Delivered: November, 1917
Source: Leon Trotsky: What Is A Peace Programme, Lanka Samasamaja Publications, Colombo, Ceylon, May 1956, pp.22-27.
First Published: This speech by Leon Trotsky is reproduced from pp.315-318 of the volume The Proletarian Revolution in Russia by Lenin and Trotsky, edited by Louis C. Fraina and published in 1918 in New York.
Transcription/Mark-up for TIA: A. Lehrer/David Walters.
Proofreading: Einde O’Callaghan, December 2006.
The book is now a rarity, and, as far as we know, there is no other translation of this speech available. The title given to the speech is ours.
In his editorial note, Fraina says in part:
“The first move toward the conclusion of peace was the offer of the Soviet government to all belligerents to declare an armistice on all fronts and open general peace negotiations. A day or two after this offer was made, Leon Trotsky, Commissar of Foreign Affairs, delivered an address in Petrograd to an audience of 12,000 people ...”
In this building on November 5, I spoke to a popular meeting at which the question of an All-Russian Congress was being discussed, and all voices raised in favour of Soviet power. The question which has been most emphatically before the people in all the eight months of the Revolution is the question of war and peace, and we maintained that only a power basing its authority directly on the people could put an end to the slaughter. We maintained that the secret treaties must be published, and declared that the Russian people, not having made these treaties, could not be bound to carry out the conquests agreed upon therein. Our enemies answered that this was demagogy. You would never dare if you were in power, they said, to do this for then the Allies would oppose us. But we maintained that the salvation of Russia was in peace. We pointed out that the prolonged character of the war was destroying the Revolution, was exhausting and destroying the country and that the longer we should fight the more complete the slavish position we should then occupy so that at last we should merely be left the choice of picking a master.
We desire to live and develop as a free nation: but, for the conclusion of peace, we had to overthrow the power of the bourgeoisie and of Kerensky. They told us we would be left without any supporters. But on November 7, the local Soviet of Petrograd took the initiative upon itself, as well as the responsibility and with the aid of the garrison and the workers accomplished the coup d’etat, appeared before the Congress of Soviets then in session and said: “The old power in the country is broken, there is no authority, anywhere and we are obliged to take it into our own hands.” We have said that the first obligation devolving upon the new power is the offering of peace parleys on all fronts for the conclusion of a peace without annexations or indemnities on the basis of self-determination of peoples, that is, each people through popular elections, must speak for itself the decisive word: Do they wish to enter into a confederation with their present sovereign state, enjoying full autonomy under it or do they wish to separate themselves from it and have full independence?
We must put a stop to a condition in which the strong can, by force of arms, compel the weak to assume what conditions of life the strong may desire: every people, be it great or small, must be the master of its own fate. Now, this is the programme not of a party, not of a Soviet, but the whole people, excepting the predatory party which dares call itself the Party of Popular Liberty but which in reality is an enemy of popular liberty, fighting against peace with all its might. With the exception of this party, the whole Russian people has declared that it will not tolerate the use of force. And this is the spirit in which we issue our peace decree.
On the day on which we passed this decree, Krasnov’s Cossacks rebelled and danger threatened the very existence of the Soviet power. Yet, hardly had they been defeated and the Soviet power strengthened, than our first act was to turn to the Allied and German powers, simultaneously, with a proposition for peace parleys on all fronts. Our enemies, the Cadets and their appendages, said that Germany would ignore us – but it has turned out otherwise, “and we already have the assent of Germany and Austria-Hungary to the holding of peace parleys and preliminary peace on the Soviet formula. And even before that, as soon as we obtained the keys to the case of secret diplomatic correspondence, we published the secret treaties, thus fulfilling an obligation that we had assumed toward the people when we were still an insignificant opposition party. We said then and we say now that a people cannot shed their blood and that of their brothers for treaties that they have not themselves concluded, have never read or even seen. To these words of mine the adherents of coalition made reply: Do not speak to us in this tongue; this is not the Modern Circus.  And I answered them that I have only one tongue, the tongue of a socialist, and I shall speak in this tongue to the country and to you, to the Allies and the Germans.
To the adherents of the coalition, having the souls of hares, it seemed that to publish the secret treaties was equivalent to forcing England and France to declare war on us. But they did not understand that their ruling circles throughout the duration of the war have been talking the people into the idea that the treacherous, cruel enemy is Germany and that Russia is a noble land and it is impossible within twenty four hours to teach them the opposite. By publishing the secret treaties we have incurred the enmity of the governing classes in those countries but their peoples we have won to our support. We shall not make a diplomatic peace; it will be a people’s peace, a soldier’s peace, a real peace. And the outcome of our open policy was clear: Judson appeared at the Smolny Institute and declared, in the name of America, that the protest to the Dukhonin staff against the new power was a misunderstanding and that America had no desire to interfere in the internal affairs of Russia and, consequently, the American question is disposed of.
But there is another conflict that is not yet settled. I must tell you about it. Because of their fight for peace, the English Government has arrested and is now detaining in concentration camp George Chicherin , who had devoted his wealth and his knowledge to the peoples of Russia, England, Germany and France, and the courageous agitator of the English workers, the emigrant Petrov. I have communicated in writing with the English Embassy, saying that Russia was now permitting the presence within her borders of many wealthy Englishmen who are engaged in counter-revolutionary conspiracies with the Russian bourgeoisie and that we were therefore all the more disinclined to permit Russian citizens to be thrown into English prisons; that consequently all those against whom there were no criminal charges should be liberated at once. Failure to comply with this request will mean that we shall refuse passports to English subjects desiring to leave Russia. The People’s Soviet Power is responsible for the well-being of the entire people; wherever its citizens may be, they shall enjoy its protection. If Kerensky spoke to the Allies like a shop-attendant to his boss, we are prepared to show that we shall live with them only on terms of equality. WE have more than once said that anyone who counts on the support and friendship of the free and independent Russian people must approach them with respect for them and for their human dignity.
As soon as the Soviets found themselves with power in their hands, we proposed peace parleys in the name of the Russian people. We had a right to speak in the name of the people, for everything that we proposed, as well as the whole programme of the People’s Commissars, consists of doctrines and propositions voted on and passed in hundreds and thousands of Soviets, factories and works, that is, by the entire people. Our delegation will speak an open and courageous language: Do you agree to the holding of an immediate peace conference on all fronts? And if they say yes we shall ask them to invite their governments and allies to send their delegates. Our second question will be: Do you mean to conclude peace on a democratic foundation? If we are forced to make peace alone, we shall declare to Germany that it is inadmissible to withdraw their troops from the Russian front to some other front since we are making an honourable peace and cannot permit England and France to be crushed by reason of it.
Secret diplomacy shall not be tolerated for a single moment during the negotiations. Our flyers and our radio service will keep all the nations informed of every proposition we make, and of the answers they elicit from Germany. We shall be sitting in a glass house, as it were, and the German soldiers, through thousands of newspapers in German, which we shall distribute to them, will be informed of every step we take and of every German answer.
We say that Lithuania and Courland must themselves decide the question, with whom they will join forces and that Germany must not in words only but in deeds heed the free expression of the will of the peoples. And if, after these frank and honourable declarations, the Kaiser refuses to make peace, if the banks and exchanges which profit by the war destroy our peace, the nations will see on whose side is the right and we shall come out the stronger, the Kaiser and the financiers the weaker. We shall feel ourselves to be not the vanquished but the victors for peace hath its victories not less renowned than war. For a nation that has assumed power after having cast out its enemies, such a nation is victorious. We know no other interests than those of the people, but these interests are identical with the interests of the people of all nations.
We declare war upon war. The Czars are afraid of the conclusion of peace, are afraid that the people will ask for an accounting of all the great sacrifices they have made and all the blood they have shed. Germany, in agreeing to peace negotiations, is heeding the will of her people. She knows that they want her to answer and that if she does not answer the Russian Revolution will become the ally of the German people. France and England ought to come to the discussion on the conclusion of peace, but if they do not, their own peoples, who will know of the course of the transactions, will cast them out with rods. The Russian representatives at the peace table will be transformed into plaintiffs; the peoples will sit in judgement of their rulers. Our experience of the manner in which rulers have treated their peoples in the forty months of the war has not been wasted. “In your name”, we shall say to our brothers, “understand that the moment you turn your revolutionary strength against your bourgeoisie not one Russian soldier will shoot!” This promise will be given in your name and we shall keep it.
1. A large hall for mass meetings in Petrograd where this particular address of Trotsky was also delivered. – L.C.F.
2. Who was released and subsequently became Commissar of Foreign Affairs of the Soviet Government. – L.C.F.
Last updated on: 28.4.2007