Banditry and Famine

Speeches and Articles


At a Plenary Session of the Moscow Soviet of Workers’, Peasants’ and Red Army Men’s Deputies, September 20, 1921

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

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Comrades, about three weeks ago I addressed the Moscow Soviet on the question of our international situation, in connection with the famine question. If you remember, the central theme of my address was then the question of our relations with Poland and Romania, with the assumption, moreover, which seemed to all of us to be correct, that behind Poland and Romania stands French imperialism, which tries to set them on us so as to prepare the way for another armed intervention through the gateway left ajar on our south-western, Bessarabian frontier. What was then an assumption, though one that was inwardly very well-founded, has now become a fact known to everyone. You have, of course, read the notes sent to Poland and Romania by Comrades Chicherin and Rakovsky, and the note exposing France’s role in this matter. [1]

On the very same day that I spoke to the Moscow Soviet, I left for the Ukraine, on the instructions of the Soviet Government, in connection with those events and problems which have given and continue to give rise to great alarm, that is, in connection with the behaviour of our nearest Western neighbours, Poland and Romania.

The matters which had to be looked into in Ukraine amounted to this: to what extent were our Western and South-Western frontiers safeguarded against further irruptions by bands – because, as you will remember, that was also the subject of my address. There was no doubt in our minds that neither Poland nor Romania was thinking, seriously at least, of sending regular troops against us in the immediate future. What they were up to was trying to sound us out by means of the irregular guerrilla bands of Savinkov and Petlyura, and only in the event that we showed that we had grown weaker as a result of the famine in the Volga country and our economic difficulties, only if it proved that the organism of the Soviet state had ceased to react and hit back, and that their expectations and hopes were confirmed – only then, probably, would they be intending to follow up the irregular bands by sending in regular troops.

The question of the frontier, the question of the condition, the feeling and the morale of our troops along that frontier, and, above all, the question of yield from the food-tax in the frontier zone, as a result of the depredations of the bands – those were the questions which formed the subject of my immediate observations. As regards the frontier, the mere fact that it is possible for isolated bands, of larger or smaller size (they are, predominantly, very small) to make their way into our territory proves that the protection of our frontier is not yet as good as it should be. This circumstance is connected with the entire past of the Ukraine, with the nature of Right-bank Ukraine, with the insufficient number of the proletariat there and, resulting from this, the relative weakness of the Soviet apparatus in that part of the country. Nevertheless, the fundamental conclusion at which I arrived as a result of my journey, on the basis not only of my own, very fleeting observations but above all, of what I learnt about the situation through comrades better informed than myself, was that the Soviet apparatus, Soviet institutions, and the idea of workers’ and peasants’ power had taken an immense step forward in the Ukraine, including Right-bank Ukraine. This is obvious. The Ukraine, which not so long ago presented a picture of chaos – especially in Right-bank Ukraine, with an enormous number of bands and bandits – this Ukraine now offers a scene of incomparably greater stability. I am going to go into this, and quote some figures, but first of all! shall allow myself to diverge on to the subject of our army in the Ukraine.

The army, even though drawn from other parts of the country as well, reflects to an extremely high degree the mood of the population living round it. So long as the spirit of Petlyurism, kulakdom and chauvinist domination reigned in the Ukraine, so long as banditry possessed a broad political character, our Red forces in certain parts of the Ukraine (predominantly in Right-bank Ukraine) found themselves surrounded by a hostile atmosphere, and this could not but have a disintegrating influence on them. Hardly a trace of that epoch is now left. In Right-bank Ukraine, just because the Soviet apparatus is technically less perfect there than in Left-bank Ukraine, the victualling of the troops is effected to a considerable extent at the expense of the local peasant population, and from that fact one might naturally expect some hostility on the part of these peasants. Yet, according to the general opinion – and on this point I questioned not only the commanders and commissars but also the local civil authorities and rank-and-file Red Army men – there is now no noticeable, palpable discontent among the peasants due to the fact that the army gets its food supplies to a considerable extent from the local inhabitants. This is so not only because of the abundance of the harvest in Right-bank Ukraine but also because of the essentially new orientation of the Right-bank peasants. There is now not only no sympathy with the bands, among broad circles of the peasantry, but even among the upper circles in the villages, who were always for them, no trace of the Petlyurist orientation remains.

Petlyurism has ceased, in Right-bank Ukraine, to be a political tendency which embraced the rural upper circles and, through them, the middle peasants, who, more often than not, drew the lower orders of the village in their wake. What were called the Komnezamozhi, that is, the Committees of Poor Peasants, were an organised instrument of class differentiation, for splitting the peasantry. They played a huge role and, in recent months, the lower orders of the Ukrainian countryside have experienced their maiden union with the Soviet power. There will, of course, be some misunderstandings between them and the Soviet power, some fluctuations in their feelings – this we know, it is to a considerable extent inevitably bound up with the nature of the economy and with that of the transitional epoch but the first rough union of the peasantry with the Soviet power, with its spirit, methods and tasks, is happening only now in the Ukraine. This fact has created a highly favourable situation for our Red Army, in all respects.

I saw down there, among others, your N Division, and I can convey to you its hearty greetings. This division is unquestionably one of the best in our Army.

It is probably no secret to you that army manoeuvres have taken place in Right-bank Ukraine which have caused a lot of uproar in the foreign press – uproar which is, of course, not benevolent but malicious and tendentious. The matter was depicted as though the Soviet power was concentrating inconceivably large forces in Right-bank Ukraine with a view to launching an attack on the neighbouring countries, and so on. That is, of course, the purest nonsense. The manoeuvres had a military significance. I do not hide the fact that it was part of our intention to remind those who seemed to have forgotten the fact that our Red Army is still in being. It might have appeared that there was no need to do this, but if, comrades, you were to enter for a moment into the psychology of our enemies, the French imperialists and their agents, you would understand that these people, who yearn for our downfall, take their dreams for accomplished facts. And now, in these weeks of acute famine and the political difficulties connected therewith, they are comforting themselves with illusions about how everything is collapsing in our country.

In my previous address to you, I read out a number of extracts from their newspapers which said that the Red Army was cracking up and that General Zayonchkovsky [2] had been appointed commander-in-chief of a front to fight against the famine-victims. Given such a capacity to believe their own monstrous nonsense, our nearest neighbours might, of course, cheer themselves with the thought that, in the bloody chaos into which they had plunged Soviet Russia, the Red Army had also been submerged. It therefore seemed necessary and useful to remind them, at a distance from which they could see it through good binoculars, that the Red Army has not broken down, but exists, and, while striving for peace no less than the rest of the country, is at the same time capable of defending the country when circumstances demand this.

Comrades, I would ask you not to regard what I am saying as an official communication which I am making by virtue of the office that I hold. Our defects have always been openly proclaimed, and so I have no fear of my words today being taken literally.

Our army has made very great progress. After the manoeuvres, which were quite complicated, and revealed some defects, we carried out an analysis of the manoeuvres in which the entire body of commanders took part, and at this analysis one could, so to speak, sense palpably how the army had grown in strength. Looking back, not even as far as the difficult period of our guerrilla-ism, but just to the period of the struggle against Denikin, and even the struggle against Poland in its best phase, one can say that our armed forces – after the painful turn at the time of the Kronstadt mutiny, when the general turn produced a crack in one part of these forces – have taken in recent months an immense step forward. What, above all, characterised these manoeuvres (there were two groups, one ‘the Blues’, the other ‘the Reds’) was the extraordinary offensive élan, the extraordinary fighting zeal that was shown. Despite the fact that, during the manoeuvres, some terribly forced marches had to be made, and the men became very tired, the morale of the troops was splendid. And I must tell you, making no secret of it, that our Red Army men thought that it was not a question of manoeuvres, and in this respect both the ‘Reds’ and the ‘Blues’ held the same views, for the ‘Blues’ were also very good Reds.

At the assemblies and meetings we had to repeat more than once that the Soviet Government has no desire whatsoever to go to war, and I noticed how the Red Army men would glance at each other then, as though to show that they understood the needs of diplomacy and were saying: ‘We know that you have to speak officially.’ Furthermore, when, in the Odessa area, I went into the frontier zone and visited the forward batteries, I was at once met with literally these words: ‘When is it to be?’ – without any explanation of what was being referred to, because it was assumed that I was bound to understand this without having it spelt out. There, comrades, that was the feeling in the army. When I spoke about this at a meeting of the Odessa Soviet, and uttered the words: ‘When is it to be?’ the Red Army men present put that same question to me, and a storm of applause broke out, with shouts of approval for the Red Army and for the idea implicit in that question. I admit that I was taken aback, and demanded: ‘Can it really be that the Odessa Soviet, or any other Soviet institutions, can desire, in our present difficult circumstances, that we should engage in armed conflict?’ The resolution that the Odessa Soviet adopted was, of course, fully in accord with the general line of our policy.

If I quote these facts it is not for the sake of sabre-rattling or in order to frighten anyone on the other side of the frontier, but solely in order to depict the instability of the situation on our frontier and the mood that this has created in a very extensive zone along that frontier.

At the same time, these facts indicate the spirit that prevails in the army. We want peace, but the army, once we have formed, armed and trained it, must always be ready to fight. Our army is certainly capable of fighting. After observing our units in a great mass, in their manoeuvres in Right-bank Ukraine, I can have no doubt that that is the case.

There are also substantial shortcomings, and I do not mean to pass over these in silence, because there are also Red Army deputies in the Soviet. These substantial shortcomings concern, primarily, our supply apparatus, or, more precisely, the education of the Red Army men, including the commanders and commissars, in supply matters.

Our army finished long since with guerrilla-ism in matters of organisation and operations, but we have not yet managed to give every Red Army man the necessary education where supply matters are concerned. In order to clarify this question for you I will formulate it as I formulated it to the commanders and commissars after the manoeuvres. Almost every one of our Red Army men, not to speak of our commissars and commanders, is ready to die for Soviet Russia, but we have very few Red Army men who properly and regularly grease their boots, and that, comrades, is something which is very important. An ungreased boot wears out twice as soon as one that has been greased. And what that boot, multiplied by the number of feet in our army, signifies for our economy is clear without lengthy explanation.

And, further, I will say here frankly that even in the Kremlin, among our splendid cadets, you will not find properly, regularly greased boots on their feet and there are units, comrades, in which rifles are not always cleaned and oiled as they should be. That means that the expenditure of rifles is doubled, it means that the resources of the Soviet Republic are squandered, and now, when we have an army whose cadres have been tempered in battle, an army with great experience, with fighting commanders and commissars, inspired from top to bottom with a single feeling – that is an absolute fact, not an exaggeration – now, comrades, we must open a new epoch. Just as, in its time, we fought against guerrilla-ism and extirpated it, so now must we begin a new epoch in the life of the Red Army: grease your boots properly, clean your rifle, oil your rifle, look after your greatcoat, sew buttons on it without delay – your shoe is not laced up and so it has got twisted to one side, and because it has not been greased it will rot in three weeks when autumn sets in, when it will have to cover 30 versts a day in wet weather. Our slogan for the Red Army must be: ‘Sew on your buttons and grease your boots.’ This is no trifling matter, it is a question of the education, not only economic but also in matters of army supply, of every Red Army man, every individual soldier.

Our army, with its ideological tradition, with its tempering in revolution and battle, will, when it has also learnt to sew on its buttons, and properly lace up and grease its boots, become the most invincible army that has ever existed.

Comrades, I promised to come back to the question of banditry in the Ukraine, a question of enormous importance. I shall give some facts and figures, although, of course, the figures can only be approximate. Where banditry is concerned, as with all other problems – economic, political and military – the Ukraine is divided into two parts: Left-bank and Right-bank. Right-bank Ukraine is much more kulak-ridden, much more chauvinist, and therefore much less organised in the Soviet sense, than Left-bank Ukraine. Right-bank Ukraine was always a base for banditry, mainly of the Petlyurist variety. In Left-bank Ukraine banditry was to a considerable extent anarchist in colouring, connected with the name of Makhno. If we take the strength of the bandits, we have to consider both the cadres that make up their permanent element and the numbers of the forces that group themselves temporarily around these cadres, for the bandits have a transient element, and it is on the relation between the constant and the transient element that the strength of the bandits depends.

When Petlyurism was the dominant tendency in Right-bank Ukraine, the transient element among the bandits greatly outnumbered the permanent, cadre element, because kulaks and middle peasants flowed steadily into their ranks. As Petlyurism lost its importance as a political tendency, these ranks shrank more and more and became reduced to their cadres. From a political phenomenon embracing broad masses of the population the Petlyurists became transformed into fairly large military units, by means of which Petlyura or his commanders tried to conquer the Ukraine. But now, in recent months, the transient element has been quite wrung out of these units and they have been reduced to narrow bandit gangs. I have a map, a very accurate one, showing the distribution of these guerrilla units. Since June and down to the present moment, their locations have remained more or less the same, but their numbers have declined to a remarkable extent.

In Right-bank Ukraine the bandit cadres amounted to 6,500 men. Today there are barely more than 2,000 or 2,500. The most interesting phenomenon in the history of this bandit movement is that during this period entire bandit gangs, principally the ideological bandits, that is, the Petlyurists, not the mere brigands but the Petlyura nationalists from among the former village teachers, from the intermediate petty-bourgeois intelligentsia and semi-intelligentsia, are coming in more and more often, in repentant mood, and giving themselves up, influenced by the fact that the countryside has cast them out. They have lost all hope of establishing a Petlyurist regime and are surrendering to the Red Army.

In Left-bank Ukraine, as I have already said, we have mainly Makhnovite bands, and on June 1 we calculated, again confining ourselves to the cadres, that they numbered about 2,500 men.

Since June a proper, systematic struggle against banditry has begun, in the sense that the Red Army is advancing on a broad front and carrying out a purge. In June some prominent bandit ringleaders in Right-bank Ukraine gave themselves up: Lisitsa, Mordelevich, and part of Orlik and Strup’s band, with Ataman Zamogilny. In the Tarashchinsk and Chigirin areas Atamans Tsvetkovsky and Ponomarenko surrendered, with 45 bandits, and also three ringleaders of Khmara’s group, and Rodchenko, a prominent ringleader, was killed. These names mean nothing to you, of course, you don’t know them, but I must tell you that they were literally the kinglets of the uyezds, and even provinces, where they ruled, spread terror, and carried out trials and punishments. Later, Ataman Rapchinsky was killed.

Since June banditry has markedly declined. During July the struggle was continued, and went on into August. In August the very prominent Atamans Martynov, Dergach and Grozny surrendered. In Chigirin district, in August, Atamans Boyko, Shaposhnikov, Byk and Petrenko gave themselves up. In Tarashchinsk district Martynovsky and others came in, and in Ovruch district, Dergach and Grozny.

The disintegration in this period affected even the leading organs of the bandits. In Chigirin district one of the heads of the local Kholodnoyarsk rebel committee surrendered, and in the same district the band of Ovcharenko was smashed and its leader killed. In the Kiev area Petlyura’s organiser General Gallun was captured. In Fastov district an underground Petlyurist organisation was discovered, and 500 participants arrested. Many weapons were seized. In general, the discovery of underground organisations has become relatively easier in this period than before, because the masses are not hiding them but rejecting them. I call your attention to the circumstance that Petlyura’s agent General Galkin came from Galicia, because Galicia has something to do with Poland, and Poland has something to do with these bandits who cross the frontier into our country. A revival of bandit activity was observed in August in the Kiev area, having as its aim to disrupt the collection of the food-tax by attacking collection-centres, food-trains, and so on. Thus, in Berdichev district the bandits burned 7,000 poods of rye, and at Fastov the bandit Dayevol wrecked a food train, causing the loss of about 40,000 poods of grain, which was mingled with earth and human blood.

If one takes a clear look at the history of the degeneration of banditry in the Ukraine, a conclusion emerges that is optimistic for the Soviet regime in the Ukraine. Previously, Petlyurism was a kind of party which embraced wide sections of the population. It was a political movement in a country in which a petty-bourgeois population predominated. Then the class struggle broke out, and Petlyurism was transformed from a mass political party to a narrower but still fairly numerous one – into a military force which relied mainly on the kulak element in the rural areas. Later, the process of break-up of the Petlyurists was expressed in the loss of their peasant supporters by the petty-bourgeois Petlyurists, so that they retained only a cadre, which is, fortunately, also disintegrating, engaging in internecine conflict, and finally fragmenting into small gangs.

The first period of the Petlyura movement found expression in hope that the Ukraine could be won from within. The second period was a period of conquest by military means; and the third, the present period, is one in which the numerous bandit groups are breaking up into petty gangs. The aim of their activity is to take revenge for the disappointment of their hopes.

In the first period the Petlyurists went into the villages, and even seized towns, especially those in which the petty-bourgeois element predominated. In the second period the Petlyurists still had some ground under their feet inside the Ukraine itself: and, finally, the third period is characterised by the fact that the Petlyurists, no longer possessing bases inside the Ukraine, have entirely shifted their base across the frontier. The Petlyurist leaders have either surrendered to the Soviet power or else gone abroad and merged there with the Romanian and Polish army staffs. In accordance with this development, the petty Petlyurist gangs are ceasing to be an expression of the Ukrainian national idea, and are becoming organs of foreign army commands, the aim of which is to do technical military damage.

Espionage, according to the theory of this dismal trade, is divided into two departments, namely, intelligence and sabotage, and these degenerated Petlyurist gangs have become organs of sabotage. From the standpoint of the strengthening of the Soviet power in the Ukraine, the process of degeneration undergone by the bandit movement is a tremendous gain, a tremendous step forward, but from the standpoint of the security of our food trains, our food depots and our food-procurement workers this constitutes an absolute menace, which we must combat quickly and ruthlessly.

It is quite natural that we cannot accept a situation in which the base of these petty brigand gangs lies in a neighbouring country which is not at war with us. This applies equally to Poland and to Romania. Three weeks ago I spoke about our fears regarding Romania, because our relations with that country have not been settled. True, Take Jonescu assured us that good-neighbourly relations between us and Romania have never ceased to exist, but I consider this to be a misplaced joke on his part, which cannot reassure us even for one minute. We told the Romanian Government at that time that we know about the connections that exist between Bucharest and Paris, connections of which we have subsequently obtained documentary confirmation.

As regards Poland, we were at that time inclined to consider that everything was all right, even despite a number of acute misunderstandings which had arisen, in connection precisely with this very question of banditry – for this is now the question of questions, and the key to them all. Despite all the misgivings that arose after the Polish war, there could, after the Treaty of Riga, be no question of any upheaval in our relations with Poland. Now, too, comrades, I think that peaceful relations will be maintained, but I must say that the misunderstandings which are observable today are very much more alarming than those of three weeks ago.

I have here some original documents which I brought along with me. They are all very small, it will be hard for you to see them – they are photographs and documents depicting the bandit activity of Savinkov’s organisation which previously bore the name: ‘Russian Political Committee’, but later was called the ‘Evacuation Committee’, and these documents testify with complete certainty that the Polish army authorities, the Polish general staff and, in the first place, its Second Department, participate directly in the organisation of the bands which are being thrown into our territory, in the organisation of conspiratorial attempts, terrorist acts, and so on. Savinkov speaks openly about this in his newspapers. Polish official personages appear at the Savinkovites’ congresses. Chicherin said all that needed to be said about this in his precise and eloquent note. But the Polish Government replied that it knows nothing about these matters. There are émigrés in Poland, and they have their press organs, but the Government has no knowledge of any armed activity directed against us. We find it difficult even to understand today this psychology of falsehood. The natural explanation of it is that in Poland a very fierce struggle is going on around the Government, between different groups, individuals, parties and cliques, and amid this fierce mêlée a sense of perspective is not always retained, and answers are sometimes given in which common sense is lacking.

And when Savinkov boasts of his friendship with the Belvedere (the palace where Pilsudski, the head of the Polish state, resides), he has in mind, of course, not the doorkeeper of the Belvedere but a person occupying a higher post than that. At the congresses of the Savinkovite terrorists, who do not conceal their White-Guard activity, individuals from the bandit gangs appear (and are named) who have passed through the appropriate military points on the Polish frontier, with the help of the Second Department of the Polish General Staff, or of some other department, for each of them has its own Savinkovite or Balakhovichite agents. We have captured quite a few such agents, with the relevant certification on their persons, and have proposed to the Polish Government that it join us in a commission in which we shall show all these documents, in the original.

Here we have a certain Pavlovsky. [3] Balakhovich wrote that he arrested this Pavlovsky for being a pogromist. He is an officer of the old Russian Army. Savinkov released him and he made him his confidential agent. We have the originals – not copies – of letters from Pavlovsky to both of the Savinkov brothers. [4] Here is a letter addressed to Viktor Savinkov. Paylovsky says in this letter: ‘We are established here in the forest and are active in a small way. The work, glory be to God, is going well so far: we are setting fire to bridges and also finding out the disposition and strength of army units ...’ and so on.

Here is a letter with more innocent contents. Pavlovsky writes in it that he has a brother in Egypt who has to be set free. It is for this purpose that he is engaging in espionage, sending reports which he proposes to sell to the French for a high price. And he asks for a camera to be sent to him. Then he says: ‘Tell me when the general uprising is to be.’ This is evidently so that Savinkov should not forget to tell him when he gives the order for a general uprising to be organised in Russia.

To the other Savinkov brother Pavlovsky writes: ‘Be so good, if you receive money from the French for the report, to give 30,000 to Colonel S.’s wife.’

And here is a third, a short note: ‘Send me twelve revolvers, cartridges, ten small grenades, poison, daggers’ ... and so on. That is the equipment needed by the innocent agent of Savinkov on Soviet territory. Here is another note: ‘Let me have, in cipher, a few V.G.S. [5] addresses in Moscow. Pavlovsky.’

There are a number of credentials for other agents here, signed by Savinkov, and all, without exception, worded like this one: ‘The bearer of this document, so-and-so Pimenov, has been despatched to me, on behalf of the Russian Political (or Evacuation) Committee, from Poland into Soviet Russia, to carry out activity.’ That is how it is put: ‘to carry out activity’. The document is signed by Savinkov and by Rudin, who was formerly his aide-de-camp and is now in charge of his office. Further: ‘To Colonel Suyevsky. I order you, on receiving this letter, to go to Rubezhevichi and unite under your leadership all the detachments and organisations located in the Rakov, Rubezhevichi and Nesvizh sectors.’

Here I have Account No.4. I also have Account No.5, for the Russian Evacuation Committee in Poland (this committee is the Political Committee under a new name, ‘Evacuation Committee’ sounds more innocent), in respect of the expenditure of certain sums: ‘For one suit of civilian clothes, 3,000 marks. For pay to persons sent into Soviet Russia for activity to bring about a general peasant uprising, 110,000 marks. Total, 113,000 Polish marks.’ So, then, for a general armed uprising, plus a suit of civilian clothes, the sum of 113,000 marks was laid out. I don’t know whether the price of the clothes is high or not, I don’t presume to judge, but 110,000 marks was not very much to pay for an uprising.

Whether this money comes through the Polish committee or directly from French sources, the fact is that this activity is going on all the time on Polish territory. You have read a series of notes on this subject. In the last few days the Polish press, so far as we can follow it from here, has been, so to speak, split in its attitudes to the Polish Government’s policy, but one section of it is definitely carrying out an order given from Paris.

You will remember that on September 3 the French Government ordered the Polish Government to present us with an ultimatum. [5b] The French ambassador to Poland, Panafieu, and General Niessel, whom we saw in Soviet Russia and who actually sits astride the Polish General Staff, consider that the moment is now propitious for overthrowing the Soviet power. This has induced the French Government to issue its command. The Polish Government, as we know, wavered at first. A crisis of the Witos ministry took place, and this peasant and big-bourgeois democratic ministry, which was more or less pacifist, fell from power.

A struggle is now going on over there between three groups: between the petty-bourgeois pacifists, that is, the party of Zelichowski and the groups associated with it; the crazy petty-bourgeois adventurers who occupy posts of responsibility in Poland; and, finally, the big-bourgeois party of the National Democrats. This party, which is the object of merited hatred on the part of the worker and peasant masses, and which is now trying to obtain from France a permit or an order to take state power, is ready, for that purpose, to declare war on Soviet Russia.

Thus, on the one hand, there is a small group of adventuristic and rabid petty-bourgeois chauvinists, who want war, and, on the other, the big landowning and industrial bourgeoisie, who want power, and are ready to pay for that power the price of war against us. But whereas the petty-bourgeois chauvinists who boast of their intimacy with the Belvedere want war with the help of the Belvedere, the National Democrats want war so as to overthrow the Belvedere and take power into their own hands.

This conflict is now rending Poland from within. How it will end is at present hard to forecast, but this is what is said in the Polish papers, which are of very great importance to us in these undoubtedly anxious days. Rzeczpospolita, which is the organ of the National Unity group (a comparatively small one, if I am not mistaken) headed by Skulski, a voice which can be described as that of good sense, says: ‘On the one hand, the Soviet Government asserts that we are supporting the “Union for Defence of Fatherland and Freedom” [6], while, on the other, the Polish Government asserts that Communist agitation is carried on in Poland with the backing of the Soviet Government. The straining of relations through the exchange of fresh notes and through an ultimatum is in no way advantageous either to Poland or to Russia. Poland made peace with Soviet Russia because she needs peace with Soviet Russia: she lacks the strength to overthrow the Soviet power and instal a new social order in that country. In other words, Poland cannot and must not undertake that sort of operation. The Soviet Government also has the same need of peace. The cause of disagreement between us is known. It must be carefully looked into. We would suggest that a commission be formed to investigate all points of misunderstanding.’

‘Poland’, Rzeczpospolita goes on, ‘cannot expel the Russians who enjoy the rights of asylum. However, Poland can and must eliminate any cause for suspicion that she is supporting organisations which are active against the Soviets. The Soviets, on their part, must refrain from supporting the Bolsheviks in our country. This question needs to be cleared up without delay.’

The newspaper Czas writes: ‘As regards the so-called White-Guard organisations in Poland, these exist only in the luxuriant imagination ... of the Soviets’ secret agent in Warsaw. Does Mr Karakhanj [7] really suppose that Poland is going to repudiate the right of asylum possessed by every sovereign state and expel peaceful Russian residents merely because they get on the nerves of Soviet commissars?’

So, then, comrades, the question is posed like this. We, it is said, assert that you (that is, the Polish Government) support monarchists and counter-revolutionaries, and they reply: ‘But you support the Communists.’ Rzeczpospolita considers, however, that peace is necessary and possible, but says: you will not presume to require of us that we expel Russians living peacefully in our country. What sensitive nerves we have; just think of it. People are living peacefully, from time to time they ask for a few bombs and grenades, a little poison, they present accounts not just for clothes but also for organising a revolt, and for this purpose they have a committee in Poland which is in contact with a Major on the General Staff who supplies them with poison, small grenades and all that sort of thing. And they say that this gets on our nerves, that we can’t bear it. As for us, it is no secret here that we do have something to do with the Communist International – Soviet diplomacy is not going to conceal that fact, for in it, we consider, lies the meaning of our political and ideological existence. In this International (I do not intend to go into the philosophy of history and explain how the International is the world movement of the working class), we play our part, and by so doing we support it. But are we going even so far as to demand, for example, that all the monarchist or Cadet papers in Poland be suppressed?

Of course, by the fact of our existence and our conscious activity we give support to the Communists, but that is one thing, while if we were to organise detachments, give them small grenades and poison and send them against Poland’s Belvedere and War Ministry, that would be another thing. Have we organised on our territory Red Communist detachments under the sign of the International? Of course we have. When we were at war with Poland we did that, and we had an organ which formed these detachments, and armed them, and sent them forth, saying: ‘Do your best’, and we gave them not small grenades but large-sized ones. But then we made peace, and we did that seriously, not out of sentimental feelings but for practical and profound reasons, wishing to safeguard the Soviet Republic. We said that we should put an end to hostile military operations, and we did. We do not demand, finally, that they expel from Poland Merezhkovsky or Mrs Hippius [8], who write against us every day, demanding the extermination of all Bolsheviks, on a wholesale basis and also each one in particular. That is, if one may say so, an ideological tendency, but Pavlovsky, armed with bombs and poison, and sent to Moscow for tactical purposes, is a phenomenon that one cannot possibly describe as peaceful.

Pavlovsky is a bandit who has been armed, at the expense of the Polish people, by the adventurist and imperialist elements in the Polish Government which are hostile to us. That is a fact.

We proposed to the Polish Government a mixed commission to discuss all the questions that have given rise to misunderstanding. The Polish Government refused, and the Polish press threatened us with an ultimatum. Moreover, both France and a section of Poland’s ruling circles tried to involve Romania, as well, in this conflict.

Regarding Romania we have had very great misgivings. She has not actually gone to war against us, as Poland did, but she is uneasy about Bessarabia. She is not sure what our intentions and plans are, she fears a thrust across the Dniester, and, out of this fear, sends forth the Petlyurist bands: this situation may compel her to go further than the less adventuristic section of her government would wish. That is why, I repeat, we have looked with apprehension towards the frontier with Romania.

I spoke to you about the state of feeling on the frontier, where the gunners manning our riverside batteries ask: ‘When are we going to advance across the Dniester estuary and across the Dniester?’ This mood is terribly dangerous in itself, for, in such an atmosphere, guns have more than once been known to go off by themselves. Consequently, while taking a number of measures to strengthen the frontier, we have, at the same time, done everything to ensure that behaviour on our side of the frontier is such as to exclude the very idea that we wish to attack Romania on account of Bessarabia. We only want to safeguard our south-western frontier. How and when the Bessarabian and other questions will eventually be settled is, of course, very important, but where many questions are concerned we wait, and wait patiently. We wait on the development of events on the world scale, and we wait patiently, and at the last congress of the Comintern it was we, the Russian Communists, who proved that we are free from any feverish impatience. We can wait calmly to see how and at what stage in the future the question of Bessarabia will be settled. It is absolutely impossible that we should, on our own initiative, start a war for the sake of one province. [9]

We have continually sought peace negotiations with Romania. Now, it would seem, these negotiations have begun. Mr Fal [10], a representative of the Romanian Government, has left Bucharest for Warsaw in order to negotiate with Comrade Karakhan, while Take Jonescu, who, three weeks ago, said in the Council of Ministers that there could be no peace treaty with Russia because France was only biding her time to strike the final blow at us, is now using much more acceptable language. He has said to the correspondent of a foreign newspaper: ‘We must make sure that we are at peace with the Soviet republic, and that it has acknowledged that fact.’ Yes, that is the (ask, to make sure in Warsaw that we are at peace, and that means that we are not to hurl bands at each other and threaten the very bases of peaceful existence. Take Jonescu says just this in a talk with a representative of Le Figaro (these are all recent telegrams): ‘Where Russia is concerned, I hope that everything will be peaceful. In any case, our conduct will be completely honest and courteous.’ Courtesy was even somewhat more than we expected. We should have been quite satisfied with honesty without courtesy, and since what we are asking for in Warsaw is, above all, not a settling of accounts for the past but guarantees for the future, I, for my part, have no doubt that with a minimum of businesslike honesty, and even without courtesy, we shall in Warsaw arrive at the establishment of peace with Romania.

But now, just at this moment when from Bucharest they are talking to us even in the language of courtesy, the Polish Government has yesterday presented us with a sort of ultimatum. Do you know what this is about? Poland demands that we fulfil our side of the treaty, meaning the articles about restitution of Polish property, certain items of material compensation, questions concerning the repatriation of Polish citizens, and so on, which we have made dependent on the Polish Government’s fulfilment of the points in the treaty about putting an end to the struggle that is being waged against us by means of guerrilla bands.

Our diplomats say: ‘A treaty is not a unilateral but a bilateral document. It imposes obligations on both of the governments which sign the treaty. We have some serious claims against you, which are expressed in these documents and these photographs. You have some claims of a material nature? We promise to satisfy your claims in proportion as you take account of ours, and satisfy them!’

After some wavering, the Polish Government has apparently decided to carry out the order given by the French stock-exchange on September 3. This order said, as you know: ‘Present an ultimatum to the Soviet Republic, with all the consequences that ensue therefrom.’ To justify this order, the French Ambassador in Warsaw, Panafieu, said: ‘We in France (that is, the French stock-exchange speculators) consider that Poland is ix a desperate situation economically. Poland can be saved only by extensive aid from France. This extensive aid can be given only after her relations with Russia have been settled afresh.’ France, said Panafieu, has already settled her relations with Germany. Her hands are no longer tied, and she must now review her policy towards Russia. To this end she needs Poland and Romania as instruments of military pressure upon Soviet Russia. If Poland and Romania fulfil this role, if they strangle or smother Russia, then France will thereby have settled her relations with the Russian people – and only then will she help ruined Poland. I have given you almost word for word the gist of the declarations made by the French ambassador, Panafieu, in explanation of the French stock exchange’s order of September 3. And now, after a series of waverings, and internal conflict, a situation has taken place in Poland which favours the presenting to us of that ultimatum which was delivered yesterday. It cannot be described otherwise than as an ultimatum. If I am not mistaken, the deadline for its fulfilment is fixed for October 5.

This step, comrades, is undoubtedly one of great seriousness. We had misunderstandings with Poland earlier, too, and we kept trying to remove them by peaceful means. We offered conditions that were much more favourable than those which Poland subsequently obtained under the Treaty of Riga. Poland rejected our offers, and that led to a protracted war which caused very heavy losses to both sides. The balance was drawn at Riga, where obligations for both sides were laid down, and we have up to now fully met those obligations. Poland, in the persons of the groups which have (only temporarily, I think) won the upper hand there, is trying once again to interpret this treaty as though it were unilateral in character. And since Poland was given, on September 3, the order from the French stock-exchange, Warsaw (that is, the relevant section in Warsaw) is trying to carry out that order against us, and instead of businesslike negotiations about reciprocal claims is presenting us with a unilateral ultimatum. The underside of this policy was formulated by the French ambassador Panafieu. He told the Polish Government that ‘we consider your economic situation to be desperate’. And the fact that Poland is carrying out the order from the French stock-exchange does verge on a policy of desperation.

Comrades, a few days are left before October 5. How these days will affect the suicidal course that Poland’s ruling circles are following we cannot predict. We have no doubt that our diplomats will do everything to ensure that, not only among the Polish people but even among the Polish bourgeoisie, that tendency will prevail which wants to preserve peace and normal economic and state relations with us. Now, after an ultimatum, totally unprovoked and in the gross form of a unilateral order, has been presented to us, our striving, our will, to arrive at a peaceful settlement of the conflict has not slackened, but, on the contrary, is firmer than before. But the conflict can be settled only through bilateral negotiations, in which both sides make concessions. And we hope that the days which remain before October 5 comes will bring calm, will clear the air, that such voices in the Polish press as that of Rzeczpospolita will prevail, and we shall reach agreement, for there can be no alternative to agreement. It must be said that we are not, in relation to Poland and her government, in a situation like that of the Polish Government in relation to France. While the impudent, insolent, greedy Paris stock-exchange tries rudely to dictate its will to the Polish and Romanian peoples, we, despite our famine and difficulties and other misfortunes, are nevertheless not in a situation in which anybody can give us orders that we have to obey. And we say, therefore, that we shall not lose our sangfroid even in face of an impertinent ultimatum. We are ready to engage in negotiations on a businesslike basis, and we say to Poland’s bourgeois circles: ‘Call some of your people to order.’ We say to the Polish workers that if their bourgeoisie does not succeed in calling the adventurers to order, then it will be the task of the workers and peasants of Poland to call the Polish bourgeoisie to order, and to force them to do what is required of them.

Stenographic Reports of the Moscow Soviet, 1921, No.8


1. It was stated in the communiqué from the People’s Commissariat of Foreign Affairs (Izvestiya V.Ts.I.K., September 15, 1921) that the Commissariat was in possession of precise information showing that, in the course of the immediately preceding weeks, the French Government had taken steps to draw Poland and Romania into war with Russia. The French note to Poland of September 3, expressed the idea that the famine created favourable conditions for Poland and Romania to present their maximum demands to Russia in the form of an ultimatum, threatening that, if these demands were not met, military action would be taken.

2. General A.M. Zayonchkovsky, a well-known military historian, was a member of the Red Army’s General Staff and later taught at the Frunze Military Academy. – Brian Pearce

3. Pavlovsky was later captured by the Soviet security service, ‘turned round’, and used to lure Savinkov into Russia, in 1924, to be himself taken prisoner. – Brian Pearce

4. The terrorist leader Savinkov was named Boris; he had a brother who assisted him, named Viktor. – Brian Pearce

5. It is not clear what the initials ‘V.G.S.’ stand for here. The initials of the ‘Supreme Monarchist Council’ would be ‘V.M.S.’ – Brian Pearce

5b. On the Polish ultimatum, see above, note 8. In the note from the People’s Commissar of Foreign Affairs on September 22, replying to the Polish ultimatum of September 18, it was stated that the ultimatum-like character of the Polish note made it unacceptable, and a number of counter-demands were put forward – for the expulsion of Russian counter-revolutionaries from Poland and cessation of the support given by Poland to the organisation of bands. The People’s Commissar proposed that the deadline for fulfilling the demands be put off from October 1 to October 5.

6. The ‘Union for Defence of Fatherland and Freedom’ was Savinkov’s organisation.

7. L.M. Karakhan was Soviet ambassador to Poland in 1921-1923. – Brian Pearce

8. The novelist Dmitri Merezhkovsky and the poetess Zinaida Hippius were husband and wife.

9. Louis Fischer writes, in The Soviets in World Affairs, 2nd edition, 1951, Vol.I, pp.xiv-xv, that Rakovsky told him in 1928 that there was a division of opinion among the Soviet leaders at this time on what to do about the disputed province of Bessarabia: Trotsky, supported by Litvinov (then Chicherin’s deputy) proposed recognising the Romanian annexation, but Chicherin and Rakovsky opposed this. Until 1940, when the Red Army took over Bessarabia, the province was marked on all Soviet maps as ‘unredeemed’ Soviet territory. – Brian Pearce

10. The Romanian representative at these talks was named Filaliti.

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Last updated on: 28.12.2006