Karl Radek


The Soviet Government and
the Recognition of the Pre-War Debts

(29 October 1921)

From International Press Correspondence, Vol. I No. 9, 18 November 1921, p. 69–70.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2019). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.

On the 28th of October, the Soviet government sent a note, signed by the People’s Commissar for Foreign Affairs, to the Allied governments, in which it declares its readiness to recognize the Czar’s pre-war debts, if the Allies conclude a general peace with Soviet Russia, and give it the necessary credit for fighting the famine and for its economic reconstruction. The Soviet Government demands the calling of an international conference, where the Allied governments can present their claims, and the Soviet government its counter-claims, such a conference would settle all disputes between the Soviet Government and its former allies, and would establish general peace between the Allies and Soviet Russia.

Nearly four years have passed since the workers and peasants of Russia overthrew the power of the Junkers and the bourgeoisie. The capitalist world, shocked by the news of this great historical event, found consolation in the thought that only a few weeks would pass, and the rule of the workers end peasants would again be overthrown. The Allies never wished to deal officially with Soviet Russia. Weeks and months passed without the fall of the Soviet government occurring. The Allies then saw that it was not so simple a matter The Soviet Power withstood the immense shock of the Brest Peace, in spite of the fact that it was living in constant fear of German militarism, and in spite of the German troops’ occupation of the Ukrainian grain regions. The Soviet Power took deep root in the masses. Then the Allies decided to carry on open warfare against the Soviets What is known as the great civil war, from the uprising of the Czecho-Slovaks to the end of the Wrangel affair, and the great struggle on all fronts of the Republic was nothing more than the crusade of the Entente governments against Soviet Russia. The Russian bourgeoisie, left to its own means, was only able to organize territorial outrages, or insignificant local riots. For the organization of a war against Soviet Russia it needed the aid of all the Allies who spent billions on the organization and arming of the White armies, the armies of their mercenaries. With the forcing of the Perekop isthmus, this period of the allied war against Soviet Russia ended. The fact that from the time when the Allies stopped financing the White armies, the Russian counter-revolution was not able, in spite of its infinite hatred of the Russian workers and peasants, to start a regular war against us proves that the Russian White Guards are not an independent force. The Allied demand that we recognize the old Czar debts, is the best proof that they are beginning to understand: Soviet Russia was, is and will be. The raising of the question of debt recognition is an expression of the fact that not only did the world revolution fail to overthrow the capitalist governments but that the world reaction also failed to overthrow the Soviet government. If the necessity of recognizing the war debts signifies a retreat on the part of the Soviet government, the fact that the Allies even demand this recognition from the soviet government, signifies a retreat on the part of the Allies, who until now would not hear of a compromise with Soviet Russia, but intended the destruction of the first Workers’ and Peasants’ government in the world.

The expeditions of the Allies, which could not defeat us, rendered Russia a country of ruins and conflagrations. Due to the war, our industries are shattered, in the course of many years they have not received any new machines or instruments, with the remainder of their strength, these industries served the war, and made our victory possible. By bringing us victory however, they could not give the peasant what he needed Without getting any tools, our agriculture had to feed the army of five million men. Its low productivity fell still lower. Soviet Russia was not able to reconstruct its economic life quickly with the means available. As long as the war lasted, one could hope that the capitalist states would be destroyed, but the insufficient revolutionary preparedness of the world proletariat, and the policy of compromise of the international social democracy and the labor leaders made it possible for the bourgeoisie to emerge from the world crisis victorious.

The bourgeoisie is indeed unable to regulate anew the machine of world capitalism; the great universal crisis which shakes the foundations of capitalism is the best proof of it The world revolution is developing, but slowly. It rendered aid to Soviet Russia; this aid consisted of the struggle which the international working class carried on against intervention; a struggle which made our victory considerably easier. But the working class cannot yet offer us aid by delivering machines; the means of production are still in the hands of the world-bourgeoisie. Conscious of this, the Soviet government has, since the Brest negotiations, constantly proposed a compromise to the capitalist Governments. Even after intervention had already begun, it tried to take advantage of every allied defeat and every Red Army victory, in order to renew its peace-offers and proposals of compromise to them. It valued the blood of the Russian proletariat; it thought it wiser to undertake certain burdens rather than to carry on an endless war which was constantly undermining the foundations of the economic welfare of the masses. In March of this year, England was the first of the big powers to recognize that it was unable to carry on war any further and concluded a trading treaty with us. While negotiations were already going on between England and Soviet Russia, France was still hoping, now for the victory of the Polish arms now for Wrangel’s victory. After Wrangel’s defeat, a change was noticeable in France’s attitude as well. This change of attitude is expressed by Briand’s note of the 21st of November 1920, in which he asked the English government to consider the question of Russia’s debts as a condition for the beginning of peace negotiations with Soviet Russia. The English government, however, was in no hurry to bring up this question. Since it was France which was the creditor of Czarism, and not England, the latter had no particular interest in the pre-war state debts of Russia. At the same time England had every reason to be interested in dealing first with an isolated Soviet Russia, because it would insure England a leading role in Russia. The French government on the other hand, proved itself incapable of deciding upon a policy of peace with Soviet Russia. The catastrophe which struck Soviet Russia this year – the famine in the Volga region – compelled France to reconsider the question of peace with Russia. It is understood of course, that France is not moved by philanthropic motives – on the contrary Briand wanted to sabotage all aid – but because the famine in Russia renewed its hopes for an overthrow of the Soviet power. This renewed hope found expression in the attempt to urge Poland and Roumania into war with Soviet Russia. Lloyd George’s speech of the 16th of August, however, was a revelation for the French. They saw, that should it not succeed in strangling Soviet Russia with the bony hand of famine, and then killing it with the Polish-Roumanian armies, English Capital would then take advantage of its economic aid in order to win a monopoly of the Russian market. France knew that though not yet officially, negotiations were being commenced concerning an English loan to Russia. It was then that France decided to draw Poland into a war against Russia, and to ask for England’s support in its demand for recognition of the Czar’s debts. For this purpose, it took advantage of England’s position on the eve of the Washington Conference. By threatening to support America against England in the struggle for control in the Pacific Ocean, France forced the English government to support it in the debt question. In substance, the Brussels Conference declared that the Allies will furnish the credits necessary to fight the famine only upon condition that the Soviet government recognize the Czar’s debts.

This demand is a mockery of all that the Allies said about not taking advantage of Russia’s famine for purposes of blackmail. This demand is the devilish plan which Lloyd George spoke of on the 16th of August. But the Soviet government knows that it is dealing with wolves, even though they be wolves in sheepskin. Not for one moment did it expect any philanthropy from the capitalist Allies to the workers and peasants; neither did it expect the Allies to be ashamed to demand the recognition of debts from the starving working class of Russia. The Soviet government therefore makes the following declaration: in order to save millions of lives from starvation, and in order to hasten the rebirth of the country, ruined by the intervention of the Allies, it is ready, in the name of these suffering masses, to undertake the obligation of paying tribute to the hyenas of the world – a tribute which is to be taken out of the hungry mouths of Russian workers and peasants. It declares before the working masses of the whole world that, being weaker than world-capitalism, it is ready, in the name of the working-class, to pay the pre-war debts. In doing so, the Soviet Government does not retract a single syllable of what it said before: “No people is obligated to pay for the chains that bound it.” The Soviet Government rejects the statement that a nation which refuses to pay for the jails, the gallows and the armament which led to international chaos and to destruction deserves no confidence when it says: “I am ready to pay for the aid rendered me in the building of schools, in the development of mines, and in the healing of wounds”. The ethics of the working class is not the ethics of the world bourgeoisie. The bourgeoisie is stronger, and we take account of that. We also take account of the fact that at the same time that the French bankers are planning an annulment of France’s obligations to England and America, and at the same time that rich England is also seeking an annulment of its debts to American capital, the recognition of the Czar’s debts is forced from destitute and hungry Soviet Russia. Soviet Russia is ready to make good these debts, if only able to do so, and if it is enabled to reconstruct and develop its industries and agriculture through free trade relations with the capitalist world, and through loans.

The recognition of the debts on the part of Soviet Russia, requires at the same time the recognition oi Soviet Russia by the Allies. Without this, our recognition of the debts would have no international value. A check which is signed by an unrecognized government will not be discounted by any bank. By demanding the recognition of debts by the Soviet government, the Allies are placing the question of recognizing the Soviet government upon the order of the day. The national debt of Russia can only be secured through its natural resources. The Allies know that for a long time we shall not be in a position to pay debts in another way than with concessions of the natural resources of Russia – the land whose womb contains immense riches. If that is to be so, then Russia must not be an object of partition or attack; otherwise the Allies make it impossible for Soviet Russia to fulfill the obligations undertaken by it. The declaration of Soviet Russia takes place not only after the Brussels Conference, but also before the Washington Conference, where Eastern Siberia is one of the trading subjects under discussion.

The following question thus presents itself in absolute clearness to the Allies, “Do they desire to aid in the economic rebirth of Russia – a Russia which exists thanks only to the October Revolution, and to its historical four-year struggle for existence; or instead of profiting by the regeneration of that country, do they wish to carry on a policy of adventure, which cannot defeat us, but which brings misery and suffering to the Russian people, and which at the same time causes only damage and loss to the world-economy?” That is how the question stands. Hic Rhodus – hic salta!

We know very well that the declaration of the Soviet Government serves only to postpone the struggle, and not to end it. The demand for the “recognition” of the war debts, was to many elements only a pretext for the continuation of Soviet Russia’s isolation and not the cause of their unfriendly policy. The same elements will in spite of Soviet Russia’s declaration do everything within their power to sabotage peace. They will do this in the hope that the famine will effect the overthrow of the Soviet Power. They will constantly make new demands; but the declaration of the Soviet Government knocks the main weapon out of their hands. They will have to fight against Soviet Russia under less favorable circumstances. For this fight the Soviet government will have to prepare on all fields. The development of the diminished but strengthened Red Army, the energetic carrying out of the new economic policy, and the cool parrying of every diplomatic coup, will be the weapons of the Soviet government, which knows that this winter will determine its position in the world. Should this winter campaign be won, the slow but sure recuperation of Soviet Russia will begin – the first country in which new life will begin to bloom upon the ruins of the old.

Moscow, Oct. 29, 1921

Last updated on 10 January 2018