Comrade Trotzky

Imperialism and Soviet Russia

(6 June 1923)

Source: International Press Correspondence, Vol. 23 No. 48 [28], 5 July 1923, pp. 475–476.
Transcription/HTML Markup: Einde O’Callaghan for the Trotsky Internet Archive.
Copyleft: Leon Trotsky Internet Archive ( 2022. Permission is granted to copy and/or distribute this document under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0.

Extract from the speech delivered by comrade Trotzky at the 6th All Russian Metal Workers Congress on June 6, 1923.

Two questions are at the present time occupying die foreground of international politics: the Ruhr and the English ultimatum to Soviet Russia. I shall speak here of the latter point, as it touches us directly.

What was the reason of the ultimatum, and what explains our compliant attitude with respect to this ultimatum?

It must be plainly and clearly stated: England – here we are of course speaking of ruling bourgeois England – has simply been true to her old traditional policy in issuing this ultimatum. Her present action against us may, in a certain sense, be regarded as the continuation of her old struggle against Russia.

What are the fundamental lines upon which English politics have always been conducted? It must not be forgotten that the English bourgeoisie is more experienced than any other. The essence of English politics has invariably consisted in setting other countries against one another, of standing aside and letting other people fetch the chestnuts out of the fire.

We all know the policy which was pursued by the English during the intervention and the blockade. Russia’s losses in the imperialist war amounted to 3,080,000, whilst England only lost 455,000, that is, scarcely the sixth part. In order that Lord Curzon might be in a position to hand us a ten days ultimatum, over 3 million Russian workers and peasants had to bleed for the honor of English imperialism. Some day we shall present this account to the English bourgeoisie. Then England inaugurated the period of intervention and blockade. England herself did not go to war, but she sent expeditionary troops to Archangel and Murmansk. With what object? In order to mobilize Russian workers and peasants for the White Guards, and to force them to fight against the red workers and peasants. Throughout the whole period of the occupation, England did not lose more than 10 to 15 men, but on the other hand, condemned hundreds and thousands to a wretched fate.

England demands from us compensation on account of two English subjects. We are surprised at the modesty of Lord Curzon’s demands; he does not require compensation for the 15 or 30 English who died in northern Russia.

We have not yet forgotten the name of that English officer who had our 20 comrades murdered in Baku. Some day we shall also demand from the English bourgeoisie that it pays pensions to the relatives of these 20 comrades.

Now – after the period of armed invention – there came a change, a commercial agreement with us. What was the cause of this change of front? Lloyd George hoped to reduce the number of unemployed by these means, and at the same time to bring Russia under the yoke, if not by force, then at least by money. But we have developed our forces in an entirely different direction to that desired by the English bourgeoisie. Besides this, the situation has improved in England since then, and we never played a very great role in the foreign relations of Great Britain.

Again we are in the midst of a dark period, full of the dangers of similar complications, or even more serious ones, than those involved in the English ultimatum. Apart from the improvement of the economic situation in England, and to some extent in the other countries of Europe (here I do not speak of America, where the pulse of capital is beating mightily), the essential character of capitalist economics is mainly expressed in the Ruhr occupation, which is nothing less than a devastation and a potential war. There is no normal capitalist life in Europe. Even such a small incident as the upheaval in Bulgaria shows that the whole of bourgeois society, at least Europe, is still suffering from intermittent lever. The latest telegrams report that the Bulgarian revolution has been directly supported by English and Italian agents. Today we receive news of an upheaval in Persia. England, who demanded that we recall our representative from Persia, has now overthrown the Persian national government, which beyond doubt was supported by the overwhelming majority of the population, and has replaced it by her own agents. The story of the Ruhr is not at an end yet. Fresh conflicts are arising from it every day in the form of shootings and arrests. In France the royalists, converting themselves into Fascisti, have begun the attack on state power.

At the same time we may observe very serious symptoms of a new orientation in the bourgeoisie, especially in France, but also to a certain extent in England. In France, the delusions of victory spread abroad by the national bloc are beginning to disappear, not only among the workers, but also among the peasants, and the bourgeoisie is taking sides with the left bloc of radicals, radical socialists, and Mensheviki. The next elections, in about 11 or 12 months, will probably bring victory to the left bloc, and this will lead to some form of understanding with Soviet Russia. This does not mean that the left has any friendly feelings towards us, but during its rule, the powerlessness of the bourgeoisie, its impotence to fight against Soviet Russia, will become evident.

And in England, the Conservatives are not elected for all time. The Labor Party, that is, the English Mensheviki and liberals, the independents, all of which taken together may be designated as live English Kerenskydom, will take the place of the Conservatives.

In the meanwhile, tlie conservative wing of the English bourgeoisie is anxious to utilize every possibility for a Fascist war against Soviet Russia. What was the task set Lord Curzon when he sent us the ultimatum? He hoped that we would act in such a manner that it could be interpreted as an offence against the government of Great Britain, and as a violation of the public opinion of all English Philistines, and petty bourgeoisie – amongst them the Philistines and petty bourgeoisie of the Labor Party.

We had to first make the Philistines realize the actual question being dealt with; and as their skulls are made of a material requiring a considerable period for its penetration, the ten days term was inadequate. The task set us was to say: You. Lord Curzon, defend the dignity of the English nation, we defend it even more; if you are magnanimous, we are more magnanimous still, more desirous of peace; if you do not want war, we want it three times less! That was the import of our reply.

The first formal result of our policy has been that to all appearances, there will he no rupture of relations. But we have no guarantee for the permanency of the situation thus created, it is not merely a question of a rupture of relations with Great Britain. Our neighbours are Poland and Roumania, and despite all Lord Curzon’s assurances as to his peaceful intentions, still our “friends” on our west frontier have signified their intention of giving us military difficulties, and of making use of the one or two years during which the national blocs are likely to be in power.

The caution shown by us had excellent results. It destroyed the bourgeois plans for the time being. We have gained a breathing space preparatory for the next acute period. We have by no means won complete peace, the more so as in Europe the uncertain situation continues, and the gigantic revolutionary process strides forward in the East. This is the reason why England is rendered an uneasy by the resolution passed at our 12th Party Congress on the national question. We continue to develop and perfect our national policy, and are determined to carry it out in every respect and above all within the Soviet federation, which will exercise the very greatest effect on the oriental peoples. We shall carry out this policy in particular in the sphere of our army organization.

The process of emancipation among the oppressed peoples is not bring consummated so rapidly as we, comrades, could wish. Therefore we must exert every endeavor to prevent our army front being weakened during the next feverish period, but rather to ensure its being strengthened. Although, at the present time, we are devoting our main attention and our best forces, to the economic reconstitution of the country, at the same lime, we have taken the first steps towards reconstituting our army on the militia principle. Only one fifth of our infantry divisions will remain as professional soldiers. The rest will remain in the factories or on the land, and will only be called up occasionally for drill or training. The further development of our air fleet is necessary for our army. We shall reply to every blow dealt us, even to every pin-prick, by the extension of our air fleet. When we were presented with an ultimatum, we equipped an aeroplane squadron and christened it Ultimatum. This squadron we have already. Then came the upheaval in Bulgaria, and we shall equip another air squadron and call it, if comrade Chicherin permits: Red Bulgaria. If we convert all the attacks of the bourgeoisie into aeroplanes, we shall be able to put an end to these attacks.

But if our work for the development of the air fleet, and of our war technics generally, is to be made really possible and fruitful, it is necessary above all tu develop our industry and the foundation of our industry – the metal industry, we are terribly short of metal. Instead of relating to you all that I have on international politics in reply to the question as to why Lord Curzon sent us his ultimatum, I might simply have replied, that whilst in America there is about 20 pud of steel per head, and in Russia we had about 1 pud 32 lbs per head before the war, we now have only 14 pounds per inhabitant. I think that every worker in our country, above all every metal worker, must impress these figures on his mind, there is no better propaganda, no better method of instruction than this. We have very little meta), and the new culture and new technics are the technics of metal.

The trade unions have rendered it possible for the worker to expend almost the same sum as before the war on the reproduction of his vital energy, his nerves, and muscles. But in our industries we are carrying on extensive economies. This must not continue. The most important task now set us, which decides our fate for a long period, is the rational and scientific organization of industry. The concentration and proper organization of production is as difficult a task today as was the struggle for state power in October.

By means in enormous exertions, we are building up a new form of life, step by step, on live basis of what we have already won. We must be able to reply to every question concerning the life of the worker, to every trifle. The worker will demand from us, especially from the trade unions, that we be capable of answering all questions of vital concern to him. The form of life still existing today is the old, petty-bourgeois form. The working class will feel the need of devoting earnest thought to its daily life. And the press must reflect every trifle of this daily life.

The foundation of the scientific organization of industry is metal. Our culture is a wood culture. Wood is a wonderful material, but only when it is in the right place. The further we advance, the more metal we require. The coming epoch is the epoch of iron, of concrete, and of glass. There is too little iron flowing in the veins of our economic organism, and the outstanding feature of the impending period of our economic struggle will be the fight for metal. More metal for our economics! And more metal in the character of the people! Three cheers for metal!

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Last updated on: 3 September 2021