In October 1917 soviets — institutions of working class democratic self-organisation — led by the Bolsheviks took power in Russia. Lenin’s Bolshevik party did not believe that socialism could be created in underdeveloped Russia. The Bolsheviks thought that the Russian workers were but the advanced guard for the German and west-European workers. They expected revolution to erupt in Europe.
Indeed it did, beginning with Germany in November 1918. Soviets appeared all over Europe. In 1919 Soviet regimes ruled for a few weeks in Bavaria and Hungary before being crushed by bourgeois forces.
While doing everything in their power to assist their European comrades, the Bolsheviks also tried to hang onto power in Russia. And they had to hold on in the midst of a civil war which erupted in mid-1918 and would last for two and a half years.
Their opponents were the bourgeoisie and the landlords. And the Russian “Whites” were aided by the armies of 14 states, invading the fledging workers’ republic, at one time or another, in order to subvert it.
One of the things the Bolsheviks did was to attempt to reach out to the conscript soldiers of these armies — men who had been at war for a very long time — to undermine the filthy propaganda written against them — one British/American communiqué calls the Bolsheviks “mostly Jews” — and to explain the socialist cause. The German socialists also campaigned hard among the armed forces to stir up revolt, and this was pivotal in the events of the German revolution.
These documents are models of socialist agitation, and of course, remain highly relevant.
Why have you come to the Ukraine?
By VI Lenin
Fellow workingmen! Why have you come to the Ukraine? Do you not know that the war is over? An armistice is declared on the Western front, and preparations are being made for the peace conference. Yet instead of arrangements being made for you to return home, to those dear ones, who with keen longing will be expecting you, you have been brought here to start a new war in Russia.
What have you got to fight for now?
When the allied governments invaded Russia from the North, in Mourmansk, and Archangel, and the East from Vladivostok, they publicly made a solemn declaration that they had no hostile intentions against the Russian people. They said, they had come in fact to help us to get out of the clutches of German imperialism. President Wilson gave us an additional reason that he desired to protect the Czecho-Slovaks, who he alleged were in danger of being betrayed to the Germans.
These were mostly hypocritical pretexts. Russia was not in the grip of the Kaiser. Russia did not want this kind of assistance of the Allies. The Czecho-Slovaks were in no danger of betrayal. They were at perfect liberty to leave Russia unharmed, but they were bribed by the Allies to take up arms against the Russian Republic and were until we had defeated them, a source of danger to us.
But what excuse is there now for this fresh landing in the Ukraine, openly directed against Russia? It may be that you have been kept in ignorance of the tremendous events that have taken place in the last month, although this is hardly possible. We tell you then, that there have been revolutions in Bulgaria, Austria-Hungary and Germany.
Kaiser Wilhelm has fled to Holland. The Crown Prince has been shot. There is a new Government in Berlin, controlled by a workers’ and Soldiers’ Council.
On the west front fighting has ceased and the German, French and British soldiers are fraternizing.
In Austria-Hungary too the old order has been overthrown by the workers. The Emperor Karl has abdicated. Hungary has broken away from Austria, and the Czecho-Slovaks, as well as the other nations hitherto under the domination of the Hapsburgs, have established their independence.
What pretext have the Allied governments now for invading Russia from the South? The menace of Prussian militarism no longer exists, thanks to the German Revolution. We have offered to the Czecho-slovaks all facilities to return to their own country, to join their liberated countrymen. There is no excuse at all for your landing in the Ukraine.
The purpose of the Allied invasion of Russia is to crush the Socialist Republic, and re-establish the reign of capitalism and landlordism. You surely cannot be unaware of the tremendous change that has taken place in Russia. We have abolished capitalism and landlordism. The land belongs to the whole people. So too do the factories, miner, railways and all the means of wealth production. All these things are under the direct control of workers and peasants. We are constructing a new society in which the fruits of labour will go to those who work.
But the financiers of Wall Street and the City have greedy eyes for our vast storehouse of wealth. They want to control the rich coal basin of the Don, the oil wells of Baku, the cotton fields of Turkestan and miners of the Caucuses, the great timber forests of the North and the vast corn lands of the south. They want to convert the million of workers and peasants of Russia into wage slaves to grind out profits from them.
Fellow working men, this is the purpose for which you have been brought here. You have not come to fight for liberty. You have come to overthrow the first real Workers’ Republic.
There is another important fact which you should know. In this attack on Soviet Russia from the south, your government will be co-operating with the present government of the Ukraine. Last year we had a Soviet Republic in the Ukraine. But the present head of the government, Skoropadsky, with the assistance of the Kaiser suppressed the Soviet Republic and since then has maintained an iron rule over the Ukraine people with the aid of German bayonets.
The German soldiers have now refused any longer to be the policemen for the Ukrainian-German capitalists and landlords and are going home to their now free country.
Skoropadsky has now turned to the Allied Governments and they, not in the least troubled by the fact that he has been actually co-operating with the Kaiser, have come to an arrangement with him, to keep the Ukrainian people down, and to sacrifice you in the interests of international capitalism.
If you were told that your landing will be welcomed by the people do not believe it. During the whole period of the German occupation the Ukrainian people have been in a state of rebellion. Acts of violence and strikes showed the hostility of the people to the present regime, not merely because it was German, but because it was capitalist. At any moment we expect our comrades in the Ukraine to overthrow Skoropadsky and to re-establish the Soviet Republic.
The supreme motive which animates the capitalist governments of the Allies for invading Russia is to suppress this stronghold of the revolutionary socialist movement. They fear above everything else that the working people in their own countries will overthrow them and take the power into their own hands. They hope, by crushing the Russian revolution, to take the heart out of the tremendous movement for working class emancipation everywhere. And how rapidly it is spreading. The soldiers, who only yesterday were slaughtering each other on the Western front are now mingling as brothers. Will it be long before the voice of revolution is heard in France, England, America and Italy?
Comrades, if the workers of England or America made a revolution would you suppress it? You would not. You would side with your own class. We also are workers, we belong to the same class as you do. Will you then, fight against us?
Comrades, we are living today at the beginning of a new period in the history of mankind. This is the last struggle between Capital and Labour. If you continue your present job you will be siding with the gang of imperialists, who during four years have sacrificed ten millions of the flower of manhood, have mutilated thirty millions more, have caused unutterable misery and devastation, and who, if allowed to remain in power ill reduce us workers to a worse slavery than has every been known.
Comrades, don’t do it. You have arms in your hands. Your officers are powerless against you. Raise the red flag of working class freedom. Join with us, and with the revolutionary workers of Germany and Austria, to make the world free for Labour.
Down with capitalism! Long live the Social Revolution!