Extracts from Lenin’s letter from afar

Lenin had been in exile for many years because the Russian bourgeoisie considered him as the most dangerous enemy and Tsarist government was doing its utmost to eliminate him. At the time of the February Revolution, Lenin was in Switzerland and wrote four “Letters from Afar” between March 7 and 12 (March 20 and 25 by the new calendar) for publication in the Party organ. A fifth letter remained unfinished the eve of Lenin’s departure from Switzerland, on March 26 (April 8), 1917.

The first letter appeared in Nos. 14 and 15 of Pravda, March 21 and 22 (April 3 and 4), with considerable abridgements and certain changes by the editorial board. The full text of the letter was first published in 1949, in the fourth Russian edition of Lenin’s Collected Works. The second, third and fourth letters were not published in 1917. The basic ideas of the unfinished fifth letter were developed by Lenin in his “Letters on Tactics” and “The Tasks of the Proletariat in Our Revolution”.

Lenin in Feb revolutionThe first revolution engendered by the imperialist world war has broken out. The first revolution but certainly not the last! …

The workers of Petrograd, like the workers of the whole of Russia, self-sacrificingly fought the tsarist monarchy—fought for freedom, land for the peasants, and for peace, against the imperialist slaughter. To continue and intensify that slaughter, Anglo-French imperialist capital hatched Court intrigues … and fixed up a complete new government, which in fact did seize power immediately the proletarian struggle had struck the first blows at tsarism.

This new government … is not a fortuitous assemblage of persons. They are representatives of the new class that has risen to political power in Russia, the class of capitalist landlords and bourgeoisie which has long been ruling our country economically …

Side by side with this government—which as regards the present war is but the agent of the billion-dollar “firm” called “England and France”—there has arisen the chief, unofficial, as yet undeveloped and comparatively weak workers’ government, which expresses the interests of the proletariat and of the entire poor section of the urban and rural population. This is the Soviet of Workers’ Deputies in Petrograd, which is seeking connections with the soldiers and peasants, and also with the agricultural workers …

Such is the actual political situation, which we must first endeavour to define with the greatest possible objective precision, in order that Marxist tactics may he based upon the only possible solid foundation—the foundation of facts.

Lenin at Finland StationThe tsarist monarchy has been smashed, but not finally destroyed.

The Octobrist-Cadet bourgeois government, which wants to fight the imperialist war “to a finish”, and which in reality is the agent of the financial firm “England and France”, is obliged to promise the people the maximum of liberties and sops compatible with the maintenance of its power over the people and the possibility of continuing the imperialist slaughter.

The Soviet of Workers’ Deputies is an organisation of the workers, the embryo of a workers’ government, the representative of the interests of the entire mass of the poor section of the population, i.e., of nine-tenths of the population, which is striving for peace, bread and freedom.

The conflict of these three forces determines the situation that has now arisen, a situation that is transitional from the first stage of the revolution to the second.

The antagonism between the first and second force is not profound, it is temporary, the result solely of the present conjuncture of circumstances, of the abrupt turn of events in the imperialist war. … The new government, which has not dealt the tsarist monarchy the final blow, has already begun to strike a bargain with the landlord Romanov Dynasty. The bourgeoisie of the Octobrist-Cadet type needs a monarchy to serve as the head of the bureaucracy and the army in order to protect the privileges of capital against the working people. …

If there is to be a real struggle against the tsarist monarchy, if freedom is to be guaranteed in fact and not merely in words … the workers must not support the new government; the government must “support” the workers! For the only guarantee of freedom and of the complete destruction of tsarism lies in arming the proletariat, in strengthening, extending and developing the role, significance and power of the Soviet of Workers’ Deputies. …

Ours is a bourgeois revolution, therefore, the workers must support the bourgeoisie, say the Potresovs, Gvozdyovs and Chkheidzes, as Plekhanov said yesterday.

Ours is a bourgeois revolution, we Marxists say, therefore the workers must open the eyes of the people to the deception practised by the bourgeois politicians, teach them to put no faith in words, to depend entirely on their own strength, their own organisation, their own unity, and their own weapons.

The government of the Octobrists and Cadets, of the Guchkovs and Milyukovs, cannot, even if it sincerely wanted to (only infants can think that Guchkov and Lvov are sincere), cannot give the people peace, bread, or freedom.

It cannot give peace because it is a war government, a government for the continuation of the imperialist slaughter, a government of plunder, out to plunder Armenia, Galicia and Turkey, annex Constantinople, reconquer Poland, Courland, Lithuania, etc. …

It cannot give bread because it is a bourgeois government. At best, it can give the people “brilliantly organised famine”, as Germany has done. But the people will not accept famine. …

It cannot give freedom because it is a landlord and capitalist government which fears the people and has already begun to strike a bargain with the Romanov dynasty. …

Confining ourselves for the present to an analysis of the class struggle and the alignment of class forces at this stage of the revolution, we have still to put the question: who are the proletariat’s allies in this revolution?

It has two allies: first, the broad mass of the semi-proletarian and partly also of the small-peasant population, who number scores of millions and constitute the overwhelming majority of the population of Russia. … We must now take advantage of the relative freedom of the new order and of the Soviets of Workers’ Deputies to enlighten and organise this mass first of all and above all. Soviets of Peasants’ Deputies and Soviets of Agricultural Workers—that is one of our most urgent tasks. …

Second, the ally of the Russian proletariat is the proletariat of all the belligerent countries and of all countries in general. At present this ally is to a large degree repressed by the war, and all too often the European social-chauvinists speak in its name … But the liberation of the proletariat from their influence has progressed with every month of the imperialist war, and the Russian revolution will inevitably immensely hasten this process.

With these two allies, the proletariat, utilising the peculiarities of the present transition situation, can and will proceed, first, to the achievement of a democratic republic and complete victory of the peasantry over the landlords and then to socialism, which alone can give the war-weary people peace, bread and freedom.

Source: https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1917/lfafar/


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