The International Situation and the Red Army

III. The Curzon Ultimatum


At the Emergency Plenary Meeting of the Moscow Soviet of Workers’ and Peasants’ and Red Army Men’s Deputies, May 12, 1923 [1]

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

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Comrades! Yesterday in my work-room certain items of news and certain facts came together. I received two comrades, worker delegates from a stationery factory in Kaluga province. One of them has worked in this factory for 51 years, the other for 46 years. About the same time as they arrived, or a little earlier, I received a telephone call from the People’s Commissariat of Foreign Affairs concerning the murder of our friend and representative Comrade Vorovsky. [2] And I also received a whole packet of newspapers published abroad by former landlords and capitalists of our country.

I do not know, comrades, whether you are aware of how frenzied and unprecedented in its senselessness is the campaign of lies, invention and hallucinations now being carried on by the émigré press. The period in which we are living and which is marked by great and growing unity between the Soviet power and the working masses of our entire union, by the great revolutionary movement of the peoples – and by the drawing into the revolution of those peoples who in previous years had no part in it – this period is described by the White press as one of fresh uprisings in all corners of our country, a period of breakdown of the state apparatus and disintegration of the Communist Party. And when you read these sheets, which come out in Warsaw, Heisingfors, Riga, Reval and other places, you are forced to ask yourself: who prints them and for whom are they printed? Are those who print them mad, or is it that they count on their readers being mad?

For what purpose is all this stuff printed? In order to involve us in war with imperialism, in order to bring about war – but why? Between us and the imperialists of the West there lies a necklace of foreign states. And if, contrary to our wishes, a senseless and criminal blockade were to begin, or, still more, if war should come, the first blows of such a war would fall upon the foreign states adjacent to us, by force of the logic of geographic location. Yet it is from those very countries that comes this flood of lies, hallucinations and baiting, through the White-Guard émigrés, the former landlords and capitalists.

And yesterday these two old workers told me how they had lived through the year 1918, through hunger and cold, and said that now they are living somewhat better. These old men, heroes of labour, had brought with them a few dozen specimens of the paper which they produce there for various economic and cultural requirements, and with their gnarled and trembling fingers they showed me with justified pride these specimens of our revived production. We said: give us another two, three, five years of peaceful labour, and we will raise up our economy, our schools, our cultural level. Can we contemplate war? Can we, with our boundless expanses, our many millions of people, our backwardness, our poverty, our lack of culture, contemplate aggression, conquest, offensives? We say: let any among us be accursed who raises his voice in favour of attacking anyone, in favour of a future war. One of those workers had had 51 years at the bench, and if you were to tell him that we, the workers’ and peasants’ state, entertain some aggressive intentions, he would not understand you. The working class would expel from its ranks anyone unwilling to defend peace and labour in every way and by every means.

And nevertheless, comrades, the atmosphere along the frontiers of the Soviet Republic has thickened again and we are once more obliged to follow attentively and not without anxiety the intentions not only of governments but also of separate groups, particular cliques inside these governments, for, given the unstable state of European politics, the conduct of particular groups or individuals who stand on the heights of imperialist power may, in such a period as this, so tighten the knot that, later, these same gentlemen may be obliged to cut it with the aid of one of those swords of which they have so many in their armoury – many, many more than we have. This is also among the reasons why we shall fight for peace in every way and by every means, and back up our diplomats, who are honestly, sincerely and persistently fighting to uphold the independence of the Soviet Union through peaceful agreements.

Comrades, I think that every Red Army man – and, with us, the Red Army man is first and foremost a citizen who takes an active part in the country’s political life – understands and will understand the tone in which the Soviet power and its diplomats are now speaking. It is a tone of composure, of remonstrance, of invitation to show prudence. I know that we have grounds enough for indignation, for resentment, for raising a clenched fist and grinding our teeth. But the present moment is one when it is necessary to call for prudence, self-restraint, caution and calm. The worker and peasant masses, the masses of our Red Moscow in its entirety, have shown that they understand fully the disturbing character of the present situation. We do not know whether Curzon’s action is an isolated action by Great Britain or whether there are also other states, nearer home or equally distant, who are now developing diplomatic and perhaps not merely diplomatic, plans directed against us. And for that very reason we shall not take a single step, or utter a single word, that might render the situation more acute or close the path to a peaceful denouément through negotiations. We desire peace above all things, though, naturally, not at the price of surrender, not at the price of converting the Soviet Union into a vassal of foreign imperialism.

The governments of the Entente, since the war and the Versailles peace, have not been accustomed to talking to other peoples, states and nations in any manner but that of orders and commands. On this subject we say that their words of command do not reach as far as Red Moscow. We, the Republic of workers and peasants, are ready to make the greatest concessions, but only on the basis of independence and equality. And that, comrades, is why we all, as one, in the ranks of the government and the state apparatus, and in the ranks of our Party, and in those of the many-millioned non-Party masses of workers and peasants, will support all the steps taken by our diplomats which are directed towards peace and securing the possibility of safeguarding the trade agreement and economic relations with other countries. And, to no less a degree than everyone else, the Red Army and the Red Navy stand behind our dipomats, because the armed forces know better than anyone else what war means, what war would mean if they were now to bring it down upon us.

Today, in the present tense situation in Europe, war would be a fight to the death. It would be a fight lasting not months but, possibly, years, a fight which would swallow up all the forces and resources of our country, putting an end to economic and cultural work for years to come. That is why we say: ‘Let this cup pass from us.’ [‘Let this cup pass from me’ ⏻ i.e., may I not be required to drink this bitter draught: said by Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matthew, 26:39).] We want peace, we are all for peace – so say the Red Army and the Red Navy, which are part of the working class, flesh of its flesh. But, comrades, if this desire for peaceful labour which was expressed by the two workers who had worked at the bench for half a century, and who voiced that desire from the bottom of the hearts of the workers and peasants of the whole Union – if this will to peace of ours should fail to succeed, and the ring of imperialism continue to enclose us, if challenge should follow challenge, assuming material form, and if the bayonets of imperialism should be aimed at our breast, or to strike us a blow in the back, then, in the name of the Red Army and the Red Navy, who wish for peaceful labour, I tell you that the Red Army and the Red Navy will do theft duty to the end.

From the archives


1. The emergency plenary meeting of the Moscow Soviet held on May 12, 1923 was convened in connection with the Curzon ultimatum of May 1.

2. Comrade Vorovsky, Soviet Russia’s plenipotentiary representative in Italy, who had come to Lausanne to take part in an international conference, was killed on May 10, 1923 by a Russian White Guard named Conradi.

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Last updated on: 30.12.2006