The International Situation and the Red Army

III. The Curzon Ultimatum


At the Parade on Red Square, May 1, 1923

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

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Comrade Red Army men, commanders, commissars, and you, working men and women of Red Moscow!

For the seventh time since the overthrow of Tsardom, for the sixth time under the sickle and hammer of the Soviets and the Red star of battle, we are celebrating the festival of the working class of the whole world on Moscow’s Red Square. We, the Republic of the workers and peasants, are still, in the seventh May since the revolution began, surrounded by the bourgeois states of the whole world. But this year we have become stronger. That is known both to our friends and to our foes. The Soviet republics have come together in a single union, which now embraces a fraternal family of 28 independent or autonomous republics and autonomous regions. [1] Our army is united, as a pledge of the unity of the working masses. In this year our economy has taken a big step forward. We are beginning, step by step, slowly but steadily, to emerge from our hell of poverty. In this year our Red Army has become better, more firmly and soundly organised. In this year we have seen more seriously to the defence of our maritime approaches, our coasts, because from that direction, too, we are menaced by potential enemies. Our navy has this year taken a big step towards revival and development. And, of course, we have undertaken, at the end of this year, serious practical work to develop and strengthen the Red Air Fleet, so as to be able to defend our approaches in the air as well. We have grown stronger. And in the year now beginning we shall become still firmer and stronger.

But, as before, we live side by side with states which exploit every opportunity to strike a blow at us and do us harm. Despite all our sincere and honest love of peace, all our attempts to establish peaceful relations have failed, up to now, to produce even partial results. Cast a quick, broad glance around. What do we see in Europe?

Imperialist reaction has during this year become more insolent and aggressive, and is trying to threaten us more than it did in the previous year. The working class has in many countries been forced underground. It is bravely fighting for its future and ours, but at present reactionary capital is still the master of the situation.

In Italy Fascism has conquered, the most bloody, hardened wing of capital, and the best expression of the state of affairs in Italy is the fact that the imperialist dictator of Italy, Mussolini, has forbidden the celebration of May Day. [2] Oh, if only they could, they would forbid us, too, to celebrate the workers’ festival! But in all the countries where today the fist of capital reigns, the free thoughts, the revolutionary aspirations, the proletarian spirit of the working masses wing their way hither, to us, to Red Square. And from here we say to the rulers of the whole world: no force in the world will forbid us to celebrate the First of May here. We, the workers and peasants’ are the masters here!

Take a look at Britain. The conservative wing of capital is triumphant in that country. While suppressing Ireland and staining her with blood, and while pursuing her age-old oppression of India, Britain is at this moment, at Lausanne, trying, for a second time, to bend and bring our friend Turkey to her knees. Under the pretext of a bogus freedom of the seas, Britain is demanding access to the shores of the Black Sea, to our Black Sea ports, so as to keep them under the threat of her long-range naval guns. What is more, Britain is illegally fishing off our shores, and is depicting our attempt to protect our country’s vital economic interests as an assault on her interests. But that is not the end of it: Britain is trying to interfere in the internal life of our country. She has the audacity to dictate to us on whom we should pass sentence and whom we should pardon. [3] But we who are gathered here in serried ranks on this First of May will say to everyone: hands off! We workers and peasants, working women and peasant women, are the masters here, and we ourselves know on whom to pass sentence and whom to pardon.

France has plunged her imperialist bayonet into the heart of industrial,working Germany. The Ruhr is running with workers’ blood. [4] At Essen French soldiers, slaves of imperialism, have killed German workers. [5]

And, among our immediate neighbours, it is enough to name Poland, who misses no opportunity, omits no measure, fails to take no step to stir up against us both other countries and her own people, so as to do us moral and material damage.

That is why we are compelled to hold our sixth May Day festival under the sign of the hammer and sickle also under the sign of the bayonet and the sabre. All our attempts to achieve disarmament and agreement between the nations have come to nothing. At Genoa we proposed peace and disarmament. We invited here, to Moscow, representatives of the neighbouring countries. We proposed to them, sincerely, frankly and honestly, a practical plan for gradual reduction in armaments. Their answer was: no! We cannot and do not want to disarm in face of an enemy armed from head to foot. On the contrary, we shall study with double and treble application the art of war, so long as the mailed fist of capital threatens “the independence – and freedom of the union of Soviet republics. We are not going to attack anyone. We want peace and labour. We are true to the spirit of the May Day festival and this spirit means brotherhood between the workers, between the peoples of all countries. And we are ready at any time to reach out a fraternal hand to any people. But so long as our hand is left hanging in the air, or is rebuffed, we shall firmly and unshakably grasp in that hand the rifle of the Soviet Republic.

That is why the celebration of the First of May is for us, this year again, a day of military parade, a day of induction of young Red warriors to the solemn promise.

Comrade Red Army men, commanders and commissars! Before the working men and women assembled here I call upon you all to repeat after me the Red oath to the working class, to the working masses of all lands, the oath to be loyal in our military service and in our military struggle for the well-being, freedom and independence of organised labour.

Comrade commander of the parade, summon the parade to take the Red oath!

Comrade Red Army men, commanders and commissars! I greet you fraternally on the occasion of your taking the Red oath of loyalty to the cause of the working class of all countries. We have today once more pronounced the Red oath, in which, according to the old formula, mention is made only of the Russian Republic; but already today we have given our revolutionary pledge of loyalty to our entire Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. And I call on you to conclude the solemn act of taking the Red oath with our unanimous greeting to the working class of the whole world, to the international revolution’ to freedom and brotherhood of the peoples, to the Red Army and to our Soviet Union. All together: Long live the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics! Hurrah!

Pravda, May 3, 1923, No 96


1. In the second half of 1922 the Ukrainian, Byelorussian and Transcaucasian Republics raised the question of uniting in a single union-state of all the Soviet socialist republics. The Tenth Congress of Soviets, held at the end of December, acceded to the wish of these republics. After the Tenth Congress the First Congress of Soviets of the USSR was convened, at which, on December 30, 1922, a declaration was adopted on the formation of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, and a treaty of union signed between the RSFSR, the Ukrainian SSR, the Byelorussian SSR and the Transcaucasian SFSR.

2. The Fascist government of Mussolini was formed at the end of October 1922. A fascist congress at Naples demanded that the Facta cabinet resign and hand over power to the Fascists. At the same time the Fascists launched an open offensive in several Italian cities, as a result of which a Fascist dictatorship was set up.

From the very outset, Mussolini’s Fascist government pursued a harsh policy towards the workers’ organisations, and everywhere banned the celebration of the First of May.

3. The reference is to the British Government’s protest, in a letter from Britain’s representative in Moscow, Hodgson, on 30 March 1923, to the People’s Commissar for Foreign Affairs, against the carrying out of the death sentence on the Catholic priest Butkiewicz, who had been tried along with Archbishop Cieplak and found guilty of treason. [A group of Roman Catholic priests was tried for opposing the confiscation of church property and the ban on religious education. Against Monsignor Butkiewicz there was the additional charge that, by corresponding, during the Russo-Polish War, with the Papal Nuncio in Warsaw, he had been guilty of treason. Despite pleas from many quarters, he was executed. Duranty (I Write As I Please, 1935, p.205) records that ‘the storm of world-wide indignation which followed surpassed Chicherin’s worst forebodings; indeed; he was reported to have said bitterly that the life of this one man had robbed the Soviet of its two years of patient diplomacy ... So strong was American sentiment that it is not unreasonable to assume that the Butkiewicz execution did more than anything else to retard American recognition of the USSR for ten years.’]

4. The occupation of the industrial region of the Ruhr by French troops began on 10 January 1923, on the pretext that Germany had not carried out the obligations she had accepted under the Treaty of Versailles and the need to supervise the activity of the German coal-mining syndicates. The occupation was accompanied by acts of violence against workers, expulsions, arrests and shootings.

5. On March 31, 1923 French troops in Essen fired on workers at the Krupp works who resisted the requisitioning of trucks: 13 were killed. The German Communist paper Die Rote Fahne reported the news under the headline: ‘Krupp workers the victims of French militarism and German nationalist provocation.’

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Last updated on: 30.12.2006