The International Situation and the Red Army

I. The International Situation in the Autumn of 1921


At the Fourth All-Russia Congress of the Russian Young Communist League, September 21, 1921

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

* * *

In greeting you on behalf of the Central Committee of the Russian Communist Party, I am convinced, comrades, from the look of your well-attended congress, and from the spirit that prevails here, that the source of reinforcement for the Communist ranks is inexhaustible. One of the members of the Central Committee reminded me here that, two years ago, I happened to address the second congress of your League. That was at the time of the fierce fighting on the Southern front when Denikin had taken Orel and was approaching Tula. Your League then carried out an extensive mobilisation. Hundreds of its members set off for the fronts, and many of them were killed: but it is our Party’s good fortune that it possesses an inexhaustible source of fresh vigour, revolutionary strength and profound enthusiasm – the working youth. This working youth, the inexhaustible source of creative effort, I greet in the name of the Central Committee of our Party. Allow me, at the same time, briefly to greet you, also, on behalf of the Red Army, in whose ranks have fought and will fight tens of thousands of workers and peasants who have passed through the school of your League.

Now let me turn at once to the fundamental tasks of the report which has been entrusted to me – a report on our internal and international situation.

We described our internal situation as one of transition from a war period to a period of peaceful construction. When we spoke and wrote in that way, we imagined that our military tasks were over, but this, alas, is not so. Precisely now, at the moment of your congress (I shall speak in detail about this in the second part of my report), we are again experiencing anxiety with regard to our international situation, where our Western frontiers are concerned. But it is certainly true that, previously, the fight for the existence of the Soviet Republic filled our lives to the full. Only now have we entered a period of peaceful economic construction. At the same time we have begun to use the methods of free trade, co-operation, commodity-exchange, rent-relations – in short, to allow a certain scope for capitalist economic forms.

To a question of enormous theoretical importance, the question of how and why it was that, at first, we carried out universal expropriation – the concentration in the state’s hands of all means of production apart from those belonging to the peasants – but then began to ‘release’ a considerable part of them: to answer that question, as some often do, by referring to the need to go over to an epoch of peaceful construction, means talking in too general terms. We turn to our Marxist theory and ask what it taught us about how we should tackle the task of socialist construction once the working class has taken power into its own hands. On this point Marxism said the following. The transition to socialism is an immensely weighty and difficult affair. The working class, after taking power, will proceed gradually along this road: it will first expropriate the big capitalists, taking over the most substantial means of producdon, then it will gradually deal with medium-sized industry. As the working class becomes organised, it will go over to expropriating the medium-sized means of production. As for the small-scale means of production, it will demonstrate in practice, by experience, to the small producer-proprietors, the advantages of the large-scale state economy. Consequently, where the biggest bourgeois are concerned, the way of taking over the means of production must be direct coercion, expropriation by armed force. Where the middle bourgeois are concerned it will be partly the same, in so far as they dare to resist. As for the petty bourgeoisie, with them it will be a matter of mental rather than economic pressure, and, above all, of pedagogic influence in economic matters, influence by example: ‘There, see for yourself, in the socialist economy we obtain a larger quantity of products for a smaller expenditure of labour than you do, petty proprietor.’

Did we follow that road? No, we undertook expropriation of the property-owners straightaway. We expropriated the bourgeoisie indiscriminately – the big bourgeois, the middle bourgeois and the petty-bourgeois alike. Does this mean that we thereby departed from Marxism? Does it mean that we violated our own theoretical foundations?

That could be said if Marxism were a gospel, Holy Writ for all times and all nations. Actually, Marxism is a certain method of orientation amid surrounding conditions, a spiritual instrument by means of which we decide the tasks of a given moment in a given country.

From the standpoint of the socialist organisation of production it would certainly have been more advantageous to proceed systematically, carrying out the expropriation of the bourgeoisie in a systematic way: from the big bourgeois to the middle bourgeois, and then to the petty-bourgeois, along the road I have indicated. If the working class had been in power in Germany, and we had possessed a reliable guarantee in the West that we should not be interfered with, we could have dealt with the petty bourgeoisie, and perhaps with the middle bourgeois as well, patiently and pedagogically. Having taken over large-scale industry and created a basis, we could have united the medium enterprises with it, and then, later, the small-scale ones, too. We could have proceeded step by step.

But what would have been expedient for us from the economic standpoint proved to be fatal from that of our political self-preservation. Our bourgeoisie – not only the big bourgeoisie but also the middle bourgeoisie, and to a considerable extent the petty-bourgeoisie as well, which was subordinate to the middle and big bourgeoisie – was, economically and financially, nothing but an agency of the European and world bourgeoisie. All the more easily would it have become a political agency of the world counter-revolution. In Germany it was not, alas, the proletariat that was in power, but the bourgeoisie. And if, out of considerations of economic expediency, gradualism, systematic economic construction, we had left the middle and petty-bourgeois standing on their economic foundation, with their roots in property undisturbed, this agency of world capital, hostile to us, would have proved an obstacle in our path. We had, first and foremost, to ensure the inviolability, the stability of the proletarian state.

Consequently, in the given case, the political need of the proletarian power to preserve itself conflicted with the needs of economic construction. There was undoubtedly a contradiction here. How did we resolve it? We said: above all and at any cost we must consolidate the state power of the working class! How? We had an enemy – capital. We had to crush the enemy within, in the rear of the working class. How? By depriving the bourgeoisie of its economic roots, taking away its property through expropriation. We had to expropriate the middle bourgeoisie not because we were in a position to organise large-scale production from its enterprises, but because we had to slay a political class enemy. As for the enterprises, we said: let us try, so far as our powers and possibilities permit, to organise them in a socialist way. We had very little success in that direction, of course. We were obliged, by force of those very laws of revolutionary struggle for self-preservation of the workers’ state, not only to strangle the bourgeoisie inside the country, but also to combat it in arms on the fighting fronts. In this sense we can say that our economic policy was dictated, in the first period, not so much by considerations of economic expediency as by the revolutionary class’s need for self-preservation. And only after we had defended the workers’ state, only after we had consolidated it, as a fact which has to be reckoned with, which has to be put up with, even if one hates it, could we tackle the tasks of economic construction in the proper sense.

Thereafter began the separation of the productive forces and resources into two big groups. The state said: ‘This much will I now embrace – the major means of transport and production: this can 1, the state, relying on the vanguard of the working class, organise on socialist principles – but the rest will, in the given situation be only a burden to me. Where they are concerned, we must enlist the initiative of private owners, we must attract the private entrepreneur, with his interest in making profits.’

It is self-evident that such a decision is, in a certain sense, a step backward. If the working class had come to power in Germany last year, we should not have needed to take this step. We should have received from the German workers’ state very great help in the spheres of technique, production and administration, and, relying on German science and technique, which would have become the property of the working class, we should have coped more easily with our backwardness, with petty-bourgeois economic forms and practices. We should not have needed to make the concessions to the petty-bourgeoisie and to capitalist economic forms generally which we have now been obliged to make.

Thus, our economic policy is not an arbitrary invention by the Council of People’s Commissars and the Central Committee of our Party. Our economic policy is the harsh, unavoidable conclusion drawn from the situation within and without our country. Our concessions to capitalist forms of economy are a product of our internal backwardness, on the one hand, and of the delay in the working class revolution in Europe, on the other. Those of you who have been working in the Young Communist League for two or three years, who were awakened to political life two or three years (or, even more so, four years) ago – will remember that two or three years ago we were impatiently expecting proletarian revolutions in Germany and France. The Soviet republic in Hungary seemed to us to be the beginning of social revolution throughout Europe. In that matter we experienced a certain disappointment as regards the tempo, the speed of development, of the proletarian revolution. The Soviet republic was suppressed in Hungary, and in Bavaria it proved to be ephemeral. [1] The bourgeoisie stood their ground after the war.

This is one of the basic facts of the international situation. Capitalist economy was shattered by the war to its innermost depths. Its basis was exhausted. Europe and America are going through an unprecedented crisis, and all this is a result of the war, which itself was the result of capitalist plethora. But, at the present time, despite the fact that the ground beneath the bourgeoisie’s feet has been undermined, that the bourgeoisie is incapable of carrying on the economic development of Europe and of the whole world – a fact expressed in the war and in the unprecedentedly destructive crisis which the bourgeoisie is experiencing – despite all that, the bourgeoisie recovered itself after the war. And the revolutionary class and its organisations must clearly and distinctly recognise that this is the case. When we say that the bourgeoisie has outlived itself, that is, that it can no longer fulfil the role that it fulfilled previously (when it promoted the progress of science, of the whole machinery of state, and of culture), when we say that, in this sense, the bourgeoisie has finished its historical career, this does not mean that it will fall as, in the autumn, a sere and yellow leaf falls from the bough. The bourgeoisie has now become a reactionary force which hinders humanity’s progress. But, at the same time, it is a living class that does not want to die, that fights for its existence, a class in which the instinct of self-preservation is alive, especially at the moment when the foundation under its feet is shaking. The European bourgeoisie, very much more experienced and made wiser by life, and having learnt more from its past than our bourgeoisie, concentrated, in the moment of danger, all its experience, knowledge, skill and ability to deceive, in order to crush, to put down – and succeeded in holding its ground. And this means that, although history has prepared its downfall, it will actually fall only when the working class, organised and conscious, proves able to seize it by the throat, overthrow it and strangle it.

This is the task confronting the working class of Western Europe. Over there the proletarian revolution has matured economically to an incomparably greater degree than it had here at the time of the revolution of October 1917. Thus, it is as though history is summoning the working class: ‘Take power, the time has come, otherwise the bourgeoisie will lead you to ruin through renewed wars and frightful crises!’ But, over there, the bourgeoisie, thanks to its greater economic wealth, political experince and culture, constitutes a formidable military and political force. In order to overthrow it the working class will need much greater strategical skill and experience, which it will, as we know, acquire through struggle. As yet it has little of this experience. It needs much more than the Russian working class had need of, faced as it was by a very backward and unviable bourgeoisie.

All this has compelled us to take several steps backward in the economic sphere. But this is also demanded by our international situation. Has our international situation grown stronger in this period, or has it not? Undoubtedly it has grown stronger. We should, of course, be stronger still if the revolution had taken place in Europe. But, even allowing for the fact that the European bourgeoisie has held its ground since the war, we must note that the most powerful section of the European bourgeoisie, British capital, has gone over from the policy of armed intervention to that of a trade agreement and commercial relations with us. At the same time, however, those armedinterventionist groups have not yet disappeared in Europe which continue to consider that the only way by which a mortal danger for the bourgeoisie can be liquidated is the military destruction of Soviet Russia. The centre of this interventionism lies in France, where the stock exchange holds a large amount of Russian debt-bonds for which we have declared we do not accept liability.

Our international and internal situation has been focused and defined by that tragic fact which is now the centre of the country’s attention – the famine in the Volga region. As soon as the scale of this huge calamity became apparent – a calamity which, although indeed caused by various elemental phenomena, was, in the last analysis, an expression of our economic backwardness and helplessness – the question of Russia became subject to review on the world scale.

What had to be the first, direct and inevitable results of the famine? What does the famine mean? The famine might, of course, have brought about the downfall and ruin of the Soviet Republic. But we see it like that acutely painful phenomenon which as often as not breaks out when, after suffering a whole succession of diseases, an exhausted organism, which has fallen into a state of cachexy, presents a picture of ulcers, abscesses and other acute but more superficial ailments. When, in a few years’ time, we look back at our Volga famine in historical perspective, we shall say that, when our country was beginning to recover, the past told upon it in the form of a frightful elemental famine in the Volga region.

The European bourgeoisie began at once to weigh things up, this way and that, in order to determine the line it should take. Britain wondered whether she had made a mistake in entering into economic relations with us, at a time when, perhaps, the famine was exposing our bankruptcy and impending collapse. Among the French bourgeoisie those elements who had had enough of waiting for the long-promised downfall of the Soviet power now gained preponderance and started to insist more stubbornly upon the inevitability of our collapse and the need to assist this collapse by means of armed intervention. It eventually emerged that the public opinion of the European bourgeoisie was split into two basic groupings. I do not want to talk about the feelings of the Western proletariat and its pressing desire to help us (the proletariat of Europe and America has shown its sympathy, so far as its strength permits, by raising money, by agitation, and so on), because, from the standpoint of the international situation, it is the policy of the ruling bourgeoisie that has immediate significance for the moment. So, the orientation of the bourgeoisie has followed two lines. On the one hand, the bourgeoisie – that of Britain, for instance, represented by Lloyd George – came to realise what had happened and said to itself: ‘No, this regime is stronger than we thought. If it could survive such a frightful disaster as the famine which struck at tens of millions of human beings in that weakened and exhausted country: if the state apparatus did not split at every seam: if the Soviet power did not lose its head, but concentrated its attention on the most vital tasks of sowing the Volga region’s fields: if it managed in the very first days to collect millions of poods of seed so as to save the Volga peasants’ economy for the following year – then this regime must have firm roots.’ The British bourgeoisie is, of course, hostile to us, but it is more perceptive than others, and it said to itself that there is in Soviet Russia no other force apart from the Communist Party, the working class organised into a state, that is capable of maintaining law and order and assuming the functions of government.

In France, on the other hand, those elements of the bourgeoisie which were beginning to yield, so to speak, to give in to the necessity of entering into economic relations with Russia, took heart at that moment when the full dimensions of the disaster became apparent. While some are becoming convinced that we cannot be brought down, that it is necessary to enter into economic relations with us, others say: ‘If we do not overthrow the Soviet power in Russia now, when it is being undermined from within by the terrible blow of the famine, we shall never manage to overthrow it.’

‘Now or never’ – this is the watchword of the extreme interventionists in France and other countries. The Russian émigrés encourage them in this attitude. For we must not forget that hundreds of thousands of Russian landlords, capitalists and bankers are vegetating abroad, people who have lost everything, who want to recover, if not everything then at least something, and whose thoughts are wholly directed towards the military destruction of Soviet Russia. One section of the world bourgeoisie said to itself that these émigrés have already exposed their bankruptcy, the fantastic, false, unreliable and stupid character of their thinking. But the other section of Europe’s bourgeoisie said that the last moment had come for these émigrés to take power in Russia. We are observing how these two scales of the balance fluctuate. Never was the question posed so sharply as now. Which of the groupings will triumph, whether we shall be secured peaceful economic existence or shall be subjected tomorrow to armed intervention – that is the question that trembles in the balance.

When I speak of armed intervention, I leave the whole working class out of the argument. Fortunately for us, however, it does exist. This fact arose before us at the last, the Third Congress of the Communist International, which took place in Moscow [2] At this Third Congress of the Communist International we all, as becomes Marxists, that is, revolutionary realists, who are called upon to look reality in the eye, recognised that the bourgeoisie stands firmly on its feet and that more effort and skill is required in order to overthrow it. We said that at the Second [sic] Congress. [‘Second’ is presumably a mistake for ‘Third’.] At this Congress we bore witness to the fact that the revolutionary development of the German working class was taking giant’s strides, and that while today the working class of Germany, France and Britain have not yet stretched out their hands to take state power, while they are only preparing to do this, at the same time the European working class are already now preventing the European bourgeoisie from stretching out their hands to seize us by the throat and strangle us. If within the bourgeoisie itself the two scales of the balance are fluctuating – economic links, or intervention (the philanthropic aid of which the bourgeoisie often speaks is, of course, not pure philanthropy but merely a small advance invested in Russian soil in order subsequently to obtain big profits therefrom) – if, I say, there is wavering within the bourgeoisie itself, this wavering reflects the struggle between the bourgeoisie and the world proletariat, which is the main guarantee of our inviolability.

That is the world situation as it confronts us today. The bourgeoisie wants armed intervention, but the proletariat does not permit this. Is the proletariat strong enought to prevent it? The fact that the French bourgeoisie has not, so far, hurled its divisions upon us, and is not deciding to do so, shows that it fears the proletariat, that it fears to measure its strength with the proletariat on that ground. But this does not mean that the French bourgeoisie renounces other ways of effecting armed intervention. It is seeking the line of least resistance. It lacks the support of Britain, for the reasons I have mentioned. Britain has chosen a different way. France is trying to lean upon the countries of the so-called Little Entente and, in the first place, on our neighbours Poland and Romania. And these are the most acute questions of the present time – the questions of our relations with Romania and Poland.

We have no peace treaty with Romania. As you know’ Romania was an ally of the Tsarist Government. During the world war the Tsarist Government had a common front with Romania. This common front against the Germans and Austro-Hungarians was retained under Kerensky. After the overthrow of Kerensky, under Soviet power, this common front disappeared, collapsed – and Romania took advantage of the fact that she had that common front in order to take Bessarabia from us.

The seizure of Bessarabia by the Romanian bourgeoisie was explained at the time by that bourgeoisie as a temporary measure dictated by the need to provide food for the Romanian and Russian troops in Bessarabia. The diplomats of France and Italy declared, at that time, in 1918, that there could be no question of Bessarabia being annexed by Romania, that it was a temporary measure of military occupation. A statement to that effect was signed by the Romanian minister Averescu, the present Premier. Nevertheless, as you know Romania seized the whole of Bessarabia and declared that it belonged to her. We have not declared war on account of this because, in general, as you know, we do not lightly declare war, we fight only when there is no other way out for us. The annexation of Bessarabia against the will of its population (we have no doubt of that the population were not asked) is a monstrous injustice. But we know that there are many injustices, not only in Bessarabia but in Romania itself, that there is oppression everywhere in the capitalist world, and, in so far as we are firmly confident that the world revolution will accomplish its task of liberation, we have reconciled ourselves to the fact that one more piece of land, namely Bessarabia, will still remain under capitalist oppression. But Romania, feeling uneasy about her Bessarabian territory, was afraid even to enter into negotiations with us. And, in order to strengthen her Bessarabian frontier, Romania had recourse to the aid of the Petlyurist bands, using these as an auxiliary military force, so that now, along with the question of Bessarabia, the question of ensuring the inviolability of our South-Western, Ukrainian frontier has arisen.

With Poland we have, as you know, a treaty of peace, which we did not get easily, and which also cost Poland a great deal. Those of you who have been following political life during the past three or four years know that, day after day, almost since the first weeks of the existence of the Soviet power, we made every effort to establish normal relations with Poland, even if it was a landlord-and-bourgeois Poland. You will remember how our diplomats proposed, dozens of times, to the Polish Government that they engage in peace talks, with a view to ensuring the peaceful existence of both countries. You will remember how the Polish bourgeoisie systematically evaded peace negotiations, how Pilsudski and his supporters carried matters to the point of a major war, a war which caused great losses to both sides, in life and in property. And as a result of that war we concluded a peace treaty with Poland, at Riga, a treaty very favourable to Poland, though not so favourable as the terms we had offered her before the war. We considded that this severe lesson, severe for both sides, was quite sufficient to guarantee us against any repetition of that experience. We considered, and we want to consider now, that this is the case and will continue to be so.

However, your congress coincides with an anxious moment in Russo-Polish relations. I spoke about this yesterday at the meeting of the Moscow Soviet. The previous day, our commissariat of Foreign Affairs had received a note from Warsaw which sounds like an ultimatum. [3] An ultimatum is a demand which is governed by a limit of time, a unilateral demand, that is: ‘I demand and I order that you fulfil my demand before a certain date.’ This presupposes that non-fulfilment of the demand will bring forward some new, more serious, means of pressure.

Whence sprang this ultimatum from the Polish Government? Formally, it arose from the disputes which have been going on between our diplomats and the Polish diplomats over a very long period. The treaty we made with Poland assumed that overt hostile action would cease on both sides. The Polish Government is a government of landlords and capitalists. It hates us and, of course, no-one can require of us that we should behave lovingly towards that government. But the treaty imposed formal obligations on both sides. I spoke yesterday at the Moscow Soviet about how we organised detachments and sent them into Polish territory to destroy railway lines and blow up storehouses, but did this at a time when we were in a state of overt hostilities with Poland. As soon as we had succeeded in concluding a peace treaty, we stopped doing this. We had an apparatus for forming guerrilla detachments of that sort. We dissolved it.

There were impatient persons whose hatred of the Polish bourgeoisie impelled them to continue that struggle. But we said: ‘Comrades: discipline and patience! A peace treaty has been concluded, such is the decision of the working class, its interests demand it. We are obliged to submit, we have no right to display impatience, no right to disrupt that treaty.’ That is what we said. Our decision was dictated, of course, not by sympathy with Poland – factors of sentimentality have to be discarded here, there can be no question of sympathies or of antipathies – this policy was dictated by cold state calculation.

But among the Polish bourgeoisie, which is torn by different groups, there is no unity. Among them there are supporters of intervention at any cost. There are supporters of economic relations with us. There are adventurers who occupy responsible positions. And it is no secret to anyone that the ‘Head and Chief of the Polish State,’ Marshal Pilsudski, has always scorned the peace treaty, regarding it as a mistake and a crime. To tear Soviet Russia into separate, mutually hostile parts, to create a separate bourgeois Byelorussia, subordinate to Poland, to create a Petlyurist Ukraine (in opposition to Soviet Russia), under a Polish protectorate – that is the idea of this petty-bourgeois chauvinist, who fought against Tsardom and transferred his hatred of Tsardom to Soviet Russia. To create a federation directed against the Russian ‘barbarians’, that is the idea which grips him, day and night.

The policy of France coincides with this. I mentioned that chauvinism has started to show itself more strongly in France and that the French usurers consider the moment is ripe for intervention. ‘While we cannot throw in our own troops,’ they argue, ‘the time has come when we can throw in the troops of Poland and Romania.’ On September 3 the French Government called on the Polish Government, that is, its vassal, to present us with an ultimatum. This document, in which France demanded an attack on Soviet Russia, our diplomats managed to obtain. And before the Polish bourgeoisie, in the person of Pilsudski, could decide to address an ultimatum to us, we had already published a warning. The People’s Commissariat of Foreign Affairs declared to the whole world: ‘A new, unheard-of crime is being prepared. The French stock exchange speculators are demanding that the Governments of Poland and Romania simultaneously present an ultimatum to Soviet Russia, and thereby start a new war, a new onslaught on Russia.’ When Comrade Chicherin’s note, which unexpectedly exposed this diabolical intrigue, was published, the French press asserted that it was a lie, a slander, and the British press said it could not believe its eyes, that it was improbable, that it must be verified. That note had been sent from Paris on September 3. And on September 18 we received a note from Poland, signed by the Polish representative here, who, on behalf of the Polish Government, presented us with an ultimatum which runs out on October 1, that is, in ten days’ time.

What are the demands that the Polish Government puts to us? There is no need to enumerate them, for the essence of the matter is not to be found there. What is essential is that the Polish Government is not fulfilling the basic condition of the peace treaty, that is, maintaining peaceful relations. It is sending bands against us, it is directing Savinkov and other adventurers, such as Bulak-Balakhovich. [4] The Polish General Staff is actually helping these bands, arming them and providing them with all the resources they need. At the same time as the whole official bourgeois world is talking about help for starving Russia, the Polish General Staff, and therefore the Polish Government too, like the Romanian, is arming bands with French money, sending them against us, destroying food-trains and killing workers engaged in collecting food. And it can now be said that all the world’s bourgeoisie, with all their philanthropic aid, have not supplied half as much food as has been destroyed by the bands sent by the French bourgeoisie through Poland and Romania. Naturally, our diplomats have demanded that the Polish Government uphold the Treaty of Riga and stop sending in the bands. In Warsaw they said – and in these cases diplomacy has a ready tongue, especially when it comes to lies – that they knew nothing of these bands. We have captured from the bands dozens of documents and letters from officers of the Polish General Staff and Savinkov’s White-Guard organisation, answers to these letters, financial accounts, requests and certificates for particular bands, provided both by Savinkov’s White-Guard organisation and by the Poles. These documents are indisputable, irrefutable, they can be shown to any literate person and he will acknowledge that here is a most crude violation of the foundations of the peace treaty of Riga. When we established this fact, we declared: ‘We are obliged, under the treaty, to return certain property to you and to make certain payments – that is quite correct. We are ready to do this any day, any time. Here is the property, here is the money that we have to pay to you; but we have to make these payments in accordance with the treaty, and not as a bonus for bandit raids. You have given us no guarantees that the raids will cease. Let a mixed commission examine all these documents, and let them give us guarantees that there will be no more bandit raids into our country.’ That was the plane on which negotiations took place. We declared that a treaty is a two-sided document which imposes obligations on both parties to it. But the Polish Govermnent, waving aside the question of the bandits, demanded that we pay the money and hand over the relevant property.

And just at that moment the French ultimatum landed on the head of the Polish Government – for it was essentially an ultimatum, since the French Government announced to the Polish bourgeoisie: ‘Your country is ruined, you are threatened with complete collapse, your finances have reached the brink of bankruptcy: only financial help from France can save you, but France will not grant you that financial help unlessyou help to strangle Soviet Russia.’ At the same time a similar note was sent to Bucharest, to Romania.

That is the picture offered by our international situation. The entire world’s press writes: ‘Before such a terrible natural disaster as we see on the Volga, no heart can remain unmoved. The Bolshevik Government is a criminal government, the Communist Party is a criminal party, but love for the starving calls for active help.’ In France an international committee has been formed to help the famine victims, with as its chairman Noulens, Savinkov’s chief banker, who was his banker when Savinkov organised the Yaroslavl revolt, who gave Savinkov his pieces of silver and who is now the intermediary between the stock-exchange and all the counter-revolutionary thugs. This same Noulens is at the head of the international committee for aid to starving Russia.

How does he begin? By demanding that he be allowed to send into Russia a series of fact-finding commissions. He has to send several dozen, several hundred persons, whose task it will be to ascertain whether aid is or is not needed, and in what form. Noulens, or his partner, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, addresses at the same time, ultra-secretly, of course, an ultimatum to the Polish and Romanian Governments: ‘Now, when over there they are being wasted by hunger, when they are writhing in tonnent, now is the right moment to attack Soviet Russia and the Soviet Ukraine.’ Here, comrades, we see revealed the whole nature of the bourgeoisie, of bourgeois diplomacy, the whole of its morality. There has hardly been a case in history when the baseness, greed and perfidy of the bourgeoisie found expression in such concentrated, disgusting form.

In Warsaw they receive this note, and they hesitate, they know what an ultimatum means, they know that an ultimatum is often followed by military operations. In Warsaw they hesitate, and a struggle between parties begins in the Sejm.

The Witos ministry, a ministry of the petty-bourgeois Agrarian Party, is unwilling to submit to the French ultimatum, fears to begin a new war, foreseeing that its result will be the downfall of the bourgeois regime in Poland. Witos and his government resign. But not one party in the Polish Sejm is able to form a new government. No coalition is realised. A parliamentary struggle goes on, with squabbles and intrigues. This situation is exploited by Pilsudski, the President-Marshal, the ‘Chief of the Polish State’, and he forms his ministry of bureaucrat-officials. [5] I do not recall the name of the new Premier. He is an obedient tool in Pilsudski’s hands. This new government of officials, carrying out the will of Pflsudski, who himself is carrying out the will of the French stock-exchange, has sent our government an ultimatum.’By October 1 you must without fail do what we demand. If by October 1 you have not fulfilled our demand, we threaten to break off diplomatic relations. The Polish representative now in Moscow will leave, and, consequently, your Soviet representative will also have to leave Warsaw.’

Breaking off diplomatic relations does not yet mean war, but it has, in the course of history’ often preceded war. When two countries, though not fighting, have broken off all contact with each other, it is obvious that this pre-determines danger of war. Today, when we have a representative of the Polish Government here, and in Warsaw there is a representative of the Soviet power, it is possible for us to work, to explain, to interpret. As soon as the representatives have returned to their own countries and communication between these countries has ceased, those elements that want war get to work with might and main. The mere fact that diplomatic representatives have been recalled is essentially a step in the direction of overt military action. We are at this moment faced with such a situation.

And Romania? Romania has just now begun peace negotiations, or, at least, has begun preparing for peace negotiations with us. Today, or yesterday, a Romanian plenipotentiary was due to arrive in Warsaw, to meet our representative and arrange with him what matters the peace negotiations should cover. The situation is extremely critical. And it would be either cowardly or short-sighted to shut our eyes to this fact. If we were to discuss the question of how to reply to the note from the Polish government, we should have to say this. We want peace, at any price. That is our fundamental desire. It may be that we shall make concessions to Romania in order to preserve peace. Where Poland is concerned, we are ready now, just as earlier, to make big concessions in order to secure the peace already once achieved. But we can only make such concessions as can really ensure peace, and do not, on the contrary, unleash the other side’s aggressive vigour.

I know that the Polish Government is acting at present under the pressure of France’s ultimatum. To the French Government it is a matter of indifference whether Poland receives certain locomotives and sums of money today, or in four months’ or two months’ time. The question of these locomotives, the question of museum property, or of the repatriation, that is, the return to Poland, of certain groups of Poles – all these are questions that are absolutely without interest to the French stock-exchange. What do they need? What they need is to set Poland on us. Have they achieved this aim? In part, yes. They have created a government which has presented us with the ultimatum they needed. Let us suppose that we were to make the mistake of taking fright at this ultimatum. If we were to satisfy the demands of the ultimatum, would Poland leave us in peace? If we could ransom ourselves from the bourgeoisie not with the blood of Russian workers and peasants but at the price of real and serious concessions, we would be ready to do that. But is that how the matter stands in this case? Is the Polish bourgeoisie presenting us with some sort of vital demands? The Polish Government is merely the postman of the French stockexchange, and is presenting us with a provocative ultimatum so as to obtain a pretext for an armed attack upon us. If we were to make a mistake and say that we submit to this ultimatum, what would that mean? That the French bourgeoisie would at once tell Poland: ‘See, in our note we forecast to you that the Soviet Republic is collapsing, and that it will accept any ultimatum, submit to any categorical and firm demand.’

But that is not so, comrades! Despite the very heavy blows of fate, despite the most fearful blow of all, the famine in the Volga region, we are certainly not weaker today than we were at the time when we were obliged to begin a major war with Poland. We are not weaker now, but stronger. We are stronger, in the first place, because we are more experienced, and, in the second place, because, despite our difficult conditions, we know better how to calculate what we have. We are stronger because our army has acquired more skills and has brought forward commanders from the very depths of society, from the workers and peasants. As soon as suspicious clouds began to appear on the Western front we put the question to ourselves: ‘And what if the devilish schemes of France were to be realised and we were to be subjected to another predatory attack?’

You know that we are demobilising the army, that we have already reduced it to one-third of the size it had attained at the moment of maximum effort by our armed forces. But, while demobilising millions – and we did demobilise millions, which showed that we were seriously ready to maintain peaceful relations – we retained the cadres of all our divisions, cadres that had been tempered, having passed through a very serious school. If they were to force us to do this, we could again mobilise millions, and these would return to the divisions under whose banners they fought. Today, thanks to the work of our command courses – and, above all, thanks to the harsh experience of three years of struggle – we are stronger in the military sense than ever before. Finally, comrades, we possess a most powerful lever for struggle – our Party, and you, the spiritual offspring of our Party.

If the storm were indeed to gather over our heads, the Central Committee would, of course, summon the Party to those efforts and sacrifices, to that heroism, to which it has summoned us more than once already, never meeting with refusal.

I am putting before you the worst prospect, that of the possibility of a new war. But, at the same time, comrades, I do not believe in this prospect.

Romania will not dare to stake her own existence – Romania, which doubled her possessions during the war, which doubled them but has not yet managed to weld them into a united whole. If she were again to put the question to the issue of the sword, rebellion would undoubtedly break out at once in Bessarabia and in Transylvania. Romania knows this. Everything tends to show that she must decline to carry out the French ultimatum.

In Poland, to be sure, Pilsudski is now the master of the situation, and the ministry is in his hands. Pilsudski serves France. But Pilsudski is not alone in the Polish arena. I mentioned various groups within the bourgeoisie which are struggling against him. But, besides them, there are also the Polish working class and the Polish peasantry. If Pilsudski decided, if he dared to carry matters to the point of a new war, he would have to appeal to the Polish worker and the Polish peasant. The Polish mark has fallen to a very low value. Poland is being shaken by strikes waged by workers seeking to improve their conditions. Poland’s policy means that half of the country’s budget is absorbed by expenditure on the army. All these are powerful factors telling in favour of peace. We shall not lose our calm and sangfroid for one moment. We shall appeal again and again to Poland’s ruling circles and also to Poland’s working

people, explaining the whole situation as it is: ‘You want us to carry out the terms of the peace treaty. And we want to do that. Let us get together and give each other guarantees. Let the campaign by the White Guards cease, and we will pay compensation and fufil all the other demands. We refuse to submit to the ultimatum dictated by France, because this is not a real demand, derived from the treaty between us, but a malicious provocation.’ If we were to submit to this provocation, if we were to say that in this case we will make a concession, that would mean that we were merely lulling the vigilance of the Polish people, that we were unintentionally hiding from them the fact that the question is extremely critical. This would not be in the interests of the Polish people. We must say, frankly, that this ultimatum is a provocation dictated by France and that we can therefore give no reply to it but a vigorous ‘No’. And that ‘No’ is at the same time a call to the working masses of Poland. It voices a fraternal warning to the Polish working people. We say that here, under this mask of diplomatic negotiations, votes and ultimatums, what is being decided is the question of whether the blood of Polish and Russian workers is again to flow in the Berezina and other rivers. By putting the question in such a way we shall explain all its implications before the working masses of Russia, Poland and the whole world. And that we shall do.

In these ten days that are left to us, we must make this question known and clear to the Russian workers and peasants and to the workers of the whole world. We shall do that. At the same time, we tell ourselves that nine-tenths, perhaps ninetynine-hundredths of the evidence tends to show that by acting in this way we shall avoid not only war but even a breach of diplomatic relations. By pressure of public opinion, by the force of the will of the Polish working people, we shall compel the Polish bourgeoisie to take back their ultimatum and to negotiate with us in a businesslike way about our mutual relations – to negotiate, because there are now no questions that are not negotiable.

Nine-tenths or ninety-nine-hundredths of the evidence tells in favour of our avoiding fresh trials. But, comrades, one-tenth, one-hundredth still remains, constituting danger of a new armed conflict. We say to ourselves that, while working so that a hundred per cent of the evidence may tell in favour of peace, we shall at the same time prepare to meet a situation in which the odd one-hundredth may become a terrible reality. The danger of war is not precluded – it is not very likely, but it is not precluded. We must not forget that.

If it should turn out that the French bourgeoisie, backed by the most counter-revolutionary and predatory elements of the world bourgeoisie, were to succeed for the last time in hurling the neighbouring states against us, we should then do our duty to the end. The working class of the whole world is following with anxiety and tension the development of the Russo-Polish conflict. We say: ‘Vigilance, far-sightedness and coolness! Not one movement, not one gesture, not one word will you see or hear, coming from our side, that could exacerbate relations, that could reduce the chances of a peaceful outcome, that could facilitate the task of the counter-revolutionary provocateurs. All forces, all attention will be devoted to establishing peace, to restoring normal relations. And, at the same time, our brothers in Poland, Romania and France – be it known to you that, for all our coolness, we remain fully ready to defend the inviolability of the Soviet Republic, which is still the only citadel of the proletariat. We are ready to defend it with all our strength and with our hearts’ blood!’

The French bourgeoisie thought that the famine had dealt a heavy blow to the foundations of our economy, that it had weakened us terminally, depriving us of will and energy. It seemed to the French bourgeoisie that a little push was all that was needed to make us collapse. They tried to hurl Petlyura’s bands against us, on the Ukrainian and Romanian fronts, and they did the same with Savinkov’s bands on the Polish front. They tried to get their tentacles on us in the form of a committee for philanthropic aid. They tried to turn that miserable, scrofulous Committee of Public Personages into a sort of bourgeois government, surrounding it with support, extending lines of communication from it to the international bourgeoisie, the European stock-exchange. Finally, among the most hostile section of the bourgeoisie, they spread rumours about Moscow being now under siege by hundreds of thousands of starving peasants from the Volga, about our defending ourselves in Moscow by means of asphyxiating gases and by appointing a general to command troops against the famine victims who were advancing on Moscow. A monstrous, wild fabrication intended to dupe the masses, so as to show them how easy it would be to march on Moscow, and, at the same time, a means of pressure on Romania and Poland. ‘Over there, in Moscow, complete prostration prevails, one shove will be enough and they will fall.’ That is not true. You and I, comrades, are not going to fall!

There are representatives here from the starving Volga regions. You know better than 1, how hard things are with us. In the literal sense of the word, people are dying, and thousands and tens of thousands more human beings will die this winter. But what does this mean? What is the source of this calamity? It results from our economic weakness, from our insufficient culture, from our lack of experience. The working people are unable to fight against nature. Nature is beating them. People are dying in their thousands. But can this break the Soviet regime? The Soviet regime expresses the entire organised effort of the whole people. What is the Soviet regime? It is the organisation of self-help by the starving. It is the organisation of industry, the organisation of agriculture through increased consciousness and capacity for organisation among the peasants. It is the organised, armed self-defence of the workers and peasants when they are attacked.

In bourgeois countries the governments are in danger. Why? Over there antagonism exists, there is war to the death between the propertyless and the bourgeoisie. Here, that conflict does not exist. Here we have striving to help ourselves, here we have striving to defend ourselves. We may make mistakes, we may stumble. We shall get up again. We shall learn from our mistakes. In trials and misfortunes we shall become tempered. We say: ‘You who hope to overthrow us because of the famine, you see already today, and will see tomorrow, that we have come through the terrible disaster of the famine, and are the firmer for it, more confident, more ruthless. If you bring upon this hungry land which wants peace, which is, step by step, building a structure of economic well-being, the new disasters of war, then those same starving people who, according to false reports, are advancing on Moscow, will join together with the halfstarved (for we are, alas, a country of starving and half-starved people) and will say; “Yes, we have starving and half-starved people here, but we want to create on our land a society of labour, and we will not allow anyone to interfere by force in the accomplishment of our destiny.”

And if the Soviet power should have to say to the workers and peasants, even to those who are discontented and grumbling: ‘Comrade workers, comrade peasants, they are threatening us!’, they would all answer, as one: ‘We are ready!’

Young Communist League! If it should be necessary – may this cup pass from us – if it should be necessary to appeal to you again, and to say: ‘The Soviet Republic is again in danger!’, you will say, all as one: ‘We are present!’

Pokoleniye Oktyabrya (The October Generation)


1. The Hungarian Soviet Republic was formed on March 21, 1919 and survived until August 2, 1919. See, on this, Volume Two, Book One, note 73.

The Bavarian Soviet Republic lasted from April 7 to May 1, 1919.

2. The Third Congress of the Communist International was held between June 22 and July 12, 1921.

[3] On this note see the speech in the Moscow Soviet, September 20, 1921, in Volume Four, p.348, and notes 8 and 50 therein.

4. The origin of the bandit activity in the Western borderland of our Republic goes back to the autumn of 1920 when remnants of Bulak-Balakhovich’s division, on departing into Polish territory, left behind some bands and numerous organisers in order to prepare the ground for a general uprising in Byelorussia.

During the winter of 1920 as many as forty pogroms took place, 21 of them in Mozyr uyezd, where Bulak-Balakhovich’s division was operating. The activity of the White organisations increased markedly during the spring and summer of 1921. The political and military centre of the bandits was in Warsaw (the Central Committee of the League for the Defence of Fatherland and Freedom) and was headed by B. Savinkov. Recruiting and supplying of arms went on openly with the closest participation of the Polish General Staff. In July 1921, after careful preparation, vigorous activity aimed at liquidating these bands was begun in Byelorussia. Already by September 20, 1921, the forty bands, with a total strength of 3,000 men, had been reduced to a mere 14 bands made up of 275 men. The attempts made by Savinkov and Bulak-Balakhovich, with the help of the Polish General Staff, to raise a revolt of the Byelorussian peasantry against the Soviet power ended in failure.

5. The Witos ministry resigned on September 12, 1921, and was succeeded by a cabinet presided over by Ponikowski.

1 1

Last updated on: 29.12.2006