Leon Trotsky

The International
Will the Allies Throw Away the Last Chance?

(January 1918)

Source: L Trotsky, “The International. Will the Allies Throw Away the Last Chance?,” The Call, 10 January 1918, p.3;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.

The following material appeared in the British Socialist weekly paper The Call in January 1918. It is not altogether well translated but is clearly an important political document of the time.

The following pronouncement by L. Trotsky, the People’s Commissioner for Foreign Affairs in the Russian Government, was transmitted through the wireless stations of the Russian Government on December 29th. On Friday, January 4th, extracts were released for publication. The first paragraph appeared, and on the evening of that day the Liberal organs in the Press were demanding the reason for withholding the information for five days. The Press was, and apparently is still, without knowledge of the fact that the paragraphs published were but excerpts from a document of profound world importance.


The peace negotiations at Brest-Litovsk, between the delegation of the Russian Republic and the delegations of Germany, Austria-Hungary, Turkey, and Bulgaria are interrupted for ten days till January 8th, with the purpose of giving the Allied countries the last possibility of taking part in the subsequent negotiations and of securing themselves against all consequences of a separate peace between Russia and the enemy countries. Two programmes have been formulated at Brest-Litovsk. The first expresses the views of the All Russian Congress of the Workmen’s, Soldiers’ and Peasants’ Deputies. The second is in the name of the Governments of Germany and its Allies.

The programme of the Russian Government is the programme of an ultimate Socialistic democracy. This programme has for its object the creation of such conditions, first, that every nationality, independently of its strength and the level of its general evolution, should have complete freedom for its national progress, and, secondly, that all the people should be united in economical and cultural cooperation.

The programme of the Governments of the countries at war with us is characterised by the declaration that the Allied Powers (Germany, Austro-Hungary, Turkey and Bulgaria) have not in view the forcible annexation of territories occupied during the war; that is to say, that the enemy countries are ready – in accordance with a peace treaty – to clear themselves away from the now occupied territories of Belgium, the Northern Departments of France, Serbia, Montenegro, Rumania, Poland, Lithuania, and Courland with the purpose that the future destinies of territories the nature of whose Governments is a matter of contest should be settled by the respective populations themselves. This step, which the enemy Governments are taking under the pressure of circumstances and chiefly under the pressure of their own labouring classes to meet the demands of Democracy, consists in the renouncing of new violent annexations and indemnities.

But, renouncing new annexations, the enemy Governments have they idea that the old annexations and the old violence, over the people are sanctioned by historical prescription. This means that the destinies of Alsace-Lorraine, Transylvania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and so on, upon the one side, and of Ireland, Egypt, India, Indo-China, and so on, on the other side, should not be subject to revision. Such a programme is profoundly inconsequent, and represents a compromise resting on no basis of principle between the pretensions of Imperialism and the demands of the Labouring Democracy. Nevertheless, the submission of such a programme is a big step forward.

The Governments of the Allied peoples (those in alliance with Russia) have not joined in the peace negotiations up to the present, and they have sternly refused to state clearly the reasons for their attitude. It is impossible now to affirm that the war is for freeing Belgium, the Northern Departments of France, Serbia, and so on, because Germany and her Allies are expressing their willingness to withdraw from these territories if a general peace is concluded.

Now that the enemies have declared their peace conditions it is impossible to solve the existing difficulties by general expressions as to the necessity of carrying the war onto the end. It is necessary to state clearly what is the peace programme of France, Italy, Great Britain, and the United States. Are they asking, like ourselves, that the right of the determination of their own destinies should be given to the peoples of Alsace-Lorraine, Galicia, Posen, Bohemia, and South Slavonia? If they are doing so, are they willing also to recognise the right to the determination of their own destinies in the case of the peoples of Ireland, Egypt, India, Madagascar, Indo-China, and other countries, just as under the Russian Revolution this right has been given to the peoples of Finland, Ukrainia, White Russia, and other districts? It is clear that the demand that the right of self-determination be given to peoples who are a part of the enemy States, and to refuse this right to peoples of their own States or their own colonies would mean the putting forward of the programme of the most cynical imperialism

If the Governments of the Allied countries would express their readiness, together with the Russian Government, to found a peace upon the complete and unconditional recognition of the principle of self-determination for all peoples in all States, if they would begin by the giving of this right to the oppressed peoples of their own States, this would create such international conditions that when the inherently contradictory programmes, of Germany, and especially Austro-Hungary, were shown in all their weakness objection would be overcome by the pressure of all the interested peoples. But up to the present, the Allied Governments have in no way shown, and, in view of their class character, they could not show, their readiness to accept a really democratic peace. They are not less suspicious and hostile in regard to the principle of national self-determination than are the Governments of Germany and Austro-Hungary. Upon this point the awakened proletariat of the Allied countries have as few illusions as ourselves. With the existing attitude of the Governments, all that is possible is that the programme of Imperialistic compromise, which is the basis of the peace conditions of Germany should be met by another programme of Imperialistic compromise or the war be continued. But now, when at Brest-Litovsk two programmes are before us, it becomes necessary to give a clear and categorical reply. Ten days were given for the continuation of the peace negotiations. Russia is not depending in these negotiations upon having the agreement of the Allied Governments. If these continue to be opposed to a general peace, the Russian delegation will nevertheless continue the peace negotiations. A separate peace signed by Russia undoubtedly will be a severe blow to the Allied countries, first of all to France, and to Italy. The provision of the inevitable consequences of a separate peace must determine the policy not only of Russia, but also of France and Italy, and all the other Allied countries. The Russian Government has striven all the time for a general peace. Nobody can deny the importance of the results obtained in this respect, but as to the future, all depends upon the Allied peoples themselves. To force their own Governments to state immediately their peace programmes and to participate in the peace negotiations has become a matter of national self-preservation with the various Allied peoples. The Russian Revolution has opened the way to an immediate general peace on the basis of agreement. If the Allied Governments are willing to make use of the last opportunity, general negotiations could be started immediately in one of the neutral countries. In these negotiations, with the conditions that there should be complete publicity, the Russian Delegation would continue to defend the programme of International Socialistic Democracy as opposed to the Imperialistic programme of the Governments, Allied and enemy alike. The success of our programme will depend upon the degree in which the will of the Imperialistic classes will be paralysed by the work of the Revolutionary proletariat in every country. If the Allied Governments with the blind tenacity which is characteristic of decadent perishing classes again refuse to take part in peace negotiations, then the working classes will be placed under the iron necessity of grasping the authority from the hands of those who cannot, or will not, give peace to the peoples.

In these ten days the destinies of hundreds of thousands and of millions of human lives will be settled. If on the French and Italian fronts an armistice is not concluded before there is a new offensive, irrational, pitiless and useless, like all those that have preceded, will demand new and incalculable sacrifices on both sides. This war, begun by the dominating classes, logically is leading to the complete destruction of European nations. But the people will live, and they have the right to live. They must overthrow all those who are not permitting them to live freely. Addressing the Governments with the present proposal to take part in peace negotiations, we promise every support to the working classes of every country which will rise against their own national Imperialists, chauvinists and militarists, under the banner of peace, the brotherhood of people, and the Socialist reconstruction of society.

(Signed) L. TROTSKY,
People’s’ Commissioner for Foreign Affairs.

MANIFESTO of the International Zimmerwald Socialist Commission and the Foreign Representatives of the Executive Committee of the Bolsheviks: –

“Men and women workers! On November 7th, in Petrograd, the workers and soldiers won a victory over the Government of capitalists and landowners. .... As you read this manifesto, the Baltic fleet, the army in Finland and the vast majority of the soldiers at the front and in the rear are ranged under the flag of the Government of the Workers’ and Soldiers’ Councils. The Government just hurled from power, and which had been set up by the people on the ruins of Tsarism, trod under foot the popular interests; raised the price of bread in the interests of the landowners.; left the war profiteers untouched; gave the masses courts-rnartial instead of freedom; made no attempt to enter into peace negotiations, but continued to drive the soldiers and workers to war, as the hostages of the Allied capitalist classes. The workers and soldiers of Petrograd drove out this Government, as they had previously driven out the Tsar. Their first word is Peace. They demand an immediate armistice, immediate peace negotiations, which must lead to the conclusion of an honourable peace without annexations or contributions, and on the basis of the right of every nation to decide its own fate. Men and women workers! Red Petrograd is appealing to you – to you, before whom stands the spectre of a fourth war winter; with his ice-cold hands outstretched towards your sons, fathers and brothers. The next word lies with you.

“However courageous the Russian workers and soldiers may, be, they cannot, alone, win bread, freedom or peace. The capitalists, landowners and generals of Russia, all the forces of exploitation and oppression, will use every effort to drown the Workers’ and Soldiers’ Revolution in blood. They will attempt to cut off the supply of foodstuffs to the towns; and they will egg on the Cossacks against the Revolution. This internal foe is not the only deadly danger threatening the pacifist policy of the Russian Revolution. The Governments of the Central Powers, as those of the Allies, are enemies of the Russian Revolution, for the latter paves the way for the liberation of the masses the world over. The Central Powers may attempt to take advantage of civil war to gain new victories, thereby strengthening the waning will of their peoples to continue the war. The Entente countries will help the counter-revolutionaries with money. Workers of all countries – it is a question of your own vital interests, of your own blood!

“If the Russian Revolution is defeated by the combined efforts of Russian and foreign capital, the capitalist classes will drag you from one battlefield to the other, until you are bled to death. We appeal, not for words of sympathy, but for real help in the fight. Rise in your might, go forth into the streets, exert pressure on your Government by every means at your disposal. There must not be a fourth winter campaign. Do not accept high-sounding peace-loving phrases. Judge each Government in accordance with its readiness to conclude an immediate armistice on all fronts; in accordance with its readiness to enter into negotiations and to conclude peace.

“We invite the representatives of all parties which intend to take part in this struggle for peace to Stockholm. Make insistent and energetic demands for passports, demand the liberation of imprisoned comrades who enjoy the confidence of the International proletariat, so that they, too, may take part in the work for peace. Let us have a speedy armistice! Let not another shot be heard! Forward for peace negotiations! Rise for the struggle for peace based on the free desires of all the peoples! Long live the international solidarity of the proletariat! Long live Socialism!”