Lenin and the Great War

Brest-Litovsk Treaty 1918

In “Socialism and War” Lenin clearly states that the “present war is an imperialist war”. Imperialism, according to Lenin, is the highest stage in the development of capitalism. He views the war as a war of slave-holders, and asserts that the socialists must utilize the struggle between the “bandits” to overthrow all of them.

According to Lenin, the war has three aims:

  • The first is to strengthen colonial slavery.
  • The second to strengthen the oppression of minority nationalities inside the great nations.
  • The third to strengthen and prolong the wage slavery.

In this context there is no place for an argument of “defending the fatherland”, because it is not the fatherland that is in danger because of the war, but the interests of the capitalist and imperialist rulers of the countries engaged in the war. There is no “Nation” to speak of, but classes with opposing interests.

THE TREATY OF BREST-LITOVSK, MARCH 1918 (Q 86721) Soviet delegates Adolph Joffe and Lev Karakhan, accompanied by a German officer, arriving for the peace negotiations at Brest-Litovsk. Photograph probably taken in December 1917. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205330714

As all of the imperialist – capitalist rulers engaged in the war are ruthlessly pursuing their interests, slavery and oppression, and none of them can claim to have been oppressed by any other “aggressor”, there is no ground for this war to be a just war. A just war can be fought only in order to defeat the oppressors.

In Lenin’s line of thinking a critical factor that differentiates this war from previous ones, is that not only capitalism has progressed to imperialism, but also that the conditions of the second decade of the twentieth century are ripe for socialism. Therefore, all the energy of the working classes should be directed towards revolution, instead of the defense of the fatherland, which is good only for the bourgeois and the social democrats.

Lenin believed that the war offered a great opportunity for the weakening of the ruling classes and the triumph of the proletariat’s war against them. As a matter of fact, this is what he actually did in Russia, with the final revolutionary push of 1917.

Brest-Litovsk Treaty 1918

He wrote “Socialism and War” in July – August 1915. At the time Russia was engaged in the war on the side of the triple Entente (formed in 1907 with Britain and France). By 1918, Lenin managed to push Kerensky on the side, and in spite of being a minority, he became the absolute ruler of the new Russia, signing in March of 1918 the Brest-Litovsk treaty with Germany.  There was no reason for Lenin’s Russia to fight against the Germans in alliance with France and England.  The top priority was to consolidate the power of the party, and start building a new State. War had no use for Russia whatsoever.

It all went according to the plan, with one difference. Lenin’s rule was not the rule of the proletariat, but of the party. The soviets were mere instruments in the power struggle of the party against its opponents and their extermination.

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