Leon Trotsky

Between Red and White


As these lines are written we are less than three weeks away from the time set for the Genoa Conference. Nobody, apparently, can yet tell how much time separates us from the actual opening of the Conference. The diplomatic contest around this Conference is very closely interwoven with the political agitation against Soviet Russia. Between the diplomacy of the bourgeoisie and its own social democracy, the principle of sub-division of labour is faithfully observed; diplomacy conducts its intrigues, while social democracy mobilizes public opinion against the workers’ and peasants’ republic.

What is the aim of this democracy? To impose upon revolutionary Russia the heaviest possible tribute; to compel her to pay the utmost reparations; to develop upon the widest possible scale the encroachment of private capital upon Soviet territory; and to create the greatest possible privileges for foreign and Russian financiers, industrialists and usurers, as against the workers and peasants. The mask hitherto concealing these demands, viz. ‘democracy’, ‘right’, ‘liberty’, etc., has now been cast aside by bourgeois diplomacy, just as the merchant throws off the paper wrappings from a piece of cloth when it is necessary to display the goods, bargain, and measure it out in yards.

But bourgeois society allows nothing to be wasted. The paper wrapper of ‘right’ is handed over to the social democracy, because it happens to be its particular line of goods, its stock-in-trade, so to speak. The Second International – and what is said about the latter applies also to its shadow on the Left, the two-and-a-half International – exerts every effort to prove to the workers that, since the Soviet government observes neither ‘right’ nor ‘democracy’, the toiling masses of Russia deserve no support in their struggle against the world’s usurers.

We committed our most flagrant act of disrespect to ‘right’ and ‘democracy’, as everybody knows, by the October Revolution. It represents our original sin. During the first years the bourgeoisie tried to destroy the revolution by the sword. Now it contents itself with the introducing of substantial capitalist amendments. The struggle now centres around the scope of these amendments.

The Second International, however, wishes to avail itself of the Genoa Conference to restore the ‘right’ – which would amount to quite a definite programme – not to admit to Genoa the ‘usurers’, ‘dictators’, ‘terrorists’ of the Soviet government, but to bring there instead the democratic relics of the Constituent Assembly. But such a formulation of the question would be patently ridiculous, and besides, it would run counter to the plans of the bourgeoisie. The Second International least of all lays claim to the role of knight errant of democracy. It is only its Sancho Panza. It dare not put the question in its full scope. It hankers merely after small gains.

The banner of the struggle for small democratic gains is furnished just now by Georgia. The Soviet Revolution in Georgia took place but a year ago. At the helm in Georgia was a party of the Second International. The Menshevik Republic was manoeuvring all the time between imperialism and the proletarian revolution, going over to the side of the former in its struggle against the latter. This is quite in keeping with the role of the Second International. The Georgian Mensheviks paid with their own downfall for their liaison with the counter-revolution. The same inevitable result is in store for the Second International itself. No wonder then if the struggle of the international social democracy for a ‘democratic’ Georgia has assumed a somewhat symbolic character.

Yet even the most fertile brains of the Second International could not evolve any argument in favour of the pretensions of the Georgian Mensheviks that has not already been worn threadbare by the defenders of the ‘democratic rights’ of Miliukov, Kerensky, Chernov or Martov. As a matter of principle there is no difference whatever between the two sets of claimants. The social democrats now present in octavo what the imperialist press has previously published in folio. Of this one can easily become convinced by perusing the resolution of the Executive Committee of the Second International on the question of Georgia.

The text of the resolution deserves to be examined. The style not merely reflects the men but the party. Let us listen to the political style of the Second International in addressing itself to the proletarian revolution:–

1. The territory of Georgia has been occupied by the troops of the Moscow Government, which maintains in Georgia a government that is loathed by the population and is regarded by the proletariat of the world as being solely responsible for the destruction of the Georgian Republic and for the terrorist regime established in that country.

Is not this the language that has been used for the last four years by the reactionary press of the whole world in regard to the Soviet Federation as a whole? Did it not argue that the Soviet regime was loathed by the population of Russia and was maintained by military terrorism? Did we not hold Petrograd and Moscow by the aid of ‘Lettish, Chinese, German and Bashkir regiments?’ Did not the power of the Soviets ‘violently’ spread to Ukraine, Siberia, Don, Kuban, Azerbaijan? If now, after we have beaten off the reactionary rabble, the Second International repeats the same phrases, word for word, especially in regard to Georgia, does it in any way alter their character?

2. The responsibility of the Moscow Government was further aggravated by the recent events in Georgia, particularly after the protest strikes organised by the workers (?) and suppressed by force, as is done by reactionary governments.

Yes, the revolutionary government of Georgia forcibly frustrated the plans of the Menshevik chiefs of the railway bureaucracy, the petty officials and the White Guard officers who failed to make their escape, to practice sabotage against the workers’ and peasants’ State. With reference to these repressions, Merrheim, a well-known petty servitor of imperialism in France, writes of ‘thousands’ of Georgian citizens who were compelled to quit their homes. ‘Among those refugees’ – we are quoting him verbatim – ‘there are a great number of officers, former officials of the Republic, and all the leaders of the National Guard.’ This was the very Menshevik machinery which for three years ruthlessly suppressed the revolutionary workers and the incessantly rebellious Georgian peasants, and after the overthrow of the Mensheviks they remained as ready tools for the attempts of the Entente at restoration. That the revolutionary government of Georgia dealt firmly with the sabotage of the bureaucracy we fully admit. But this very thing we have done through the entire territory of the revolution. The establishment of Soviet domination at Petrograd and Moscow met its first obstacle in an attempted railway strike, under the guidance of the Menshevik and Socialist-Revolutionary bureaucracy. Supported by the workers, we smashed this bureaucracy, purified and subordinated it to the authority of the toilers. The reactionary scum of the whole world raised a howl about our barbarous terrorism. The same lamentations of the reactionary scum are now repeated, this time only with regard to Georgia, by the social-democratic leaders. Where is the difference?

But is it not rather strange that the social democratic leaders can now twist their tongues to speak of the forcible suppression of the strikes and the conduct of ‘reactionary governments?’ For do we not know the kind of men that compose the Second International? Noske and Ebert are its leading members. Or have they been expelled? How many workers’ strikes and rebellions have they crushed? Or, perhaps they are not the murderers of Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht? Perhaps it was not the social democrat Hoersing, a member of the Second International, who provoked the March movement in Germany in order to drown it in blood? And what about the very latest measures of the social democrat Ebert, against the German railway strike?

Perhaps the Executive Committee in London does not see what is going on upon the Continent? But, in that case, one might be allowed to put a polite question to Henderson – was he not a Privy Councillor during the Easter Rebellion in Ireland in 1916, when the royal troops bombarded Dublin, and executed 15 Irishmen, including the socialist Connolly, already wounded previously? Perhaps Vandervelde, a former president of the Second International, lesser Privy Councillor of a lesser kingdom, did not appeal to the Russian socialists during the war to make peace with Tsarism, which was wading up to its neck in the blood of the workers and peasants, and which was soon to drown in it? Are any more instances required? The leaders of the Second International have as much right to defend the right to strike as Judas Iscariot had to preach loyalty.

3. At the moment when the Moscow government demands its recognition by other countries, it should treat the rights of other nations with the same respect it desires for itself, and must refrain from violating the elementary principles upon which the intercourse between civilised nations must be based.

The political style reflects the very soul of the party. The last point is the highest achievement of the Second International. If Soviet Russia desires recognition (by whom?) it should ‘treat the rights of other nations with the same (which?) respect, and not violate (sic) the elementary principles upon which the intercourse between civilized nations must be based.’

Who wrote this? We would have suspected Longuet himself, but for the fact that he has migrated to the International No.2½. Perhaps it was written by Vandervelde, the elegant jurist of the Belgian crown? Or perhaps by Mr. Henderson, inspired by one of his own Sunday sermons at a Brotherhood meeting? It is essential for the sake of history to establish the identity of the author of this incomparable resolution. Who is responsible for this product of a diseased mind?

Let us, however, return to the text. In order to be recognized by the bourgeois, imperialist, slave-owning governments (for the reference is obviously to them), the Soviet government should refrain from violating ‘principles’ and ‘treat with the same respect the right of other nations.’ With the same ... with what ‘respect’?

For three years the imperialist governments tried to overthrow us. They have failed. Their economic position is hopeless. Their mutual jealousies and struggles have reached a state of extreme acuteness. They have found themselves compelled to enter into relations with Soviet Russia for the sake of her raw materials, her markets and her debt payments. In extending this invitation Lloyd George explained to Briand that international morality admits the conclusion of agreements not only with the murderers of the East (Turkey), but also with the murderers of the North (Soviet Russia). We take no offence at the strong expression used by Lloyd George. Upon this question we fully accept his outspoken formula. Yes, we do consider it possible, admissible and necessary – within certain limits – to conclude agreements with the imperialist murderers of the West as well as of the East.

An agreement which imposes obligations upon us ought at the same time to compel our enemies to give up their armed attacks upon us. Such is the sum total of four years’ open fighting, as far as it can be gauged for the moment. Of course, the bourgeois governments demand the recognition of the ‘elementary principles, upon which the intercourse between civilised nations must be based.’ But these principles have nothing in common with the questions of democracy and national self-determination. We are drily asked to recognize debts contracted by Tsarism for the purpose of crushing this very Georgia, Finland, Poland, all the border provinces, and the toiling masses of Great Russia herself.

And we are also called upon to pay compensation to the private capitalists who have suffered loss as a result of the revolution. It cannot be denied that the proletarian revolution has caused damage to some pockets and purses, which are regarded as the most sacred principles upon which ‘the intercourse between civilized nations’ rests. This will be dealt with at Genoa and other places; but of what principles do the leaders of the Second International speak? Is it the predatory principles of the Versailles Peace, which at this moment determine the relations between States, i.e., the principles of Clemenceau, Lloyd George, and the Mikado?

Or do they, in their crafty, evasive tongue, speak of the principles which do not as yet determine the intercourse between nations, but which ought to? If the latter, why then do they put them forward now as conditions for our being accepted into the respectable ‘family’ of the present imperialistic States? Or do they wish us to disarm today, and to evacuate territory before the imperialists, on the expectation of the relations that will exist tomorrow? We have already made one such experiment in the sight of the whole world. We openly disarmed during the Brest-Litovsk negotiations; did that prevent German militarism from invading our frontiers? Perhaps the German social democracy, the bulwark of the Second International, at that time raised the standard of revolt? Not a bit. It remained the governing party of the Hohenzollerns.

In Georgia there ruled the petty bourgeois party of the Mensheviks. Today it is the Georgian Bolshevik Party that governs it. The Mensheviks depended upon the material assistance of the European and American imperialism, the Georgian Bolsheviks rely upon the support of Soviet Russia. Upon what logical grounds does the Social Democratic International desire to condition the conclusion of peace between the Soviet Federation and the capitalist countries by the return of Georgia to the Mensheviks?

The logic is bad, but the aim is clear. The Second International desired and desires now, the overthrow of the Soviet Power. In this direction it has done everything possible. It has conducted the struggle side by side with capitalism under the mask of democracy fighting dictatorship. The toiling masses of Europe have driven it from this position and prevented an open struggle against the Soviet Republic. Now social democracy has renewed the struggles under the camouflage of defending Georgia.

The labouring masses of the whole world immediately showed a readiness to regard the Russian Revolution as a whole, and in this their revolutionary instinct coincided, not for the first time, with high theoretical sense, which teaches that a revolution, with its heroism and cruelty, the struggle for individuality and the suppression of individuality, can only be understood in the material logic of its internal relations, and not by any valuation of its individual phases or separate episodes according to the price list of Right, Ethics, and Aesthetics. The first great theoretical battle which communism put up in defence of the revolutionary law of dictatorship and its methods has brought its fruits. Social democracy has finally parted company with the methods and even with the phraseology of Marxism. The German Independents, the Italian Socialists, and others like them, under the pressure of the workers, ‘recognized’ dictatorship, the more clearly to reveal their incapability to fight for it. The Communist Party grew up and became a force. But a great hitch occurred in the development of the proletarian revolution. Its meaning and importance were sufficiently clearly explained at the Third Congress of the Communist International. The crystallisation of revolutionary consciousness expressed in the growth of the Communist Party was accompanied by the ebb of the revolutionary temper of the first post-war period. Bourgeois public opinion passed over to the offensive. Its chief task was to destroy or at least to break the spell of the revolution.

A great work was commenced in which crude and clamorous lying brought the bourgeoisie much less advantage than the careful selection of scraps of truth. The bourgeoisie, by means of its journalistic reconnoitring, approached the revolution by the back door. Do you know what a proletarian republic means? It means locomotives suffering from asthma, it means typhus-bearing lice, it means the daughter of a well-known respected lawyer living in an unheated flat, it means Mensheviks imprisoned, filthy lavatories; that is what the working class revolution means! The bourgeois journalists exhibited the Soviet louse under a microscope to the whole world. The first thing that Mrs. Snowden found it necessary to do, on returning from the Volga district to the Thames, was to scratch herself in public. This became almost a rite symbolising the advantage of civilization over barbarity. However, this did not solve the question. The gentlemen who kept bourgeois public opinion informed, approached the revolution ... by the back door, and armed with a microscope. Some details they examined with considerable and even extraordinary care; but what they examined was not the proletarian revolution.

However, the mere transference of the question to the plane of our economic difficulties and defects in our social amenities, was an advance. From monotonous and not very clever talk about the advantages of the Constituent Assembly over the Soviet system, bourgeois public opinion, as it were, came to realise that we do exist, and that the Constituent Assembly does not exist and never will. The businesslike exposures of transport and other disorders were in their way equal to a de facto recognition of the Soviets. These exposures, however, coincide with our own fears and efforts in the same direction. Recognition in no case, however, meant reconciliation. It only meant that the futile attacks were substituted by a war of positions. We all remember how, during the Great War, the fight on the Franco-German front was suddenly concentrated around some ‘woodsman’s hut’. For several weeks this hut figured in the communiqués. Really the fight for this hut signified either an attempt to break through the opposite front, or, at any rate, to do the greatest possible damage to the enemy.

In continuing this life and death struggle against us, bourgeois public opinion naturally seized upon Georgia as the woodman’s hut in the present stage of the war of positions. Lord Northcliffe, Huysmans, Gustave Hervé, the ruling Rumanian bandits, Martov, the Royalist Leon Daudet, Mrs. Snowden, and her maiden aunt Kautsky, and even Frau Louisa Kautsky (of the Wiener Arbeiter Zeitung), in a word, all the weapons in the armoury of bourgeois public opinion, were brought into play in defence of democratic, loyal, and strictly neutral Georgia.

And thus we observe, what at first sight is inexplicable, a fresh outburst of frenzy: all the charges – political, juridical, moral, criminal – that were first directed against the Soviet system as a whole, are now mobilized against the Soviet authorities in Georgia. It appears that it is in Georgia that the Soviet fails to express the will of the people. But what about Great Russia? Have they really forgotten the dispersal of the Constituent Assembly with the aid of Lettish and Chinese regiments? Has it not been proved long ago that, although not rooted anywhere, with the aid of armed forces from ‘outside’ (!!!), we, nevertheless, scattered to the winds the most solid democratic governments, no matter how deep rooted? Why, gentlemen, this is the very argument with which you started! It is precisely on this ground that you foretold the collapse of the Soviets within a few weeks! So Clemenceau prophesied at the beginning of the Versailles negotiations, and so did Kautsky at the beginning of the German revolution. Why then is all the talk confined to Georgia now? Is it because Zhordania and Tseretelli are now émigrés? Then what about the others? The Azerbaijan Musavatists, the Armenian Dashnaks, the Kuban Rada, the Don Krug, the Ukrainian Petlurists, Martov and Chernov, Kerensky and Miliukov. Why is all this preference given to Georgian Mensheviks as against the Moscow Mensheviks? For the Georgian Mensheviks they demand the restoration of power, and for the Moscow Mensheviks they merely demand reforms in the methods of persecution. This is not very logical, but the political aim is too clear. Georgia provides a new pretext for the mobilization of hate and hostility against us in this protracted war of positions. These are the laws of wars of ‘attrition’. Our opponents are reproducing in octavo the failure they committed in folio.

This in a large measure defines the contents and character of this work. We have once again to examine questions, the principles of which have already been laid down particularly in my book Terrorism and Communism. In that book I attempted to be as concrete as possible. My task consisted in showing, by concrete examples, the operation of the basic forces of our epoch. In the history of ‘democratic’ Georgia, we attempt to trace the policy of the ruling social democratic parties which were compelled to pick their pact between imperialism and the proletarian revolution. We hope that just such a detailed and concrete exposition as this will bring the internal problems of the revolution, its requirements and difficulties, to the closer understanding of a reader who does not possess direct revolutionary experience, but who is interested in acquiring it.

* * *

We do not always in the text give the references for our quotations: this would be too wearisome for the reader, particularly to a foreign reader, as most of the sources are Russian publications. Those who wish to confirm our quotations, and obtain more complete documentary evidence, may refer to the following brochures:

Our exposition and our sources of information by no means claim to be complete. The most valuable material is inaccessible to us. This material consists of the most compromising documents, as well as the archives of the respective British and French institutions, taken out of the country by the late Menshevik government, since November, 1918.

If any one were conscientiously to collect all these documents and publish them, we should get a very instructive book for the guidance of the Second and Two-and-a-half Internationals. In spite of the financial embarrassment of the Soviet Republic, its government would undoubtedly undertake the cost of publishing such a book. It goes of course without saying that it would reciprocally hand over for such a publication all the documents referring to Georgia at present in the Soviet archives. We fear, however, that this proposal will not be accepted. Well, we shall have to wait until the day comes when other methods are found for revealing these secrets. In the long run that day will come.

L. Trotsky
Moscow, 20th February 1922

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Last updated on: 3.1.2007