Leon Trotsky

Peace Negotiations and the Revolution

(February 1918)

Originally written: circa February 1918
First Printing: 1920; by Louis Fraina
Source:Leon Trotsky: What Is A Peace Programme?, Lanka Samasamaja Publications, Colombo, Ceylon, June 1956, pp.28-31.
Translation: Louis C. Fraina.
Transcription/Mark-up for TIA: A. Lehrer/David Walters.

Publisher’s Note

In Louis C. Fraina’s edition of The Programme of Peace, the following article was included as Chapter 1. However, as is evident from the article itself, it was written after peace negotiations had begun, probably in February 1918, and therefore does not properly belong to the series written in Nashe Slovo in 1915-16. Our text follows pp.328-330 of The Proletarian Revolution in Russia, Louis C. Fraina (ed.), 1919.

Our adversaries accuse us, who stand on revolutionary internationalist ground, of having considered it possible to enter into peace negotiations with the monarchist and capitalist representatives of Germany, Austria and their allies. If this be a contradiction, it is brought about not by the inconsistency of our tactics but by the objective state of affairs in Europe. In Russia, the proletariat placed itself at the head of the state, whereas in the other warring countries the power of the state still remains in the hands of the capitalist classes, other bureaucracies and their monarchies. The negotiations of workers with capitalists during a strike do not at all contradict the principles of the class struggle. The same may be said of negotiations of a proletarian government with that of the bourgeoisie, as long as the people of Europe put up with such governments.

It is usually the same people who reproach us with “betraying” our allies and of “concluding peace” with the Central Powers. This reproach is founded on a quite different estimate both of the allied and of the enemy governments. The fact, however, is that we recognize, in principle, no difference in this respect. An understanding with the government of the German Kaiser weights as much in the scales of the policy of the international proletariat as the understanding with the governments of the King of Great Britain or of the Mikado. The national differences of state form and of diplomatic usage are completely moved to the background by the uniformity of the imperialist aims and the methods of the present world policies of the great powers. As to the small states, they play a purely passive role, compelled as they are to dangle in the trail of the great imperialist states and their groupings.

We must open negotiations with those governments which at present exist. However, we are conducting these negotiations in a way affording the public the fullest possibility of controlling the crimes of their governments, and so as to accelerate the rising of the working masses against the imperialist cliques. We are ready to support this uprising with all the forces at our command. The official and semi-official French patriots, who a few months ago supported Romanov against us, are now indignant at our negotiations with the Hohenzollerns. They very often summon against us the help of the spirits of their ancestors, the Jacobins, who conducted no negotiations with the “tyrants” but declared ruthless war against them.

This opposition, which aims at the glorifying of the petty bourgeois democracy of the 18th century at the expense of the proletarian democracy of the 20th century, is in every respect irrelevant.

Our revolution was directly generated by the war. In France, on the contrary, at the close of the 18th century the war was generated by the Revolution.

After the French masses, principally the peasantry, had achieved the greatest revolutionary conquests, the stress of feudal Europe forced them to defend these conquests by force of arms against the foreign enemy. The enthusiasm of the revolution passed immediately into the zeal of war, which only meant the conveyance of the revolution across its national borders.

Our people bled in the course of the last three years in the imperialist murder campaign, and the revolution became first of all a means of freeing them from the horrors and sufferings of the war. The Jacobin Revolution of 1792 had a feudal Europe against it. The proletarian revolution of 1917 faces an imperialist Europe, divided into two hostile camps. If to the “sanscullotte” the war was the direct continuation of the liberating revolution, then to the Russian soldier who has not yet left the trenches occupied by him for three years, the revolutionary war on an extensive scale would seem nothing else but a continuation of the preceding murder.

This by no means implies that we renounce the revolutionary war. On the contrary, we consider it the duty of the revolutionary classes to defend the cause of Socialism against the inner as well as the foreign class-enemies. Doubtless our revolutionary war can become popular provided there is an open revolutionary fight of the proletariat at last in one of the European countries. The powerful impulse which Europe has received from the Russian Revolution must now come back from Europe, thus materializing the thought of an international revolution in the consciousness of the working class of Russia, and supplying the stimulus to rouse them for a revolutionary war. We do not doubt for a moment that in a consequence of the present war, the workers of Europe will repeat the fight of the Russian proletariat, a month sooner or later, on more powerful, economic foundations and in a more perfect political form. If, in awaiting the imminent revolutionary flood in Europe, Russia should be forced to conclude peace with the present-day governments of the Central Powers, it would be a provisional, temporary, transitory peace with the revision which the European Revolution will have to concern itself in the first place.

Our whole policy is built on the calculation upon this revolution. The peace-programme, as submitted by us, can be fully accomplished only by overthrowing the capitalist governments. By realization of the democratic peace-programme, the present-day governments are all the more surely preparing their catastrophic collapse. Through our peace-negotiations we are trying to give them every possible support in this respect.

Into the peace programme we include also the “United States of Europe”. This slogan does not belong to the official programme of the Government of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Soviets, nor has it yet received recognition from our party. Nevertheless, we believe that the programme of democratic peace leads to a republican World Federation beyond a European one (and a considerable part of the pamphlet is devoted to the statement of this opinion). The question is practically posed before the European proletariat by the further development of the Revolution.

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Last updated on: 17.12.2006