The International Situation and the Red Army

II. Genoa and the Hague


At the Ceremonial Meeting of the Moscow Soviet of Workers’, Peasants’ and Red Army Men’s Deputies, January 16, 1922

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

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Comrades, the principal feature of the world situation continues to be its extraordinary instability. Before the world war, diplomats, politicians and military men (most of us were not among them in those days) were able to predict, by and large, the development of international antagonisms and agreements over a more or less lengthy period of time. There was the Triple Entente and there was the Triple Alliance. True, when the war began, Italy broke away from the Triple Alliance and joined the other grouping, but nevertheless, generally speaking, the various groupings which had been worked out over many years, even decades, by the staffs of the European states were maintained during the war itself, for Germany, Austria, Russia and France fought against those against whom they had intended and prepared to fight.

After the world war this relative stability and definiteness in world groupings and inter-state relations vanished, and has not returned. True, it is hoped that equilibrium may be restored with the help of the Genoa conference [1], but it is hardly likely that this equilibrium will be fully restored in international relations, in the sense in which this was usually understood before the last imperialist war.

The world has been shaken out of its equilibrium. The centre of gravity of world forces is wandering around and finding nowhere to settle. At the time of the Versailles negotiations it seemed (not to everyone: it did not seem so to us) that the centre of the world was Versailles and Paris, that France had become the mistress of Europe, for Monsieur Clemenceau presided at Versailles. We remained sceptical about this, and we were proved right. Already at that time the domination of France bore a fictitious character and duped the simpletons whom tawdry brilliance deludes. In reality, it was Britain that then dominated Europe, and France was allowed to do only what Britain considered compatible with its dominant position in Europe. Britain ruled the seas and considered that it had the right to possess a navy stronger than the combined navies of the two naval powers next in rank. But, before very long, this domination by Britain proved to be limited in character.

After Versailles we witnessed Washington. The United States refused to join the so-called League of Nations, which is nothing but an outwardly decorative cloak for Britain’s domination over Europe exercised through the sham militarypolitical domination of the Continent by France. The United States refused to sign the Treaty of Versailles or to join the League of Nations. Conscious of the preponderance of her industry and of her gold reserve, America appeared at Washington in order to re-fashion or to finish what, in her opinion, had not been sufficiently well and truly accomplished at Versailles. The centre of gravity of the capitalist world edifice was moved from Versailles to Washington. Washington attempted, first and foremost, to calm and pacify the so-called Pacific Ocean, which, however, is fraught with major international storms. An attempt was made there to reach an international agreement based on gradual international disarmament. France, intoxicated by her imagined autocratic power, was sure that at Washington she would be able to turn the world antagonism between Britain and the United States to her advantage and so secure a majority for the solution for which she would vote, and in this way strengthen her domination.

Briand left for Washington hoping for success in a diplomatic game he had played more than once in the French parliament. To the proposal to limit land forces Briand replied in the negative. He pointed out that the Versailles peace required not the reduction but the strengthening of France’s armament. And this is correct. France was maintaining with an armed hand the system of slavery, the aggregate of contradictions and ruthless hostility which over the last three years we have been in the habit of calling the Versailles peace. When it came to the question of naval armaments and their possible limitation, the break-up of the former Entente was revealed in full clarity, even to the uninitiated.

France miscalculated. She miscalculated in that Britain turned out to be more realistic than might have been expected. Britain had also totted up her stock of gold, her navy, her shipyards and so on, and compared them with the United States. She became only too clearly aware that the British pound sterling, which was accustomed to being the ruler of the world money market, had long ago been forced to take a big jump downwards, to a quarter of its pre-war value, in comparison with the American dollar. And as a result of her calculations, Britain agreed to accept the equalisation of her navy with that of the United States. Thus, after her struggle against Germany for world power, for universal domination, after her struggle and her victory, Britain is now no longer the first naval power, as she was before the war, and dare not even contemplate her navy equalling the combined navies of the two next strongest naval powers. At present the navy of the United States is not yet equal to the British, but it will catch up in the near future.

France, however, refused to reduce her navy, and, in particular, her submarine fleet. Briand, infuriated by his failure at Washington, openly defined the French position when, on leaving Washington, he said to a French journalist: ‘Britain wants to keep her big warships. Let us assume that she needs them in order to catch sardines in the seas and oceans. If that is the case, then we French want to have submarines so as the better to study the vegetation of the sea bottom.’ 1 request you to remember that this is how the French Premier spoke about the British navy. We are dealing here with the relations between two very close allies, Britain and France, who saved themselves from our barbarism, two powers which came together in the name of the highest interests of civilisation. Read the articles that were written on the eve of 1914 – although this reading will not, of course, be too pleasant a task, for such tastelessly hypocritical literature can evoke only disgust. Read them so as to compare what was being said then with such talk as this: ‘We will fight alongside you, but you possess big ships, to catch sardines with, and since that is the case, then we will acquire little ships with which to study the bottoms of your big ships.’

The work having been finished at Washington, a new location has been named where it is to be carried further. This is beautiful Genoa, and it is presumed that the equilibrium needed by Europe will be found there. We have been invited to go there, and it may be that we will take part in the work of the conference. However, things are not quite so simple where this matter is concerned. The great disorder that exists in inter-state relations will be revealed there. Certain states will not be too willing to participate in a conference to which Soviet Russia has been invited. And we must observe that it will be hardest of all to turn France on to this new path. It has to be said that Lloyd George has applied himself to this problem as strenuously and energetically as when, formerly, he set the counterrevolutionaries upon us. It took him a lot of trouble to win Briand over to agreeing to participate in the negotiations, and in reply to Briand’s objections he delivered a speech which our Rosta reported in full. [‘Rosta’ was the name of the Soviet state news-agency until the formation of ‘Tass’ in 1925.] He said in this speech: ‘France, by negotiating, in the person of Bouillon, with Turkey [By the agreement made in October 1921 between Franklin-Bouillon and Kemal France broke the Anglo-French united front against Nationalist Turkey.], has shaken the Eastern bandit by the hand, yet now she grimaces (I do not know what was the actual word used by Lloyd George, but the meaning was just that) and refuses to shake the hand of the Northern bandit.’ By the Northern bandit Lloyd George means, of course, us. As we do not make a particular issue of etiquette, leaving that to the mandarins of the bourgeois delegations, we are ready to accept his not very flattering description. He also said: ‘When you go to international negotiations, prepare for the worst, and take with you a bar of disinfectant soap, because you will have to shake all sorts of hands.’ He implied here the hands of bandits of the North and of the East – but, let me add, every other sort, too. We have always borne this circumstance in mind in our international relations, and we also carry disinfectant soap in our pockets on such occasions. How Lloyd George eventually convinced Briand is hard to know, but the fact is that the Washington fiasco knocked away a large part of France’s arrogance, and Briand, on returning to Paris, sensed that France’s international position had become much more difficult.

Eventually, after reckoning up certain assets – and France’s stock of gold is in a far from brilliant condition – Briand informed Lloyd George that he agreed to take part in the negotiations. Conditions were drawn up for the invitation to us, and these were, in good time, printed in all our newspapers (you may remember them, if, in your spare time, you read the papers). These conditions amount to this, that, first, if we want foreign capitalists to do business with us, we must guarantee the inviolability of the capital which is to be invested in this trade. So long as capitalists exist in the world, that is absolutely unquestionable, and treaties must be honoured one hundred per cent. Then there is talk, if I am not mistaken (it is not my job to study diplomatic notes – that’s for a different department), of standards of civilisation, and so on. It seems to me that we are well prepared on that score, and if we are properly received at Genoa, there will be no misunderstandings about civilisation, and we shall hold our own. Then they talk, using some unclear expressions, about the old state debts and the claims of the old capitalists. Since these debts are commercial matters, it will be necessary to discuss and bargain where they are concerned – how we are to pay, to whom, over what period of time, what we are to get in return, and so on. I think that we shall not violate the laws of civilisation within these limits. It would thus seem that the negotiations have begun under the most favourable of auguries. Comrade Chicherin had some differences regarding the location of the conference: but whether it is to be Genoa or London is a matter of the technique of passenger travel, and agreement can be reached on that point without any difficulty.

I mentioned that we watch what is going on in other countries: we follow the press and obtain information by all sorts of means, so as not to form our policy blindly, and it became known to us (I do not now recall from what source, but it is an established fact) that, when Briand yielded to the arguments of Lloyd George, he said that it was all very well, but it would have been better if the change in policy towards Soviet Russia had been accompanied by a change of commissars, bringing in persons more congenial to France. Personally, I do not know which of us is more and which less congenial to la belle France. I assume that in France they keep two such lists; but the instability of the world situation is best characterised by the fact that before these more congenial persons could appear on the scene, the author of this demand had himself been deprived of his portfolio and his presidency of the French cabinet. [2] The causes of his downfall are, naturally, connected with the fact that Soviet Russia has been invited to Genoa. We do not doubt that at Genoa, I repeat, we shall carry on discussing until we reach the most useful results, which will strengthen world eqifilibrium. But it is not pointless to observe that certain governments are losing their natural equilibrium before they have got near Genoa – and that does not apply to France alone.

It applies, judging by the latest news, to our nearest neighbours, such as Romania, where they are expressing doubt whether the government of Take Jonescu, which specialised in the most reckless, criminal, insolent and dishonourable baiting of Soviet Russia, can really stand firm in an atmosphere of impending negotiations, even under the bourgeois regime in Romania. For it must not be forgotten that at the very moment, perhaps, when radio-telegrams were on their way to us from Italy and London, inviting us to the Genoa negotiations, they were still shooting from across the Dniester at our sentries and peaceful inhabitants. In the last few days treacherous bullets have killed one of our sentries on the Dniester, and also a woman. The government of Take Jonescu, which shot down a Red Soviet sentry and killed a peasant woman of our Rightbank Ukraine, is impelled by a feeling of revenge for unrealised advantages – because when the Soviet Federation repeatedly offered to negotiate with Romania, at a time when our situation, both internal and international, was very much more difficult than now, Romania could undoubtedly have reached an agreement with us such as she will never get henceforth.

Now, when we have been invited to Genoa, not only Romania but also some other countries will probably become convinced that gratitude is not the sentiment that guides the policy of imperialist diplomacy. The European powers, with France and Britain at their head, tried to separate all mankind from us, as from a focus of infection. They tried to form, from six states (five of these having been detached from Russia), from Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Romania, an impenetrable barrier between the West and Soviet Russia. These six states were to have been transformed into six tombstones placed over us, over the Soviet Federation. Some of them carried out France’s orders with all the energy of which they were capable.

Poland, in the first place, reckoned that her service to France would not go unrewarded. Romania thought the same. But one does not need to be a prophet to say this: if we succeed in achieving an agreement (and we shall), then all the services rendered by Poland, Romania and Finland in the struggle against us – their services in bloody banditry and active upport of counter-revolutionary White-Guard activity – will be left unpaid for. The great powers will write all that off, and will open current accounts for their new relations with Soviet Russia. In any sphere of politics, and especially in the international sphere, naivety, verging upon stupidity, naïvety stained with blood, is never a factor tending to victory. And the calculations of the small countries that their petty bandit blows struck at Soviet Russia would be rewarded by the great imperialist powers when the accounts of peace were finally drawn up, constitute naivety, bloody naivety, verging upon stupidity. It does not follow from this in the least, comrades, that the services of the small and middle-sized states are no longer needed by the great powers. I did not mean to say that: it is clear to everyone, it follows from the unlucky case of Briand.

What is the morrow preparing for us, on that side? Two sorts of prediction can be made here. Either the attempts of the new government to wage a ruthless struggle against Soviet Russia, against our whole federation, will be shipwrecked on resistance from Britain, in the first place, and then from Italy and other countries, and, perhaps, as we should like to hope, on the indirect resistance of the United States – and then the French parliament, having relieved their hearts by overthrowing Briand, will entrust somebody else with the task of carrying out Lloyd George’s proposal, and Briand’s successor will be sent to Genoa to negotiate with us. We wish with all our hearts for this outcome, because we hope that the participants in the conference at Genoa will learn something and will advance the cause of real peace. However, it is not impossible that the fall of Briand signifies a change of course in French politics. A France which has felt that she is wholly dependent on a Britain which is consciously sharing her domination of the world with the United States, a France which, after the Versailles peace, had a majority for the so-called Bloc National, and which is the most chauvinistic, most intransigent state in all Europe, may, with a sudden jump, revive the policy of aggressive military intervention against Soviet Russia. And if one could measure historical possibilities in precise figures, I should say that we are faced with equal possibilities – 50 per cent for one outcome, 50 per cent for the other. Either France will go to Genoa and even, perhaps, try to bar Britain’s way by arriving the sooner at an agreement with us, so as thereby to safeguard her own interests or she will take the road of renewed intervention, that is, sh will urge in that direction the states lying on our westen border. There are arguments for both outcomes, theoreticall both are equally probable, and, this being so, it means that w have to be ready for either – both for, let us hope, successfu diplomatic negotiations at Genoa and for a new blow from th West.

The anxiety now being felt by the rulers of Bucharest, wh’ fear that they are being chucked aside like squeezed lemons, is fully in accordance with the unease they feel in Warsaw regarding the fate of the Polish agency of French imperialism. We should, of course, welcome in every way the transformation of this agency into a commercial agency for dealings with the Soviet Federation, for Poland’s industrialists, Poland’s merchants, as intermediaries and agents of the French stock exchange, would be, of course, if not dearer (that word is no appropriate), then at least more useful and acceptable to us than the Polish general staff officers who, with French money that is, with money from that same French stock exchange, an arming our own bandits who have been driven out of Soviet Russia.

You know about the position of Finland, which nearly involved itself in war with us. Finland is fighting us for the territory of our Karelia, which belongs to our federation, and she is doing this so openly that we know very well the names of all the Finnish officers whom the Finnish high command has sent on leave and who, after changing their names, are spending that leave in Karelia, at the head of armed bands, firing on Red Army units and slaughtering the Communists whom they come upon unarmed. [3] Finland has submitted the Karelian question to the League of Nations.

What the League of Nations is, you all know. It is a painted Chinese dragon which is supposed to symbolise law and other imponderables. I am reminded of how the former French minister Loucheur said, with great irony at our expense, that though they did not recognise the Soviet Republic, we recognised their Supreme Council. [L. Loucheur was France’s Minister for the Liberated Regions, and, later, Minister of Commerce, under Poincaré]

Of course, comrades, we recognise everything that exists. What is the Supreme Council? The Supreme Council of the Allies is a collective fist which is aimed, first and foremost, at us, and we recognise this fist, and it is all the same to us what it is called in international law. A fist is a fist. The League of Nations is the shadow of that fist, which has tried to assume a super-democratic, super-civilised character. And there are some simpletons, not to put it differently, who pray to this shadow of another fist, offer sacrifices to it, address petitions to it, in the way that Finland has done. Let us give up these simpletons as a bad job, and walk on by. Perhaps life will teach them something in the coming months and weeks.

We recognise the Supreme Economic Council and the Supreme Council of the Allies, and we recognise that now, with God’s help, they are splitting at every seam. This is the basic fact of international politics. Read the articles which the British press is writing about the fall of Briand. They speak in the tone that people use on the eve of a bloody conflict. We need, comrades, to take account of all these possibilities, we need to keep our eyes wide open, to listen with some acuteness – to have our experience about us and to be able to perceive both a fist and its shadow. That is the duty of every serious diplomat.

The class which is now in power in our country began its historical run-up from a long way off, and in the course of decades moved forward, making its way through very great difficulties and learning from its mistakes. It is the task of our Party to know this collective lesson, which is now rendering us great service in finding our way in the international situation. But this is ideological preparation, it stays with us in its entirety and will not leave us: we also need, however, another sort of preparation, in case France takes a line against us, preparation which is not ideological but material, which amounts to this – having a sound, strong and united Red Army. The chairman reminded you of this at the beginning of the meeting, and it was spoken of by the Ninth Congress of Soviets, which was above all filled with the idea of safeguarding peace and economic development.

When you utter that word ‘peace’ (we have not invented a different, clear Soviet word) you do not feel inwardly sure whether you should utter it or not, for so many have talked about peace in the world, starting with the Hohenzollerns and their enemies, who understood by peace fresh predatory conquests as the result of war. But we, comrades, have no need to convince each other, we all know well the state of mind of the worker masses in the factories, we all know very well the state of mind of our Red Army.

Our army wants peace above all, and we are striving, above all, to attain conditions in whichwe shall be able to reduce the size of our army. Even our enemies, those among them who have a drop of common sense in their heads (there are such) understand that, given a real safeguarding of peace, a real possibility to develop, to raise the level of culture in our devastated country, we shall apply ourselves to peaceful economic work with the same ardour with which we fought at the fronts.

Nevertheless, the Ninth Congress of Soviets, while completely taken up with the striving for peace, pointed at the same time to the need to strengthen the Red Army. The interval between the Eighth and Ninth Congresses of Soviets was a protracted period of demobilisation, contraction and reorganisation of the army. All our attention was concentrated on this work. The country sought to obtain from the army what it needed: the factory looked to receive its skilled men, the village its sturdy, grown-up workers, the Party its Communists, the trade unions their executives, while the organs of the state looked to receive those big and numerous material resources which had been at the disposal of an army numbering 5,300,000 men. This work of contracting and weakening the army had been wholly completed by the time of the Ninth Congress, and that congress said: ‘Stop demobilising, stop contracting, and throughout the winter concentrate all efforts on strengthening the combat-capacity of the Red Army. And, to this end, ensure that it has all that it needs, one hundred per cent.’

Comrade Lenin spoke about that in his speech, it was mentioned in the resolution on the report on the military question, the leading representatives of all the Soviet Republics of our Federation spoke about it, and, finally, in the concluding declaration of principle and in the concluding resolution, in which all the work of the Ninth Congress was summed up, it was said, clearly and distinctly, that the first task was to ensure that the army had all it needed, one hundred per cent.

While, comrades, our Soviet state, given all the difficulties with which it is encumbered, cannot always and everywhere satisfy the needs of the Red Army to the full extent of one hundred per cent, there did, at any rate, arise at the Ninth Congress, out of our collective consciousness, the idea of a closer rapprochement between the Soviet power and the army, at the centre and in the localities.

The army, which owed its birth to the collective of workers and peasants, which emerged from the Soviet apparatus in Moscow, Petrograd and the provinces, did not at first sever the umbilical cord binding it to the Soviets, for the armed Soviet workers who had become Red Army men thought that within a week or a month they would return to their work.

But as the Red Army beat its enemies and drove them further and further from the centre, as it moved further from the centre into the borderlands, it became increasingly cut off from the fundamental sources and foci of the workers’ and peasants’ Soviet strength. It became separated from them, of course, only in the material sense, for spiritually it never lost contact with them – on the contrary, it was inspired by them, defended them, and for their defence it gave its life and its blood.

And now a breathing spell has come, which we hope will be a very long one, which we should like, but do not hope, to last forever, enabling us to return our divisions, batteries and battalions to the centre, to the Soviets. We see how the Soviets, which sent the army to the front, are now encountering it in altered form: it has been regenerated and has changed its corn position, and those tempered workers from Petrograd and Moscow who were the leading element in it now constitute only a minority in its ranks. This is a young army, made up to a considerable extent of raw peasant material, but, at the same time, it is a properly organised army, an army with its own revolutionary fighting traditions, which, though they do not go far back in time, are rich in content. The army now returns to its Soviets like that hero of antiquity who drew close to the earth in order to acquire fresh strength.

This idea of Soviet patronage, of a very close organisational and material 1irik between Soviets and army units, arose among us almost in the last few days, and has already managed to put out strong shoots: we already have divisions which are proud to bear the name of the Moscow Soviet, divisions which will fight and, if need be, die under the banner of the Moscow Soviet.

In this matter of patronage, the Moscow Soviet, as is proper for the country’s centre, has shown an example which is already bringing results in the localities with every day that passes. District and local soviets are already raising the question of transforming every barracks into a comfortable hostel for our young citizens armed with rifles, in which they can be taught and educated.

An army is the material weapon of every ruling power, but in bourgeois society the army is proclaimed to be outside of politics. Our army, however, cannot be outside of politics – on the contrary, it must be the conscious weapon of the working class. Where the army stands outside of politics it perceives the state power as a principle standing above it, alien to it and ruling over it from some inaccessible height. The Soviet power, however, stands alongside the Red Army, it is today in this hall: in all the districts, in the persons of the members of the Soviets, working women and peasants, it looks into the barracks, into the cookhouses, sees whether they are clean and neat for the preparation of those meagre provisions which the workers’ and peasants’ state can spare for the army.

And our young Red Army man, who in 1917 was a youth, whose mind was first awakened by the thunder of the October revolution, who went to the front and fought for the Soviet power blindly, from feeling, who saw in his village only the village or volost soviets, can now see, in the towns, what Soviet power really is. He sees that Soviet power is harmonious and organised work, that Soviet power is not something external to the population but lies in the population itself, that Soviet power, which he defended in arms, is a power which is fighting for a new form of life and politics.

I think that the Moscow Soviet will carry out in the course of the whole new period persistent and sustained work aimed at drawing closer to the army. Not long ago I read in a newspaper that we are backward in the sphere of accounting and systematic economic work. That is true, but it is something that can be put right: we promise you that we will learn and will correct our mistakes. During this winter we shall introduce order, and whatever you give to the army in the course of this winter will be taken over by a better and better organised organ of Soviet power. During the coming year we shall re-educate our army thoroughly. We shall make it fully aware of our policy, whatever the prospects may be that await this army. If the spring brings us peace, we shall welcome it. If we have to fight, we shall fight, and fight to the end. I do not doubt (and in this no offence is meant to other soviets), that those regiments which have passed through the school of the Moscow Soviet will occupy the foremost positions. I do not doubt that the Red banners which you see in these halls will fly over the most dangerous places in our fronts. I do not doubt that, defending Soviet Russia and its heart, Moscow, these regiments will give their lives with the cry: ‘Long live the Moscow proletariat and the Moscow Soviet!’

From the stenogram of the Moscow Soviet


1. At the end of December 1921 talks took place between Lloyd George and Briand concerning relations with Soviet Russia and German reparations. At a conference held at Cannes on January 6-13 it was decided, on the initiative of Lloyd George, to convene a general peace conference, to be held at Genoa at the beginning of March 1922, in order to solve the Russian and German problems with the participation of Soviet Russia and Germany. As a result of a ministerial crisis in Italy (the fall of the Bonomi cabinet), the Genoa conference was postponed, and it did not open until April 10. At the first session the head of the Soviet delegation, Comrade Chicherin, raised the question of universal disarmament, pointing out that only in this way could a peaceful situation in Europe be ensured. The representative of France, Barthou, protested against this move, saying that the Cannes Conference had restricted the scope of the Genoa Conference to questions of an economic and financial character. The Soviet delegation’s proposal was therefore not accepted.

Where the question of the restoration of Russia was concerned, the Allies took as their basis the London Memorandum of Allied experts, in which it was provided that, as a condition preliminary to the rendering of economic aid to Russia, the Soviet Government must recognise the obligations of previous Governments, restore private property belonging to foreigners, and compensate foreigners for losses sustained. These demands were presented to the Russian delegation at the conference. In reply, the Russian delegation put forward on April 15 a counter-proposal for compensation to be paid for the losses inflicted on Russia by the Allied intervention. After negotiations, the Russian delegation on April 24 made the concession of agreeing to withdraw the demand for compensation for losses, on condition that the period allowed for payment of debts was lengthened, that credits were made available to Russia, and that the Soviet Government was recognised de jure. Differences arose between the states of the Entente on the question of restoring the property of foreigners in Russia. Britain and Italy renounced this demand, but Belgium particularly insisted upon it. France wavered, but eventually supported the Belgian view. Agreement was not reached at the Genoa Conference on the questions under dispute. It was decided to convene another conference, where further negotiations could take place, at The Hague, and a four months’ truce between all the states was signed.[The ‘truce’ was a non-aggression pact based on provisional respect for existing de facto frontiers, without prejudice to their ultimate settlement.] The conference closed on May 19.

2. Briand resigned on April 12, 1922, after the Cannes Conference, and was replaced by Poincaré.

3. On the events in Karelia, see note 51 to Volume Four.

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Last updated on: 30.12.2006