The International Situation and the Red Army

IV. The Events in Germany in the Autumn of 1923 [1]

From an Interview with
the American Senator King [2]

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

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‘Is it possible that the USSR may intervene in the event of revolution in Germany?’

Before all and above all we want peace. We shall not despatch a single Red Army soldier across the frontiers of Soviet Russia unless we are forcibly compelled to do so. Our peasants and workers would not allow the Government to initiate any sort of military action, even if the Government were crazy enough to incline towards an aggressive policy. Of course, should the German monarchists be victorious, and should they then, having come to an agreement with the Entente, receive a mandate from the Allies for military intervention in Russia (this plan has been put forward more than once by Ludendorff and Hoffmann), we should fight, and I hope, be victorious. But I do not believe that this will happen. In any case, we shall certainly not intervene in any internal civil war. That is quite clear. We could intervene only by making war on Poland. And we do not want war. We do not conceal our sympathy with the German working class and with its heroic struggle for liberation. To be perfectly precise and frank, I will say that, if we could ensure victory for the German revolution without incurring the risk of war, we would do everything we could to that end. But we do not want war. War would also harm the German revolution. Only that revolution shows itself to be viable which succeeds by its own forces – especially where a great nation is concerned. We are wholly on the side of Germany against predatory and bloody French imperialism. We are heart and soul with the German working class in its struggle against exploitation, both foreign and domestic. And at the same time we are wholly for peace.

‘What is the state of relations between Russia and Poland?’

If Americans want to obtain a manual of good breeding, patience and tact, I recommend that they use the volume containing our diplomatic correspondence with Poland. In her dealings with Poland Russia has shown truly angelic patience. Despite the Treaty of Riga, Poland has refused to recognise our government, which has now been reorganised on the basis of our Union constitution. Poland has pursued and is pursuing a malevolent policy towards us. But we keep in mind only too clearly that war between us and Poland would mean an all-European conflagration, which would wipe the remnants of European civilisation from the face of the earth. After such a war, Americans would visit Europe in order to study here the graveyard of an old culture.

‘Nevertheless, is not the Soviet Government pursuing militarist aims, since it maintains a powerful Red Army, and does this not constitute a threat of armed intervention in support of revolution in Europe?’

And, likewise, of intervention by our navy in the event of revolution in the United States? ... Certainly we have an army, and we consider it not at all a bad one. We have 600,000 soldiers. That is not a small number; but in comparison, for instance, with France, or with our nearest neighbours, our army is very small. If you take into account our population, the extent of our territory, our frontiers, our alluring natural wealth, you will have to admit that ours is an army of very limited size. We have already proposed once – and should America give us her support, we are prepared to renew the proposal – to reduce the size of our army to the minimum necessary for maintaining internal order, provided that our neighbours make similar reductions in their armies. In view of our still difficult economic situation, it would be madness on our part to try and enlarge our army. We have achieved modest but solid economic progress during the last couple of years, and we hope that our economic development will proceed at a faster pace during the next two or three years, if we can manage to remain at peace. Under these conditions, any military adventures would signify a terrible threat to our country’s economic revival. Russia has no inclination towards aggressive war, if only because of her enormous distances and insufficiently developed rail communications. However, these same conditions, together with our severe winters, ensure to the full our capacity to defend ourselves, as has been proved more than once, beginning with Napoleon’s campaigns, and earlier ones too, and ending with the recent interventions. All our constructive work in the military sphere is based on this fact. We are now creating a purely defensive territorial army, gradually transforming the Red Army’s field forces into a militia, retaining only the cadres, that is, the commanders, to act as instructors and so on. A standing army is easy to turn into an instrument of aggression, but a territorial militia is, in itself, a guarantee to the whole world of a peaceful, purely defensive policy.

‘How does the Soviet Government expect to restore trade relations with other countries when it refuses to recognise its old debts?’

Our own debts we pay and shall continue to pay, but we have no desire to pay anyone else’s. Already in December 1905 the Petrograd Soviet, the forerunner of the present government, warned foreign powers and foreign capitalists that the Russian revolution would not recognise the debts incurred by the Tsars, or any other forms of assistance given by foreign capitalists to the Tsarist regime. This may seem unjust; but the planters of the Southern States, during the civil war of the 1860s, also considered unjust that act of civil war whereby the owners of Negro slaves were deprived of their right of ownership. However, it is thanks to the victory won in that civil war that America has grown to her present might. History does not advance in accordance with the line laid down in textbooks of international law. We may deplore this fact, but life is not based upon jurisprudence. Is it permissible, though, to undermine, on account of the past, potentialities for joint work in the present and the future?

You ask: where is the guarantee that we shall not repudiate our own obligations? I reply: in the logic of things. It would be simply suicidal on our part to repudiate obligations which we ourselves have assumed, if we are interested in steadily maintaining confidence in us on the part of the business world. I can assure you that, so long as private property continues to exist in America, we shall recognise American investments in Russia. We are aware of the numerous administrative, fiscal and other obstacles which foreign entrepreneurs encounter at present in our country. But these obstacles are to a considerable extent the result of the absence of properly-regulated relations. We, for our part, are ready to give every sort of assurance to serious American firms who would like to make long-term investments in our industry. The advantages accruing from this would be mutual. Relations between states, especially when their social systems are different, cannot be based on sentimental considerations. There is no need for that. We are, of course, very grateful to the American people for the generous help it gave to our famine-victims. But business relations cannot be based merely on feelings of gratitude. They must be governed by considerations of mutual advantage. The relative geographical situation of our two countries precludes the possibility of any threat of a military-imperialist nature. Consequently, relations between us can be regulated by purely economic considerations. I am firmly convinced that the American commercial and industrial world will very soon recognise the importance of the Russian market. The United States has in recent years undergone a phase of mighty industrial boom. By the law of economic development, this boom will be followed by depression and crisis. The first symptoms have already appeared. If it is not to reduce production, America must find external markets. Thanks to Poincaré’s policy, Europe is condemned to increasing ruin, for a period of many years. America’s European markets will not expand, they will contract. Russia is poorer than Europe, but Russia is not sinking into ruin, it is on the upgrade. Consequently, Russia, and the whole Soviet Union, constitutes a natural market for American industry. The American farmer, too, is interested in seeing to it that the Russian peasant does not become a subject graingrower in the service of Europe, producing cheap grain and undermining prices on the world market. It is to the interest of the American farmer that American capital should participate actively in the industrial development of Russia, because this would at once increase our domestic consumption of grain, thereby reducing the amount of grain that we export. Big American firms could accelerate our industrial development, and in so doing obtain very large profits for themselves.

There is also a very important moral (but not in the least sentimental) factor which facilitates rapprochement between the Soviet United States and the United States of America. In our newspapers and technical journals you will often come across the words ‘Americanism’ and ‘Americanisation’, used in a very favourable, and not at all a disparaging sense. Russians are very eager to learn from the Americans rationally organised methods of production, scientific organisation of work, and this forms a moral basis for a bond with America. We know that your big-business circles are still very hesitant, but we have learnt patience and endurance in our struggle against Tsardom. Still more can we wait patiently in this case: common sense is on our side.

‘Is it possible that you may go over from the New Economic Policy to War Communism?’

The New Economic Policy is an absolute necessity for our 90,000,000 peasants. If we were minded to smash our own heads, we should do way with this policy. There is, consequently, no need for any solemn declarations or manifestos in order to confirm the stability of the New Economic Policy. The conditions of our internal life ensure its complete stability.

September 30, 1923, No.221


1. The occupation of the Ruhr industrial area by French troops, which deprived Germany of the centre of her iron and steel industry, dealt a heavy blow to Germany’s economic and financial position. The Cuno Government, being helpless to fight France, proclaimed passive resistance. The French command replied to this by expelling those officials who resisted and by bloody acts of repression, and later cut the Ruhr off completely from the rest of Germany. The German mark began to fall headlong. In February 1923, after the seizure of the Ruhr, the dollar stood at 22,000 marks: in July the fall of the mark became catastrophic, and by August 8, 1923 the exchange rate had fallen to 3,300,000 marks for one dollar. The workers’ discontent began to manifest itself in mass strikes in the Ruhr region, and later in Central Germany and Silesia. Red Hundreds began to be organised, in opposition to the Fascist detachments which had been formed. The extremist parties – the Communists on one side, the Fascists on the other – grew stronger and stronger. Bavaria became the centre of German Fascism, while Saxony and Thuringia became the stronghold of the Communists. On August 11 a general strike began in Berlin, as a result of which Cuno resigned. His place was taken by Stresemann, the leader of the People’s Party. His cabinet was joined by Social-Democrats, including Hilferding, who took the post of Minister of Finance. Stresemann announced that he would agree to fulfil the reparations undertakings, on condition that the Ruhr was evacuated and that there was no interference in Germany’s internal affairs. The negotiations which he conducted with France on this question proceeded very slowly and led to no positive results. The German mark continued to fall catastrophically. Living conditions were made more and more difficult and the situation became increasingly acute. On September 27 Stresemann proclaimed a state of siege throughout Germany. All executive power was transferred to the Minister of Defence, Gessler, and President Ebert issued a manifesto proclaiming the end of passive resistance in the Ruhr region. Civil government commissioners were appointed for all parts of Germany. Relations became especially strained between Stresemann’s government and the Zeigner government in Saxony, which at the beginning of October was made up of Left Social-Democrats and Communists and was forming Red Hundreds. The commander-in-chief of the Reichswehr in Saxony, General Muffler, issued an order for the dissolution of the proletarian Hundreds and Committees of Action. As the Saxon Government refused to submit to this order, Seeckt, the Reich head of the Reichswehr, moved army units into Saxony, which began to carry out arrests of the leadrrs of the proletarian Hundreds. On October 26 Stresemann demanded that the Saxon Government resign, on the grounds that the Communist members of this government had called for forcible action against the Reichswehr. The Saxon Government rejected Stresemann’s ultimatum. In reply, on 29 October the Reich Commissioner Heinze occupied the Government building with units of the Reichswehr and dispersed the Government. Shortly before this, on October 23, a workers’ revolt had broken out in Hamburg, and had been suppressed by the Reichswehr, and on October 21 the Rhineland separatists, backed by the French, had proclaimed an independent Rhenish Republic at Aachen. At the beginning of November the Reichswehr also occupied Thuringia, where there was a Left-wing government which included Communists.

In Bavaria the Fascists came out openly against the central government. Their movement was headed by Ludendorff and Hitler. On November 8 they overthrew the Kahr Government, but, as the Reichswehr did not join them, their revolt was put down on the following day. As a result of these events the Stresemann Government managed to retain power. The policy of the Stresemann Government was continued by the Marx Government, which was formed at the end of November, with Stresemann as Minister for Foreign Affairs.

The speeches and articles in Chapter Four are devoted to all these events, which might have led to a workers’ revolution in Germany.

2. Senator King was one of a group of five American Congressmen who spent several weeks in the USSR. President Harding had just died, and there were hopes that his successor, Coolidge, might prove to be more friendly to the Soviets.

In his conversation with ‘Johnson’ (C.L.R. James) in 1939, Trotsky rebutted the charge that this interview was a symptom of ‘degeneration’: ‘In revolution it is always wise to throw on the enemy the responsibility. Thus, in 1917, they asked me at the Soviet: “Are the Bolsheviks preparing an insurrection?” What could I say? I said: “No, we are defending the revolution, but if you provoke us ...!” It was the same thing here. Poland and France were using the Russian Bolsheviks as a pretext for preparing the intervention and reactionary moves [in relation to Germany]. With the full consent of the German comrades I gave this interview, while the German comrades explained this situation to the German workers. Meanwhile, I had a cavalry detachment under Dybenko ready on the Polish border!’

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Last updated on: 30.12.2006