Do your duty as workingmen

10 April 2015

History | War and Conflict

Six days from today will mark the ninety eighth anniversary of Vladimir Ilyich Lenin’s return to Russia after more than a decade of exile abroad. His journey from Zurich to Finland was spent finalising the plans for a ‘second revolution’, one of his own making, the guidelines of which were condensed down to ten points – known to most as the April Theses. The most pressing of these party goals, certainly for Lenin himself, was to bring about the abrupt end to the ‘shameful imperialist slaughter’ that had taken hold of Europe and beyond. 

Lenin’s opposition to the war was categorical, and as can be seen in the following source, he called for the toilers of the world to take up arms against their own governments and turn their strength to a series of civil wars or revolutions. For Lenin, ‘war against war’ was the only way to bring about an end to the imperialist war of the capitalist states. 

Image © The Hoover Institution, at Stanford University. Further reproduction prohibited without permission.

Big movers in the eventual Bolshevik Party such as Leon Trotsky (commissar for Foreign Affairs) and Alexandra Kollontai (Social Welfare) were eventually won over to Lenin’s aggressive stance. Like other revolutionaries who had spent time in exile, Trotsky and Kollontai saw a revolution in Russia as no more than a precursor to the world-wide battle against capitalism. They identified less as Russians (Kollontai being of Finnish-Ukrainian descent, and Trotsky a Jew) and more as comrades of the international cause. The initial proclamation of a ‘worldwide Socialist revolution’ appealed to their own left-wing Menshevik internationalism.

Two years after the October revolution, and one year after the Armistice that brought an end to the First World War, Petr Struve noted in November 1919 that ‘all that we have experienced and that we continue to experience is a continuation and transformation of the war.’ Born during the Great War, it is impossible to extricate the Russian Revolution from the context of the wider pan-European crisis of 1914-1921. When discussing modern political violence in Russia, particularly with regard to the Stalinist regime, historians often look to this conjuncture of conflict in Russia—from October 1905 to the end of the civil war in 1921—to explain the failure of the Socialist experiment in Russia. 

With Russia’s aggressive foreign policy a constant fixture in today's Western news coverage, surely the examination of the origins of Russian specific violence is now more important than ever.

'Socialist Russia, Capitalist England' is available in Adam Matthew's First World War portal. Full access restricted to authenticated academic institutions who have purchased a license



About the Author

Becca Richards

Becca Richards

I joined Adam Matthew in September 2014, and I now work as an Assistant Development Editor. I have been able to put my degree in History to good use while working on a variety of different projects. My academic interests lie in Russian history from the late-imperial to mid-Soviet period, with a particular focus on the history of violence.