Leon Trotsky


Peace and Reaction

(May 1917)

In a session of the National Duma held March 3, 1916 M. Miliukov replied as follows to a Criticism from the left: “I do not know for certain whether the government is leading us to defeat – but I do know that a revolution in Russia will unquestionably lead us to a defeat, and our enemies, therefore, have good reason to thirst for it. If anyone should say to me that to organize Russia for victory is equivalent to organizing her for revolution, I should answer: It is better, for the duration of the war, to leave her unorganized, as she is.” This quotation is interesting in two ways. It is not only a proof that, as late as last year, M. Miliukov considered pro-German interests to be at work not in internationalism alone, but in any revolution at all; it is also a typical expression of liberal sycophancy. Extremely interesting is M. Miliukov’s prediction: “I know that revolution in Russia will unquestionably lead us to defeat.” Why this certainty? As an historian, M. Miliukov must know that there have been revolutions that led to victory. But as an imperialist statesman, M. Miliukov cannot help seeing that the idea of the conquest of Constantinople, Armenia and Galicia is not capable of arousing the spirit of the revolutionary masses. M. Miliukov felt, and even knew, that in his war, revolution could not bring victory with it.

To be sure, when the revolution broke out M. Miliukov at once attempted to harness it to the chariot of allied imperialism. That is the reason why he was greeted with delight by the sonorous, metallic reverberations of all the bank-vaults of London, Paris and New York. But this attempt met with the almost instinctive resistance of the workers and the soldiers. M. Miliukov was thrown out of the Ministry: the Revolution evidently, did not mean victory for him.

Miliukov went, but the war remained. A coalition government was formed, consisting of petty bourgeois democrats and those representatives of the bourgeoisie that had hitherto concealed, for a time, their imperialist claws. Perhaps nowhere did this combination display its counter-revolutionary character better than in the domain of international politics, that is, above all, in the war. The big bourgeoisie sent its representatives to the cabinet in the name of “an offensive on the front and unalterable fidelity to our allies” (resolution of the Cadet Conference). The petty bourgeois democrats, who call themselves “Socialists”, entered the Cabinet in order, “without tearing themselves away” from the big bourgeoisie and their world allies, to conclude the war in the quickest possible manner and with the least possible offence to all the participants: without annexations, without indemnities and contributions, and even with a guarantee of national self-determination.

The capitalist ministers renounced annexations, until a more favourable time; in return for this purely verbal concession they received from their petty bourgeois democratic colleagues a binding promise not to desert the ranks of the allies, to reinvigorate the army and make it capable of resuming the offensive. In renouncing Constantinople (for the moment) the imperialists were making a rather worthless sacrifice, for, in the course of three years of war, the road to Constantinople had become not shorter, but longer. But the democrats, to compensate the purely platonic renunciation of a very doubtful Constantinople by the Liberals, took over the whole heritage of the Czarist government, recognized all the treaties which that government had concluded, and put all the authority and prestige of the revolution in the service of discipline and the offensive. This bargain involved, first of all, a renunciation, on the part of the “leaders” of the Revolution, of any such thing as an independent international policy: this conclusion was only natural to the petty bourgeois party, which when it was in the majority, willingly surrendered all its power. Having handed over to Prince Lvov the duty of creating a revolutionary administration; to M. Shingariev the task of re-making the finances of the Revolution, to M. Konovalov, that of organizing industry; petty bourgeois democracy could not help handing over to Messrs. Ribot, Lloyd George and Wilson the charge of the international interests of revolutionary Russia.

Even though the Revolution, in its present phase, has not therefore altered the character of the war, it has nevertheless exerted a profound influence on the living agent of the war, namely, the army. The soldier began asking himself what it was for which he was shedding his blood, upon which he now set a higher price than under Czarism. And immediately the question of the secret treaties came up and became imperative. To restore the “preparedness” of the army under these circumstances meant breaking up the revolutionary-democratic resistance of the soldiers, putting to sleep again their newly-awakened political sense, and, until the “revision” of the old treaties should be announced as a principle, placing the revolutionary army in the service of the same old objects. This task was more than a match for the Octobrist-Bourbon Guchkov, who broke down under it. Nothing less than a “socialist” would do for this purpose. And he was found in the person of the “most popular” of the ministers, Kerensky.

Citizen Kerensky exposed his theoretical equipment at one of the first sessions of the All-Russian Congress. One can hardly imagine anything more insipid than his provincial, complacent truisms on the French Revolution and on Marxism. Citizen Kerensky’s political formulas were characterized neither by originality nor by depth. But he possesses, indisputably, the talent of bestowing on Philistine reaction the necessary revolutionary trimmings. In the person of Kerensky the intelligent and semi-intelligent bourgeoisie recognized themselves, in more “representative” form, and in surroundings which are not those of everyday, but rather the trappings of melodrama.

By lavishly exploiting his popularity in accelerating the preparedness for an offensive (on the entire imperialistic front of the Allies), Kerensky naturally becomes the darling of the possessing classes. Not only does Minister of Foreign Affairs Tereschenko express himself approvingly of the high esteem in which our Allies hold the “labours”of Kerensky; not only does Riech, which so severely criticizes the Ministers of the Left, continually emphasize its favouritism toward the Minister of the Army and Navy, Kerensky – but even Rodzianko considers it his duty to point out “the noble, patriotic endeavours” which our Minister of the Army and Navy, Kerensky, is engaged in: “this young man” (to quote the words of Rodzianko, the Octobrist Chairman of the Duma) “experiences (?) daily a new lease of life, for the benefit of his country and of constructive work.” Which glorious circumstance does not, however, in any way prevent Rodzianko from hoping that when the “constructive work” of Kerensky shall have attained the proper eminence, it may be succeeded by Ouchkov’s labours instead.

Meanwhile, Tereschenko’s Department of Foreign Affairs is endeavouring to persuade the Allies to sacrifice their imperialist appetites on the altar of revolutionary democracy. It would be difficult to imagine any undertaking more fruitless, and – in spite of all the tragic humiliation of it – more ridiculous than this! When M. Tereschenko in the manner of the provincial newspaper editorial of the democratic variety, endeavours to explain to the hardened ring-leaders of the international plunderbund that the Russian Revolution is really a “powerful intellectual movement, expressive of the will of the Russian people in its struggle for equality,” etc., etc. – when he furthermore “does not doubt” that “a close union between Russia and her allies (the hardened ring-leaders of the international plunderbund) will assure in the fullest measure an agreement on all the questions involved in the principles proclaimed by the Russian Revolution,” it is difficult to free one’s self from a feeling of disgust at this medley of impotence, hypocrisy and stupidity.

The bourgeoisie secured for itself, in this document of Tereschenko’s, it appears, all the decisive words: “unfaltering fidelity to the general cause of the allies,”“inviolability of the agreement not to make a separate peace,”and a postponement of the revision of the aims of the war until “a favourable opportunity”; which amounts to asking the Russian soldier, until this “favourable opportunity” arrives, to shed his blood for those same imperialist aims of the war which it seems so undesirable to publish, so undesirable to revise. And Tseretelli’s whole political horizon is revealed in the complacent smugness with which he recommended to the attention of the All-Russian Congress this diplomatic document in which “there is clear and open speech, in the language of a revolutionary government, concerning the strivings of the Russian Revolution.” One thing cannot be denied: the cowardly and impotent appeals addressed to Lloyd George and Wilson are couched in the same terms as the appeals of the Soviet Executive Committee addressed to Albert Thomas, the Scheidemanns and the Hendersons. In both there is all along the line an identity of purpose, and – who knows? – perhaps even an identity of authorship. [1]

A perfect appreciation of these latest diplomatic notes of the Tereschenko-Tseretelli combination we shall find in a place where we might at first not expect to find it, namely, in L’Entente, a newspaper published in French in Petrograd, and the organ of those very Allies to whom Tereschenko and Chernov swear an “unfaltering allegiance”. “We readily admit,” says this paper, “that in diplomatic circles the appearance of this note was awaited with a certain concern ...”

In fact it is not easy, as this official organ admits, to find a formulation of the conflicting aims of the Allies.

“As far as Russia is concerned, particularly, the position of the Provisional Government was rather delicate and full of danger. On the one hand, it was necessary to reckon with the standpoint of the Council of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Delegates, and, as far as possible, to represent this standpoint: on the other hand, it was necessary to handle with kid gloves the international relations and the friendly powers, upon whom it was impossible to force the decision of the Council.”

“And the Provisional Government has come out of the quandary shining and stainless ...”

In the document before us, therefore, we have the main points of the revolutionary catechism set down, registered and sealed with the authority of the Provisional Government. There is no lack of any essential. All the lovely dreams, all the fine words of the dictionary, are properly mobilized. You will find there equality, liberty and justice in international relations – Donc tout yest [“everything is there” – Ed.] at least in words. The reddest of the comrades can make no reply; from this quarter the Provisional Government has nothing to fear ...

“But – how about the Allies?” asks L’Entente. “With the aid of close study and reading between the lines (!), with the aid of goodwill and friendship for the young Russian democracy, the Allies will be able to find at various points in the note certain pleasant words which are of a nature to reassure their somewhat waning confidence. They well know that the position of the Provisional Government is not an easy one, and that its efforts in prose must not be taken too literally ... The fundamental guarantee that the Government gives to the Allies consists in the fact that the agreement signed at London on September 5, 1914 (pledging no separate peace) is not to be revised. That completely satisfies us for the present.”

And us too. As a matter of fact it would be difficult to utter a more contemptuous judgement on the Tereschenko-Tseretelli “prose” than that published by the official L’Entente, which draws its inspiration from the French Embassy. This estimate, which it is by no means unfriendly to Tereschenko or to those who stand behind him, is positively murderous to the “constructive labours” of Tseretelli, who has so warmly recommended to us the “plain, open language” of this document. “Nothing has been left out,” he swears before the Congress, “it will satisfy the conscience of the reddest comrades.”

But they are mistaken, these adepts in diplomatic prose: they don’t satisfy anybody. Isn’t it significant that the facts of actual life should answer the appeals of Kerensky and the remonstrances and threats of Tseretelli with such an awful blow as the revolt of the Black Sea sailors? We had been previously told that there among these sailors was Kerensky’s citadel, the home of the “patriotism” that demanded an offensive. The facts once more administered a merciless correction. By adhering to the position of the old imperialist agreements and obligations in external politics, and in internal politics, capitulating before the propertied classes, it was impossible to unite the army through a combination of revolutionary enthusiasm and discipline. And Kerensky’s “big stick” has fortunately thus far been too short.

No, this path, truly, leads nowhere.

May 1917



4. In the first flush of the Revolution, the moderates in the Soviets through the Executive Committee appealed to the Socialists and the proletariat of the belligerent countries to break with their imperialist governments; but gradually this revolutionary policy was abandoned, and the Executive Committee cooperated with the infamous gathering of the Social Patriots at Stockholm, against the protests of the Bolsheviks. It required only this to emphasize the non-revolutionary character of the Executive Committee, that they joined hands with Scheidemann, Albert Thomas of France, Henderson of England, and the other Social Patriots. Moderate Socialism acted as the commis voyageur [travelling salesman] of bourgeois diplomacy. One of the secret documents published after the Bolsheviks came to power shows the true character of the Stockholm Conference with which, by the way, the Independent Socialists of Germany refused to have any dealings: it is a telegram dated August 18th, 1917, from the Russian Ambassador in Stockholm to the Provisional Government, reporting a conversation with Branting, one of the social-patriotic organizers of the Conference, who declared that he was willing to drop the Conference if Kerensky considered it untimely and that Branting would use his influence with the Dutch-Scandinavian Committee to this end. The telegram concludes by asking secrecy, in order not to compromise Branting, as otherwise a valuable source of information would be lost. The Socialist Conference the willing tool of diplomacy! No wonder it was a miserable failure. – L.C.F.

Struggle for State Power Index

return return return return return

Last updated on: 11.12.2006