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The Militant, 14 February 1942

V.I. Lenin

How Lenin Explained
the Causes of World War I

(23 August 1918)

From The Militant, Vol. VI No. 7, 14 February 1942, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


A few months before the end of the first World War and less than a year after he had led the Russian masses to the establishment of the first workers state, Lenin, at a mass meeting in the Polytechnic Museum in Moscow on Aug. 23, 1918, delivered a speech on The Causes of the World War.

We reprint part of that speech here for its educational value to workers who wish to learn to apply Marxism to concrete events, and to show the contrast between the method Lenin used to analyze events in World War I and the method used by the present-day Stalinists who still pretend to accept the principles of Lenin.

The majority of mankind at present is opposed to the bloody war, but they are unable to grasp its indissoluble connections with the capitalist system. The horrors of the present war are manifest even to the eyes of the bourgeoisie, but the bourgeoisie is incapable of connecting the end of the war with the end of the capitalist system. But this fundamental thought has. been the constant distinction between the Bolsheviks and revolutionary socialists of all countries, on the one hand, and those who wish to favor the earth with the blessings of peace, conserving unshaken the capitalist order of society, on the other hand.

Why are wars waged ? We know that most wars, have been waged in the interests of dynasties and have therefore been called dynastic wars.

But sometimes wars are waged in the interests of the oppressed. Spartacus inaugurated a war for the defense of the enslaved classes. Such wars were waged during the epoch of colonial subjection, an epoch which has not yet ceased, as well as in the epoch of slavery, etc. These wars were righteous wars; these wars cannot be condemned.

But when we speak of the present European War in terms of condemnation, it is for the simple reason that this war is waged by the class of the oppressors.

What is the goal pursued by this war? If we may believe the diplomats of all countries, the war is waged on the part of France and England for the purpose of defending the small na tions against the barbarians, the Huns — the Germans; while on the part of Germany, the war is waged against the barbarous Cossacks, who threaten the Kultur of the German nation, as well as for the purpose of defending the fatherland from hosts of invading enemies.

We, however, are aware that this war was carefully prepared for, that it came slowly to maturity, and that it was inevitable. It was just as inevitable as is the ultimate war between America and Japan. In what does this inevitability consist?

Capitalists Divide Up the Earth

It consists in the fact that capitalism had concentrated the riches of the earth in the hands of certain states which had divided the earth down to the last acre. Any further division, any further enrichment, had to be accomplished at the expense of those already enriched, by one government at the expense of the other. The only decision in such a question was of course that of force — and the war between the world bandits therefore became inevitable.

Up to the present time the principal going concerns engaged in this war were the firms of “England” and “Germany”.

England was the most powerful colonial nation. Although the population of England itself is not more than forty millions, its colonies have a population of over four hundred millions. Not so long ago, by right of conquest, England seized additional colonies, additional land areas, and has profited by their exploitation.

But, economically speaking, England has been outdistanced in the last fifty years by Germany. The industries of Germany were eclipsing those of England. The immense state capitalism of Germany had united with its bureaucratism, and Germany beat the record.

There was no other means of deciding the struggle for primacy between these two giants than the resort to force.

Struggle Between England and Germany

While England had at times, by the right of the stronger, taken land away from Holland, Portugal, etc., it was now Germany that had come out upon the scene with the declaration that its turn had now come to enrich itself at the expense of others.

That is the question at stake; it was a struggle for the division of the world between the strongest. And, by reason of the fact that each side possessed capital amounting to hundreds of millions, the struggle between them was transformed, into a world struggle.

We are aware how many secret crimes were committed in this war. The secret treaties published by us (after the Bolsheviks came to power) have shown that the phrases disseminated in order to justify the conduct of the war were words only and that every government, including Russia also, was connected with other governments by a series of dirty treaties promising enrichment to each at the expense of the small and weak nations. As: a result, he who had been strong became still richer; he who was weak was eliminated entirely.

It is childish to attempt to hold individual persons guilty for the inception of the war; it is a mistake to accuse kings and czars of having created the present war. The war was made by capital. Capitalism had run into a blind alley. This blind alley was nothing more nor less than the imperialism which dictated a war between those competing for the ownership of the world.

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