Documents and Readings in the History of Europe Since 1918

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World History

220.

Lenin on the Need for an Armed Uprising, October 21, 1917

2

ADVICE FROM AN OUTSIDER

3

I am writing these lines on October 21, and I have little hope that they will be in the hands of the Petrograd comrades before the 22nd. It is possible that they will arrive too late, for the Congress of the Northern Soviets has been fixed for October 23. However, I shall try to give my "advice from an outsider," in case the anticipated action of the workers and soldiers of Petrograd and vicinity will take place soon, but has not yet taken place.

That all power must pass to the Soviets is clear. It must also be beyond dispute for every Bolshevik that the revolutionary-proletarian (or Bolshevik, which is now the same thing) power is guaranteed the greatest sympathy and the most loyal support of all the toilers and exploited of all the world in general, in the belligerent countries in particular, and above all among the Russian peasantry. It is not worth while to dwell on these truths that are too well known and have long since been proven.

We must dwell on that which is not quite clear to all the workers, namely, that the passing of power to the Soviets means at present in reality an armed uprising. This would seem self-evident, but not every one has been and is giving earnest thought to this. To renounce an armed uprising at present would mean to renounce the chief slogan of Bolshevism ("All Power to the Soviets") and all revolutionary-proletarian internationalism generally.

Armed uprising, however, is a special kind of political struggle, subject to special laws, to which we must give our serious attention. Karl Marx expressed this truth in a remarkably striking manner when he wrote that the armed "uprising, like war, is an art."

As the chief rules applicable to this art Marx advanced the following:

1. Never play at uprising, but once it is begun, remember firmly that you have to go to the very end.

2. It is necessary to gather a great preponderance of forces in a decisive place at a decisive moment, else the enemy, being in a position of better preparation and organisation, will annihilate the insurgents.

3. Once the uprising has been begun, one must act with the greatest decisiveness, one must take the offensive, absolutely, and under all circumstances. "Defence is the death of an armed uprising."

4. One must strive to take the enemy by surprise, to take advantage of a moment when his troops are scattered.

5. One must try daily for at least small successes (one may even say hourly, when it is a question of one city), thus maintaining under all circumstances a "moral superiority."

Marx summarised the lessons of all revolutions concerning the armed uprising in the words of the greatest master of revolutionary tactics in history, Danton: "Audacity, more audacity, and still more audacity."

Applied to Russia and to October, 1917, this means a simultaneous offensive, as sudden and swift as possible, on Petrograd, by all means, from inside and from outside, from the workers’ section and from Finland, Reval, and Cronstadt, an offensive by the whole fleet, the accumulation of a gigantic preponderance of forces over the fifteen to twenty thousand (perhaps even more) of our "bourgeois guard" (military cadets), our "Vendée troops" (a part of the Cossacks), etc.

Combine our three main forces: the fleet, the workers, and the army units, so as surely to occupy and hold, no matter what the cost: (a) the telephone exchange; (b) the main telegraph office; (c) the railroad stations; and above all (d) the bridges.

Pick the most resolute elements (our "shock" elements and the young workers; and also the best sailors) into small detachments, to occupy all the most important points, and to participate everywhere, in all the important operations, for instance:

Surrounding Petrograd and cutting it off, taking it by a combined attack by the fleet, the workers, and the army—this is a task which demands art and triple daring.

Forming detachments from the best workers with rifles and bombs, to advance and surround the "centres of the enemy" (the military schools, and telegraph and telephone centres, etc.); their watchword must be: Let all die, but do not allow the enemy to pass.

Let us hope that in case the action is decided upon the leaders will successfully apply the great teachings of Danton and Marx.

The success of both the Russian and the world revolution depends upon two or three days of struggle.

AN OUTSIDER.

Written October 21, 1917.

First published in Pravda, No. 250, November 7, 1920.

2 V. I. Lenin, Collected Works XXI: Toward the Seizure of Power, Bk. II, International Publishers, New York, 1932, pp. 97–99. Reprinted by permission of the publishers.

3 Being forced to live in hiding, and unable to be personally present at the Bolshevik meetings and conferences, Lenin had to depend on correspondence as the means of contact with the Central Committee.—Ed. [This footnote was written by the editor of the Lenin volume, namely, Alexander Trachtenberg.]

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Chicago: "Lenin on the Need for an Armed Uprising, October 21, 1917," Documents and Readings in the History of Europe Since 1918 in Documents and Readings in the History of Europe Since 1918, ed. Walter Consuelo Langsam and James Michael Egan (Chicage: Lippincott, 1951), 740–742. Original Sources, accessed July 3, 2022, http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=7BTF9D6NAUL3DDW.

MLA: . "Lenin on the Need for an Armed Uprising, October 21, 1917." Documents and Readings in the History of Europe Since 1918, in Documents and Readings in the History of Europe Since 1918, edited by Walter Consuelo Langsam and James Michael Egan, Chicage, Lippincott, 1951, pp. 740–742. Original Sources. 3 Jul. 2022. http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=7BTF9D6NAUL3DDW.

Harvard: , 'Lenin on the Need for an Armed Uprising, October 21, 1917' in Documents and Readings in the History of Europe Since 1918. cited in 1951, Documents and Readings in the History of Europe Since 1918, ed. , Lippincott, Chicage, pp.740–742. Original Sources, retrieved 3 July 2022, from http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=7BTF9D6NAUL3DDW.