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March 1917 editorials on the war by Kamenev and Stalin

April 2, 2018

Appendix to ‘We demand the publication of the secret treaties’: Biography of a sister slogan, part 7 of ‘All power to the Soviets,’ a series by Lars T. Lih. Ellipses in Stalin’s text are found in the Russian original. See also “Index to the 1917 debate.”

1. Kamenev, ‘Without secret diplomacy

Pravda, March 15, 1917

The war goes on, the Great Russian Revolution has not cut it off. And no one has any hopes that it will end tomorrow or the day after tomorrow. The soldiers, peasants and workers of Russia, going off to war at the call of the overthrown tsar and spilling blood under his banners, have liberated themselves, and the tsarist banners have been replaced by the red banners of the revolution. But the war will continue, since the German army is not following the example of the Russian army and still follows the orders of its emperor, which greedily aim at booty on the fields of death.

When army stands against army, the most absurd policy is the one that proposes that one side put down its arms and disperse homeward. This policy would not be a peace policy, but a slavery policy—a policy that a free people [narod] would reject with indignation. No—it will firmly stand at its post, meeting bullet with bullet and shell with shell. This is indisputable.

The revolutionary soldier and officer who has thrown over the yoke of tsarism does not leave the trenches in order to clear the way for the German or Austrian soldier and officer who has not yet found the courage to throw over the yoke of their own government. We must not allow any disorganization of the armed forces of the revolution! The war must be ended in organized fashion, with a treaty between peoples who have liberated themselves, and not by submission to the will of a neighbor who is a conqueror and an imperialist.

But a liberated narod has the right to know what it is fighting for, it has the right to determine its own goals and tasks in a war that was not dreamed up by it. It must announce not only to its friends but to its enemies that it is not striving for any conquests, nor for any takeover of alien lands, and that it proposes that each nationality decide how to build its own fate.

But that is far from all. A liberated people must say openly to all the world that at any moment it is ready to start talks about ending the war. Given a refusal of annexations and indemnities and an acknowledgement of the right of nations to self-determination, we must be ready to begin talks at any given moment about the liquidation of the war. Russia is tied in alliances with England, France and other countries. Russia cannot act in questions of peace without taking them into account. But this only means that revolutionary Russia, freed from the tsarist yoke, must openly and directly approach its allies with a proposal to review the question of beginning peace talks. What the answer of the allies will be, we do not know, just as we do not know what response Germany will make, if the proposal is actually made.

But we do know one thing: only then [after an answer is made] will the peoples, drawn into an imperialist war against their will, be able to give a clear answer about the reasons why this war is being fought. And when millions of soldiers and workers on all fronts see clearly the actual aims of the governments that dragged them into the bloody shambles, it will mean not only an end to the war, but also a decisive step against the system of violence and exploitation that causes all the wars.

Not the disorganization of the revolutionary and revolutionizing army—not the empty [content-less] slogan “down with the war!”—these are not our slogans. Our slogan: pressure on the Provisional Government with the aim of compelling it openly, before the popular masses of the whole world, to immediately try to get all the belligerent countries to an immediate opening of talks about ways of ending the world war.

And until then, everybody remains at their post.

And therefore, fervently greeting the appeal printed above of the Soviet of Worker and Solder Deputies “To the Peoples of the Whole World,” we see this appeal as only the beginning of a wide and energetic campaign for the triumph of peace and the end of the global bloodshed.

2. Stalin, ‘On the war’

Pravda, March 16, 1917

The other day General Kornilov informed the Petrograd Soviet of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies that an offensive against Russia is being prepared by the Germans.

Rodzianko and Guchkov took this occasion to appeal to the army and the population to prepare for a war to the end.

And the bourgeois press sounded the alarm: “Liberty is in danger! Long live the war!” Moreover, a section of the revolutionary Russian democracy took a hand in raising the alarm …

To listen to the alarmists, one might think that the situation of Russia today resembles that of France in 1792, when the reactionary monarchs of Central and Eastern Europe formed an alliance against republican France with the object of restoring the old regime in that country.

And if the external situation of Russia today really did correspond to that of France in 1792, if we really were faced with a specific coalition of counter-revolutionary monarchs whose specific purpose it was to restore the old vlast in Russia, there can be no doubt that the Social Democrats, like the French revolutionaries of that period, would rise up as one man in defense of freedom. For it is self-evident that our freedom, won at the price of blood, must be safeguarded by force of arms against all counter-revolutionary assaults, from whatever quarter they may proceed. But is this really the case?

The war of 1792 was a dynastic war fought by absolutist feudal monarchs against republican France, because they were terrified of the revolutionary conflagration in that country. The aim of the war was to extinguish the conflagration, restore the old order in France, and thus guarantee the scared monarchs against the spread of the revolutionary contagion to their own countries. It was for this reason that the French revolutionaries fought the armies of the monarchs so heroically.

But this is not the case with the present war. The present war is an imperialist war. Its principal aim is the seizure (annexation) of foreign, chiefly agrarian, territories by capitalistically developed states. The latter need new markets, convenient communications with these markets, raw materials and mineral wealth, and they endeavor to secure them everywhere, regardless of the internal regimes in the countries they seek to annex.

This explains why, generally speaking, the present war does not, and cannot, lead necessarily to interference in the internal affairs of the territories annexed, in the sense of restoring their old regimes.

And precisely for this reason the present situation of Russia provides no warrant for sounding the alarm and proclaiming: “Freedom is in danger! Long live the war!”

It would be truer to say that the present situation of Russia resembles that of the France of 1914, the France of the time of the outbreak of the war, of the time when war between Germany and France had become inevitable.

Just as in the bourgeois press of Russia today, so in the bourgeois camp of France at that time the alarm was sounded: “The Republic is in danger! Beat up the Germans!”

And just as in France at that time the alarm spread to many of the socialists (Guesde, Sembat, etc.), so now, in Russia, no few socialists are following in the footsteps of the bourgeois heralds of “revolutionary defense.”

The subsequent course of events in France showed that it was a false alarm, and that the cries about liberty and the Republic were a screen to cover up the fact that the French imperialists were lusting after Alsace-Lorraine and Westphalia.

We are profoundly convinced that the course of events in Russia will reveal the utter falsity of the unbridled howling that “freedom is in danger”: the “patriotic” smoke screen will disperse, and people will see for themselves that what the Russian imperialists are really after is—the Straits, Persia …

The behavior of Guesde, Sembat and their like was duly and authoritatively assessed in the anti-war resolutions of the Zimmerwald and Kienthal Socialist Congresses (1915-16).

Subsequent events fully proved the correctness and fruitfulness of the Zimmerwald and Kienthal theses.

It would be sad if the revolutionary Russian democracy, after successfully toppling the detested tsarist regime, succumbed to the false alarm raised by the imperialist bourgeoisie and repeated the mistakes of Guesde and Sembat …

What should be our attitude, as a party, to the present war?

What are the practical ways and means capable of leading to the fastest termination of the war?

First of all, it is unquestionable that the bare slogan, “Down with the war!” is absolutely unsuitable as a practical means, because, since it does not go beyond propaganda of the idea of peace in general, it does not and cannot provide anything capable of exerting practical influence on the belligerent forces to compel them to stop the war.

Further, one cannot but welcome yesterday’s appeal of the Petrograd Soviet of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies to the peoples of the world, urging them to compel their respective governments to stop the slaughter. This appeal, if it reaches the broad masses, will undoubtedly bring back hundreds and thousands of workers to the forgotten slogan—”Workers of all countries, unite!”

It must be observed, nevertheless, that it does not lead directly to the goal. For even assuming that the appeal becomes widely known among the peoples of the warring countries, it is hard to believe that they would act on it, seeing that they have not yet realized the predatory nature of the present war and its annexationist aims. We say nothing of the fact that, since the appeal makes the “cessation of the terrible slaughter” dependent upon the preliminary overthrow of the “semi-autocratic regime” in Germany, it actually postpones the “cessation of the terrible slaughter” indefinitely, and thereby tends to espouse the position of a “war to the end”; for no one can say exactly when the German narod will succeed in overthrowing the “semi-absolute regime,” or whether they will succeed at all in the near future …

What, then, is the solution?

The solution is to bring pressure on the Provisional Government to make it declare that it agrees to start peace negotiations immediately.

The workers, soldiers and peasants must arrange meetings and demonstrations and demand that the Provisional Government shall come out openly and publicly in an effort to induce all the belligerent powers to start peace negotiations immediately, on the basis of recognition of the right of nations to self-determination.

Only then will the slogan “Down with the war!” not run the risk of being transformed into empty and meaningless pacifism; only then will it be able to flow into and express itself [vylitsia] in a mighty political campaign which will unmask the imperialists and disclose the actual motives for the present war.

For even assuming that one of the sides refuses to negotiate on a given basis—even this refusal, that is, unwillingness to renounce annexationist ambitions, will objectively serve as a means of hastening the liquidation of the “terrible slaughter,” for then the peoples [narody] will be able to see for themselves the predatory character of the war and the bloodstained countenance of the imperialist groups in whose rapacious interests they are sacrificing the lives of their sons.

To tear the mask off the imperialists, to open the eyes of the masses to the real motives for the present war—precisely this is to declare war on war in a real way, to make the present war impossible.

K. Stalin


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