The International Situation and the Red Army

II. Genoa and the Hague

From Talks

With Representatives of the Foreign Press About the Genoa and Hague Conferences

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

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Genoa showed that the most outstanding diplomats of Europe do not understand the present state of affairs, if they suppose that the Russian workers’ revolution has not opened up a new epoch in world history, but is merely an ordinary event which can be eliminated by force of arms or by persuasion.

At Genoa they want to force us to change the form of property established by the working class and restore the old form. This is tantamount to our demanding at Genoa that Europe’s capitalists should change their form of property and hand over the factories and mines to collective ownership by the working class.

At Genoa two forms of property are disputing. Particular agreements between them are possible, but not through changes of principle, only through practical arrangements based upon the interests of both sides. If the problem is not solved at Genoa, the economic position of Soviet Russia will be restored in the future much more slowly than it could have been, and Europe’s economic collapse will happen much more quickly.

As for France, it is drawing near to the biggest catastrophe in the world, which will begin with a financial crisis. French policy is a policy of desperation. In any case, no one can follow it.

America stands aside from the conference. It will thereby secure the possibility of a better orientation and a better solution of the question. It cannot, however, follow the line of the advice which Hughes [C.E. Hughes – Secretary of State in President Harding’s administration, rejected a Soviet approach advocating trade relations with the USA in 1921.] has tried to give, that is, to dictate to us the forms of our country. It was not for the sake of this advice, these instructions, that we went to Genoa, or that we shall cross the ocean.

I hope, nevertheless, for a victory for good sense, first of all in America and then in Europe. Genoa is not the last word in negotiations. In the event that the Genoa conference breaks up, there will be a certain interval in negotiations, after which, I hope,they will be resumed in a more vigorous and practical tone.

I do not think that failure at Genoa will mean the beginning of military operations against us. We proposed disarmament, but met with refusal. Instead, they proposed that we pay enormous sums to foreign capitalists who acquired their property by exploiting the labour of the Russian workers. We refused.

Can it be imagined that any government would be victorious if it were to hurl its troops against us, in order to punish us for wanting peace and not wanting to pay indemnities to foreign capitalists? I do not believe in intervention, but, if it comes, the Red Army will do its duty.

Pravda, May 7, 1922, No.100


‘Have the chances improved for the success of the Genoa conference?’

If the Genoa conference were to adopt, even if only in part, the Soviet delegation’s proposals, and were to try to create guarantees of mutual non-aggression and maximum reduction in armaments, that would be a big step forward. Can it be doubted that practical financial and industrial agreements would then follow automatically, even if not at Genoa?

‘May Russia reach agreement with a group of Entente countries excluding France and Belgium?’

If the government of Lloyd George and the Italian Government will separate the question of pacifying Europe and lightening the burden of armaments from the financial claims of Mr Urquhart and other capitalists [1], it will be fully possible and desirable to arrive at agreements within the limits of the fundamental and profound difference of world-outlook and system of property.

‘What line will the Soviet Government fofiow, in the event of the failure of the Genoa Conference, in order to arrive at agreements with European countries and with America?’

It will follow the line of strict and complete fulfilment of the international obligations we have assumed and practical implementation of the guarantees we have announced for private economic initiative in the internal life of our country, on the one hand; and on the other, the line of firm explanation, on the basis of experience, to European and American capital, that the Soviet Republic is an unshakable fact, that it has been constructed according to its own methods, its own principles, with which they must reckon and to which they must adapt themselves.

‘Is the Russo-German treaty an alliance between Russia and Germany as a counterweight to other groupings of European countries? [2]

Germany is separated from the Soviet Republic by the same basic contradictions of property-systems as the countries of the Entente. This means that it is not possible to talk of the Rapallo Treaty as being some sort of offensive-defensive alliance to counterbalance other states. It is a question of re-establishing the most elementary inter-state and economic relations. Soviet Russia is ready today to sign a treaty with any other country on the basis of the principles of the Rapallo Treaty.

Talk of a secret agreement, of a military convention is obvious nonsense, to which hardly anyone will accord serious importance. [Secret collaboration between the Reichswehr and the Red Army had, in fact, begun in 1921, before the Treaty of Rapallo.]

‘Are there symptoms that might point to the possibility of a new war, of renewed intervention by France and her vassals, Poland and Romania, in the event of failure of the Genoa Conference?’

I do not believe that renewed intervention is possible. True there is no lack of attempts by the Russian counterrevolutionary émigrés, in alliance with the most imperialistic elements of Poland, Romania and Yugoslavia, to go over to active operations. But since the programme of Soviet Russia will, after Genoa, be clear to the peoples of Europe and to our nearest neighbours, I do not think that the necessary minimum of good sense will be found lacking in Warsaw, Bucharest or Belgrade, to giye a rebuff to the adventurers.

‘To what extent is the Soviet Government interested in an agreement with the government of the United States? In particular, would it be possible to grant advantageous concessions to American citizens in Siberia, to counterbalance Japan’s demands?’ [3]

The United States is the richest and economically most secure country, and so Russia is most interested in establishing economic relations with that country. American expansion in Russia can assume a commercial and industrial character. Japanese expansion has and strives to maintain a military and aggressive character. It is quite clear that we are interested in an economic agreement with the United States both from the standpoint of the interests of our economy and from that of securing additional safeguards against the purely annexationist, bandit policy of the Japanese ruling cliques.

‘What significance do you attribute to the recent statement by President Harding concerning recognition of Soviet Russia?’

I should like to understand President Harding’s statement as meaning that the traditions of Wilsonism where the Russian question is concerned have been liquidated, and that the American Governments wants to reckon soberly with the real state of affairs in Russia. If this psychological turning-point is at hand, then an agreement is assured.

‘What foundation is there for rumours about negotiations said to be going on between the Russian Government and British entrepreneurs about offers to the latter of concessions in Russia’s oil industry?’

I have no concrete information about these negotiations, but I do not doubt that our oil resources constitute an enormous field for investment by foreign capital, both in rationally exploiting existing fields and in prospecting for new ones. The conduct of these negotiations is in the hands of our Commissar for Foreign Trade, Krassin. I cannot say, precisely, what role is being played in these negotiations, at the present moment, by British entrepreneurs. But I do not doubt that if Lloyd George would finally turn his back on Urquhart’s ultimatums and ensure the success of the military and political agreement, economic negotiations would follow immediately, and one of the first items in these negotiations would be the oil industry of the Soviet Federation.

May 18, 1922, No.109


You tell me that the chief of the Polish General Staff, General Sikorski, expounded a theory to you according to which the reduction in the size of our army signifies at the same time an increased threat to Europe and the whole world.

I can say nothing about this clever theory until it has been published and its basis explained. It is incompatible with the principles of Euclid and the laws of logic. Perhaps it may somehow be founded on Einstein’s theory of relativity. I repeat, in face of this theory ... I am unarmed.

We proposed to Poland, as also to our other neighbours, a conference for the purpose of a further decisive reduction in armaments. [4] Poland returned a de facto refusal. General Sikorski’s answer makes one suppose he was guided in this by humanitarian considerations: he evidently feared to increase the danger of war through further reduction in armaments.

Military agreements with Germany, which is disarmed and subject to control? Reorganisation of the Red Army under the guidance of German officers? To that one should add that the Red Army consists of Chinese and operates under the influence of opium. [5] After all, some politicians and journalists (I don’t mean General Sikorski, since he, so far as I am aware, is neither a politician nor a journalist) count too much on the credulity and simple-mindedness of the public.

What proposals might Russia make to the world regarding disarmament or, at least, reduction in armaments? Our delegation at Genoa had ready several proposals carefully defined in the spirit of the most uncompromising pacifism. We were ready to go as far as the complete abolition of all armies, or to their reduction to the minimum. Where disarmament was concerned we were ready to accept any conscientious proposal of a yardstick (coefficient) that would rule out the possibility of military coercion of one country by another. We were and are ready today to discuss any proposal in that direction. There would be no point in setting forth here the possible variants of pacifist systems of this kind. The difficulty lies not in the plan

Will not the prosecution offer these documents as material evidence in order to astound the friendly foreign journalists?’ or in the technique of its realisation, but in the political will. Capitalist Europe, as it has emerged from the devil’s smithy of Versailles, is incompatible with disarmament. Present-day Europe does not want to disarm, and cannot be expected to want to disarm. That is where the difficulty lies, and not at all in the technical sphere. That was proved at Genoa, where our interlocutors flatly refused to put the question of disarmament on the agenda.

You ask what size of army Russia needs, in all circumstances, in order to safeguard internal order and defend her frontiers. We have now reduced our army and navy from 5,300,000 to 800,000. Any further reduction must be conditional on some serious changes in the international situation. The de facto refusal by our neighbours of our proposed conference on disarmament does not, of course, make the solution of this problem any easier. Minimum forces would be needed for the protection of internal order, considering the enormous size of our territory and the large numbers of our population – a few hundred thousand men.

August 27, 1922, No.192


You ask about reducing the size of the army. Eighteen months ago our army numbered 5,300,000 men. Today it consists, together with the Navy, of 800,000 men. Sixteen age-groups were conscripted into the Red Army. Today it contains only one.

At Genoa we proposed general disarmament. Europe refused even to discuss this question. Then we submitted the same proposal to our immediate neighbours: with the same result. We cannot, of course, prevent persons without conscience or honour from talking about our plans for conquest. But persons of conscience and intelligence will not be able to forget that we have persistently proposed disarmament to Europe, and to particular parts of Europe, and have met with refusal.

That is why we are compelled to maintain an army of 800,000 men. We have created a ramified system of military-education institutions, which have produced excellent results. While reducing the size of the army, we are constantly perfecting it. We are quite ready to reduce, contract and completely liquidate this work. But our neighbours, both the nearest and those farther off, must adopt along with us a programme of disarmament. If America were to take the initiative in this matter, we should support her.

This is also my answer to your question as to whether we expect any renewed military intervention by France, Poland or Romania.

We do not foresee any immediate danger, and it is for that very reason that we have reduced our army to so great an extent. But we do not regard the danger as excluded. Consequently, we are obliged to improve the cadres of our army and its technique.

Past experience gives us serious, even though far from complete guarantees against renewed intervention. However, the military situation in Europe is determined not only by the relations between the Soviet Republic and the bourgeois countries: the question of German reparations retains its full force. Complications due to this matter may affect the situation throughout Europe. It is, for example, quite obvious that another blow struck at Germany from the West could be critical for the equilibrium which has been established in Eastern Europe.

Izv.V.Ts.I.K., August 30, 1922, No.193


You ask what actions, military and other, we expect from Europe after the failure of Genoa and the Hague. [6] The inability of the existing European states to agree on the basis of the most modest and limited pacifist-reformist programme has been fully exposed. The representative of France at Genoa and the Hague was the one who proclaimed loudest that Europe is moving towards new and very large-scale conflicts, difficulties and upheavals. France’s irritably aggressive policy results not from the bad character of particular statesmen (though I am not prepared to say anything favourable about their characters), but from the glaring contradiction between France’s military and political situation since Versailles and its shattered financial and economic foundations. France does not want to cut her coat according to her cloth. This is the principal cause of the European crisis.

It is just for this reason that I decline to predict what actions, ‘military and other’, Europe will take. In an organism with a broken nervous system, movements are neither co-ordinated nor voluntary, and one cannot predict them. It is necessary to prepare for the worst.

How long, you ask, do I think that American capital will avoid trade with Russia. I should myself be very interested to know the answer to that question. American capital is in an incomparably better position than that of Europe. In the form of their thinking the Americans are empiricists – they seek to test everything by sight, touch and taste. The American Relief Administration, which rendered unforgettable help to the starving masses of Russia, was, of course, at the same time, a highly-skilled antenna thrust by the rulers of America into the very depths of Russia. America, more than any European country, has seen us as we are. It remains to be seen how the public opinion of Arnerica’s property-owning classes will digest the material collected and draw from it the appropriate conclusions.

As regards Genoa and the Hague, I would rather put questions to you myself than give you answers, since I frankly confess that I do not understand to this day why these conferences were really convened. The Genoa conference was designated by its initiator, Lloyd George, as ‘the greatest event of its kind’. And, indeed, it appears that forty states were invited. For what purpose? That I quite fail to understand. Were the promoters of this conference seriously hoping that Soviet Russia would, in the circumstances of a solemn conference, accept obligations that she had refused to accept before? It is difficult to believe that grown-up persons could entertain such childish notions of the Soviet Republic and its policy. True, I have heard that professional parliamentarians and diplomats are inclined to accord mystical powers to ‘negotiations’ and ‘conferences’, to elevate far above everything else the black and white magic of diplomatic oratory. One cannot deny, of course, that Soviet diplomats are human beings and that, consequently, nothing human is alien to them, including the charms of oratory. But we are, above all, realists. The Soviet republic is a real fact, the programme of the Communist Party likewise, and the leading role played by this programme in the Soviet Republic was, is and – pace the parliamentary and diplomatic magicians – will continue to be the basic directive for the policy of the Soviet Republic. And our diplomacy, too, keeps in line with our, programme.

After the failure at Genoa came the Hague. Why? Was this conference called merely to camouflage a little the failure of the ‘greatest congress in the world’? Or were there some statesmen who believed that, whereas at Genoa the Soviet representatives had engaged in ‘rhetoric about principles’, in the businesslike atmosphere of the Hague they would quietly surrender to the ultimatum of capitalism? Pursuit of such a policy indicates complete failure to understand. As a result, the Hague did nothing to mitigate but merely accentuated the failure of Genoa. But not through any fault of ours.

You ask me what our intentions are, now that Genoa and the Hague have failed? We intend to work and wait. Europe and the whole world need Russia not less than Russia needs Europe. The superficial views and the adventurism of some statesmen will mean new sacrifices and hardships, but irresistable economic necessity will eventually force a way for itself. If these statesmen will not’recognise’us, then others will, who will come to replace them.

The most stupid demand and expectation was for us to return to the foreign capitalists their former property (’restitution’). The October revolution was the political victory of labour over capital. As a result of that victory the working class took from the capitalists the wealth that the working class itself had created. This wealth could be returned to the capitalists only by a successful counter-revolution, that is, a victory of capital over labour. That road has been sufficiently explored. Or do these crafty simpletons perhaps think they can liquidate the workers’ revolution by juridical and diplomatic arguments after they have failed to do this by military intervention?

Our railways, factories, land and subsoil belong to the state.

Some people may not like this, but it is a fact, which has to be taken as one’s starting-point.

This year has seen a striking change for the better in agriculture. We shall probably not only be able to supply the towns and industry with food but also start exporting grain once more – for the time being, of course, on a very modest scale. This means that fresh blood will begin to flow in the economic arteries of our country. The year 1923 will be considerably more favourable than the year 1922. We shall advance, slowly at first, perhaps, but steadily and firmly. Any influx of foreign capital parallel with this would, of course, greatly accelerate the process. But, even without foreign capital, we have already entered the phase of improvement and consolidation of our economy. That will enable us to react without too much irritability to the changing moods of foreign capitalists.

The animation of Soviet Russia’s economy means, on the one hand, enrichment of the workers’ state through the development of the very important and valuable enterprises which have remained in the hands of the Soviet Republic, and, on the other, the growth of capitalist relations within the country. Over the commodity and market system of economy our state keeps control, because it owns the most important productive forces and because it retains, and will retain, the monopoly of foreign trade. Foreign capitalists and their governments will have to reckon with these irremovable facts. Our policy is sufficiently realistic and elastic for us to permit, within the framework of our system, wide scope and opportunity for very substantial profits to be made by foreign capital. It remains to be seen whether the policy of foreign capital will become suffciently realistic and elastic to appreciate the need to adapt itself to the Soviet system of legal and property relations, and cease to look forward to some apocalyptic moment when they will collapse. If Genoa and The Hague have contributed an additional dose of sobriety to the views and hopes of the bourgeoisie where Soviet Russia is concerned, then I am prepared to acknowledge the ‘progressive’ significance of these undertakings which have suffered so obvious a fiasco.

August 30, 1922, No.193


1. The London memorandum of the experts on the problem of the restoration of Russia was drawn up under the influence of the claims put forward by Urquhart and other British and French capitalists. [Leslie Urquhart was chairman of Russo-Asiatic Consolidated, Ltd, the most important British claimant against Soviet Russia.]

2. The reference is to the treaty concluded at Rapallo, near Genoa, on April 16, 1922, during the Genoa Conference, between Germany and Soviet Russia. It was based on reciprocal renunciation of all claims, and renewal of diplomatic relations. The Treaty of Rapallo called forth protests from the Entente powers and the exclusion of Germany from the political commission of the Genoa Conference which was concerned with the Russian question.

3. In an interview with Walter Duranty published in the New York Times, January 19, 1922, Trotsky said: ‘America – I am not speaking conventionally in saying so – is the one great power whose interest in no wise contradicts ours. We have many enemies, but with America the idea of conflict is absolutely precluded. In the economic field we might have important interests in common, and we do not forget America’s help in our famine. She is the one country really helping us.’

4. A disarmament conference was convened in Moscow on the initiative of the Soviet Government, at the beginning of December 1922, and was attended by the border states: Poland, Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia and Finland. An invitation had also been sent to Romania, but she refused to take part in the conference. The representatives of Soviet Russia raised at this conference the question of actually reducing the armies of all the states participating in the conference and defining what the strengths of these armies should be. This move was opposed by Poland, which considered that the conference should concern itself solely with ‘moral disarmament’. Since agreement was not attained, the conference ended without result, in the middle of December.

5. Although the fact of clandestine mutual aid between the Reichswehr and the Red Army became generally known in 1926 (see C.F. Melville, The Russian Face of Germany, 1932), the Soviet Government and the Communist International adhered strictly to a policy of silence on the matter, which Trotsky refrained from violating until, at the Moscow trial in 1938, a false version of the affair was given, according to which the collaboration was an unauthorised enterprise of Trotsky’s and contrary to Soviet interests. In an article in the New York Times of March 5, 1938 Trotsky then explained the actual circumstances and nature of the contacts between the Red Army and the Reichswehr in the 1920s, adding: ‘In the secret archives of the Military Commissariat and the GPU there should undoubtedly be documents in which collaboration with the Reichswehr is referred to in most guarded and conspiratorial terms.’

6. The Hague Conference, which was a continuation of the Genoa Conference, began work on June 15, 1922. At this conference the states of the Entente continued to insist on the demands they had formulated at Genoa – restoration of the private property of foreigners, payment of debts, compensation for losses, etc. The Russian delegation, headed by Comrade Litvinov, declared that satisfaction of these demands would depend on the provision of credits to Russia. Owing to differences of view between the states of the Entente on this question, and their refusal to make a definite promise of economic aid to Soviet Russia, the conference ended without result, on July 18 1922.

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Last updated on: 30.12.2006