When Lenin spoke to American workers
Lenin taking notes during the 3rd Congress of the Communist International in Moscow, summer 1921. | Public Domain

April 22, 2019 marks the 149th birthday of V.I. Lenin, leader of the Russian Revolution. On the occasion, People’s World reprints this excerpted article from the January 20, 1934 edition of the Daily Worker. Discussing Lenin’s 1918 “Letter to American Workers,” the article is written by Alexander Trachtenberg, founder and president of International Publishers. Today, the company remains the primary publisher of Lenin’s works in the United States.

When the October Revolution was less than a year old, August 20, 1918, Lenin submitted a written report to the American workers on the progress of the working-class revolution in Russia and the obstacles which were still in the way of the victorious accomplishments of this Revolution.

He chose to write his report in the form of a letter, which he asked a visiting Russian-American comrade to deliver on his return to the United States, which because of the blockade at that time, was a precarious undertaking.

Remembering the revolutionary traditions of the American working class and believing that “the American revolutionary proletarians are destined now to play an especially important role as irreconcilable foes of American imperialism,” Lenin proceeded to explain the imperialist nature of the war which was still raging, the rapacious imperialist designs of the ruling classes of the warring nations, including the American, and the attempts of capitalist governments to destroy the young Soviet Republic.

In flaming words, he showed how the Allies, as well as the Central Powers, were carrying on the wholesale slaughter for the division of spoils, for profits from the markets and colonies which would go to the victorious imperialist group.

In words of scorn, Lenin described the betrayals of those Socialist leaders who aided their capitalist governments by deluding the workers. “Thrice they deserve the utmost contempt, this scum of international socialism, these lackeys of bourgeois morality”—that was Lenin’s thrust at these agents of the bosses in the labor movement.

But the October Revolution made a breach in the strongest imperialist block. The Soviet Republic withdrew from the war and renounced all the imperialist policies of czarism. The revolution established workers’ rule…. World capitalism would not allow that. Counterrevolution in Russia was given every possible aid. Armies were fitted out and dispatched to the various borders from the Black Sea to the Pacific Ocean.

Almost the very day Lenin was writing to the American workers about these imperialist attacks, American troops were disembarking in Vladivostok to join Japanese, British, and French military detachments which arrived there before.

Read Lenin’s Letter to American Workers from International Publishers.

Already on July 17, 1918, President Wilson…agreed to a “limited military intervention.” On Aug. 3, the American government was forced to admit publicly that it was in full accord with the other imperialist powers in the Russian intervention policy. But in the usual manner…[the Wilson administration] declared that the troops were being sent to “protect” the “stranded” Czechoslovak regiments and to “guard military supplies” from the Germans who were thousands of miles away. In “the most public of solemn manner” it informed the people of Russia that “it contemplates no interference with the political sovereignty of Russia and no intervention in her internal affairs”…. Not satisfied with sending troops to the Far East, the American government also sent military detachments to Murmansk and Archangel in the north….

The cover of International Publishers’ 1934 edition of Lenin’s “A Letter to American Workers.” | Daily Worker / People’s World Archives

Lenin, of course, could not characterize these American invasions other than that the American government was joining other imperialist powers “for the purpose of strangling the first Socialist Republic.”

It was in this circumstance that Lenin was addressing himself directly to American workers, telling them of the conditions under which the October Revolution was fighting to achieve its aims and drawing the lessons for the American workers and, for that matter, for the workers of the whole world, to whom the success of the Russian Revolution was closely tied up with their own struggles for emancipation from the oppression of imperialism.

With war again on the imperialist order of the day…Lenin’s Letter to American Workers is as timely today as when it was penned….

American workers to whom Lenin addressed his Letter should read and re-read it every so often, because they will find packed into these few pages answers to their many burning questions by the greatest working-class teacher and leader since Marx and Engels…. The lessons it carries should become the topic of conversation whenever two or more workers meet, for in it they will find much they want and need to know to help them understand their present plight and the way out of it.


Alexander Trachtenberg
Alexander Trachtenberg

Alexander L. Trachtenberg (1885-1966) was a leading writer, educator, and publisher of works on Marxism. He founded International Publishers in 1924. First active in the Socialist Party, he was a founding member of the Communist Party USA in 1919. He was jailed during the Red Scare for refusing to turn over student records related to his time as an instructor at the Jefferson School for Social Science.