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Lenin On Anti-Imperialist wars
Anti-Imperialist wars and dialectic connection to socialist revolutions
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February 22, 1918
Collected Works, Volume 27, 1972, pp. 43-47
The itch is a painful disease. And when people are seized by the itch of revolutionary phrase-making the mere sight of this disease causes intolerable suffering.
Truths that are simple, clear, comprehensible, obvious and apparently indisputable to all who belong to the working people are distorted by those suffering from the above mentioned kind of itch. Often this distortion arises from the best, the noblest and loftiest impulses, “merely” owing to a failure to digest well-known theoretical truths or a childishly crude, school boyishly slavish repetition of them irrelevantly (people don’t know “what’s what”). But the itch does not cease to be harmful on that account.
What, for example, could be more conclusive and clear than the following truth: a government that gave Soviet power, land, workers’ control and peace to a people tortured by three years of predatory war would be invincible? Peace is the chief thing. If, after conscientious efforts to obtain a general and just peace, it turned out in actual fact that it was impossible to obtain this at the present time, every peasant would understand that one would have to adopt not a general peace, but a separate and unjust peace. Every peasant, even the most ignorant and illiterate, would understand this and appreciate a government that gave him even such a peace.
Bolsheviks must have been stricken by the vile itch of phrase-making to forget this and evoke the peasants’ most legitimate dissatisfaction with them when this itch has led to a new war being launched by predatory Germany against overtired Russia! The ludicrous and pitiful “theoretical” trivialities and sophistries under which this itch is disguised I have pointed out in an article entitled “The Revolutionary Phrase” (Pravda, February 21). I would not be recalling this if the same itch had not cropped up today (what catching disease!) in a new place.
To explain how this has happened, I shall cite first of all little example, quite simply and clearly, without any “theory”-if the itch claims to be “theory” it is intolerable and without erudite words or anything that the masses cannot understand.
Let us suppose Kalyayey, in order to kill a tyrant and monster, acquires a revolver from an absolute villain, a scoundrel and robber, by promising him bread, money and vodka for the service rendered.
Can one condemn Kalyayev for his “deal with a robber” for the sake of obtaining a deadly weapon? Every sensible person will answer “no”. If there is nowhere else for Kalyayev to get a revolver, and if his intention is really an honourable one (the killing of a tyrant, not killing for plunder), then he should not be reproached but commended for acquiring a revolver in this way.
But if a robber, in order to commit murder for the sake of plunder, acquires a revolver from another robber in return for money, vodka or bread, can one compare (not to speak of identifying) such a “deal with a robber” with the deal made by Kalyayev?
No, everyone who is not out of his mind or infected by the itch will agree that one cannot. Any peasant who saw an “intellectual” disavowing such an obvious truth by means of phrase-making would say: you, sir, ought not to be managing the state but should join the company of wordy buffoons or should simply put yourself in a steam bath and get rid of the itch.
If Kerensky, a representative of the ruling class of the bourgeoisie, i.e., the exploiters, makes a deal with the Anglo-French exploiters to get arms and potatoes from them and at the same time conceals from the people the treaties which promise (if successful) to give one robber Armenia, Galicia and Constantinople, and another robber Baghdad, Syria and so forth, is it difficult to understand that this deal is a predatory, swindling, vile deal on the part of Kerensky and his friends?
No, this is not difficult to understand. Any peasant, even the most ignorant and illiterate, will understand it.
But if a representative of the exploited, oppressed class, after this class has overthrown the exploiters, and published and annulled all the secret and annexationist treaties, is subjected to a bandit attack by the imperialists of Germany, can he be condemned for making a “deal” with the Anglo-French robbers, for obtaining arms and potatoes from them in return for money or timber, etc.? Can one find such a deal dishonourable, disgraceful, dirty?
No, one cannot. Every sensible man will understand this and will ridicule as silly fools those who with a “lordly” and learned mien undertake to prove that “the masses will not understand” the difference between the robber war of the imperialist Kerensky (and his dishonourable deals with robbers for a division of jointly stolen spoils) and the Kalyayev deal of the Bolshevik Government with the Anglo-French robbers in order to get arms and potatoes to repel the German robber.
Every sensible man will say: to obtain weapons by purchase from a robber for the purpose of robbery is disgusting and villainous, but to buy weapons from the same robber for the purpose of a just war against an aggressor is something quite legitimate. Only mincing young ladies and affected youths who have “read books” and derived nothing but affectation from them can see something “dirty” in it. Apart from people of that category only those who have contracted the itch can fall into such an “error”.
But will the German worker understand the difference between Kerensky’s purchase of weapons from the Anglo-French robbers for the purpose of annexing Constantinople from the Turks, Galicia from the Austrians and Eastern Prussia from the Germans—and the Bolsheviks’ purchase of weapons from the same robbers for the purpose of repelling Wilhelm when he has moved troops against socialist Russia which proposed an honourable and just peace to all, against Russia which has declared an end to the war?
It must be supposed that the German worker will “understand” this, firstly because he is intelligent and educated, and secondly because he is used to a neat and cultured life, and suffers neither from the Russian itch in general, nor from the itch of revolutionary phrase-making in particular.
Is there a difference between killing for the purpose of robbery and the killing of an aggressor?
Is there a difference between a war of two groups of plunderers for a division of spoils and a just war for liberation from the attack of a plunderer against a people that has overthrown the plunderers?
Does not the appraisal whether I act well or badly in acquiring weapons from a robber depend on the end and object of these weapons? On their use for a war that is base and dishonorable or for one that is just and honourable?
Ugh! The itch is a nasty disease. And hard is the occupation of a man who has to give a steam bath to those infected with it ....
P.S. The North Americans in their war of liberation against England at the end of the eighteenth century got help from Spain and France, who were her competitors and just as much colonial robbers as England. It is said that there were “Left Bolsheviks” to be found who contemplated writing a “learned work” on the “dirty deal” of these Americans ....