Revolutionary Defensism

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Revolutionary Defensism


an ideological and political current that emerged in Russia after the victory of the February Bourgeois-Democratic Revolution of 1917; a form of petit bourgeois patriotism. The predecessor of revolutionary defensism was the revolutionary chauvinism that prevailed in 1915–17 among the Russian petit bourgeois, who spontaneously linked the idea of bourgeois-democratic revolution with the striving to carry World War I (1914–18) to a victorious conclusion and thus desired “a victory over tsarism so as to achieve victory over Germany” (V. I. Lenin, Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 27, p. 50). Revolutionary defensism attracted large masses of urban and rural working people, including the politically immature strata of the proletariat, who were inexperienced in politics and so succumbed to the false slogans regarding the protection of the revolutionary gains from the foreign enemy.

During the first months after the revolution, the bourgeois Provisional Government attempted to hide its predatory war goals, which engendered the illusion of a change in the nature of the imperialist war as far as Russia was concerned. Before the revolution leaders of such petit bourgeois parties as the Mensheviks and the Socialist Revolutionaries (SR’s) overtly or covertly supported defensism and the interests of the bourgeoisie, and after the revolution they openly proclaimed the necessity of supporting the Provisional Government in every way possible and continued the war, ostensibly to protect the freedom won in February 1917. During the period of dual power, the representatives of these parties enjoyed the temporary trust of the masses and constituted a majority in the soviets. For these reasons, their propaganda was conducive to the dissemination of the ideas of revolutionary defensism.

The self-interest of a certain section of the petite bourgeoisie in the government’s predatory policy was also a significant factor. Lenin pointed out that revolutionary defensism “is, on the one hand, a result of the deception of the masses by the bourgeoisie, a result of the trustful lack of reasoning on the part of the peasants and a section of the workers; it is, on the other, an expression of the interests and point of view of the small proprietor, who is to some extent interested in annexations and bank profits” (ibid., vol. 31, p. 159).

Lenin called the defensist-minded workers and peasants mistaken defensists of good conscience, who accepted the war only out of necessity and not for the sake of conquests. He considered revolutionary defensism the enemy of the development of the revolution and its growth into a socialist revolution. He therefore gave the Bolshevik party the tasks of exposing the imperialist policies of the bourgeois Provisional Government and the compromises of the Mensheviks and the SR’s and of explaining persistently and patiently to the masses the error of their defensist illusions. Taking the situation in Russia into account but without resorting to concessions to revolutionary defensism, the Bolsheviks withdrew the slogan that they had advanced in 1914, the slogan calling for the defeat of the Russian government, since it was advantageous to the counterrevolution, which was planning to restore the monarchy with the aid of German troops.

The working people became convinced of the Tightness of the Bolsheviks through their own experience. The true goals of the bourgeois Provisional Government and the nature of the war were exposed by the refusal of the Provisional Government to abrogate tsarism’s secret treaties with the Entente (treaties in which tsarism’s imperialist goals were recorded), by the new offensive on the front in the summer of 1917, and by the failure of that offensive. The surrender of Riga to German troops and the plans for a separate peace with Germany with the intention of using the army in the struggle against the revolution unmasked the counterrevolutionary essence of the policies of the Provisional Government and the leaders of the petit bourgeois parties.

Owing to the explanatory work of the Bolsheviks, the toiling masses were freed from the influence of the Mensheviks and SR’s; they overcame their revolutionary defensist attitude and rallied under the banner of socialist revolution. It was only as of Oct. 25 (Nov. 7), 1917, when the working masses found their own socialist homeland, that the Bolsheviks became, as Lenin pointed out, “defencists, who have recognized the principle of defence of the fatherland” (ibid., vol. 36, p. 14). The Communist Party took the true revolutionary defensist position in strengthening the military power of the Soviet republic, the defense of which became the patriotic and international duty of the working class and all the working people.


Lenin, V. I. “O zadachakh proletariata v dannoi revoliutsii.” Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 31.
Lenin, V. I. “Zadachi proletariata v nashei revoliutsii.” Ibid.
Lenin, V. I. “Petrogradskaia obshchegorodskaia konferentsiia RSDRP(b): Proekt rezoliutsii o voine.” Ibid.
Lenin, V. I. “Dobrosovestnoe oboronchestvo pokazyvaet sebia.” Ibid. “7-ia (Aprel’skaia) Vserossiiskaia konferentsiia RSDRP(b): Rezoliutsiia o voine.” In KPSS v rezoliutsiiakh i resheniiakh s”ezdov, konferentsii iplenumov TsK, 8th ed., vol. 2. Moscow, 1970.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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