Banditry and Famine

Speeches and Articles


At a Meeting of the Zhitomir City Soviet, September 5, 1921

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

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In Zhitomir today, during the military inspection, I had occasion to speak about the most burning question of our international policy, the question whether we are going to have to fight in the near future or are going to be able to devote our principal forces to economic and cultural work. The mere fact of our coming here, to the towns and points lying near the frontier, has given rise to a supposition that major military events are expected. Some talk of war with Poland, others of war with Romania. I therefore considered it my duty today, at the inspection parade, to say clearly and distinctly to the Red Army men that these suppositions, rumours, hopes or fears are absolutely incorrect. No events whatsoever have occurred which could have prompted us to change our fundamental line, that is, the line of peace: on the contrary, all the events that have taken place, and the biggest of these events is the famine on the Volga, have compelled us to intensify our efforts to promote and realise a policy of peace.

We have grounds for hoping that we shall succeed in maintaining this policy in the period immediately ahead. True, we are now in an unsettled state, both internally and internationally, as a result of facts which have upset – one cannot say our equilibrium, for that did not exist, but a regime that approximated to temporary equilibrium. Our country had hardly even emerged from a condition of semi-famine.

Today we are experiencing an acute crisis of famine which has seized tens of millions of human beings in its clutches, and this famine is again dominated by the question of our achievements in the field of international relations. We have to ask once more: what is going to happen next? The American bourgeoisie, which moved from military intervention, from the occupation of Odessa, Archangel and the Murman coast, from supporting Wrangel, to commercial relations with us – will it stay on the road of these commercial relations, or will it attempt a fresh armed intervention? The French bourgeoisie – what policy will it pursue in relation to us? These are the fundamental questions today. What we are going through is, on the one hand, a new and serious sign of the stability of the Soviet power, and, on the other, a test of the attitude of other states and their ruling classes towards the Soviet power.

When we consider this question of the new constellation of forces, what, above all, leaps to the eye is the fact that the famine on the Volga is today the central question in international politics. Pick up any newspaper of the European or American bourgeoisie and you will see that the principal articles are devoted to the famine in Russia. In ministers’ speeches, in all the articles, at meetings of parliaments, they discuss only the question of the famine in Russia. This is understandable so far as our friends, the workers, are concerned. For them this question is of extraordinary interest, because they fear for the stability of the Soviet Government in Russia. The question stands quite differently where the bourgeoisie and its ruling circles are concerned.

What are the reasons why governments of capitalist states, ministers, deputies and journalists are concentrating such great attention on the problem being discussed from the standpoint of giving aid? When the Committee of Public Personages was formed here, with Prokopovich, Kuskova and Kishkin and other SRs and Mensheviks, numerous articles were devoted to this extremely modest committee. There can be no doubt that bourgeois ministries discussed this question at secret sessions. The American minister Hoover, who was at one time the country’s food dictator and is now their minister for trade and industry, approached us with an offer of aid for the famine victims. He entered into lengthy negotiations with us, which ended successfully. The two sides signed an agreement. The French ex-minister Noulens also approached the Soviet Government with his conditions and proposals. The overall impression one gets, at first sight, is as though Europe and America had no more radical and vital preoccupation than with the starving Russian peasant. This fact alone should incline us, if not to alarm, then to a critical attitude, because we know that this class cannot be directly interested in and sympathetic to the hungry workers and peasants of Russia, in the way that the workers can; and so what is it that explains their putting the question of the famine at the centre of all their discussions?

The explanation is this, that the bourgeoisie ofEurope and America are considering afresh the problem of their relations with Soviet Russia. They are asking themselves: will the Soviet regime stand firm in Russia, or will this famine give the final. impulse for its overthrow? If, say the bourgeoisie, the Soviet regime is standing firm now, with this famine, that means it is necessary to recognise that this regime possesses the forms of life. It is necessary to establish, once and for all, economic, diplomatic and all other kinds of relations with it. And, in order to win a certain sympathy on the part of the Soviet Republics, the bourgeoisie resorts to philanthropy.

But there are groups among the bourgeoisie who argue differently: if, as a result of the famine, this great domestic upheaval, the Soviet Government should fall, then, clearly, there would be no point in entering into economic and, perhaps, diplomatic relations with it. Far better to wait and see what the outcome of the famine will be.

Thus, the famine has again posed the question of the attitude of the bourgeoisie to the Soviet Republic. And in so far as now, before this political process has reached definition, one can take account of the direction it is following, we can say, without any optimism, without any official cheerfulness, that, by and large, the majority of the leading bourgeois politicians apparently recognise not only that the famine is not flinging down the Soviet power but also that there is in Russia no other force, no other class, no other party, no other possible regime but the Soviet regime and the Communist Party which guides it. If, in such a devastated country as Russia, a country exhausted and shaken to the depths, a famine which has gripped tens of millions of people has not reduced the Soviet apparatus to a state of complete helplessness; if the Soviet power has, from the very start, begun to take most vigorous measures to ensure the sowing of the winter fields of the Volga region and has already registered the first big successes in this direction; if the apparatus continues to work non-stop under these extremely arduous conditions – this proves to the bourgeoisie, part of which was beginning to realise it even before the famine, that the Soviet power is not a passing or a temporary phenomenon, but a factor to be reckoned with for a certain number of years to come. The British bourgeoisie has apparently understood this well enough. The British bourgeoisie is, in general, the most perspicacious: it was said long ago that this bourgeoisie thinks in terms of centuries and continents. The British bourgeoisie has forged its might in the course of centuries, it has grown accustomed to looking a long way ahead, and it is led by politicians who have all the past experience of their class concentrated in their minds. In relation to this question, too, they are showing great perspicacity and political flair.

Lloyd George said: ‘It is not a matter of philanthropy but a matter of returning Russia to a state of economic equilibrium, and this can be done by establishing a regular economic alliance with Soviet Russia.’ Lloyd George hopes that regular commercial and economic relations with us will lead us to restore our economy, and considers that it is as impossible to bring us down by means of the famine as by military intervention. Thus, we have here a seeming paradox: the famine, a profoundly negative fact, has not weakened us internationally, but rather has strengthened us. The bourgeois newspapers write: ‘Yes, this power has living roots, it has withstood the scourge of famine, we shall have to reckon with it, there is nobody who can replace it.’ Consequently if even this power were to fall, that would mean the coming of a period of death, mediaeval barbarism and chaos. Europe would have no hope of restoring its internal economy and it would not be possible to look forward to a time, a few years from now, when Russia would have the capacity to purchase goods, and Europe’s industry could sell them. But Europe urgently needs this, for it is now paying the price for the war, in the form of a terrible economic crisis.

But while the famine has served to impel one section of the bourgeoisie to realise that the Soviet power is unshakable, on the other hand it has impelled other groups of the bourgeoisie to indulge in hope for the overthrow of the Soviet order. This is especially noticeable in the case of our own bourgeoisie abroad, namely, those two million manufacturers and landlords who do not stand alone, because European and American capital assumes that this Russian bourgeoisie, on its return to Russia, would become an agency for the exploitation of Russia by foreign capital. On the other hand, we hear that in a number of countries, and especially in France, influential government circles have, for three or four years past, consistently assured their bourgeoisie that our downfall was inevitable. They spent millions in gold on intervention in our affairs, and to abandon hope in our overthrow would mean for them, abandoning their careers. Finally, that section of the French bourgeoisie which in its time invested a lot of capital in Russian industry cannot wave goodbye to its old profits for the sake of getting new profits from trade relations with Russia and the Ukraine.

Where relations with Soviet Russia are concerned, the bourgeoisie has always been divided into two camps, but these two camps are becoming defined ever more distinctly and sharply. The most influential bourgeois have apparently swung over once and for all in favour of recognising the Soviet power. This is true of Britain and America. In America a fundamental conflict was waged, with many questions asked in the Senate, and, a few months ago, one-third of the senators expressed themselves in favour of renewing relations with Russia. A representative came to see us in Moscow and is now carrying on a big agitation for the renewal of trade relations. The financier Vanderlip also came to see us, and there were others. [1]

One of our most active opponents is Hoover, America’s present minister of trade and industry. He is at the same time president of the mighty American philanthropic organisation for aid to the famine-victims. Philanthropy is very highly developed in America. The American bourgeoisie is the richest of all bourgeoisies. Over there a big role is played by the Quaker sect, who are greatly devoted to good works, which does not prevent them from engaging in big business and making big profits. So then, there is absolutely no reason for worry where they are concerned. They gain doubly by their philanthropy: on the one hand it ensures them unhindered entry into the Kingdom of Heaven, while here and now it must win sympathy and publicity for them among the hungry masses.

And for Hoover [2] – I don’t know whether he is a Quaker or merely serves the Quakers, but he is now minister of trade and industry – it is therefore very convenient to combine the one thing with the other. The fact that one of our inveterate and most irreconcilable enemies has addressed himself to us can be interpreted in two ways: either he is convinced that we are unconquerable and has decided to seek agreement with us, or he considers that we are on the brink of collapse and has decided to help us on a little in that direction. From the theoretical, practical and political standpoint both interpretations are possible. The negotiations we carried on with him, and which culminated in an agreement, were concerned exclusively with famine relief. The agreement amounts to this, that his organisation is to supply food and some clothing to one million starving children in Russia, while we undertake to make the railways and so on available to them, and to refrain from interfering in their charitable distribution of this aid. That is what their autonomy consists in. They are engaged in philanthropy and can deal with that matter as they see fit. This philanthropy must be non-political. That has also been agreed. Hoover’s agents are not to meddle in the country’s political life. True, there may be a mental reservation here, those of you who are very suspicious may say that, but since I signed the agreement with Hoover, I cannot show suspicion. However, looking at the matter from the standpoint that Hoover wants to win popularity in Soviet Russia on the basis of gifts, and to use all this popularity to promote a counter-revolutionary coup, it is possible to say: yes, that may be so, such plans may exist, but this cannot prevent us from making an agreement with him. To look after all that we have means of supervision and revolutionary vigilance. If we were to receive simultaneously American condensed milk and an American plan for a counter-revolutionary coup, we should try to crush the attempted coup after the hungry children had obtained their condensed milk.

I say this so as to direct your attention to the dual character of the bourgeoisie. But there are elements which are sincerely wavering, and cannot make up their minds whether or not to shun us.

Such is the situation in which we now find ourselves. Recently the numerous White-Guard papers published abroad have been in a state of convulsion. Our White Guards realise that if we now survive this period, if we feed or even half-feed the starving, and form ties not only with Lloyd George but also with the charitable American Quakers, then the Soviet power need not fear any armed attack by the bourgeoisie of Europe. That is why what is for us a question of damine relief is for the bourgeois class which has outlived itself a new, repeated sentence of death. That is why they are now mobilising all the lies and slanders of which they are capable. Certain quotations which I gave from the SR newspapers and Burtsev evoked Homeric laughter at our meetings, owing to their monstrous impudence and exaggeration. But they are characteristic of the present moment, they show that the fate of Soviet Russia and the Soviet Ukraine is now being decided, perhaps finally. Until, that is, the really final decision, which will be given by the European revolution. But between that decision, that is, between the victory of the revolution of the European proletariat and the present day, a certain interval of time will elapse. How long that interval will be none of us knows: it may go on for months, it may go on for years. Many people say that the proletarian revolution will actually come sooner than we now expect, but we can have no precise information about that, and I am speaking about the period which separates us from the international revolution in Europe.

As regards the Hoover organisation, if we were to lose our footing in the country, if we were to start to fall, Hoover would take an active part in that process, just as he did in Hungary. We have no right to blame Hoover for hostile activity against the Soviet country to which he sent aid. But Hoover signed an agreement to aid Hungary, and his plenipotentiary Captain Gregory told an American periodical in 1919 [sic] how he had taken part in a a conspiracy against the Soviet Government in Hungary. Despite Hoover’s instructions to him, he gave all the food to the counter-revolutionaries. We therefore say that, while Hoover himself may not meddle in our affairs, there may be somebody in his organisation who will try to meddle and then, on the basis of the agreement, we shall be able to take every such Gregory by the scruff of the neck. The question here is one of struggle between revolution and counter-revolution. In the given instance, an American counter-revolutionary scoundrel differs in no way from a Russian one. We have available definite measures for struggle, and they remain fully in force against such elements as may try to bring about some coup or other.

The embryo of such a policy was the Committee for Aid to the Famine Victims on which sat Prokopovich, Kuskova and Kishkin, or, as they were called in Moscow, ‘Prokukish’ [3] – a semi-counter-revolutionary organisation. There can be no doubt that there are some really counter-revolutionary plotters around that organisation. The counter-revolutionaries tried to make use of the famine-relief committee, and this committee, imagining that it was already only five minutes away from being the unofficial government of Russia, relied mentally upon support from public opinion in Europe and America and engaged in negotiations with certain groups abroad. Although, essentially, ‘Prokukish’ was only a minor affair, nevertheless, so as, first, to put things on a proper basis, and, second, to deprive the counter-revolutionaries of encouragement, this committee was dissolved after a first warning.

If we take France, we see there groups which are undoubtedly more serious, more dangerous. All the Russian émigrés are concentrated in France, and our Committee of Public Personages was the organisation through which they intended to operate. France was more closely associated with the policy of armed intervention and its bourgeoisie lost many milliards through it, so that for them the overthrow of the Soviet power is an enterprise in which they have invested a huge amount of capital. This capital can produce dividends only after the Soviet power has fallen. That is why this bourgeoisie is obliged to carry on a relentless war against us, and even those groups of the French bourgeoisie which understand and appreciate, through their own economic activity, the absolute necessity for France to change her policy, say to themselves: if the situation is such that it is a matter of waiting just another quarter of an hour (in France during the war with Germany there was a saying: ‘We must hang on for a quarter of an hour more’) [4], then what sense is there in re-establishing economic relations with Russia – perhaps the entire Soviet regime is on the brink of collapse?

And it is a striking fact that the French Government has placed at the centre of the organisation for aid to the victims of the famine in Russia a truly classical threesome: ex-Ambassador Noulens, Giraud and General Pau. There will be much talk about these three personages in the coming days, and I recommend that you keep them in mind. Noulens was the French Republic’s last ambassador in Russia. He was the organiser of the Yaroslavi revolt, he was the organiser and banker of the Czechoslovak conspiracy and the revolts on the Volga and the Ural. And this Noulens, who wanted to bring about a counter-revolutionary coup by means of famine, has now been appointed chairman of the international commission which is to delegate an international committee and send into Russia a commission to study the question of famine relief. Noulens is at the centre of this organisation, and as his assistants they have appointed General Pau, well-known as a monarchist, and the former Moscow manufacturer Giraud, who is filled with burning hatred for Soviet Russia and wants to get back his lost factories.

You see how the French bourgeoisie is preparing to help us. Does this mean that it is preparing to declare war on us? No, a section of the French bourgeoisie wants to enter into relations with us, but it is wavering a little, while another section, which wants to overthow us, hopes that this commission may serve as the apparatus for a counter-revolutionary coup. But there is no reason to fear that France is capable now of sending her own troops against us. Although there are in France no such manifestations of mass discontent as we see in Germany, the internal revolutionary process is developing consistently and systematically. The fact that the revolutionary elements already constitute half of the French trade-union organisation shows how the French proletariat is developing. [5] As regards the gains from victory, they have already become convinced that even the most frightful plundering of Germany has not saved France from the ruin brought upon her by the war. All this evokes among the worker masses desire not for national but for class revanche.

Thus, in France the Communist Party is learning from the experience of the Russian Revolution and from that of the war with Germany. All this deprives the French bourgeoisie of zeal for hurling its own troops against us. The working class of France will not allow that section of the French bourgeoisie which most irreconcilably hates us to attack the working class of the Soviet Republics. This is now no mere agitational phrase or slogan, but a real, live, revolutionary fact.

But the French bourgeoisie have at their disposal the governments of the Little Entente. [6] These governments are as follows: Poland, Romania, Czechoslovakia, and so on [sic]. Consequently, the interventionist policy of the French bourgeoisie might find expression not in some new campaign by France against us, but an attempt to incite Romania and Poland against us. Is this probable? Is it possible? Comrades! From what I have said it follows that there is much that tells against it: the failure of armed intervention and the bankruptcy of the political émigrés, precisely now, in the eyes of the European bourgeoisie, all of which provides serious arguments against any repetition of military adventures. To offer an estimate in terms of percentages, I should say that it is more than 70 per cent likely that Poland, and more than 50 per cent likely that Romania will not decide in favour of the criminal adventure of a new war with Soviet Russia. Poland’s internal situation is very close to catastrophe. The country is ruined economically, its finances are in a desperate condition. To be sure, our Soviet finances are also in a desperate condition, but we have a growing and strengthening apparatus for planned socialist organisation of the economy. For us, therefore, the low state of our currency is not as catastrophic as for bourgeois states in which everything is based on the market, and consequently on competition. In Poland the working class frequently goes on strike, and the struggle is becoming as acute there as in former times the struggle between the different cliques of the old Polish nobility. The industrial bourgeoisie is increasingly coming to the conclusion that Poland’s economic salvation lies in reestablishing close ties with the Russian market, for Polish industry cannot dream of invading the American or the European market. Hence, a considerable section of the Polish bourgeoisie is hostile to the adventurers and romantics who still play a very big role in Poland. The low state of the Polish currency, the bankruptcy of the chauvinists, the condition of the worker masses – all this provides serious grounds, almost amounting to certainty, for considering that the Polish Government will not, in the immediate future at least, take the road of renewed interference in our affairs.

The situation is somewhat different in Romania. That country has, up to now, refrained from formalising its relations with the Ukraine and Russia. I shall not go over the history of these relations. Comrade Rakovsky will do that better than I can – as the Ukrainian People’s Commissar for Foreign Affairs he has played a leading role in these negotiations. The latter began when Romania opened a front against us. Romania took advantage of the fact that she was an ally of the old Russia and of Kerensky’s Russia. When the workers and peasants took power, Romania turned against them. The Entente then assured the Soviet Government that the temporary occupation of Bessarabia was only for the purpose of feeding the Russian and Romanian troops. The Romanian Government put forward nc arguments in the sense of annexation. And after clashes had taken place between Romanian and Soviet troops, Romania signed an agreement to withdraw from Bessarabia within twc months. When, later, after the White Guards had been cleared out of the Ukraine, our diplomats proposed to the Romanian Government that we hold peace talks, the then Prime Minister (this was at the beginning of last year) Vaida-Voevod, returnee a positive answer. We all expected that, within a few weeks representatives of Russia, the Ukraine and Romania would meet together to work out the terms of a treaty of peace. From that moment Romania started to pursue an ostrich policy, a policy of fraud. The Romanian Government named as the place for the negotiations – Warsaw, at a time when we and Poland were engaged in open war with each other. Then, in reply to the protest made by our diplomats, the Romanian Government said that this had been a misunderstanding. The Romanian workers asked their Government why peace had not been made, and the Romanian Government replied that the reason was that Russia had not responded to their peace proposal. They referred to the fact that they had not received any wireless message from us. In short, a miserable, petty policy which was dictated by their inner lack of decision. Precisely because the Romanian Government is evading negotiations, it is disposed to create some sort of inviolability for its own frontier, though not for ours. This has led to a series of attacks by Petlyurist bands on our Western frontiers and, in the first place, on the frontier of the Ukraine. This constitutes a threat to the Soviet Federation as a whole. Recently the activity of these bands has assumed a more menacing character.

Over a substantial part of Right-Bank Ukraine, the harvest has been fairly good this year. This fact endows the Right Bank with exceptional importance in relation to our common economic task. The food tax collected in Right-bank Ukraine constitutes a very important part of the whole country’s resources. For this reason the French interventionists are asking Poland and Romania, if not to move their regular armies against us immediately, then to move against us the countless bands of Petlyura and others, in order to ruin our foodcollection campaign.

Thus, we are now faced not with the danger of a new attack by France, or even by Poland and Romania, but with the deeds of particular bands, deeds which, by their logic, may lead to a very serious, bloody denouément. And here, on our nearest frontier, is one of the extreme points of that world policy towards the famine in Soviet Russia which I have tried to describe.

We are not now taking up the question of Bessarabia, although we do not regard this question as having been settled. Such questions are not to be settled independently of the will of the population concerned. But, taking into account the circumstance that the seizure of Bessarabia was an act of aggression, contrary to all the bourgeoisie’s own standards, I make so bold as to say, plainly and frankly, that it was a very great injustice.

But we pin our hopes on the development of the revolution, which will liquidate all this, and, as I said to the Red Army men today, on Bessarabia’s ceasing to be an apple of discord between Russia and Romania and becoming a link between Soviet Russia and the Ukraine [sic]. That is why we are not making it our task today to solve the Bessarabian question, sword in hand, by means of war. We have with us today the question of the Volga-region famine, we have the question of restoring our economy, and for that purpose we need certainty and calm on our Western frontiers. These frontiers are now the scene of the last convulsions of the Western-European bourgeoisie, for every band which enters from Romania or Poland is nothing but a detachment of those forces of world capital which have not lost hope of overthrowing our power. And if we are signing an agreement with Hoover, mobilising our forces for aid to the Volga region, and collecting from our poor resources material for sowing the fields of the Volga region, then, by the same token, we must make our Western frontier secure.

That is why we have been sent here, why we have been sent to inspect and check this frontier. It must cease to be a sieve through which grain is taken from us and through which bands percolate in among us. We are prepared to have, we want to have, gates, doors, windows through which we shall communicate with our neighbours – but on agreed principles. And ii our neighbours do not want to regulate this question at the diplomatic table, then, without provoking them – that would be a misfortune both for us and for them – we shall find in ourselves the courage, strength and endurance to safeguard the inviolability of our frontier.

Upon you, comrades, as our leading workers in one of the border provinces, lies a responsibility not only to the Ukraine but also to the Soviet Federation. It is necessary to establish, at all costs, a definite and clear regime whereby no administrative muddles may help those who are not averse to grabbing what can easily be grabbed. The frontier must be strengthened, and towards that end all the efforts of the trade union and Party organs must be directed. The Red Army units must be made aware that they are now fulfilling a responsible mission not only on behalf of theft starving brothers on the Volga but also on behalf of the entire Federation. We say herein Zhitomir, under the eyes of two frontiers, that we want peace, peace based on lasting agreement. So long as one of our neighbours refuses to give us such a peace, and so long as the other fails to keep the peace properly, so that our frontiers are used for disturbances, we shall close with a triple lock all the illegal exits from and entrances to the Soviet Ukraine and Soviet Russia. We say: ‘Whoever comes to us seeking agreement will be made welcome, and we shall sign binding agreements with him. But whoever tries to break in will run himself on to a weapon. There will be no other fate for burglars and pogromists.’

From the archives


1. On Vanderlip’s visit, see Lenin, Collected Works,Volume 31, pp.444-447, 464-470, 478-479. – Brian Pearce

2. Herbert Hoover (1874-1964) was Secretary of Commerce in President Harding’s administration, and himself became President of the United States in 1928-1932. An engineer of Quaker upbringing, he was active in relief work for war refugees in Europe in the period of US neutrality, and when America entered the war he was appointed Food Administrator. After the war he again concerned himself with relief work in Europe. – Brian Pearce

3. S.M. Prokopovich, E.D. Kuskova and N.M. Kishkin were prominent members of the Cadet Party. – Brian Pearce

4. The allusion is to the phrase: le quart d’heure de Nogi. During the Russo-Japanese War of 1904/1905, the Japanese General Nogi, the victor of Port Arthur and Mukden, had said that ‘victory goes to the side that can hang on for a quarter-of-an-hour longer than the others.’ – Brian Pearce

5. After the expulsion from the French TUC, the Confédération Générale du Travail (CGT), in 1921 of several hundred unions, for their support of the Communist line, these unions formed, in January 1922, a rival trades-union grouping, the Confédération Générale du Travail Unitaire (CGTU).

6. ‘The Little Entente’ was the nickname given to the alliance between Czechoslovakia, Romania and Yugoslavia, the three countries which had gained territory at the expense of Hungary under the Treaty of Trianon. They were linked with Poland and France by separate alliances.

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Last updated on: 29.12.2006