The present war is, on the part of both groups of the belligerent powers, an imperialist war, i.e., one waged by the capitalists for world domination, for division of the capitalists’ spoils, for profitable markets for finance and banking capital, and for the subjugation of the weaker nationalities.
The transfer of state power in Russia from Nicholas II to the [provisional] government of Guchkov, Lvov, and others, to the government of the landowners and capitalists, did not and could not alter the class character and meaning of the war as far as Russia is concerned.
The fact that the new government is carrying on the same imperialist war, i.e., an aggressive war of conquest, became glaringly apparent when the government not only failed to publish the secret treaties between ex-Tsar Nicholas II and the capitalist governments of Britain, France, etc., but even formally confirmed these treaties. This was done without consulting the will of the people and with the express purpose of deceiving them, for it is well known that the secret treaties concluded by the ex-tsar are outrageously predatory treaties that give the Russian capitalists a free hand to rob China, Persia, Turkey, Austria, etc.
For this reason no proletarian party that does not wish to break completely with internationalism, i.e., with the fraternal solidarity of the workers of all countries in their struggle against the yoke of Capital, can support the present war, or the present government, or its loans, no matter in what glowing terms these loans may be described.
Nor can any trust be placed in the present government’s promise to renounce annexations, i.e., the conquest of foreign countries or the forcible retention of any nationality within the confines of Russia. For, in the first place, the capitalists, bound together by the thousand threads of Russian and Anglo-French banking capital, and intent on protecting the interests of capital, cannot renounce annexations in this war without at the same time ceasing to be capitalists, without renouncing the profits from the thou sands of millions invested in loans, concessions, war industries, etc. And secondly, the new government, after renouncing annexations to mislead the people, declared through Milyukov (Moscow, April 9, 1917) that it had no intention of renouncing them. Finally, as revealed by Dyelo Naroda, a newspaper in which Minister Kerensky co-operates, Milyukov has not even sent his statement on the renunciation of annexations to other countries.
Therefore, in warning the people against the capitalists’ empty promises, the Conference declares that it is necessary to make a clear distinction between a renunciation of annexations in word and a renunciation of annexations in deed, i.e., the immediate publication of all the secret predatory treaties, of all acts of foreign policy, and the taking of immediate steps to fully liberate all peoples who are being oppressed, kept bound to Russia by force or kept in a state of subjection by the capitalist class, which is continuing the policy of ex-Tsar Nicholas II, a policy that is a disgrace to our nation.
The “revolutionary defencism”, which in Russia has now permeated almost all the Narodnik parties (the Popular Socialists, Trudoviks, Socialist-Revolutionaries), the opportunist party of the Menshevik Social-Democrats (the Organising Committee, Chkheidze, Tsereteli, etc.), and the majority of the non-party revolutionaries, reflects, in point of class significance, the interests and point of view of the petty bourgeoisie, the small proprietors, and the well-to-do peasants, who, like the capitalists, profit by oppressing weak peoples. On the other hand, it is a result of the deception of the masses by the capitalists, who instead of publishing the secret treaties confine themselves to promises and glib talk.
It must be admitted that the great mass of “revolutionary defencists” are honest, i.e., they are really opposed to annexations, to conquests, to oppressing weak peoples; they are really working for a democratic non-coercive peace among all the belligerents. This must be admitted for the reason that the class position of the urban and rural proletarians and semi-proletarians (i.e., of the people who earn their living, wholly or partly, by selling their labour-power to the capitalists) makes these classes uninterested in capitalist profits.
Therefore, while recognising that any concessions to “revolutionary defencism” are absolutely impermissible and virtually signify a complete break with internationalism and socialism, the Conference declares that our Party will preach abstention from violence as long as the Russian capitalists and their Provisional Government confine themselves to threats of violence against the people (for example, Guchkov’s unhappily notorious decree threatening the soldiers with punishment for arbitrary displacement of superiors), as long as the capitalists have not started using violence against the Soviets of Workers’, Soldiers’, Peasants’, Agricultural Labourers’, and other Deputies, which organise themselves freely, and freely elect and dismiss all public officers. Our Party will fight against the profound and fatal error of “revolutionary defencism” solely by means of comradely persuasion, bringing home the truth that the attitude of unreasoning trust of the broad masses in the government of the capitalists, who are the worst enemies of peace and socialism, is, in present-day Russia, the chief obstacle to a speedy termination of the war.
As for that most important issue of all, namely, how to end the war—a criminal, predatory capitalist war that has brought mankind to the brink of ruin, famine and destruction—as quickly as possible, by a truly democratic, non-coercive peace, the Conference recognises and declares the following:
It is utterly senseless to suppose that this war can be ended by a unilateral refusal of the soldiers of any one country to continue the war, by a unilateral cessation, of military operations, by the mere act of “sticking the bayonet into the ground”.
Our Party will patiently but persistently explain to the people the truth that wars are waged by governments, that wars are always indissolubly bound up with the policies of definite classes, and, therefore, this war, started by crowned brigands, by monarchs like Nicholas II, and by uncrowned brigands—the capitalists, can be terminated by a truly democratic, non-coercive peace only when the entire state power passes to a class that is really not interested in safe guarding capitalist profits, to the class of the proletarians and semi-proletarians, which is really capable of putting an end to the oppressive rule of Capital.
This class alone is capable of really renouncing annexations, of breaking free from the meshes of finance and banking capital, and, under certain circumstances, not merely in word but In deed, converting this predatory war into a revolutionary proletarian war, a war aimed, not at crushing weak peoples, but to free the workers and peasants of the whole world from the yoke of Capital.
The Conference reiterates its protests against the base slander spread by the capitalists against our Party to the effect that we are in favour of a separate peace with Germany. We consider the German capitalists to be as predatory as the Russian, British, French, and other capitalists, and Emperor Wilhelm II to be as bad a crowned brigand as Nicholas II or the British, Italian, Rumanian, and all other monarchs. We have proclaimed this view of our Party not only in Russian but also in German, in the translation of Zinoviev’s and Lenin’s pamphlet Socialism and War.
Moreover, as editors of the Central Organ of our Party, and in the name of the Party, the above-named comrades had declared (Sotsial-Demokrat, Geneva, October 13, 1915 No. 47) that if the revolution placed our Party in power while the war was still on, we would forthwith propose openly to Germany, together with all the other nations, a non-coercive, i.e., democratic, peace, and that in the event of the German, British, French and other capitalists declining such a peace, we would ourselves start a revolutionary war, and call upon the workers of all countries to join us.
The Conference fully endorses this declaration.
The Conference takes cognisance of the fact that in no other belligerent country in the world is there such freedom as there now is in Russia, or such revolutionary mass organisations as the Soviets of Workers’, Soldiers’, Peasants’, and other Deputies; and that nowhere else in the world, therefore, can the transfer of the entire state power to the actual majority of the people, i.e., to the workers and poor peasants, be achieved so easily and so peacefully.
The Conference declares that the money for the soldiers’ upkeep should be raised not by loans, which only enrich the capitalists, but by imposing high income and property taxes on the capitalists.
The Conference declares that so long as the majority of the people, though enjoying complete freedom of agitation and propaganda, have not yet come to realise how closely this war is bound up with capitalist interests, there is only one practical means of bringing this butchery of peoples to a speedy end.
This means is fraternisation at the front.
The Conference calls attention to the fact that even Novaye Vremya, that servile mouthpiece of the capitalist interests, admits in a telegram from Kiev dated April 12 that fraternisation has started at the front. Numerous reports from soldier delegates to the Soviet of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies in Petrograd confirm this.
By starting to fraternise, the Russian and German soldiers, the proletarians and peasants of both countries dressed in soldiers’ uniforms, have proved to the whole world that intuitively the classes oppressed by the capitalists have discovered the right road to the cessation of the butchery of peoples.
By fraternisation we understand, first, the publication of proclamations in the Russian and the German languages for distribution at the front; second, the holding of meetings between the Russian and the German soldiers at the front with the aid of interpreters, these to be arranged in such a way that the capitalists, and the generals and officers of both countries, who for the most part are of the capitalist class, will not dare to interfere with these meetings, will not dare even to attend them without the direct and special permission of the soldiers,
These proclamations and meetings must make clear the above-stated views on war and peace, must bring home the fact that if the state power in the two countries, Germany and Russia, were to pass wholly and exclusively into the hands of the Soviets of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies, the whole of humanity would heave a sigh of relief, for then we would really be assured of a speedy termination of the war, of a really lasting, truly democratic peace among all the nations, and, at the same time, the transition of all countries to socialism.
|Written between April 15 and 22 (April 28 and May 5), 1917|
|First published in 1927 in the second and third editions of Lenin’s Collected Works, Vol. XX|
|Published according to the typewritten copy with Lenin’s corrections|
 See present edition, Vol. 21, pp. 301-06.—Ed.
 See present edition, Vol. 21, p. 404.—Ed.