Proletarian State and War (L)


After confirming the war alliance with the French, English, Americans and Italians, the Russian bourgeois democratic government, which had succeeded the Tsarist government in February 1917, placed the preparation of the "great offensive" against the Austro-German armies at the centre of its policy in May and June.

On this line were not only the parties that had supported the Tsar's war policy since August 1914 with the watchwords of national defence and sacred national unity, but also those parties that, like the social democrats and revolutionary socialists, had at least partially campaigned against the war, since Russia had mobilised to support Serbia, and Germany had responded by also mobilising in its own way. We are referring to the groups that participated in the internationalist conferences in Switzerland in the first, in Zimmerwald, in September 1915, there was next to Lenin the Menshevik Axelrod; in the second, in Kienthal in April 1916, there were the two Committees of the Russian Social Democratic Party and the internationalist fraction of the Socialist Revolutionary Party, as well as the Polish Party, the Jewish Bund and others. After the February revolution, these "centrist" elements in turn shifted to an open social-patriotism policy.

The Bolsheviks, with Lenin and Trotsky, opposed this policy of military offensive with the greatest energy. In the text From the October Revolution to the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, Trotsky recalls the episodes of this whole conflict. The campaign for the offensive was a real campaign against the Bolsheviks, described as defeatists and enemies of the homeland.

On June 18 took place in Petrograd, at the initiative of the First All-Russian Congress of the Soviets, where the Bolsheviks were nevertheless only a small minority, a magnificent workers' demonstration, which resulted in a great political success for the Bolsheviks. The masses demonstrated for peace, against war and against the offensive.

The coalition government of the bourgeois "cadets" (C.D.: constitutional democrats) and right-wing socialists felt the ground shaking under its feet: slave of the bourgeoisie, this government only hastened the offensive on the front, while the 19th, through the elegant avenues of Petrograd, the petty officers and well-dressed ladies led a patriotic and anti-Bolshevik demonstration. More was needed to intimidate the German military force or to stop the revolutionary proletariat. Marx would have repeated at that time: the Russians need to be beaten with sticks. Who were the Russians? The power, the government of June 1917, the social traitor cadet politicians who were accomplices of the bourgeoisie, whom they defined in hypocritical terms as "well-to-do elements" to hide class collaboration from the impatient masses.

Soon news of setbacks, disorderly retreat, refusal to obey troops, extermination of isolated officers between mutineers and the enemy arrived from the front. The government resigned and while the right-wing socialists once again demanded a coalition policy, the Bolsheviks proclaimed the watchword for the transition of power to the Soviets.

As early as June 3, in a statement to Congress, they denounced the politics of the offensive as counter-revolutionary, using both the obvious arguments offered by the situation at the time, i.e. the mess and technical inadequacy of the army and the certainty of defeat, and the political arguments of principle "Counter-revolutionary circles in Russia expect the offensive to lead to a concentration of power in the hands of military-diplomatic groups, i.e. groups that are allied with English, French and American imperialism".

From July 3 to 5, the Bolsheviks fought a first major battle in the streets, but without succeeding in overthrowing the government. During the days of 3 and 4 July, it could no longer count on the military garrison divisions, with the exception of officer cadets. The other divisions were beginning to move to the side of the revolutionaries, led by the Kronstadt sailors, who would have wanted to attack it. The time had not yet come; Kerensky was able to breathe when a few "safe" regiments arrived at the front. The battle was not lost but postponed, and during this time the revolutionary left was gaining ground throughout the rest of Russia.

At the end of August 1917, the counter-revolutionary elements took advantage of the respite to attempt a restoration: this was Kornilov's famous coup. But the proletariat had become too strong, both at the front and in the capital. Kerensky was forced to give himself the appearance of wanting to fight Kornilov and call the Kronstadt Marine Rifle Detachments: they took things seriously and swept away the Kornilovists in no time.

The episode served, among other things, to expose the so-called patriotism of the bourgeoisie. The Germans were advancing irresistibly, and Kornilov had given them Riga, the capital of Latvia. Former Duma Speaker Rodzianko came to declare, out of horror of the revolution, that the fall of the Baltic Sea fleet, and even Petrograd, into German hands, was not a great evil. On the eve of a new winter of war, the front was decomposing, the section of soldiers of the Petrograd Soviet were meeting to the cry of "The government is unable to defend Petrograd? Well, let's make peace! It is not able to make peace, so go to hell!".

The great conflict that led the revolutionaries to conquer power broke out precisely on the battlefield, over the Petrograd garrison. On 25 October, it was expected that the new All-Russian Congress of the Soviets would have adopted the slogan of taking power, and that it would replace the "parliamentary" ministries with the support of the capital's working masses. The government then devised the plan to remove two thirds of the military garrison requested by the General Staff from the city to help contain the German invasion. Immediately, the Bolsheviks took a stand, and this Military Revolutionary Committee was born, which, in direct liaison with the Executive Committee of the Party, was the instrument of the insurrectionary action. Back from Finland, where he had been hiding since the anti-Bolshevik persecutions in July, Lenin made the decision to hesitate. The masses go into action: Down with war! All power to the Soviets! While the government still sits in the Winter Palace, the military detachments of the Revolutionary Committee, which sits at the Smolny Institute, occupy, often without struggle, the decisive points of the city. On the evening of October 25, in the room where the Soviet Congress is held, it is announced: the Winter Palace is taken, Kerensky is on the run, the other ministers are arrested. The revolution has won. One tenth of the delegates to the convention left the room. The Soviets assume all power.

In the Leningrad commune, as in Paris, the revolution won by marching in the opposite direction of the war front, not by firing on the foreign enemy in the military and national struggle, but by turning the same men and weapons against the internal enemy, against the capital's government, against the bourgeoisie's class power, "by turning the national war into a civil war". History has not given us any other examples.

The proletariat therefore took power and Lenin's Bolshevik party immediately implemented its premise: to end the war.

On 26 October, in its historic night session, the Second All-Russian Congress of the Soviets unanimously adopted a decree deciding on the conclusion of peace. On November 7, the Government of the People's Commissars, for its first act of foreign policy, formally proposed immediate peace negotiations to all the belligerent states. Allied governments respond only with a refusal, and with an open threat: if the Russian government concludes a separate peace, they will militarily attack Russia! On November 11, the proletarian government responded with a "Proclamation to workers, soldiers and peasants". What did the Bolsheviks say in this proclamation? They announced separate peace, the publication of secret diplomatic treaties, and they concluded: "Under no circumstances will we tolerate that our army shed its blood under the whip of the foreign bourgeoisie".

The scope of this historic commitment is incalculable. This statement is fundamental to analysing today's situation. It is claimed that in Russia there is a proletarian state and that its army would fight as a proletarian army in the war against America. But the army of a proletarian state could not have fought in the years 1941-1945 alongside this same capitalist America, and practically "under the whip of the foreign bourgeoisie".

Negotiations with the Germans began on 9 December, but it was only on 25 December that the Germans formulated their proposals, which included brigand-like requests for annexation. The Russian delegation could not accept them; the situation was made difficult by the fact that Ukraine had not yet gone to the Bolsheviks' side, and the Kiev "Rada" signed a separate peace with the Germans on 9 February. However, in Vienna, Berlin, there were political strikes, workers' movements. The Russians cannot declare war, they interrupt the negotiations by refusing to sign peace; but by announcing to the world that the Russian army will not resist the invader, they appeal to the German proletariat and that of all countries to stand against the imperialist governments and against the war.

We have therefore had a historical example of this method of the non-resistance of the proletarian state to invasion. Let's get this straight. We do not elevate this example to the level of a general principle, let alone on the basis of a general philanthropic aversion to bloodshed. We would just like to remind you that this historical example did not have an unfavourable conclusion. It is precisely the supporters of today's Russian state, archmilitarist, archnationalist, who mobilise all the hypocrisies of pacifism "in general" for their campaign.

The Germans denounced the armistice and resumed their march forward five days ahead of schedule. The situation was terrible. The Ukrainian and Finnish counter-revolutionaries, followed by the Bolsheviks, made appeals to the German military forces. The revolutionary proletarians oscillated between furious indignation and total despondency. Within the ranks of the Bolsheviks themselves there was a controversy: to ask for another treaty and surrender completely, or to fall into a totally desperate resistance? We know that Lenin had to go to a lot of trouble, especially against Bukharin who was "for the war".

As always, and without a moment's slackness, Lenin kept his eyes fixed on the path of world revolution. One could only buy time by using the conflict between enemy imperialisms, all equally ready to try to strangle the Russian revolution. In both the Party Congress and the Fourth Congress of the Soviets, the thesis of peace prevailed.

The Soviet delegation returned to Brest-Litovsk, where it found even more inexorable conditions. It signed them "without even reading them". The war was over.

On 16 March, Congress ratified peace with 724 votes in favour, 276 against and 118 abstentions: "We do not expect a change in these conditions from the armed forces, but from the world revolution".

In his controversy with Kautsky, Lenin lays claim to what he considered to be a mistake: to have bet on the European and world revolution. Just as The State and Revolution ends abruptly with the announcement of October 1917, so the Anti-Kautsky ends with the announcement of the German revolution in Kiel and Berlin on 9-10 November 1918. Only a few months have passed since the diktat of the German generals, and already the front and the frontier of Brest-Litovsk are collapsing.

The German revolution will stop the war, but it will in turn be stopped, in its attempt to get closer to the Bolshevik dictatorship, by the henchmen social traitors. In 1919, the Russian revolutionary state, having reorganised the Red Guard and the army, would lead the struggle on new fronts: Siberia, Kuban, Don, Odessa, Arkhangelsk, etc., against the expeditions of Franco-English imperialism, and will defeat them after a long struggle on its territory. There will be no real war declared between states, except in 1920 against Poland, strongly supported by the capitalist powers, and this war will end without Warsaw being conquered while the revolution in Europe is on the decline.


Since then, the problems related to Russia, its military force, and the war, have revolved around the following proposal: Lenin's perspective has failed, the revolution has stopped in Russia. With that in place, the Soviet State only had to organise its army in order to fight a punitive and restorative expedition against capitalism.

Indeed, by renouncing the prospect of the spread of proletarian revolution in the world, the Russians renounced developing their own revolution, which could wait a few years, as Lenin argued against Kautsky, but which then had no other historical choice than to move forward or backward. Stalinism is the political expression of this decline.

Lenin had come to say: "Even if world imperialism were to succeed tomorrow in crushing Russian Soviet power, let us bring about an agreement between German and Anglo-French imperialism, even in this worst case scenario, Bolshevik tactics would nonetheless have been of the greatest use for socialism, and would have helped to grow the invincible world revolution".

The tactic that Lenin defends is the one that was shattered in 1914: no alliance with either of the two imperialisms It was the tactic that led to the refusal to continue the alliance in 1917, and that triumphed with the collapse of Germany and the Franco-English inability to defeat Soviet Russia.

The opposite tactic, that of the Mensheviks and cadets in 1917, that of Stalin in the Second World War, is not only defeatist with regard to the Revolution, it is also defeatist in the national-military sense. That is why it would remain unexplainable if it had not been accompanied by the observation of the return of the domestic economy under global capitalist influences.

In fighting the alliance's tactics in 1918, Trotsky made it clear: "Even if victory had smiled at this camp, where Russia had been dragged along by the manoeuvres of the tsarism and the bourgeoisie, it would not yet have meant that our country would have emerged victorious. By continuing the war, Russia would have been even more exhausted, even more devastated than it is now, in the victorious camp of the Entente. The masters of this camp, i. e. England and America, would have used the same methods used by Germany during the peace negotiations. When analysing the policies of the imperialist countries, it would be a stupid and foolish childishness to let oneself be guided by considerations other than those of pure interest and brutal power".

Everything that has taken place since the Second World War, from the immense sacrifice of human lives and resources to the Anglo-American cause to the pacifist whining about today's "imperialist aggressions", illustrates, in substance, Trotsky's powerful perspective in that distant February 1918.

The analysis cannot lead to the interpretation that it is a proletarian headquarters that has made the huge mistake of believing that the Anglo-Capitalist American powers were seriously fighting against imperialism and for popular freedoms, to the point that respect for their ally was sacred to them! It would be such a huge thing that it could only be defined as treason.

On the contrary, the analysis leads to the conclusion that the State and Government of Moscow do not express the interests of the Russian proletariat and world revolution, but have long depended on the influences of capitalist imperialism: the balance of power they express is not that of class struggle in the various countries, but that between the economic, diplomatic and military forces in the capitalist camp.

Just as the State and the Moscow regime may be in conflict with these forces or groups of them, so there are no social reasons to limit the possibilities of compromise and even subordination of that State to the imperialist centres.

If there were a proletarian state today, and if it had an army comparable in efficiency to that of the bourgeoisie, it would not exclude the use of it, if the balance of power pushed it to do so, to cross borders and help a workers revolution; it would not exclude revolutionary "aggression". We would not hear it reduce its external propaganda to the ignoble opportunist slogans: avoidable war - struggle for peace - army trained only for the defence war and to repel aggression!

The Saragat and Togliatti speak the same pre-Leninist language, pre-Comintern. Neither of them wants war for proletarian struggle, but only for defence. Defence of what? From what they defended together in the second war, the defence of bourgeois regimes and principles. It is only for this reason, proletarians, that they have allowed you and will allow you to kill and be killed.

Battaglia Comunista, No. 14, 1950
Translation by Libri Incogniti

(Italian Version)


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