Christian Rakovsky


The Foreign Policy of Soviet Russia

(July 1926)

First published in Foreign Affairs, July 1926.
Reprinted in Christian Rakovsky, Selected Writings on Opposition in the USSR 1923–30 (editor: Gus Fagan), Allison & Busby, London & New York 1980.
Copyright © 1980 Allison & Busby and Gus Fagan. Reproduced here with the kind permission of Gus Fagan.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

It is not my purpose to attempt a systematic and complete statement of the foreign policy of my government, but to lay down certain guiding lines which may aid an understanding of the relations between the Union of Soviets and other powers and of the attitude that the Soviet government has taken towards various international problems.

In order to comprehend the foreign policy of the Soviet republic, it is essential first to consider another more general question. What is the aim of the foreign policy of every country? Foreign policy, it will readily be understood, is only a projection of domestic policy and, clearly, has a close relation to the form of political and social organization of the nation and to its institutions generally. Every government strives to establish with other countries the sort of relations most favourable to the strengthening and development of its own institutions.

This general rule obviously applies to the Soviet government. Probably not many persons continue to hold the mistaken opinion that the régime created in Russia by the triumph of the revolution of October 1917 was a transitory period, the result of a sudden stroke organized by a handful of men who were strangers to the history of the country acting against the will of the people and against the interests and aspirations of the nation. The fact that the Soviet government has endured for eight years and that no one questions its political solidity proves that its appearance was not an accident but a necessity, for deep-lying reasons, both in the evolution of Russia and of the whole world.

Without going into a detailed analysis of tsarist Russia, the following three characteristics of its political and social organization may be noted:

  1. The existence of a class of feudal aristocracy possessing a great share of the land, and holding subject to its domination and exploitation the peasants who made up four-fifths of the population. A régime of absolute power with a bureaucracy, which had all the vices of unregulated bureaucracies, was essential to maintain the power of the feudal class.
  2. A capitalist class, much weaker because the feudal agrarian system hampered the economic development of the country, but for this reason the more rapacious in the exploitation of the workers.
  3. umerous national minorities, all together constituting a majority in comparison with those who could properly be called Great Russians, but subordinate to the domination of tsarism and deprived not merely of political rights but of the most elementary rights of development of their own cultural systems.

Opposed to the old régime, consequently, there were formidable forces: peasants, workers and national minorities, waiting only for a propitious moment to overthrow it. The war provided the occasion; it completely disorganized the governmental and military apparatus and opened the eyes of the people who had been submitting apathetically to the tsarist régime, to its total incapacity and redundancy.

What assured the victory of the Bolshevik party was the fact that it anticipated the desires of the workers and peasants and national minorities – that is to say, of the great masses of the people – and put an end to the war so far as Russia was concerned. Even before we came into power, the Russian military front had ceased to exist in fact. The disorganization of the army had been indicated even before the first revolution in February 1917, when the number of deserters had exceeded a million. The offensive organized by the Kerensky government in June 1917, only hastened this disorganization and intensified the popular aversion for the war.

Such was the historical setting of the revolution of October 1917. This review of the origins of the Soviet power is necessary to explain its foreign policy, the aim of which had to be the defence of the new state of affairs in Russia. The first manifestation of this foreign policy was peace with Germany.

The new government realized perfectly that a triumphant militarist Germany would be the most furious foe of the Soviet régime. That was why the tactics of the Soviet government at first consisted in attempting to maintain the unity of Russia with the Allies for the purpose of concluding peace. If this proved impossible and the Allies desired to prosecute the war against Germany, the Soviet government was under the necessity of concluding a separate peace, but in such a way as to leave no doubt in the minds of the Russian people that this was not a democratic peace but a peace imposed on the vanquished and consequently provisional.

Sooner or later such a peace would have to give way to a life-or-death struggle with German imperialism; but for Russia to have a chance of victory it was necessary that the peasants, workers and national minorities should experience the effects of the revolution. That alone would secure support and sacrifices from the masses of the people. The Soviet power required a truce to accomplish the nationalization of the land, reorganize industry on a new basis, and grant independence to oppressed national minorities. It had to create totally new governmental machinery, tap new economic resources, and organize a new army.

First proposing that negotiations with Germany for peace “without annexations or reparations” should be conducted not by Russia alone but by the Allies, the Soviet government requested of Germany an armistice of three months. The Allies rejected the proposal, and Russia was forced to go alone to Brest-Litovsk, having secured an armistice of only one month.

The second part of the Soviet peace programme was to unmask the hyprocisy of German militarism in consenting formally to peace “without annexation or reparations” but actually pursuing purposes of annexation and seeking considerable reparations. Our policy was of service not only to the Russian people but also to the subjects of the central powers, whose soldiers were deceived by successive assurances from their diplomats that Germany and Austria only desired to end the war as soon as possible. The Soviet delegation at first refused to subscribe to the German conditions and at the same time declared that Russia would not continue the war. Only when the Germans launched a new offensive did the Soviet government sign the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk. But if the material victory rested with Germany and Austria, the Soviet delegation carried away the moral victory.

Despite the refusal of the Allies to negotiate peace at the same time with Russia, Soviet diplomacy sought to avoid a break with them and to keep the Germans within the limits of the treaty they had imposed. Since Germany compelled us to recognize and conclude peace with the “People’s Republic of the Ukraine” which had already become a monarchist government with the aid of German bayonets, we attempted in the course of the negotiations with the Ukraine to fix a line of demarcation between the Russian army, then made up of a mixture of detachments of Red volunteers and the remainder of the old army, and the German armies.

The present writer, as head of a delegation which went in the month of April 1918, first to Kursk and then to Kiev, was charged with the responsibility of conducting these discussions. But in spite of every effort, I was unable to get a line of demarcation fixed except on one part of the front. The Germans never were willing to establish a line in the Rostov sector, and also reserved to themselves freedom to advance whenever they wished towards the Kuban and Baku.

At the same time our ambassador at Berlin, Joffe, as well as our Commissariat of Foreign Affairs at whose head was Chicherin, were trying to establish a modus vivendi on the basis of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk.

Although Germany had very definite purposes with regard to the Soviet power, she did not enjoy a freedom of action sufficient to permit her fully to realize her plans. She was engaged in the struggle against the Allies; and while she was working for the collapse of Soviet power, she was also attempting to profit, especially from an economic point of view, by the relations between the two countries. This explains why both at Berlin, where Joffe represented the Soviet, and at Kiev, where for five months I dealt with the Ukrainian government (which was nothing but a screen for Germany) and with the German ambassador Baron Mumm and the German generals, we were able to take advantage of the difficult strategic and political position of Germany in order to maintain a state of comparative peace.

We have succeeded in maintaining and consolidating our position in Russia because we have pursued a programme comprising four points: solution of the agrarian problem, the labour problem, and the nationality problem, and finally a policy of peace in contrast to the policy of conquest of Russian tsarism. We came into power partly as a result of the protest of the peoples of old Russia against the world war, of which the tsarist imperialistic policy was one of the causes; and we are forced to seek peace as a primary necessity for the solution of the political and social problems on which depends the welfare of our working classes. This will require sacrifices for several generations, and automatically will exclude any aggressive or warlike spirit. The description of the Union of Soviets as an economic state expresses a truth, in that the problems facing the Soviet government are all of an internal character, economic, intellectual and social. Its economic functions predominate over its administrative functions because it controls the means of transport, a large part of industry, foreign trade, credit and banking, and consequently is responsible for the conditions of agriculture. In a war, it is the Soviet government itself which must suffer in its capacities as business promoter, manufacturer, banker and merchant.

I have set apart the case of Rumania. There remains a cause of division between us and Rumania, which prevents the conclusion of the same sort of accord that we are discussing with our other neighbours. The circumstances in which Rumania annexed Bessarabia are well-known. Russia, it also is well known, never was consulted regarding the fate of her former province. In March 1918, the Premier of the Rumanian government, General Averescu, who is now in power again, signed a treaty with the present writer, as representative of the Soviet government, obligating Rumania to evacuate Bessarabia in two months. Taking advantage later of the fact that the Germans had occupied part of our territory, and of German support since at the time General Mackensen was occupying Rumania, and also of the irresolution of the Allies in seeking to bolster up their coalition by conceding Bessarabia to Rumania, the Rumanians proclaimed themselves the masters of Bessarabia. We remember that the United States never recognized this act of violence.

The policy of the Soviet government concerning the Bessarabian question is not to claim that Bessarabia should belong to the Union of Soviets, although this former Turkish province had only 200,000 inhabitants at the time when Russia conquered it and had 3,000,000 inhabitants at the time when it was annexed by Rumania, to whom it never had belonged. But we demanded at the Vienna Conference between Rumania and ourselves in 1924, and we are justified in demanding, that the population of Bessarabia itself be consulted. Rumania rejected a plebiscite. The people of Bessarabia, who were on the side of the Allies, are refused the rights which the Allies accorded to Germany in the question of Upper Silesia. Of course, a plebiscite should be conducted under conditions guaranteeing its genuineness. The Rumanian army and officials should leave Bessarabia.

Our policy in Asia finds its inspiration in the constitution of the Union of Soviets, which we regard as a model of political equality between different races. It even goes so far as to admit the right of nations entering into the Union to leave it of their own free will without securing the consent of other members of the Union. And we do not apply our logic to ourselves alone; we act in the interest of conserving our institutions by applying in our policy in Asia this principle of “self-determination” – an American principle, by the way, transported to Europe by the Frenchmen who took part in the American War of Independence.

Last updated on 16.10.2011