The Russian Revolution through the Prism of Propaganda
Spreading the Revolution Abroad
Workers of the World, Unite!
In 1916, Lenin wrote a pamphlet entitled Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism. In this advanced stage of capitalism, “…the partition of all the territory of the earth by the greatest capitalist countries has been completed.” As illustrated in cartoon panel to the left, Lenin argued that the imperialist nations' global search for raw materials and markets provoked war that would eventually destroy the capitalism system. The service of colonial troops in World War I (such as soldiers from France's African colonies) exemplified Lenin's assertion that the war was inherently imperialistic.
Lenin was dismayed that workers took an active part fighting in World War I. From his perspective, the workers were nothing but pawns of the imperialist European states. The hopes of world revolution rested on a united proletariat, and in World War I, the proletariat were fighting one another instead of rising up against the capitalist exploiters. In the cartoon above, a Lenin-like Bolshevik enlightens the proletarian soldier that his real interest is fighting the bourgeoisie, not his fellow workers.
After overthrowing the Provisional Government, the Bolsheviks' first priority was to end Russia's involvement in World War I, and one of Lenin's first decrees was his “Decree on Peace.” The allied powers ignored Lenin's call to peace, so the Bolsheviks were left to negotiate a separate peace with Germany. Confident in the immanence of world revolution, the Bolsheviks at first used the negotiations as a pulpit from which to address the war-weary workers of Europe. However, after German troops pushed toward Petrograd, Lenin convinced the Central Committee to sue for peace, and on March 3, the Germans and Bolsheviks concluded the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, which ceded the Baltics and much of Ukraine to Germany.
In 1919, the Bolsheviks established the Communist International (or ComIntern), an organization dedicated to spreading revolution abroad. As illustrated in the cartoon panel to the right, hopes were high that workers all over the world would join the Bolsheviks in the battle against international capitalism. However, such hopes faded as socialist revolutions failed in both Germany and Hungary. Gradually, the Bolsheviks resigned themselves that international revolution was not forthcoming, and in the late 1920s, with Stalin's policy of “socialism in one country,” the Soviet Union turned inward, focusing on building socialism at home,
before exporting it abroad.