Towards October and after October: Lenin on peace

Article by Murat Akad, on behalf of the Peace Committee of Turkey, analyses Lenin’s approach to peace, and the place that the concept of peace has in Lenin’s thought. Akad comments that It is possible to elaborate on Lenin's approach in four phases, which have a continuity in between, as well as breaks; and altogether they constitute integrity.
Wednesday, 03 June 2020 12:08

 “While capitalism and socialism exist side by side,

they cannot live in peace:

one or the other will ultimately triumph

—the last obsequies will be observed either for the

Soviet Republic or for world capitalism.” [1]


75 years have passed since the European theatre of the Second World War ended. From this day on, the Soviet Union, who was a target of German fascism, who lost over 26 million of its citizens, whose industry, agriculture and infrastructure in the occupied territories were destroyed; started to heal the wounds of the war. Within a few years a “socialist system” was to be established.

The fact that socialism gained space and expanded to other countries besides the Soviet Union, was one of the outcomes of the worldwide war. The Soviet Union itself was an outcome of the first war that had a similar scale.

In this article, we will take a look at the period defined by the First World War. We will analyse Lenin’s approach to peace and the place that the concept of peace has in Lenin’s thought. It is possible to elaborate on this in four phases. There is a continuity between these phases, as well as breaks; and they constitute integrity.

We can define the first phase with the period until the start of the First World War. The most important document that characterises this phase is the manifesto that was adopted in the extraordinary Basel congress of the Second International in 1912. The following phase starts from the beginning of the war in 1914 and ends with the October Revolution in 1917. The third phase is defined by the short period that follows the revolution and in which there is an expectation for a world revolution. And in the last phase, this expectation has come to nought and the policy of “socialism in one country” is adopted.

Towards the war

Chimes of a general war were being heard long before 1914, the year the war actually started. As militarism gained more ground and as the threat of war escalated, the organised working classes of different European countries started to raise their voices against these developments. Lenin made an account of this, in an article he wrote in 1908. In the article entitled “British and German Workers Demonstrate for Peace,” he mentions a demonstration held on 20th of April, 1908 in Berlin, in which British workers’ representatives were also present, along with German workers. He emphasises that workers are against the tensions between the capitalist countries. The speeches made at this demonstration and that Lenin cites, obviously reflect his own approach to war. He says that the decision about war or peace is in the hands of the workers and that wars serve the interests of the propertied classes.

“The meeting closed with the unanimous adoption of a resolution branding the ‘selfish and short-sighted policy of the ruling and exploiting classes’ and expressing readiness to act in accordance with the resolution of the International Congress in Stuttgart, i.e., to fight war by all ways and means.” [2]

The Stuttgart Congress mentioned here is the congress of the Second International held in 1907. In another article he wrote on the Stuttgart Congress, Lenin had described the tasks of the socialists before the rising militarism and the threat of war.

 “He (Hervé) did not understand, on the other hand, that the possibility of ‘answering’ a war depends on the nature of the crisis created by that war. The choice of the means of the struggle depends on these conditions; moreover, the struggle must consist (and here we have the third misconception or shallow thinking of Hervéism) not simply in replacing war by peace, but in replacing capitalism by socialism. The essential thing is not merely to prevent war, but to utilise the crisis created by the war in order to hasten the overthrow of the bourgeoisie.”[3]

The document that best reflects Lenin’s approach to peace in this period is the Basel Manifesto, adopted in the Extraordinary Congress of the Second International held from 24-25 November 1912 in Basel. Lenin used this document as a basic reference in his polemics against the social democrats that constituted the right-wing of the Second International, those that did not take a stance against war and supported the bourgeois classes in their respective countries. Moreover, he included the document as a supplement to the later editions of the pamphlet entitled Imperialism, which he wrote in 1916. Lenin was one of the collaborators in amending the Manifesto, along with Rosa Luxemburg and Martov. As it is expressed in the document, this resolution follows in the footsteps of the resolutions of the Stuttgart Congress of 1907 and the Copenhagen Congress of 1910.

During the Basel Congress, the emphasis on preventing war by all means, the emphasis on peace is even more explicit. The Basel Manifesto expresses the necessity that workers and their representatives are obliged to do whatever they can to prevent the outbreak of war. International cooperation of workers had contributed greatly to protecting global peace, which was under threat. It had been proven that bourgeoisie’s fear of a proletarian revolution as a result of a world war, had been a vital guarantee for peace.[4]

In the resolution, the political turmoil and the escalating tensions in the Balkans is specifically addressed, and there is an emphasis on the brotherhood of the peoples. It is expressed that the social democrats in the Balkan countries and those in Austria-Hungary and Italy, countries that pursue imperialistic goals on the Balkans, should oppose these course of events. The Italian and Austro-Hungarian social democrats should oppose their countries’ imperialistic goals and at the same time “continue their efforts towards the tightening of the peaceful relations between Austria-Hungary and Italy.”[5] On the other hand, the biggest threat to peace is the hostility between Britain and Germany. “To overcome all outstanding differences between Germany on the one side and Great Britain on the other would be to remove the greatest danger to international peace.”[6]

 “In order to prevent the destruction of the flower of all peoples, which is threatened by all the horrors of wholesale slaughter, famine and pestilence, the proletariat will put forth its whole energy… Oppose thus to the capitalistic world of exploitation and wholesale slaughter the proletarian world of peace and the brotherhood of the peoples!”[7]

War should be prevented by all means. Because the devastation that will result from the war will be affecting especially the working class and the poor. On the other hand, the key to the policy in case of war is also present in this document: “In case war should break out notwithstanding, they shall be bound to intervene for its being brought to a speedy end, and to employ all their forces for utilising the economical and political crisis created by the war, in order to rouse the masses of the people and to hasten the downfall of the predominance of the capitalist class.”

“The one guarantee of peace is the organised, conscious movement of the working class.”[8]

The Stuttgart and Basel resolutions not only set the ground for the stance against war, but they also enabled Lenin and the Bolsheviks to continue the struggle on a consistent line. This very line was followed by the other elements of the international socialist movement’s left-wing. The right-wing had abandoned ship. Thus, the revolutionary traditions were carried on to the future by the left-wing and one important result would be the Third International.

Lenin was living in the village of Poronino near Cracow, at the time the war started in 1914. In a few days, he was arrested on the allegation of spying. He was released after several of his friends’ efforts but was forced to leave Austria-Hungary. His next destination was Switzerland. He penned his theses against war as soon as he arrived in Bern on September 5th. These theses were adopted by the Bolsheviks, at a meeting convened from 6-7 September. The theses define the character of the war as “bourgeois, imperialist and dynastic.” The meaning and the purpose of the war was the looting of countries, the intention to deceive, disunite, and kill off the proletarians of all countries, by instigating the hired slaves of one nation against the hired slaves of the other for the benefit of the bourgeoisie. It was necessary to fight against chauvinism, which sets the ideological ground for war and against opportunism within social democracy.[9]

Lenin and the Bolsheviks continued their struggle against war on this line, between the commencement of the war and the October Revolution, when they came to power.

Lenin struggled against pacifism, an abstract peace advocacy, during this period. He claimed that this meant nothing more than deceiving the working class. He said the following at the RSDLP Conference convened from February 27-March 4, 1915 in Bern: “At the present time, the propaganda of peace unaccompanied by a call for revolutionary mass action can only sow illusions and demoralise the proletariat, for it makes the proletariat believe that the bourgeoisie is humane, and turns it into a plaything in the hands of the secret diplomacy of the belligerent countries.”[10]

He defined the kind of peace that socialists should demand, by referring to those social democrats who had taken a pro-war stance by supporting their countries’ bourgeoisies. He opposed calls for general peace coming from different parties of the war; as all of these calls were made in accordance with these parties’ own interests. Whereas, in essence, peace calls should demonstrate clearly for the masses the difference between socialism and capitalism; and not try to reconcile two hostile classes, two hostile political lines. All kinds of policies based on invasions and annexations should be abandoned. The right to self-determination of nations should be recognised. All peoples and colonies should be free. And all of these would only be possible with a series of revolutions, with the success of the socialist revolution.

“Should this be taken to mean that socialists can remain indifferent to the peace demand that is coming from ever greater masses of the people? By no means. The slogans of the workers’ class-conscious vanguard are one thing, while the spontaneous demands of the masses are something quite different. The yearning for peace is one of the most important symptoms revealing the beginnings of disappointment in the bourgeois lie about a war of ‘liberation’, the ‘defence of the fatherland’, and similar falsehoods that the class of capitalists beguiles the mob with. This symptom should attract the closest attention from socialists. All efforts must be bent towards utilising the masses’ desire for peace.”[11]

In Lenin’s own words the “Peace Programme” of the socialists could be summarised as follows:

 “The ‘peace programme’ of Social-Democracy must, in the first place, unmask the hypocrisy of the bourgeois, social-chauvinist and Kautskyite talk about peace. This is the first and fundamental thing. Unless we do that we shall be, willy-nilly, helping to deceive the masses. Our ‘peace programme’ demands that the principal democratic point on this question —the repudiation of annexations— should be applied in practice and not in words, that it should serve to promote the propaganda of internationalism, and not of national hypocrisy. To do this, we must explain to the masses that the repudiation of annexations, i.e., the recognition of self-determination, is sincere only when the Socialists of every nation demand the right of secession for nations that are oppressed by their own nations. As a positive slogan, drawing the masses into the revolutionary struggle and explaining the necessity for revolutionary measures to attain a ‘democratic peace,’ we must advance this slogan: repudiation of the debt contracted by states.

Finally, our ‘peace programme’ must explain that the imperialist powers and the imperialist bourgeoisie cannot grant a democratic peace. Such a peace must be sought for and fought for, not in the past, not in a reactionary utopia of a non-imperialist capitalism, not in a league of equal nations under capitalism, but in the future, in the socialist revolution of the proletariat. Not a single fundamental democratic demand can be achieved to any considerable extent, or with any degree of permanency, in the advanced imperialist states, except through revolutionary battles under the banner of socialism.

Whoever promises the nations a ‘democratic’ peace without at the same time preaching the socialist revolution, or while repudiating the struggle for it —the struggle now, during the war— is deceiving the proletariat.”[12]

The devastation caused by the war plagued the Russian people, as well as the others. And the demand for peace had intensified to a great extent. The Bolsheviks have placed this demand, along with several others, in the forefront of their policies.

After October

The struggle that continued on this line came to a significant turning point with the October Revolution. The Second All-Russia Congress of Soviets of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies convened on the same day that the Bolsheviks have declared their power. On the second day of the congress, Lenin presented his “Report on Peace”. The report included the “Decree on Peace”, which was adopted by the congress.

“The government considers it the greatest of crimes against humanity to continue this war over the issue of how to divide among the strong and rich nations the weak nationalities they have conquered and solemnly announces its determination immediately to sign terms of peace to stop this war on the terms indicated, which are equally just for all nationalities without exception.

At the same time the government declares that it does not regard the above-mentioned peace terms as an ultimatum; in other words, it is prepared to consider any other peace terms, and insists only that they be advanced by any of the belligerent countries as speedily as possible, and that in the peace proposals there should be absolute clarity and the complete absence of all ambiguity and secrecy.”[13]

The first result of this approach was the Brest-Litovsk treaty, signed with Germany on March 3rd, 1918. The treaty included heavy conditions for Russia; but it ended the war with the archenemy. This was necessary for starting to build socialism. Now, there was a chance to focus on this process.

In the Decree on Peace, Lenin called on the working classes of other nations, especially those in Britain, France and Germany, to intervene on the issue of war and peace. And expressed that it was necessary to help them in this respect. This was an emphasis, which reflected the hope, or rather the expectation, for the Russian revolution to spread to other countries.

Eight days after the treaty of Brest-Litovsk was signed, Lenin said: “If Russia is now passing —as she undeniably is— from a ‘Tilsit’[14] peace to a national resurgence, to a great patriotic war, the outlet for it is not in the direction of a bourgeois state, but in the direction of a world socialist revolution… Remain true to the brotherly alliance with the German workers. They are late in coming to our aid. We shall gain time, we shall live to see them coming, and they will come, to our aid.”[15]

However, the world revolution did not take place. Moreover, Russia became a target of its own reactionary forces and the imperialist powers that supported these forces. The people would be able to reach peace several years later, only after the civil war and the foreign intervention ended.

On the one side, there was the expectation for the world revolution; on the other side, there was the need to build socialism in the Soviet Union and the need to keep the country on its feet. It was impossible for these two processes to move parallel to each other without any tensions. And this tension inevitably left its mark on the Soviet approach to peace, on the Soviet foreign policy.

And thus started the period of the policy of “socialism in one country.” “The question was as follows: What would be the basic strategy of the Soviet power? To aid a possible world revolution, or to defend the socialist state, which was strengthening its authority on a wide territory? It was clear that it would not be possible to pursue both of these, while giving them the same weight; one of them would have to be preferred. In this respect, the Soviet foreign policy changed its course seriously soon after its beginning. The priority was given to the fact that in a hostile world, the Soviet Union should be kept alive at all costs. This would be realised without turning back on the revolutionary dynamics in the world. This was the intention. But it wasn’t always easy to keep the harmony between defending socialism in one country and keeping in mind the interests of the world revolution.”[16] Particularly from 1920 onwards, the concept of socialism in one country had the priority.

In order for socialism to be built in the Soviet Union, it was necessary to establish commercial and political relations with capitalist-imperialist countries and to have a place in the international stage of diplomacy. Foreign policy was put into practice accordingly. The policy of “peaceful co-existence” was developed in this period. On September 23rd, 1919, Lenin said:

“A durable peace would be such a relief to the working people of Russia that they would undoubtedly agree to certain concessions being granted. The granting of concessions under reasonable terms is desirable also for us, as one of the means of attracting into Russia, during the period of the coexistence side by side of socialist and capitalist states, the technical help of the countries which are more advanced in this respect.”[17]

On the other hand, Lenin emphasised the truth that the Soviet Union could not forever make peace with the capitalist world, with imperialism: “We must seize the opportunity and bend every effort to achieve trade relations even at the cost of maximum concessions, for we cannot for a moment believe in lasting trade relations with the imperialist powers; the respite will be temporary. The experience of the history of revolutions and great conflicts teaches us that wars, a series of wars, are

inevitable. The existence of a Soviet Republic alongside of capitalist countries —a Soviet Republic surrounded by capitalist countries— is so intolerable to the capitalists that they will seize any opportunity to resume the war.”[18]

Peaceful co-existence was possible with the workers, not with the capitalists: “peaceful coexistence

with all peoples; with the workers and peasants of all nations awakening to a new life—a life without exploiters, without landowners, without capitalists, without merchants.”[19]

Although Lenin stated that in order to build socialism in the Soviet Union, there was the need to make peace with capitalist governments, he continued to emphasise that it was impossible for the peoples to reach a lasting peace before the capitalist and imperialist order was abolished and socialism prevailed. Peaceful co-existence did not mean that the Soviets accepted co-existing with capitalism eternally.

Unfortunately, in the later years of the Soviet Union, this policy evolved in a direction that caused the Soviets to lose the initiative against capitalism.

On the other hand, the struggle given for peace was continuous. The very nature of socialism kept alive the bond between the struggle for socialism and the struggle for peace. For example, starting with the International Conference in Geneva in 1922, the Soviets developed concrete proposals for global disarmament. Disarmament was essential for reaching lasting peace between the peoples. The Soviet were always forthright in their struggle for peace and they forced capitalism’s hand towards peace.


[1] V. I. Lenin, "Speech Delivered at a Meeting of Activists of the Moscow Organisation of the R.C.P.(B.) - 6 December 1920", Collected Works, Volume 31, Progress Publishers, 1965, Moscow, pp. 438-459

[2] V. I. Lenin, “British and German Workers Demonstrate for Peace”, Collected Works, Volume 15, Progress Publishers, 1973, Moscow, pp. 210-212

[3] V. I. Lenin, “The International Congress in Stuttgart”, Collected Works, Volume 13, Progress Publishers, 1972, Moscow, pp. 75-81

[4] Manifesto of the International Congress at Basel, Marxist Internet Archive, (accessed 16.05.2020) (

[5] ibid

[6] ibid

[7] ibid

[8] V. I. Lenin, “The Bourgeoisie and Peace”, Collected Works, Volume 19, Progress Publishers, 1977, Moscow, pp. 83-84

[9] O. H. Gankin, H. H. Fisher, The Bolsheviks and the World War, 1976, Stanford University Press, Stanford, pp. 140-143

[10] V. I. Lenin, “The Conference of the R.S.D.L.P. Groups Abroad”, Collected Works, Volume 21, Progress Publishers, 1974, Moscow, pp. 158-164

[11] V. I. Lenin, “Question of Peace”, Collected Works, Volume 21, Progress Publishers, 1974, Moscow, pp. 290-294

[12] V. I. Lenin, “Peace Programme”, Collected Works, Volume 22, Progress Publishers, 1964, Moscow, pp. 161-168

[13] V. I. Lenin, “Second All-Russia Congress of Soviets of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies”, Collected Works, Volume 26, Progress Publishers, 1964, Moscow, pp. 243-263

[14] The Tilsit Treaty was signed between the victorious France and defeated Germany in 1807; and included heavy conditions for the latter.

[15] V. I. Lenin, “The Chief Task of Our Day”, Collected Works, Volume 27, Progress Publishers, 1965, Moscow, pp. 159-163

[16] K. Okuyan, “Soviet Foreign Policy between 1917 and 1945: period of socialism in one country”, The Great October Revolution in its 100th Year, Eds: E. Zeynep Suda, Nevzat Evrim Onal, Yazılama Publishers, 2017, Istanbul, pp. 241-242 (in Turkish)

[17] V. I. Lenin, “To the American Workers”, On Peaceful Coexistence, Progress Publishers, 1971, Moscow, p. 41

[18] V. I. Lenin, “Report on Concessions Delivered to the R.C.P.(B.) Group at the Eighth Congress of Soviets”, On Peaceful Coexistence, Progress Publishers, 1971, Moscow, pp. 72-94

[19] V. I. Lenin, “In Reply to Questions Put by Karl Wiegand, Berlin Correspondent of Universal Service”, On Peaceful Coexistence, Progress Publishers, 1971, Moscow, pp. 48-50