The Red Army on a Peace Footing

Speeches, Articles, Reports

Speech at the Fifth All-Russia Congress
of the Russian Young Communist League

October 16, 1922 [1]

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

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Comrades, October 16, 1922 is the festival day of the adoption of the Workers’ and Peasants’ Red Navy by the workers’ and peasants’ Young Communist League. This event, which might seem to be essentially formal in character, is in fact of profound political and social significance and enters as an important date into the chronicle of our revolution. Here, on this stage, which long ceased to be merely a theatre-stage, and which has been the arena of major historical events [2], a great event is taking place today’our League is joining in our common constructive work, and in the most crucial and responsible form of that work, the building of the army.

This great festival will probably serve’there can be no doubt about this, and I begin by speaking about it’as the point of departure of a new campaign of rabid slander against Soviet Russia by the bourgeois press of the entire world.

We have long since been ‘imperialists’, who are organising an armed force for the conquest of our neighbours, for the enslavement of Europe and the whole world. And, lo and behold, the Young Communist League, whose tasks are primarily cultural and educational, assembles in this Bolshoi Theatre for what purpose? In order to hand over its banner to the Workers’ and Peasants’ Red Navy, which it has adopted. Is this not striking and irrefutable proof and confirmation of everything that has been said about our militaristic intentions and the imperialistic spirit of our revolution? I repeat, tomorrow, or the next day, this festival will be interpreted in the really imperialist, really predatory press of the whole world as a festival of warlike intentions and imperialist ambition.

There is a French saying: ‘The older the devil gets, the more pious does he become.’ [3] This needs to be applied to capitalism, which becomes more hypocritical and baser in its lies (which are refined and disseminated by means of boundless resources of the printed and the spoken word) as it gets older and draws nearer to its grave. Every newspaper which expresses the spirit of the world bourgeoisie (and the world bourgeoisie is rich in newspapers) constitutes in every one of its issues a whole academy of hypocrisy and lies. For each bloody hand which, in the service of the bourgeoisie, is ready to drive a keenlysharpened knife into the breast or the back of the working class, there are a hundred hands armed with a pen, and a hundred tongues, to curse, deceive, bait and slander. And we are called by them ‘militarists’ – we who in October 1917 came to power under the banner of peace and brotherhood among all nations.

The first communication from the victorious government of October to the governments of the whole world called for an end to the war and the working out of a peace that would have meant fraternal collaboration of all nations. And if we quickly turn the pages of the book of our five years’ destiny, we see, on every page, traces of our intense efforts to bring about, even at the price of very great concessions, peace and working agreement with all the other countries. And not only at the armoured gates of the great imperialist powers, Britain, France and, earlier (after October) Germany, and, later, the United States, did our diplomats stand and knock persistently, proposing and calling for peace, but even at those of little Estonia and Latvia, or, later, of Poland and Romania, did our diplomats repeat again and again, for weeks, months and years: ‘We propose peace.’

We paid a price for peace, and we paid it in pure, ringing gold, of which we never had much and still less remained. I single out Estonia, which made peace with us, needing it no less than we did. [4] But take, for example, our relations with Poland: all our notes, appeals and declarations, from beginning to end, were permeated with a profound and sincere desire to achieve peace without bloodshed and to get down to healing the wounds of our exhausted and weakened social organism.

We are imperialists and militarists, because, on the first day that the October government came to power, we announced that we repudiated and cancelled all the old treaties of Tsardom, based on grabbing and violence, and proposed peace to all the peoples of the world. We are imperialists and militarists because we offered a fraternal hand of aid to the oppressed people of the East, because we cancelled, of our own free will, the old treaties with Persia, which laid heavy chains upon her. We reached out a fraternal hand to oppressed and partly dismembered China. We supported oppressed Turkey at a time when it seemed that not even one little spark was left in her hearth. We are imperialists and militarists because we supported the weak and proposed peace to all the nations of the globe. And in this long series of efforts and struggles on our part we tempered ourselves. While, on the eve of October, we already had no illusions as to the character of the bourgeoisie, its methods, its spirit, nevertheless there was, perhaps, among some of us, the idea that there was a limit beyond which even bourgeois cynicism would not go. But there is no such limit. There is only a limit of power, of force. The onslaught of the bourgeoisie stops when it has exhausted its strength, and then its refined hypocrisy is brought up to replace the strength that is lacking.

We built our Workers’ and Peasants’ Army under heavy blows. To undertake the building of a navy is harder for us, because for a navy one needs much higher technique and a much higher level of the state organisation itself. The fabric of Soviet society and the Soviet state must become more solid, more regular, better, more precise, if we are to be able to undertake the restoration of the Workers’ and Peasants’ Navy, which is a complex and delicate organism. We have been brought to this necessity under the blows of fate, the blows of our enemies.

I could mention many episodes when our navy, which rendered service of immeasurable importance during the internal civil war, was needed by us for defending our borders against external attack. But, out of a whole series of facts, I will recall the days of July and August 1920. At that time some French warships approached Odessa, escorting transport vessels, and the French commander, having asked for a pilot, requested permission to enter our waters. Permission was granted. On the transport vessels were Russian soldiers who had been sent by the Tsar to help French capital against German capital, and who, later, after the victory of the October revolution, were made prisoners-of-war by France and the French bourgeoisie. After they had been examined, it turned out that there were nineteen military aeroplanes on these same vessels. For whom were the military aeroplanes intended? Not for us, of course. They were destined for delivery to Wrangel, in the Crimea. But the naval authorities of France were so lacking in ceremony in their dealings with us that they found it possible, in order to save fuel, to carry out two assignments at once: to return to Odessa the former Tsarist soldiers, whom at that time they were in a hurry to get rid of, and then, on the same trip, to deliver to Wrangel nineteen aeroplanes, with which the Wrangelites were to kill Russian workers and peasants. By the laws of war, and we were at war, the aeroplanes were first-class contraband of war, and, naturally, the Odessa authorities at once seized the contraband. Complicated and grave negotiations began. We, the members of the Revolutionary War Council of the Republic, with the Commander-in Chief and the Commander of Naval Forces, sat at one end of the direct wire, here in Moscow, while at the other end of the wire, in Odessa, sat the local naval authorities, passing on to us every proposal and demand made by the French. Their first statement was that ‘these aeroplanes are intended for French troops’. ‘Why, then, did they come to Odessa?’ ‘Because they are intended for the French troops in Constantinople.’ ‘Why, then, did you not unload them at Constantinople, which you passed on your way?’ ‘Because we, the French naval authorities, were in a hurry to return to you in Odessa as soon as we could your unfortunate prisoner-of-war brothers, former soldiers of France.’ While the bourgeoisie and bourgeois service chiefs are everywhere eaten up with hypocrisy, this is ten times, a hundred times, as bad in France. There has never in history been such highly-finished hypocrisy as in France. It turned out that these aeroplanes had arrived at Odessa owing to the excessive humanity of French militarism which was helping Wrangel to torment and exhaust our already debilitated country.

But even five-month-old infants in Odessa would not have believed the explanation given by the French admiral, and he did not hope to be believed or expect us to trust him. The aeroplanes stayed confiscated. Then the French commander proposed that, in order that the aeroplanes might not be used for military purposes by anyone, they should be taken out and destroyed in the presence of French officers and of our commanders. We conferred about this in the Revolutionary War Council. We were fully within our rights in confiscating this contraband of war, but we sought to reach agreement. By the direct wire we told Odessa: ‘We agree.’ But this delay had been needed down there so as to bring up from Constantinople three bigger French warships. When these vessels approached defenceless Odessa, the admiral announced: ‘If you do not return the aeroplanes by such-and-such an hour, we shall subject Odessa to non-stop bombardment.’

That, comrades, was the situation in which we found ourselves at the beginning of August 1920. I remember those hours very clearly. We hesitated. I will not conceal it from you’we wavered. Should we go through with it, risking the bombardment of Odessa? For there was, after all, the thought: ‘They wouldn’t dare.’ But, in the end, we said to ourselves: ‘They will dare anything, they will do whatever their long-range naval guns allow them to do.’ And we retreated. Gritting our teeth, clenching our fists, we retreated, and gave the order, over the direct wire, to return the aeroplanes. Naturally, the aeroplanes were at once conveyed from Odessa to the Crimea, to Wrangel, and used to kill our Red Army men. At that time we said to ourselves: ‘If we had had a little fleet in the Odessa roads, just one or two submarines, with, as their crews, a handful of young sailors ready to fight and die, the French Government, the French naval authorities, would not have decided to undertake that experiment.’

Comrades, we do not, of course, need a navy in order to carry out great international plans. We are not going to deceive anyone, and least of all ourselves. We are weak, we are exhausted, we want peace and economic work, and at the same time we want our door to be bolted. We want to be sure that our coastal towns will not be subjected at any moment to the threat of being wiped off the face of the earth at the will of some bourgeois admiral or other. We need a small nucleus of naval forces which will form part of the defence system of the Soviet Republic. And this small nucleus we are now raising almost out of the rubble, almost out of the ashes.

Here the Russian Young Communist League is coming to our aid. It is going to bring forth from its midst the first cadres of new, young sailors, who will have to bear on their shoulders the fate of our revolutionary navy. And if we still needed to prove to someone that there is in the world only one democracy’in our Russia’I should say: ‘Just take a look at this festival of ours; what festival is it? It is the festival of the creation of an armed force of the state with the active, conscious, responsible participation of a real democracy’of workers and peasants, men and women alike, of young people who are almost adolescents. They have grown up, all at once, out of the factories, the workshops and the black earth, into a real Soviet democracy.’ If I wanted to make a comparison, I should say: ‘Look at Germany.’ They have a republic there now: a parliament, universal suffrage, votes of confidence, or lack of confidence, in ministries, and a super-mendacious press. But when what had to be decided was a vital question, in the true sense of the word – a question of life and death for the German people – the question of so-called reparations, of paying the crazy indemnities to the French bourgeoisie, who decided, who discussed this question: parliament, the democracy, or, perhaps, the German workers’ and peasants’ youth league? No, it was Stinnes. Stinnes is the uncrowned banker king of Germany, on whom nine-tenths of Germany is directly or indirectly dependent, the man who has established his dictatorship over the German paper mark. [5] Stinnes went forth to meet a representative of French bourgeois circles, one Lubersac. And there, in a retreat in one of the health resorts, a first-class one, naturally, on the quiet, behind closed doors and drawn blinds, Stinnes settled the fate of the German people. ‘That is what I want and that is how it will be!’ said the real sovereign, this real dictator by the grace of the stock-exchange, trampling and spitting on what hypocrites, fools and scoundrels call bourgeois democracy.

Let them talk and write about our ‘imperialism’ and our ‘militarism’. A militarism that is build with the voluntary, conscious participation of the worker and peasant youth is not militarism, it is an instrument for the liberation of the working masses.

And we shall, together, create this instrument. The fact that you, the Workers’ and Peasants’ Youth League, are from this day forth patrons of our Red Navy does not mean, of course, that from your hands, as from a horn of plenty, all manner of material benefits will pour out upon our Red Navy. No, you possess no horn of plenty, but you do possess the trumpet-horn of proletarian revolution, with which you today proclaim your will: to dedicate your strength both to the task of economic and cultural restoration of our country and to that of defending it in arms.

The fact that you have become patrons of the Red Navy today draws a line under an entire phase of our past and opens a new chapter. We received our navy as a heritage from the old regime. A very profound revolution took place in it, the rank-and-file sailors occupied one of the most responsible places in our revolution, but, all the same, the Navy retained, from the former epoch, a certain exclusiveness and isolation. Everywhere in the world the navy, in the persons of its ruling strata, its officers, constitutes the most exclusive service caste, with the most privileged, arrogant, prejudiced, corporate spirit. That was the case here too, and a spirit of exclusiveness, a certain arrogance, at first just naval, but then in its own way ‘naval-revolutionary’, characterised certain elements of our navy in the post-October period as well. [6] If we recall the black date of Kronstadt, the revolt at Kronstadt, there can be no doubt that one of the reasons why discontent found expression in such an acute form just there was the corporate spirit, the craft-exclusiveness of the old ‘estate of the navy’. The fact that you, the Workers’ and Peasants’ Youth League, are taking on the patronage of our navy signalises, above all, a real end to that spirit of caste, of isolation and exclusiveness, of group arrogance, in so far as this spirit has still survived in some nooks and crannies of our navy, as a heritage from the past.

You are the link, you are the living bridge between the navy and the working masses of town and country. You will, by virtue of the very fact of your patronage, remind the Navy every day and every hour that it is only the armed organ of the working masses of town and country. You will stand before the Navy as a constant reminder of the proletariat, the revolution and communism.

But the Navy, too, will remind you of something, because it is a complex organism, technologically and organisationally. The Navy can be built only on the basis of constantly improved technology, a high level of knowledge and a high level of social and state organisation. By its requirements and needs the Navy will remind you about knowledge and technique. That is why I sincerely hope that your henceforth inseparable bond with the workers’ and peasants’ Red Navy will be equally beneficial to both parties’to the adopted and to the adopter.

’The working class, the revolution, and communism’, you will remind the Navy: ‘Science and technique,’ the Navy will reply. And under this banner we shall conquer: ‘The working class, communism, science and technique.’

Bulletin of the 5th All-Russia Congress of the Russian Young Communist League


1. The Fifth All Russia Congress of the Russian Young Communist League was held on October 11-18, 1922. The speech given here was included in a book of speeches and articles about the youth by Comrade Trotsky entitled Pokoleniye Oktyabra (The October Generation), published by Moladaya Gvardiya, Moscow 1924.

2. This speech was made in Moscow’s Bolshoi Theatre, where the Congress of Soviets and ceremonial gatherings are usually held.

3. Quand le Diable se fait vieux, li se fait ermite. Cf. the phrase in Rabelais’s Gargantua and Pantagruel, well-known from Motteux’s translation: ‘The Devil was sick, the Devil a monk would be ...

4. Estonia was the first state to make a treaty of peace with the RSFSR. Peace was signed on February 2, 1920, in the town of Yuryev [4a], and ratified by the All-Russia Central Executive Committee on February 4, 1920. The peace terms included payment by the RSFSR to Estonia of 15 million gold roubles. The next state to make peace was Lithuania, with whom a treaty was signed in Moscow on July 12, 1920, and ratified by the All-Russia CEC on September 9, 1920. The RSFSR paid Lithuania 3 million gold roubles. Latvia made peace with the RSFSR at Riga on August 11, 1920, and this was ratified by the All-Russia CEC on September 9, 1920. Four million gold roubles were paid by the RSFSR as an advance on valuables to be returned to Latvia.

4a.This peace-treaty is usually called the Treaty of Dorpat, from the original (German) name of Yuryev – which is now know by its Estonian name of Tartu.

5. Hugo Stinnes was in 1921 the most powerful capitalist in Germany and was reported to be planning a super-trust to control the whole of German industry. He died in 1924 and his organisation broke up. In September 1922 he signed, at the Castle of Heinburg, on the Rhine, a contract with the French Senator De Lubersac for reconstruction of the devastated areas of Northern France.

6. The Bolshevik sailor P.E. Dybenko said: ‘The sailor always felt that he was superior to the soldier and to the worker, and therefore he felt obliged to be in the vanguard.’ Captain M.V. Ivanov, the most important naval officer to collaborate with the Soviet Government in its first days, said: ‘I had a habit of looking down on all who were not part of naval life.’ (Quoted by Evan Maudsley, in The Russian Revolution and the Baltic Fleet, 1978).

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Last updated on: 28.12.2006