What is Lenin referring to here?

"Discerning reader”: note that this does not mean “blowing up bridges”, organising unsuccessful strikes in the war industries, and ·in general helping the government defeat the revolutionaries. Marxists.org

My specific questions are:

  • Why did the examples not "facilitate defeat"?
  • What "genuine revolutionary anti-government agitation" were going to facilitate Russia's defeat?

While he was writing just two years before the Russian Revolution, he adds that in Russia "an immediate socialist revolution is impossible", despite supporting "agitation [that] has weakened Russia’s 'military might' and is likely to lead to its defeat". Does this suggest that Lenin means to "facilitate" a military defeat to bourgeois nations, whether or not there is a revolution? Or is the facilitation of revolutionary defeat necessary and sufficient for a revolution?

I'd guess the former, which goes some way to answering the question. He approves of "military reverses", cites Germany's victory over France as a "defeat" of France (which actually amounted to the defeat of the Paris Commune by both, against bourgeois views), and signed the treaty that led to Russia's defeat in world war 1.

  • 2
    Mike Duncan's Revolutions podcast addresses this issue, but I can't find a good citation. From memory, Lenin felt (and may have been alone in feeling) that the communist revolution was more important than all the death struggles of the old order.
    – MCW
    Oct 9, 2023 at 11:50
  • 3
    I think the question needs more clarity - the three bullets seem unrelated to the fragment quoted, so it is worth citing the relevant parts of the article. Specifically, Paris commune took place after France was defeated by Germany - so it is not clear what the last bullet refers to.
    – Roger V.
    Oct 9, 2023 at 12:13

1 Answer 1


Lenin seems to support "revolutionary defeatism" in the sense of inviting (I don't know what Russian word was used) military victory by the other nation, as he approves of "military reverses", cites the defeat of France by Germany as actually amounting to the defeat of the Paris Commune by both, and signed the treaty that led to Russia's defeat in world war 1.

I emphasized word nation, because Lenin's position requires distinguishing between the nation and the government (and also the class.) At the time of war any government appeals to patriotism, associating the interests of the government in winning the war with the interest of the nation, i.e., the people ruled by this government. These interests however do not necessarily coincide, and the cases when the opposition to the government outweighs the possible evils expected from the enemy victory are not unknown. E.g., during WW2 significant numbers of Soviet citizens showed lukewarm support to the Soviet war effort and sometimes resorted to outright collaboration with Nazis, motivated by their opposition to Stalinism - see, e.g., Russian Liberation Army. Same can be said about the Ukrainian Independence movement, led by Stepan Bandera, who remains a controversial figure to these days - as a fighter for the Ukrainian independence, but also as a confirmed Nazi collaborator.

Thus, Lenin points out that Russian victory in the war is a victory for the Russian government, but not a victory for the Russian proletariat - who is even likely to find itself even more oppressed, if Russian government wins - thus gaining in popular approval, and getting financial help in the form of reparations and access to new markets/resources.

However, forcing the Russian government defeat in the war is not the goal in itself. Lenin's goal is the victory of the proletariat in the class war. Thus, as he points out in the fragment quoted in the OP, the actions aimed at forcing the Russian government defeat in the war vis-à-vis Germany (more precisely - the German government), should not be the ones that also led to the defeat of the proletariat in its war with the government and bourgeoisie.

It seems that much of the question has to do with the lack of background about Marxism and its history (no offense) than with the actual content of the Lenin's article. So I would like to add a few comments:

Why the immediate socialist revolution was impossible?
An important component of Marxism is historical materialism - a deterministic view of historical development of societies, as driven by the class struggle. Roughly, human society follows through the stages from the primitive hunter-gatherer communism, to slaveholder society, to feudalism, to capitalism, and then to communism/socialism (Marx used the two terms interchangeably). Every stage is more progressive than the previous one, none can be skipped, and the transition between stages happens via a revolution.

Thus, capitalism necessarily precedes socialism, and bourgeois (i.e., capitalist) revolution, bringing liberals (i.e., capitalists) to power - like French Revolution - necessarily takes place before socialist revolution. Moreover, Capitalism is a per-requisite for building a communist society, as it is the means of production already developed on the capitalism stage that allow to provide for everybody's needs in a communist society.

Unlike Britain, France and Germany at the times of Lenin, Russia was still a largely agrarian (essentially, but not quite, feudal) country, with relatively small industrial component and proletariat. Thus, following the canonical Marxism, the immediate socialist revolution in Russia was impossible - it yet had to pass through the capitalist stage of history (preceded by a bourgeois revolution.)

There was much debate about this due to the quasi-communist structure of the traditional Russian village commune, which notably inspired Russian Communist Anarchists like Bakunin and Kropotkin (both at odds with Marx regarding the role of the state.) Many Russians held a view that Russia would follow a special way, skipping the capitalist stage. Even Marx himself allowed for the possibility of Russia skipping the capitalism - provided that there is a simultaneous socialist revolution everywhere in Europe.

Bolsheviks and some other Russian parties however believed that the Capitalist stage was inescapable, and hence the coming revolution was a bourgeois one (not a socialist revolution.) And it was this revolution that the defeat of the Russian government in the war was supposed to accelerate.

Lenin would change his view on necessity of an extended Capitalist stage only in 1917.

Paris commune Paris commune took place against the humiliating defeat of France in Franco-Prussian war of 1970-71. Commune was a spontaneous rebellion against the French liberal government, and it was subsequently brutally suppressed by the forces loyal to this government (led by Adolphe Thiers), with the Germans largely standing by.

It is necessary to point out that the Communards were not Marxists - they were mostly followers of Proudhon, Blanqui and (to some extent) Bakunine. Furthermore, they did not intend to abolish private property and indeed capitalism. What Marx considered important were (i) the spontaneous nature of the uprising against the ruling class, and (ii) the de facto dictatorship of the proletariat established by the commune. Indeed, although communards seemingly established universal suffrage, the proportion of proletariat in Paris was not representative of that in France in general, and most wealthy and middle-class inhabitants of Paris fled the city either due to the preceding war, or in response to the commune.

An amusing fact about the Marxist vision of the Commune is that it resembles a dream of modern American Republican gun advocates of an armed citizen's militia, capable of taking power in its hands, if betrayed by politicians. In the words of Engles:

In this emergency the people allowed the Paris Deputies to the former legislative body to constitute themselves into a “Government of National Defence.” This was the more readily conceded, since, for the purpose of defence, all Parisians capable of bearing arms had enrolled in the National Guard and were armed, so that now the workers constituted a great majority. But almost at once the antagonism between the almost completely bourgeois government and the armed proletariat broke into open conflict. On October 31, workers’ battalions stormed the town hall, and captured some members of the government.

  • i agree with your last paragraph (which is why i used the word "invite" and mentioned the paris commune). i mentioned the fact that russia was defeated in world war one not to show that it was the goal in itself, but because i felt that it was what "defeat" meant, defeat to an opposing nation and not just the class
    – luke
    Oct 9, 2023 at 13:04
  • @luke what do you mean by nation? You seem to associate it with a government. The treaty of Brest-Litovsk was signed between the Soviet Government and those of Austria-Hungary and Germany - the latter too soon ceased to exist. I stress it: between the governments, not nations. Was it bad for Russians (the people) that Poland and Ukraine were not controlled anymore from St. Peetersbourg? Was it a win for Germans (the people)?
    – Roger V.
    Oct 9, 2023 at 13:34
  • i'm not sure i follow the relevance of what you are asking. here he says that socialism must "not only to bring the nations closer to each other, but also to merge them. And in order to achieve this aim, we must, on the one hand, explain to the masses the reactionary nature of the ideas of Renner and Otto Bauer concerning so-called “cultural national autonomy". i'm not sure what meaning 'nation' has in addition to a 'government' and its citizens (though i'm unfamiliar with what he is arguing against here also)
    – luke
    Oct 9, 2023 at 13:42
  • @luke Marxist generally oppose nationalism - this is what you refer to in the last comment. I am just trying to qualify what you mean when you say, e.g., that "russia was defeated in world war one" - what Russia stands for here - the Czar? the Bolshevik government? Ethnic Russians? Citizens of Russian empire? Anyone who speaks Russian? Who was defeated? By whom? Not conflating Russian government, Russian proletariat and other things Russian into one Russia is pretty much the point here.
    – Roger V.
    Oct 9, 2023 at 13:49
  • so you think i have misused the word 'defeat' by not specififying who was defeated? i just mean the war effort (i got the phrase from wikipedia's page on 'the eastern front')
    – luke
    Oct 9, 2023 at 13:50

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.