Leon Trotsky

The War and the International

(The Bolsheviks and World Peace)

Transcribed for the Trotsky Internet Archive,
now part of the Marxists’ Internet Archive,
by David Walters in 1996


The War and the International Index

Introduction, by Lincoln Steffens



by Lincoln Steffens

THE voice that speaks in this book is the voice of Leon Trotzky, the Bolshevik Minister of Foreign Affairs for Revolutionary Russia. [1] It is expressing ideas and views which lighted him on the course of his policy toward the War, Peace and the Revolution. It throws light, therefore, on that policy; it helps to an understanding of it, if one wishes to understand. But that isn’t all. The spirit that flames and casts shadows upon these pages is not only Trotzky’s. It is the spirit also of the Bolsheviki; of the red left of the left wing of the revolutionary movement of New Russia. It flashed from Petrograd to Vladivostok, in the first week of the revolt; it burned all along the Russian front before Trotzky appeared on the scene. It will smoulder long after he is gone. It is a hot Fact which has to be picked up and examined, this spirit Whether we like it or don’t, it is there; in Russia; it is elsewhere; it is everywhere today. It is the spirit of war; class war, but war. It is in this book.

Nor is that all.

The mind in this book – the point of view from which it starts, the views to which it points – Trotzky’s mind is the international mind. We have heard before of this new intelligence; we have read books, heard speeches, witnessed acts demonstrative of thoughts and feelings which are not national, but international; not patriotic, but loyal only to the lower-class-conscious war aims of the workers of the world. The class warrior is as familiar a figure to us as the red spirit is of the red left of revolution. But the voice which utters here the spirit and the mind, not only of the Russian, but of the world revolution is the voice of one having authority.

And Trotzky, in power, has been as red as he is in this book. The minister of foreign affairs practiced in Petrograd what he preached in Switzerland, where he wrote: most of the chapters of his book. And he practiced also what all the other great International Socialist leaders talked and wrote.

That’s what makes him so hard to understand, him and his party and the Bolshevik policy. We are accustomed to the sight of Socialists and Radicals going into office and being “sobered by the responsibilities of power.” French and Italian Socialists in the Liberal ministries of their countries; British Labor leaders in Parliament in England or in the governments of their Colonies; and the whole Socialist party in Germany and Austria (except Liebknecht in prison) – all are examples of the effect of power upon the International Mind. The phenomenon of compromise and surrender is so common that many radicals oppose the taking of any responsible office by any member of their parties; and some of the extremists are advocating no political action whatsoever, nothing but industrial, economic or what they call “direct action.” (Our IWW’s don’t vote, on principle. [2]) This is anarchism.

Leon Trotzky is not an anarchist; except in the ignorant sense of the word as used by educated people. He is a Socialist; an orthodox Marxian Socialist. But he has seen vividly the danger of political power. The body of this book was addressed originally to the German and Austrian Socialists, and it is a reasoned, but indignant reproach of them for letting their political position and their nationalistic loyalty carry them away into an undemocratic, patriotic, political policy which betrayed the weaker nations in their empires, helped break up the Second (Socialist) International and led the Socialist parties into the support of the War.

Clear upon it, Trotzky himself does not illustrate his own thesis. He not only detests intellectually the secrecy and the sordid wickedness of the “old diplomacy”; when he came as minister into possession of the archives of the Russian Foreign Office, he published the secret treaties.

That hurt. And so with the idea of a people’s peace. All the democratic world hid been talking ever since the War began of a peace made, not by diplomats in a private room, but by the chosen representatives of all the peoples meeting in an open congress. The Bolsheviki worked for that from the moment the Russian Revolution broke; and they labored for the Stockholm Conference [3] while Paul Milyukov and Alexander Kerensky were negotiating with the allied governments. When the Bolsheviki succeeded to power, Lenine and Trotzky formally authorized and officially proposed such a congress. Moreover Trotzky showed that they were willing, if they could, to force the other countries to accept the people’s peace conference.

This hurt. This hurt so much that the governments united in extraordinary measures to prevent the event. And when they succeeded, and it was seen that no people’s peace could be made openly and directly, Trotzky proceeded by another way to get to the same end. He opened negotiations with the Kaiser’s government and allies; arranged an armistice and agreed tentatively upon terms of peace.

This act not only hurt; it stunned the world, and no wonder! It was like a declaration of war against a whole world at war. It was unbelievable. The only explanation offered was that Trotzky and Lenine were pro-German or dishonest, or both, and these things were said in high places; and they were said with conviction, too. Moreover this conviction colored, if it did not determine, the attitude the Allies took toward New Russia and the peace proposals Trotzky got from the German government. Was this assumption of the dishonesty of Trotzky the only explanation of his act?

This book shows, as I have said, that Trotzky saw things from the revolutionary, international point of view, which is not that of his judges; which is incomprehensible to them. He wrote it after the War began; he finished the main part of it before the Russian Revolution. It is his view of the War, its causes and its effects, especially upon international Socialism and “the” Revolution. These are the things he holds in his mind all through all these pages: “the” Revolution and world democracy. Also I have shown that, like the Russians generally, his mind is literal. The Russians mean what they say, exactly; and Trotzky not only means, he does what he writes. Putting these considerations together, we can make a comprehensible statement of the motive and the purpose of his policy; if we want to comprehend.

To all the other secretaries of state or of foreign affairs in the world, the Russian Revolution was an incident, an interruption of the War. To Minister Trotzky it was the other way around.

The World War was an incident, an effect, a check of “the” Revolution. Not the Russian Revolution, you understand. To Trotzky the Russian Revolution is but one, the first of that series of national revolutions which together will become the Thing he yearns for and prophesies: the World Revolution.

His peace policy therefore is a peace drive directed, not at a separate peace with the Central Powers; and not even at a general peace, but to an ending of the War in and by “the” Revolution everywhere.

Especially in Germany and Austria. He said this. The correspondent of the London Daily News cabled on January 2, right after the armistice and the agreement upon peace terms to be offered the Allies, that “Trotzky is doing his utmost to stimulate a revolution in Germany ... Our only chance to defeat German designs is to publish terms (from the Allies) ... to help the democratic movement in Germany.”

Trotzky is not pro-German. He certainly was not when he wrote this book. He hates here both the Austrian and the German dynasties, and his ill-will toward the House of Hapsburg is so bitter that it sounds sometimes as if there were something personal about it. And there is. He shows a knowledge of and a living sympathy with the small and subject nations which Austria rules, exploits and mistreats. He blames his Austrian comrades for their allegiance to a throne which is not merely undemocratic, but “senile” and tyrannical. That he, the literal Trotzky, would turn right around and, as the Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs, do what he had so recently criticized the Austrian Socialists for doing is unlikely.

Trotzky is against all the present governments of Europe, and the “bourgeois system” everywhere in the world. He isn’t pro-Allies; he isn’t even pro-Russian. He isn’t a patriot at all. He is for a class, the proletariat, the working people of all countries, and he is for his class only to get rid of classes and get down or up to – humanity. And so with his people.

The Russians have listened to the Socialist propaganda for generations now. They have learned the chief lessons it has taught: liberty, land, industrial democracy and the class-war the world over. This War was not their war; it was the Czar’s war; a war of the governments in the interest of their enemies, the capitalists of their several countries, who, as Trotzky says, were forcing their states to fight for the right to exploit other and smaller peoples. So when they overthrew the Czar, the Russians wanted to drop his war and go into their own, the class war. Kerensky held them at the front in the name of “the” Revolution; he would get peace for them by arrangement with the allies. He didn’t; he couldn’t; he was dismissed by them. Not by the Bolsheviki, but by the Russian people who know the three or four things they want: land and liberty at home; the Revolution and Democracy for all the world.

I heard a radical assert one day that that was the reason Trotzky could be such an exception to the rule about radicals in power. He came to the head of the Russian Revolution when his ideas were the actual demands of the Russian people and that it was not his strength of character, but the force of a democratic public opinion in mob power, which made him stick to his philosophy and carry out his theories and promises. I find upon inquiry here in New York that while he was living and working as a journalist on the East Side [4], he refused to write for any paper to the editorial policy of which he could not conform. He would not compromise. He was “stiffnecked,” “obstinate,” “unreasonable.” In other, kinder words, Trotzky is a strong man, with a definite mind and a purpose of his own, which he has the will and the nerve to pursue.

Also, however, Trotzky is a strong man who is ruled by and represents a very simple-minded people who are acting like him, literally upon the theory that the people govern now, in Russia; the common people; and that, since they don’t like the War of the Czar, the Kaiser, the Kings and the Emperors, their government should make peace with the peoples of the world, a democratic peace against imperialism and capitalism and the state everywhere, for the establishment in its stead of a free, worldwide democracy.

That may be the true explanation of Trotzky’s Bolshevik peace policy in the world crisis of the World War. That is the explanation which is suggested by this book.

”Written in extreme haste,” he says at the close of his preface, “under conditions far from favorable to systematic work ... the entire book, from the first page to the last, was written with the idea of the New International constantly in mind – the New International which must rise out of the present world cataclysm, the International of the last conflict and the final victory.”


Lincoln Steffens
New York, January 4th, 1918


1. In the first allocation of commissariats after the October Insurrection Trotsky was appointed Commissar of Foreign Affairs. He resigned at the end of February 1918 after the Brest crisis. The next month he was appointed Commissar for War.

2. The Industrial Workers of the World, a militant syndicalist union, formed in 1905. Members included Eugene V. Debs, Daniel De Leon, Big Bill Haywood, John Reed, James P. Cannon, James Connolly, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn and Mother Jones.

3. The Stockholm Peace Conference was the last of the Zimmerwald series and took place in 1917. The Bolsheviks boycotted it.

4. Trotsky was in New York from 13th January 1917 to 27th March 1917.

Glossary of Names

Kerensky, Alexander (1881–1970): Russian Socialist. Elected to 4th Duma in 1912 as Trudovik, a moderate left-wing group. Emerged during February Revolution 1917 as leader of moderate wing of the Socialist Revolutionaries. Minister of Justice in 1st Provisional Government. Minister of War from May 1917. Prime Minister from Juloy and Supreme Commander-in-Chief of the Army after Kornilov Coup. After overthrow of Provisional Government in the October Revolution lived in exile in Paris, Australia and the USA.

Liebknecht, Karl (1871–1919): Left Wing German Social Democrat. Member German Reichstag and Prussian Landtag. Anti-militarist. He was the first, and at first only, Deputy to oppose war credits in the Reichstag in 1914. Drafted during the war, he was imprisoned for anti-war activity, May 1916 to November 1918. Leader International Group and later, Spartacus League. One of the leaders of the Berlin uprising 1919. Assassinated by counter-revolutionary soldiers, January 15th 1919, with Rosa Luxemburg.

Luxemburg, Rosa (1870–1919): Polish Socialist. Joined German Social Democracy 1897. With Karl Liebknecht led Left Wing. Brilliant theoretician (Lenin called her “an eagle”). Imprisoned many times for anti-war activity. Leader of the “Spartacists” and founder of the German Communist Party. Assassinated by reactionary officers January 15th, 1919.

Milyukov, Pavel (1859–1943): Russian historian and liberal politician. Founder of Constitutional Democrat Party (Kadets). After February Revolution, Minister for Foreign Affairs in 1st Provisional Government. Forced out of government in May 1917. After October Revolution advised various counter-revolutionary White movement. Lived in exile in France.

Steffens, Lincoln (1866–1936): American journalist. Came into prominence with his exposure of St. Louis in McClure’s Magazine in October 1902. Theodore Roosevelt borrowing the description from the Pilgrim’s Progress called him a “muckraker”. Visited Russia in May 1917, and was enthusiastic about the Revolution. In his last years was also enthusiastic about Mussolini.

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Last updated on: 23 July 2018