to secede, without imposing his friendship upon them, but striving to win their friendship by treating them as an equal, as allies and as brothers in the struggle for socialism."