The War with Poland

To the Workers, Peasants and
All Honourable Citizens of Soviet Russia
and the Soviet Ukraine

Transcribed and HTML markup for the Trotsky Internet Archive by David Walters

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The British Government proposed to us on July 11 that we stop the war with Poland and send our representatives to London for negotiations about peace with Poland and the other border states. Lord Curzon, the British Minister of Foreign Affairs, states in this connection that, in the event of an armistice being concluded, the Polish forces are to withdraw to the frontier which was laid down for Poland by the Peace Conference in December of last year. In the same note it is proposed that we refrain from disturbing Wrangel in his Crimean ‘sanctuary’.

To this offer of mediation by the British Government we, the Council of People’s Commissars, have replied with a refusal. We shall give an account of this action of ours to the Russian and Ukrainian peoples, and we express our firm conviction that what we have to say will also reach the Polish people.

The People’s Commissariat of Foreign Affairs has issued, in Russian and in foreign languages, a Red Book on Russo-Polish relations, in which precise documents reveal, day by day, on the one hand, the energetic, sincere and honest efforts made by the Soviet power to ensure peace with Poland, even at the price of heavy concessions, and, on the other, the obstinate, malicious and predatory striving of bourgeois-gentry Poland, incited by the Entente, to strike a mortal blow at Soviet Russia. If Britain had not wanted the war, she could easily have prevented it. It would have been sufficient to refuse Poland military supplies and money. But Britain wanted the war. While carrying on negotiations with us so as to appease her own worker masses, she was at the same time steadily despatching military supplies to Pilsudski and Wrangel, for use against the Russian workers and peasants. Britain brought the Polish war about and Britain is responsible for it.

Lord Curzon refers to the League of Nations, in whose name he puts forward his proposal. But one of the members of this League of Nations is Poland, which has launched a bandit, robber campaign against us. Also a member of that League is predatory Imperial Japan, which, under cover provided by its allies, is now carrying on monstrous aggressions against the Far-Eastern Republic. [2] If the task of the League of Nations was to serve the cause of peace it ought to have prevented Poland from starting the war and required Japan to evacuate Eastern Siberia. But it did not do so. All the members of the League of Nations, and especially France, Britain and America, are bound together in common responsibility for causing Poland’s war on the Ukraine and Russia. The most powerful members of the League of Nations helped and are helping Poland as much as they can. They did not even answer us when, in April, we appealed to them to restrain the criminal hand of the Pilsudski Government, which was then already lifted to strike at us. Now, however, when the White-Guard Polish forces have been dealt hard blows by the Red Army, the League of Nations, which bears responsibility for the war, comes forward, olivebranch in hand – or, more precisely, Britain, under cover of the League which it leads, offers us her mediation to reconcile us with Poland and the other border states, and invites us to send peace delegates for this purpose to London, that is, to the centre where all the plots against the Soviet Republic are cooked up, and whence the order was issued to Poland to begin her assault on the Ukraine and Russia. No, it is not for Britain to act as mediator and conciliator in the bloody struggle which her criminal bourgeoisie engendered and is sustaining!

But the British Government, as we have seen, does not restrict itself to the question of Poland. In this same note of his, dated July 11, Lord Curzon proposes to us no more and no less than that we stop the war against Baron Wrangel, promising on his behalf that he will withdraw his bands south of the Isthmus, so as to place them on the Crimean Peninsula, which Britain puts at his disposal. It was only a few days ago that this same Lord Curzon was declaring, in the name of the British Government, that it is a condition for trade relations between us that Russia and Great Britain reciprocally undertake to refrain from interfering in each other’s internal affairs – yet, hardly has the British Government acknowledged receipt of the assent of the government of Soviet Russia to this condition, than Lord Curzon considers himself called upon not merely to interfere in Russia’s internal affairs but also to make a present of part of our federal Soviet territory to a certain rogue who is in the service of British imperialism.

This is not the first time that the British Government has shown interest in Baron Wrangel and the Crimea. When the Red forces, after routing Denikin, were about to cross the threshold of the Crimea in order to finish off the remains, commanded by Wrangel, of Denikin’s army, Lord Curzon stepped forward bearing that same olive branch and proposed that we agree to a complete surrender by Wrangel and his forces on condition of an amnesty. We agreed, and, at the insistence of the British Government, immediately stopped our advance. Thereupon, Lord Curzon at once altered the conditions and, instead of talking about surrender by Wrangel, began to talk about our not intruding into the Crimea. At the same time, Britain’s ministries of war and the navy were vigorously at work arming and supplying Wrangel’s forces. The result of this prearranged collaboration between Curzon, Churchill and Wrangel was a fresh offensive by the White-Guard forces at the beginning of June, northward from the Crimea. It is quite obvious that the offensive by Baron Wrangel, for whom Lord Curzon had previously asked an amnesty, was planned with the intention of supplementing the attack by White-Guard Poland and was, therefore, dictated from the same centre, namely, London. And now, as though nothing had happened in the past, the British minister of foreign affairs again proposes that we refrain from attacking Wrangel, and agree to settle his hireling on a part of Russia’s territory.

No, neither Lord Curzon nor the British Government as a whole, nor the League of Nations which it leads, have any call to interfere in the Russian Soviet Federation and, in the role of peacemakers, to put an end to the civil war which they themselves criminally brought about and inflamed.

All the previous work done by the British Government, its allies and helpers shows that their mediation now pursues one aim only: to save from deserved defeat Pilsudski and Wrangel, whom they set upon us, and to make it possible for Pilsudski and Wrangel to recover, reorganise, bring their armies up to strength, arm, and launch another campaign against workers’ and peasants’ Russia.

It is clear that we could not condemn the working masses of Russia and the Ukraine to the perils of another war, in which all the efforts and sacrifices made would be repeated, from the beginning. That is why we rejected British mediation, in which bloody cunning was concealed behind phrases about love for peace. In so doing we acted in the interests of the Russian Socialist Federative Soviet Republic and of the working people of the whole world, whose eyes we are opening to the monstrous crimes, without precedent in history, which are now being committed under the lying cover of the League of Nations.

It goes without saying that our rejection of this hostile mediation does not in the least signify any change in our policy towards Poland. Now, when the Red Army is winning victories, we are just as far from any encroachment on the independence of Poland and the inviolability of her territory as in the days of our greatest military difficulties. That Soviet Russia knows how to deal carefully and attentively with the rights of other peoples, including small ones, and not in words only but also in deeds, is proved by the examples of Estonia, Georgia and Lithuania. [Georgia was at this time still under Menshevik rule, and Soviet Russia had recently signed a treaty with the Georgian Government. – B.P.] We have made peace with all these countries without any mediation by the League of Nations. Bourgeois governments are in power at present in these small countries: nevertheless, they had no need of interference by the world-scale predators in order to establish with Russia peaceful relations advantageous to themselves. We are now carrying on peace negotiations with Finland, Latvia and Armenia [Armenia, which has a common frontier with Soviet Azerbaijan, was at this time still ruled by the Dashnaks. – B.P.] and have every reason to suppose that these negotiations will soon lead to the establishment of peaceful relations. We are ready at any moment to enter into negotiations with Romania, a country which the agents provocateurs of the French stock-exchange are tempting to set out on the bloody path of White-Guard Poland.

Soviet Moscow has more than once proposed peace to Warsaw, and if now, after the bitter experiences suffered in the service of Anglo-French capital, Poland, ignoring Paris and London, should approach Moscow directly, peaceful relations between Russia and Poland will be established very much more quickly, reliably and lastingly by this direct route.

We repeat what we have often said before: there is not a single question in dispute between Russia and Poland which could not be settled peacefully, to the advantage of both sides. The territorial question cannot present any difficulty for us. Together with the real representatives of the Polish people we shall without difficulty fix a frontier for Poland incomparably more more correct and in accordance with the interests of the Polish people than the frontier which Marshal Foch and his associates defined, under the influence of Sazonov, Maklakov and other representatives of the Great-Russian White Guards. [3]

This is especially clear from the example of the Chelm district, where the rulers of the Entente drew their frontier line through the living body of Poland, following the traditions of their former Tsarist ally. [4] The true frontiers of Poland, which we, Soviet Russia, shall fix together with the representatives of the Polish people, will run considerably further east than the frontiers drawn by the imperialists of London and Paris, who are equally hostile and hateful towards the working people of Poland and of Russia.

In order that the Polish people may obtain an honourable peace, a just frontier and, in the person of Russia, a fraternal neighbour, ready to go to their aid and share everything with them, it is necessary that the Polish working people fling off their backs their present rulers, who have discredited themselves forever, who brought about this dishonourable war, and who must pay for it. The Polish people must cease to be a tool in the hands of their bourgeois-gentry government and Sejm, who are themselves a tool in the hands of Anglo-French capital. The Polish workers and peasants must get rid of their capitalists, their landlords, their oppressors, and set up Soviet power in their country – the power of the workers and peasants. This is the shortest and most direct route to the most honourable and just peace. At this fateful moment of history we recommend this route to the Polish people, before the eyes of the peoples of the whole world – and we pledge ourselves to give every help we can to the Polish people in taking that route.

We have rejected mediation by the League of Nations in our war with White Poland and its accomplice, Wrangel. But this does not, of course, mean that we decline to go on with our negotiations with Britain and other countries, whether these are or are not members of the League of Nations. Our peace policy remains unchanged. While rejecting Lord Curzon’s mediation we are ready at any moment to enter into trade relations with British industrialists and merchants, just as with the capitalists of other countries. In justification of his policy, Lloyd George recently explained to the House of Commons that Britain has often been obliged, in Africa, to have dealings even with cannibals. [Speaking in the House of Commons on June 7, 1920, Lloyd George said that Britain had ‘opened up most of the cannibal trade of the world’. – B.P.] Where this question is concerned we have this much common ground with Lloyd George and his government that we consider that, so long as Europe and America have not gone Communist, Soviet Russia must, in the interests of her economic development, engage in trade relations with capitalist cannibals. We merely deny them the right to come forward in the role of saviours of small nations and peacemakers in the civil war. We know them too well to trust them. We warn the working masses of France, Britain, Poland and all countries against trust in bourgeois governments, which are incorrigible in their greed, incurable in their baseness, indefatigable in their criminality.

And, first and foremost, we warn, put on guard and summon to be vigilant you, the working people of the Soviet Republic. The League of Nations has come forward with words of peace on its lips – that is, holding behind its back a knife intended for us. Its agents are making frenzied efforts at this moment to urge Romania and other states that are our neighbours to leap into the bloody chasm of war.

Be on your guard, Red Army men, men and women workers, peasants both men and women. With profound striving for peace and brotherhood between all nations, but also with profound mistrust towards world imperialism, we grasp our revolutionary sword with redoubled strength. We shall wage the struggle for the defence, consolidation and prosperity of our socialist republic to the very end, against all enemies, and at the same time we shall help the Polish workers and peasants to free themselves from their oppressors both Polish and foreign.


1: This is Trotsky’s draft, dated July 20, 1920, of an appeal which was published in Pravda and Izvestiya next day, with certain changes. The sentence ‘Britain brought the Polish war about, and Britain is responsible for it’ was omitted, together with the reference to London as ‘the centre where all the plots against the Soviet republic are cooked up, and whence the order was issued to Poland to begin her assault on the Ukraine and Russia’. In the paragraph beginning: ‘In order that the Polish people may obtain an honourable peace ... ’, the words following: ‘... it is necessary ...’ became: ‘that the Polish people should want this. We should long ago have come to an honourable peace settlement with the Polish workers and peasants. The cause of peace now depends above all on pressure by the Polish workers and peasants on their bourgeoisie and landlords.’

For Trotsky’s letter to members of the Politburo, July 13, 1920, advocating acceptance of the British offer to mediate between Soviet Russia and Poland, while rejecting any outside interference in the civil war against Wrangel, see Trotsky’s Writings on Britain, Vol.I (London, New Park Publications, 1974), pp.100-101. – B.P.

2. The Far Eastern Republic was set up in 1920 with its capital first at Verkhne-Udinsk (now Ulan-Ude) and later at Chita, and claiming sovereignty over the whole of Eastern Siberia, from Lake Baikal to the Pacific Ocean. In form it was a parliamentary democracy with a radical but not Communist policy, but de facto control was maintained by the Russian Communists. The purpose of this manoeuvre was to win American support in getting rid of the Japanese who were in occupation of parts of Eastern Siberia and protecting White forces there. A combination of diplomatic with guerrilla activity (the latter celebrated in the well-known Song of the Partisans of the Amur) eventually brought about evacuation by the Japanese, and in November 1922 the Far Eastern Republic applied for, and was granted, absorption into the RSFSR. – B.P.

3. Sazonov, once the Tsar’s Foreign Minister, then the Provisional Government’s ambassador to Britain, was appointed Foreign Minister by Admiral Kolchak. Maklakov had been the Provisional Government’s ambassador to France. – B.P.

[4. Here Trotsky seems to have been misinformed. The demarcation line laid down by the Allies in December 1919 and reiterated by Curzon in July 1920 (hence the name ‘Curzon Line’) included Chelm in territory to be considered as indisputably Polish. In 1912 the Tsarist Government had aroused indignation among the Poles by detaching Chelm (in Ukrainian, Kholm) from the Kingdom of Poland and making it the centre of a new province with a majority of Ukrainians in the population. – B.P.

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Last updated on: 27.12.2006