Leon Trotsky On
Excerpts from his writings

The Decline Of British Imperialism: Part I

Imperialist diplomacy in the Middle East

Gritting its teeth, the Berlin government has stepped aside and decided to wait. The more it is forced to seek a rapprochement with the Young Turks 1 the firmer their positions will grow. But there is no doubt that capitalist Germany is just as genuinely prepared to welcome the downfall of constitutional Turkey as she has up till now hypocritically welcomed, its victory. On the other hand the more Turkey weakened Germany’s position in the Balkans, the more noisily Britain demonstrated her friendship towards the new order. In this interminable struggle between the two mighty European states the Young Turks naturally sought support and ‘friends’ on the Thames. But the sore point in Anglo-Turkish relations is Egypt. There can of course be no thought of her voluntary evacuation by Britain: she has too great an interest in ruling the Suez Canal to do this. Would Britain support Turkey in event of military difficulties? Or would she stab her in the back and declare Egypt to be her property? One is as likely as the other depending on circumstances. But in either case it is not sentimental love for liberal Turkey but cold and merciless imperialist calculation that guides the actions of the British government.

From ‘The Balkans, Capitalist Europe and Tsarisrn’ (dated 14th October 1908), Proletarii, 1st November 1908

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Russian diplomacy wishes to gain for its navy a free exit from the Black Sea into the Mediterranean from where it has been barred for over half a century. The Bosphorus and the Dardanelles, two sea gateways fortified with artillery, are in the hands of the Turks, the custodians of the straits by virtue of a European mandate’. But if Russian warships cannot leave the Black Sea neither can foreign ships enter it. Tsarist diplomacy wants the ban to be lifted only for its own ships. Britain can hardly agree to this. The disarming of the straits is acceptable to her only if it gives her the opportunity of sending her fleet into the Sea of Marmara or the Black Sea. But then Russia with her insignificant naval forces would not gain but lose. And Turkey would lose in either case. Her navy is worthless and the master of Constantinople would be the state that could place its battleships under its walls. Novoe Vremya2 lashes out at Britain who denies the Tsarist government this right, which has, in view of the weakness of the Black Sea Fleet, a ‘purely theoretical nature’ and yet persuades the Shah’s government to open the gates before Russia while promising in exchange to safeguard Turkey’s rule over the straits from foreign encroachment. While protesting in the name of the Treaty of Berlin against the private agreement between Turkey and Austria, Russia herself wants by means of a private agreement with Turkey to break her European mandate. If she had succeeded in achieving her aim this would present a danger not only to the peaceful development of Turkey but also to the peace of all Europe.

While Izvolsky3 ties up the knots of diplomatic intrigues in Europe, Colonel Lyakhov shares his work and sets off for Asia to cut some diplomatic knots with a sword. Behind the noise of the Balkan events4 and behind the patriotic shrieks of the loyalist press, Tsarism is preparing a second offensive of the Cossack boot against the heart of revolutionary Persia. 5 And this is being accomplished not only with the silent complicity of Europe but with the active collaboration of ‘liberal’ Britain too.

The victory of Tabriz, the most considerable city of Persia, over the Shah’s troops, threatened to upset the plans of St. Petersburg and London diplomacy completely. Besides the fact that the final victory of the revolution was pregnant with Persia’s economic and political rebirth, the protracted civil war inflicted immediate damage upon the interests of Russian and British capital … sentence on Persia had been pronounced. 6 Reporting on the most recent talks between Izvolsky and Grey, the London Foreign Office demonstratively emphasized the complete solidarity of both governments as a guarantee of their ‘harmonious co-operation’ in solving Central Asian problems. And as early as the 11th October six Russian infantry battalions, supported by a corresponding force of artillery and cavalry, crossed the Persian frontier to occupy revolutionary Tabriz. Telegraphic links with the city have been cut for a long time now so that the humane peoples of Europe are spared the necessity of following step by step how Tsarism’s brazen rabble realizes the ‘harmonious co-operation’ of two ‘Christian’ nations amid the smoking ruins of Tabriz …

From ‘The Balkans, Capitalist Europe and Tsarism’ (dated 14th October 1908), Proletarii, 1st November 1908.

The First World War

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. . . By upsetting the European status quo which had been so carefully maintained over the course of four and a half decades, imperialism has once again raised all the old questions which the bourgeois revolution proved powerless to solve. But in the present era these questions lack an independent character. The creation of normal conditions of national life and economic development in the Balkan peninsula is inconceivable alongside the preservation of Tsarism and AustriaHungary. Tsarism at the present time forms a vital military reserve for the financial imperialism of France and the conservative colonial might of Britain. Austria-Hungary serves as the chief support for Germany’s offensive imperialism. Beginning as a domestic squabble between Serbian nationalist terrorists and the Habsburg political police, 7 the present war rapidly unfolded its fundamental content: a life-and-death struggle between Germany and Britain. While simpletons and hypocrites prate about the defence of national liberty and independence, the Anglo-German war is actually being waged in the name of the liberty of imperialist exploitation of India and Egypt on the one hand, and a new imperialist division of the world’s peoples on the other. Germany, once awakened to capitalist development on a national base, began with the destruction of France’s continental hegemony in 1870-71. Now when the flowering of German industry on her national base has made Germany the primary capitalist force in the world her continued development collides with Britain’s world hegemony.

From War and the International’, Golos, 20th and 21st November and 13th December 1914.

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Sir John French French soldiers often make the most flattering comments about the British army. Every British soldier taken individually is in himself an officer. They are self-reliant, courageous, resourceful and unbeatable in defence .

At the head of this army formed by a nation free from conscription, a nation of ancient liberties and a nation of sportsmen, stands Sir John Denton Pinkston French. As with some other prominent British admirals and generals French comes from Ireland. 8 He was born into an eminent family from County Galway in the province of Connaught whose head is at present Sir Arthur French. In Ireland. where landlords loom over the land like demigods, there reigns in the ruling layers a most favourable atmosphere for bringing up military leaders of the old ‘heroic’ type. Yet he was to develop his abilities wholly in colonial wars. For over two human generations now Britain has not sent its forces on to the continent of Europe.

The Frenches were a naval family by tradition. The father of today’s field-marshal was a naval officer but he soon resigned the service and went to settle with his family on his inherited estate. Sir John was born there on 28th September 1852. Consequently French is an almost exact contemporary of Joffre. Family traditions urged the young French along the path of a naval career. After leaving preparatory school at the age of thirteen he entered a naval academy at Portsmouth and, while not distinguishing himself especially with brilliant success, he did complete a training voyage as a midshipman on the ‘HMS Britannia’ in 1866. Four years later he decided on the spur of the moment to abandon serving in the navy and at the age of nineteen he joined the army. He was appointed an officer in the Suffolk Artillery Militia and only in 1874 did he exchange into the regular army as an officer in a Hussar regiment. His biographer says: ‘It would be a sheer exaggeration to imagine that in this period the young French hankered after books; he preferred foxhunting and steeplechasing far more than the study of strategy and tactics’. At that time his superiors would have trusted him far more readily with breaking in a foursome of the most untameable horses than with an expeditionary force.

Promoted to the rank of captain in 1880 French married an aristocratic lady, having occupied the post of adjutant for a few months, with some territorial forces. In 1882 the Hussar regiment in which French had served was transferred to Egypt and two years later Sir John was sent out to re-join it at his own request. Neither the young officer nor the regiment to which he belonged had at that time any military past behind them. He was now to create for himself a reputation of invincibility in the conditions most favourable to this: those of colonial war. ‘Napoleon sought officers who had been born under a lucky star’ says the same biographer, ‘and French was always lucky in the critical moments of his life’. For this reason he became known in the army as ‘Lucky French’. In Egypt he served under the command of Colonel Percy Barrow and took part in the ill-fated Nile expedition under his leadership. A detachment of the 19th Hussars under Barrow’s command and with French as second-in-command formed part of a flying column of a thousand men and two thousand camels under the leadership of General Sir Herbert Stewart. Ten cavalry detachments served as cover while this column was on the move. After a two week march an engagement with the natives took place at Abu Klea which continued with great ferocity for two days. General Stewart was mortally wounded. The campaign ended in failure and the column was forced to commence a difficult retreat during which French’s unit acted as rearguard cover. ‘These were not soldiers but heroes’, Count Moltke is reputed to have said (not the nephew but the uncle) 9 of the participants in this desert retreat. Here French received his baptism in combat and it was from this point that his interest in military questions and especially those of the cavalry can be dated. In the rank of lieutenant-colonel of the Hussars he returned to Britain and devoted himself to reforms in the 19th Hussars which soon became a model. French receives a command in India where he is on close terms with his immediate superior, the cavalry general George Luck, who admired his brilliant colonel’s views on reforms. Together they organized manoeuvres along the lines of the new ‘principles’ which aroused strong opposition from the army routinists and conservatives. In 1893 Colonel French was placed on half pay. Now French devoted all his spare time to a study of all questions related to the branch of arms he was familiar with. After cavalry manoeuvres in Berkshire, French made serious criticisms of the numerous defects in the organization and training of British cavalry. By this time General Luck had returned to Britain from India and in earnest set about the reforming work whose basis had already been laid in India. Despite stubborn opposition from the routinist party Luck instructs Colonel French to prepare the draft of a new Cavalry Drill Book which was to mark a complete revolution’ in cavalry thinking. In 1895 French entered the War Office as assistant adjutant-general of cavalry to direct the implementation of his new methods in the field. He soon left the War Office to lead the 2nd Cavalry Brigade and to demonstrate during manoeuvres all the advantages of his tactical principles over the obsolete methods of his antagonists. French sustained a victory. His opponents declared it to have been a matter of chance and predicted the innovator’s total rout in a war. A heated polemic broke out in the professional press, which of course did not go beyond a narrow circle of devotees. After all French’s name was at that time quite unknown to broad circles of the public and when British imperialist policy took him to South Africa for a war with the Boers, French’s name was not among those canvassed in the press for the post of senior cavalry commander. ‘Lucky’ Sir John had still to arm himself with patience if only for a little while longer. Buller, the British commander-in-chief, valued him from the days of the Sudan campaign and thanks to his vote French was appointed cavalry commander in Natal. From this moment his ascent began. Ten days after the ultimatum was handed by President Kruger10 to the British envoy in Pretoria (10th October 1899) French entered Ladysmith. The same day he found himself leading a column which had been instructed to seize a railway station where a British supply train had been halted and captured by the Boers. The success of this engagement, which lasted. two days, was, according to French’s biographer, wholly guaranteed by the cavalry general’s tactical dispositions. He threw back the enemy, took the station, freed the prisoners and cleared the railway line. After this success the British press decorated the name of French with a halo of such qualities as firmness, bravery and sang-froid.

An American correspondent accompanying the British army reported in passing the following episode.. Under the Boers’shells and bullets but without batting an eyelid, French discussed the bad light which prevented the war correspondent from taking photographs. In the general’s coquettish bravado the military leader lay concealed behind the’dashing huntsman and dare-devil who trusted in his star. And the nickname of ‘lucky’ indeed stuck to him am. ong soldiers now more than ever. After General White’s unfortunate venture at Ladysmith French put his card down va banque and . . . he won. The Boers were besieging the town and no one knew whether they had cut the railway Line. If they had not it could only have been through inexperience. In spite of the station commander’s warnings French and his staff commandeered a train and steamed off down the track at full speed. The Boers greeted them with rifle fire but the train broke through and arrived safely at Pietermaritzburg. At the end of November the position of the British army was becoming very tough and only French’s cavalry operations along a sixty-mile front finally stopped the Boers from holding all the positions in the Cape Colony. Lord Roberts was appointed commander-in-chief. He ordered French to relieve beleaguered Kimberley at the head of a cavalry division of 8,500 sabres. To this assignment French replied: ‘I promise you faithfully that I shall relieve Kimberley at 6 o’clock in the evening of the 15th (February] if I am still alive’. This reply was highly typical of ‘lucky’ John — here one seemed to hear a fiery steeplechaser or Denisov, 11 the dashing partisan. Instead of the promised division French received only 4,800 men. Against him was a considerably stronger enemy but French nevertheless decided to win his bet, i.e. to fulfil the military assignment he had received. He entered Kimberley victoriously on 15th February at seven o’clock in the evening — French was one hour late. But it must also be said that he had been given little more than half the sabres that were stated in the conditions. French’s subsequent role in the Boer War had the same character: one of courage and risk.

In 1902 French returned triumphant to Britain. Soon after his return he was appointed commander-in-chief at Aldershot. Here for the first time in peace he commanded an army unit with all its branches. But, as before, the cavalry attracted his main attention: to this day he preserves a particular affection for this, the most primitive arm. Notwithstanding the enormous technical changes in military science and the strategic and tactical changes that have followed in their wake, the aristocratic huntsman has remained a convinced advocate of the horse, the sabre, the lance and the gallop — in short, of ‘the cavalry spirit’. In December 1907 French was appointed inspector-general of the forces and in 1912 he was made Chief of Staff, now newly re-organized on the German pattern.

French never adopted clear-cut positions on politics, at least not publicly, for he considered that the army must remain outside politics. He did however become for a short time a ‘victim’ of politics. When, in connection with the unrest of Ulster Protestants which led to Colonel Seely’s12 resignation, ferment began in the British officer caste, General French, as Chief of General Staff, left his post in solidarity. He was to spend all of four months in retirement. The war broke out and French, now a Field-Marshal, was placed in command of the British Expeditionary Force with Joffre as his commander-in-chief.

Kievskaya Mysl, 13th January 1915

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In our last letter we attempted to explain once more that the plan to `starve out’ Germany would be at least as exhausting for France as for her enemy. The ‘supreme effort’ which is due in the spring, promises to counterpose approximately equal forces on either side and this will not open any paths to a solution. The only possibility of breaking the enemy lies in achieving a decisive numerical superiority over him by adding a million fresh soldiers to the French army. But where can she get them from? I have already written of France’s dissatisfaction with Britain. Here in France it has become even more well-defined now that the limited effect of the naval blockade has become evident. Why doesn’t Britain give us more forces? Because she wants at the moment of the war’s liquidation to preserve her old army intact as far as possible: herein lies the old ‘national egoism’ of the island power. The other day an official explanation of the position was given by British ruling circles. Dissatisfaction with Britain’s tardiness, says the statement, can be explained only by a fundamental lack of information with regard to what is happening in Britain. To date over a million men have shown their willingness to fight in the ranks of the allied army. But this figure in itself has for the moment only a secondary character. The main task now consists of military training, arming and the overall provision of supplies for Kitchener’s first army. Until the present war nobody in Britain had entertained the possibility of organizing a colossal expeditionary army at a minimum of notice. Neither the military apparatus nor the state of British industry was prepared for such a task. It is necessary to produce from scratch the entire equipment for an army of 500,000 men: rifles, artillery, ammunition, clothing, etc., etc. She has to supplement the extremely inadequate equipment of the territorial army. She has to guarantee everything necessary to those troops already fighting not only in France but also in Egypt and Mesopotamia. Finally, she has to supply the allies with everything that their industry, half-paralysed by the mobilization, cannot provide at the present moment. To be equal to: these tasks, working day and night in existing plants is insufficient:: new plants have to be built, new machines installed and thousands of I fresh workers brought together. Many of the plants now under construction will only be in operation in early spring. Consequently: the allies have to wait. Only upon the foundation of such a systematic preparation is it possible to assure a decisive intervention by a new: British army in the course of a continental war. Impatience must not prevent one taking account of the actual state of affairs. Forming an army of a million and a half men in under a year when the standing army does not exceed 300,000 is a task that Britain alone can set herself and solve.

From ‘From Pontius to Pilate’ dated 16th January 1915 and first, published in 1927 in Works Volume 9.

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In this war Britain is fighting for the preservation of her colonial domains. Meanwhile if she goes too far to meet Japanese claims she will undermine her own position in Australia and Canada. The readiness with which these two colonies have come to the aid of the metropolis with ships, material and men was for them dictated in the first instance by their urgent desire to reduce Japan’s role in this war to a minimum. The Japanese would not be satisfied with compensation in the form of favourable tariff agreements, territorial concessions or loans but will demand above all the right to free settlement and equal citizenship rights in all the British colonies: this would threaten to make them masters of the situation on the shores of the Pacific and Indian Oceans. There is no need to mention how hostilely the United States would treat a plan for the solemn inclusion of Japan into the so-called ‘family’ of civilized great powers. now destroying: each other. The spectre of Japanese intervention alarms the Dutch to: the extreme who fear for the fate of their colonial possessions. ‘Java was lost the moment Japan landed on the Marshall Islands’. 13 The Dutch, as is well known, justify the tendency of their neutrality in favour of the U.S.A. by the Japanese danger.

Britain’s viewpoint in this matter is more flexible and qualified than that of her colonies. If the Japanese in case of necessity had to take over the discharge of order in India and if they defended the Suez Canal from the Turks this would be permissible from the British standpoint. She could even reconcile herself to Japanese intervention over Constantinople. But thus far and no further. If the yellow armies encroached upon the soil of Germany this would at once produce a decisive shift in the public opinion of the neutral states of Europe and even more in the United States. The direct danger of Japanese expansion would be aggravated by the final collapse of the prestige of the great powers in the Asiatic and African colonies. All these preoccupations and fears find their expression in the question of compensation. Who will pay the Japanese? Obviously, the country which needs Japanese aid most but which can gain the least in the event of a victorious outcome to the war — France. As we have already reported, half-veiled agitation was earlier conducted in the press with the object of softening public opinion to the idea that Indo-China will have to be given to the Japanese. This qualified suggestion not only met a natural opposition in France but ran into stubborn resistance from Britain. With control of Indo-China the Japanese would be able directly to threaten Southern China, the chief sphere of British ‘influence’ in the Far East, just as today their rule over Kiaochow14 makes them masters in Northern China. ‘The main objections’ insists L’Žclair, 15 ‘come as before from London whence there comes distrust, almost ill-will tantamount to an unwillingness to act’.

From ‘From Pontius to Pilate’ dated 16th January 1915 and first published in 1927 in Works Volume 9.

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British pacifists, and especially the International Defence League, have in recent days drafted a number of schemes aimed at putting an end to wars. There always lies at the bottom of these projects the idea of a Court of Arbitration or a supreme ‘Council of Nations’ whose decisions have a mandatory force. But how do you enforce them? Some propose to place an ‘international’ army and navy at the disposal of the Court of Arbitration so that it can enforce the observance of the international rulings. But others more modestly allow each nation its own national army as before but ‘on the condition’ that this army is employed only against those who transgress the international law and the rulings of the Court of Arbitration. Thus to guarantee an eternal peace we can see that’ just’ wars will be necessary from time to time. 16

An international military force, says Cromer, formed as an instrument for the enforcement of the rulings of the Court of Arbitration ‘almost necessarily connotes the whole or partial disappearance of purely national military or naval forces’. 17 But Britain, according to the author, would never agree to weaken her navy in which she sees her chief defence, i.e. the defence of her imperialist rule over the seas and colonies. If Britain argues like this over the navy then it would be hard to imagine, says L’Eclair, that continental powers would argue any differently over their armies. Moreover, how is the Court of Arbitration to be constituted? Surely every nation would have a equal voting right? Cromer feels sure that mighty Britain would never agree to that. Can one suppose that vessels contributed by Britain would execute a sentence against the same Britain? And if Britain refused to abide by a decision of the Court of Arbitration do you think that British soldiers incorporated in an international army would take up arms to compel their own country to submit? Cromer doubts so. In justification of his doubts he quotes one very lucid historical example: Britain’s war against the Boers. ‘It is highly probable’, he says, ‘that a decision of an International Court would be adverse to Great Britain’, But he says that Britain would most probably … not recognize the Court of Arbitration.

From ‘A "Guarantee" of Peace’, Nashe Slovo, lst and 2nd September 1916

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. . . On November 13th, 1914, Sir George Buchanan’18 (according to Pa1Žologue) declared to Sazonov19: ‘The Government of his Britannic Majesty has recognized that the question of the Straits and Constantinople must be settled according to Russian aspirations. It gives me pleasure to announce this to you’. Thus was laid down the programme of the war of right, justice, and national self-determination,

Four days later Buchanan declared to Sazonov: ‘The British government will be compelled to annex Egypt. It trusts that the Russian government will not offer any opposition to this’. Sazonov was not slow in giving his consent. Three days after that PalŽologue ‘reminded’ Nikolai II that Syria and Palestine were bound to France by a wealth of historic recollections and also by moral and material interests. He, PalŽologue, hoped that His Majesty would approve of the measures which the government of the republic (the same democratic republic) deemed it necessary to take, in order to safeguard these interests.

’Oui certes’, (’Yes, certainly’), was His Majesty’s reply. Finally, on March 12th, 1915, Buchanan demanded that in return for Constantinople and the Straits, Russia should cede to Great Britain the neutral part of Persia (that part as yet up-partitioned). Sazonov answered ’C’est entendu’ (’That is understood’).

So two democracies in conjunction with Tsarism, which at that period shone with the reflected democratic light emanating from the Entente, settled the fate of Constantinople, Syria, Palestine, Egypt and Persia. Sir George Buchanan was as worthy a representative of the British democracy as PalŽologue of the French. Buchanan remained at his post after the downfall of Nikolai II. Henderson, a minister of His Majesty, and, if we are not mistaken, a British socialist, came to Petrograd during the Kerensky regime, in order to take Buchanan’s place (should this be necessary), because someone in the British government had imagined that they should speak in a different tone to Kerensky than to Rasputin. Buchanan was the right man in the right place as the representative of British democracy. Buchanan undoubtedly held the same opinion of Henderson, the socialist.

PalŽologue exhibited ‘his’ Socialists as an example to the restive Tsarist dignitaries. In connection with the Court ‘agitation’ of Count Witte20 the speedy conclusion of the war, PalŽologue declared to Sazonov: ‘Look at our Socialists and their correct attitude’. This summing up by PalŽologue of Messrs. Renaudel, Longuet, Vandervelde, and all their followers, is rather startling even now, after all we have gone through. PalŽologue, having received and respectfully acknowledged Rasputin’s admonitions, in his turn expressed to the Tsarist minister his patronizing appreciation of the French socialists, and recognized the correctness of their attitude. These words: ’voyez mes socialistes — ils sont impeccables’ Look at my socialists — they are beyond reproach’) should form a device for the banner of the Second International, from which the words: ‘Workers of the world unite’ should have been removed long ago. This latter device suits Henderson as much as the Phrygian cap suits PalŽologue.

The Hendersons consider the domination of the Anglo-Saxon race over the other races as a natural fact ensuring the spread of civilization. For them the question of national self-determination begins only beyond the confines of the British Empire. This national arrogance is the chief link between the western social-patriots and their bourgeoisie, viz., it makes them the slaves of their bourgeoisie.

From Between Red and White (1921)

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Only an insignificant part of the documents which contain the secret treaties of the capitalists have yet been published. Much, much more of the secrets will become public as we proceed with the dismantling of the archives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs where damning evidence against imperialist diplomacy, which of course never anticipated its publication nor conceived the possibility of the victory of the proletarian revolution, is preserved.

The plan for the seizure of territories laid down by the Russian bourgeoisie and its ‘allies’ has been unmasked in its main features. ‘Britain’ and ‘France’ have reserved themselves the right ‘freely’ i.e. at their own discretion, to determine the western frontiers of Germany and Austria, conceding the same right to ‘Russia’ in exchange for these seizures by leaving to her discretion the fixing of the eastern frontiers of Austria and Germany. ‘You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours’ is the first principle of the politics of imperialist piracy.

The project of annexations in Europe did not stop here. ‘Russia’ i.e. the Sazonovs and Tereshchenkos21 had been assured, as is well known, the annexation of Constantinople. But it emerges from the treaties that the Russian bourgeoisie was to gain not only Constantinople but all of European Turkey. The agreement on the Balkans has not yet been published, but from the ‘notes’ on Russo-Rumanian relations published today both the fraudulent policy of the Rumanian government which is seizing territories with a purely Slav population, and the policy of deceit which Russian diplomacy intended to implement at a convenient moment by breaking the treaty with Rumania, become abundantly clear. But the most far-reaching plans of seizure relate to Asiatic Turkey. To a considerable degree the whole of the present war is a war for the partition of the ‘Turkish Legacy’, for the ‘re-partition’ of Turkish lands between the banks, industrialists and merchants of the strongest capitalist powers. According to the agreement which we publish today Asiatic Turkey would he subject to a share-out among all the ‘allies’.

Only a ‘rump’ of Turkey would remain — a region of small dimensions surrounded on all sides by the possessions of the lucky men who have prospered at her expense. Italy and Greece will receive comparatively little. France will receive a solid prize in the form of the Syrian coast and the lands north of the Mediterranean coast. This zone allocated to France will border on a zone which will be given to Russia and will include part of the Black Sea coast (as far as a point west of Trabzon) and the lands lying to the south of it. Meeting the Russian and French zones from the east will be a British zone, running in a tapering strip to the Persian Gulf and embracing all Mesopotamia, including Baghdad. Besides these three major slices of the Turkish pie to be handed out openly to the ‘powers’, the agreement envisaged in addition the formation of an ‘independent’ Arab federation, subject, however, to demarcation into ‘spheres of influence’.

’Spheres of influence’ is a diplomatic term which in everyday language means ‘areas of domination’. The Arab ‘independent’ federation divided in advance into ‘areas of domination’ would in point of fact be ‘independent’ only of the Arabs and wholly dependent upon the bosses of international capital.

From ‘What the Secret Treaties State’, Pravda, 25th November 1917

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America joined the war over a year ago and promised to finish it within the next few months. 22 What did America seek by her intervention? At first she patiently observed Germany over there across the ocean fighting against Britain. And then she intervened. Why? What does America need? America needs Germany to exhaust Britain and Britain to exhaust Germany. And then American capital will appear as the heir who will plunder the world.

When America noticed that Britain was bowed down and bent to the ground while Germany was standing upright she said: ‘No, I must support Britain — like the rope supporting a hanging man — just so that they will exhaust each other completely and so that European capital will be completely deprived of the possibility of ever getting to its feet again’.

From a speech to a workers’ meeting, 14th April 1918 (A Word to Russian Workers and Peasants on Our Friends and Enemies and How to Preserve and Strengthen the Soviet Republic)

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The major roles in this war belong, as you know, to the two dominant countries in Europe. Germany and Britain. Britain has always played first fiddle in the world market and the British bourgeoisie and the British capitalists have grown used to treating all the other weaker nations as people who are summoned to enrich Britain. That was how Britain treated India, whose population lay under the yoke of British capital; that was how she thought about Egypt and the countries of America; she maintained that British capitalism and only British capitalism had the right to exploit all the remaining countries. The younger and highly powerful German capitalism came in the opposite direction to meet British capitalism. In Britain with its older culture and industry, old methods, old devices and old technique are retained. German industry is younger and more revolutionary; operating with the last word in science and technology it has started to produce more cheaply than British industry; it has thrown its products out onto the world market, including the British colonies, and pushed out British ones. Here is the soil and basis for the war. British capitalism is guarding its purse and so is German capitalism; the Germans say: it is time to give British rule in India a push. The British say: it is time to contain Germany which is squeezing all of Europe. That is the basis of the struggle between two mighty profiteers and plunderers who cannot share their profits from their exploitation of the world.

Many fine words have been said about all this and many ideas and schemes have been drawn up: some assure us that Germany is fighting for the freedom of peoples, while others say that Britain is fighting for the weak and oppressed — thus speak the journalists, professors and priests in every country. Each at his own post, whether in the churches, the universities or the schools, and each in his own language justified his master and his national capitalism. In the first period of the war it was said that this war would be unlike all other wars: it would not be a destructive war but a liberating war. The Germans were to liberate all the colonies. Britain promised to liberate Egypt. Thus each country strove to ‘liberate’ the slaves from the rule of others so as to turn them into its own slaves; and there were dozens, thousands and millions among workers who sincerely believed this deception; Russian workers believed that the Russian Tsar wanted to give freedom to Serbia; German workers believed that the Kaiser was only defending himself, Tsarism was attacking from one side, the British capitalists pressing down on the other side and so on. But this blindness was only temporary.

From a lecture read in the Sergiev People’s House, Voronezh, 16th June 1918 (The International Situation and Organization of the Red Army)

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British diplomacy did not lift its visor of secrecy up to the very outbreak of war. The government of the City obviously feared to reveal its intention of entering the war on the side of the Entente lest the Berlin government take fright and be compelled to eschew war. In London they wanted war. That is why they conducted themselves in such a way as to raise hopes in Berlin and Vienna that Britain would remain neutral, while Paris and Petrograd firmly counted on Britain’s intervention.

Prepared by the entire course of development over a number of decades, the war was unleashed through the direct and conscious provocation of Great Britain. The British government thereby calculated on extending just enough aid to Russia and France, while they became exhausted, to exhaust Britain’s mortal enemy, Germany. But the might of German militarism proved far too formidable, and demanded of Britain not token but actual intervention in the war, The role of a gleeful third partner to which Great Britain, following her ancient tradition. aspired, fell to the lot of the United States.

The Washington government became all the more easily reconciled to the British blockade which one-sidedly restricted American stock market speculation in European blood, because the countries of the Entente reimbursed the American bourgeoisie with lush profits for violations of ‘international law’. However, the Washington government was likewise constrained by the enormous military superiority of Germany to drop its fictitious neutrality. In relation to Europe as a whole the United States assumed the role which Britain had taken in previous wars and which she tried to take in the last war in relation to the continent, namely: weakening one camp by playing it against another, intervening in military operations only to such an extent as to guarantee her all the advantages of the situation, According to American standards of gambling, Wilson’s stake was not very high, but it was the final stake, and consequently assured his winning the prize.

From the Manifesto of the Communist International: To the Workers of the World, drafted by Trotsky and adopted at the First World Congress of the Communist International, 6th March 1919.

Against the Russian Revolution

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The publication of the documents relating to my month-long captivity by the British now appears to rne to be a matter of political necessity. The bourgeois press, the very same which spread the most Black Hundred slanders against the political exiles who found themselves compelled to return through Germany, has acted dumb as soon as it came up against Britain’s piratical raid on Russian exiles returning home across the Atlantic Ocean. The social-patriotic press, and today the government press — which is at their service — operates little more honestly: it too has no interest in explaining the embarrassing fact that the socialist ministers, fresh off the peg and who still for the moment address themselves with the deepest respect to the exiled teachers’, prove to be the closest and most immediate allies of Lloyd George, who seizes these same `teachers’ by the collar on the Atlantic highway. In this tragi-comic episode we have a sufficiently convincing revelation of the attitude of ruling Britain towards the Russian revolution, as well as the general meaning of that holy alliance whose service Citizens Tsereteli, Chernov and Skobelev23 have now entered.

For, whatever statements the ‘left’ government parties and groups make, the socialist ministers bear entire responsibility for the government of which they form a part. The government of Lvovs and Tereslichenkos maintains an alliance not with British revolutionary socialists like Maclean, Askew and others, but with their jailers Lloyd George and Henderson.

From Captive of the British (1917)

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On March 25 I called at the office of the Russian Consul-General in New York. By that time the portrait of Tsar Nikolai had been removed from the wall, but the heavy atmosphere of a Russian police station under the old regime still hung about the place. After the usual delays and arguments, the Consul-General ordered that papers be issued to me for the passage to Russia. In the British consulate, as well, they told me, when I filled out the questionnaire, that the British authorities would put no obstacles in the way of my return to Russia. Everything was in good order.

I sailed with my family and a few other Russians on the Norwegian boat Christianiafjord on the twenty-seventh of March. We had been sent off in a deluge of flowers and speeches, for we were going to the country of the revolution. We had passports and visas. Revolution, flowers and visas were balm to our nomad souls. At Halifax the British naval authorities inspected the steamer, and police officers made a perfunctory examination of the papers of the American, Norwegian and Dutch passengers. They subjected the Russians, however, to a downright cross-examination, asking us about our convictions, our political plans, and so forth. I absolutely refused to enter into a discussion of such matters with them. ‘You may have all the information you want as to my identity, but nothing else’. Russian politics were not yet under the control of the British naval police. But that did not prevent the detectives, Machen and Westwood, from making inquiries about me among the other passengers after the double attempt to cross-examine me had proved futile. They insisted that I was a dangerous socialist.

The whole business was so offensive, so clearly a discrimination against the Russian revolutionaries, in contrast to the treatment accorded other passengers not so unfortunate as to belong to a nation allied to England, that some of the Russians sent a violent protest to the British authorities. I did not join with them because I saw little use in complaining to BeeIzebub about Satan. But at the time we did not foresee the future.

On April 3, British officers, accompanied by bluejackets, came aboard the Christianiafjord and demanded, in the name of the local admiral, that 1, my family, and five other passengers leave the boat. We were assured that the whole incident would be cleared up in Halifax. We declared that the order was illegal and refused to obey, whereupon armed bluejackets pounced on us, and amid shouts of ‘shame’ from a large part of the passengers, carried us bodily to a naval cutter, which delivered us in Halifax under the convoy of a cruiser. While a group of sailors were holding me fast, my older boy ran to help me and struck an officer with his little fist. ‘Shall I hit him again, papa?’ he shouted. He was eleven then, and it was his first lesson in British democracy.

The police left my wife and children in Halifax; the rest of us were taken by train to Amherst, a camp for German prisoners. And there, in the office, we’ were put through an examination the like of which I had never before experienced, even in the Peter-Paul fortress. For in the Tsar’s fortress the police stripped me and searched me in privacy, whereas here our democratic allies subjected us to this shameful humiliation before a dozen men. I still remember Sergeant Olsen, a Swedish-Canadian with a red head of the criminal-police type, who was the leader of the search. The canaille who had arranged all this from a distance knew well enough that we were irreproachable Russian revolutionaries returning to our country, liberated by the revolution.

Not until the next morning did the camp commander, Colonel Morris, in answer to our repeated demands and protests, tell us the official reason for the arrest. ‘You are dangerous to the present Russian government’, he said briefly. The colonel, obviously not a man of eloquence, had worn an air of rather suspicious excitement since early morning. ‘But the New York agents of the Russian government issued us passports into Russia’, we protested, ‘and after all the Russian government should be allowed to take care of itself. Colonel Morris thought for a while, moving his jaws, then added, ‘You are dangerous to the Allies in general’.

No written orders for our arrest were ever produced. But, speaking for himself, the colonel explained that since we were political emigrants who obviously had left the country for good reason, we ought not to be surprised at what had happened. For him the Russian revolution simply did not exist. We tried to explain that the Tsar’s ministers, who in their da, y had made us political emigrants, were themselves now in prison, excepting those who had escaped to other countries. But this was too complicated for the colonel, who had made his career in the British colonies and in the Boer war. I did not show proper respect when I spoke to him, which made him growl behind my back, ‘If I only had him on the South African coast." That was his pet expression.

The relations between the rank-and-file and the officers, some of whom, even in prison, were still keeping a sort of conduct book for their men, were hostile. The officers ended by complaining to the camp commander, Colonel Morris, about my anti-patriotic propaganda. The British colonel instantly sided with the Hohenzollern patriots and forbade me to make any more public speeches. But this did not happen until the last few days of our stay at the camp, and served only to cement my friendship with the sailors and workers, who responded to the colonel’s order by a written protest bearing five hundred and thirty signatures. A plebiscite like this, carried out in the very face of Sergeant Olsen’s heavy-handed supervision, was more than ample compensation for all the hardships of the Amherst imprisonment.

All the time we were confined in the camp, the authorities steadfastly refused us the right to communicate with the Russian government. Our telegrams to Petrograd were not forwarded. We made an attempt to cable Lloyd George, the British prime minister, protesting against this prohibition, but the cable was held up. Colonel Morris had become accustomed to a simplified form of ‘habeas corpus’ in the colonies. The war gave him still more protection. He went so far as to stipulate that I refrain from trying to communicate through my wife, with the Russian consul before he would let me meet her again. That may sound incredible, but it is true. On such a condition, I declined to meet my wife. Of course, the consul was in no hurry to help us, either. He was waiting for instructions, and the instructions, it seemed, were slow in coming.

I must admit that even today the secret machinery of our arrest and our release is not clear to me. The British government must have put me on its black-list when I was still active in France. It did everything it could to help the Tsar’s government oust me from Europe, and it must have been on the strength of this blacklist, supported by reports of my anti-patriotic activities in America, that the British arrested me in Halifax. When the news of my arrest found its way into the revolutionary Russian press, the British embassy in Petrograd, which apparently was not expecting my early return, issued an official statement to the Petrograd press that the Russians who had been arrested in Canada were travelling ‘under a subsidy from the German embassy, to overthrow the Russian Provisional government’. This, at least, was plain speaking. The Pravda, which was published under Lenin’s direction, answered Buchanan on April 16, doubtless by Lenin’s own hand: ‘Can one even for a moment believe the trustworthiness of the statement that Trotsky, the chairman of the Soviet of Workers’ Deputies in St. Petersburg in 1905 — a revolutionary who has sacrificed years to a disinterested service of revolution — that this man had anything to do with a scheme subsidized by the German government? This is a patent, unheard-of, and malicious slander of a revolutionary. From whom did you get your information, Mr. Buchanan? Why don’t you disclose that? Six men dragged Comrade Trotsky away by his legs and arms, all in the name of friendship for the Russian Provisional government!’

Buchanan in his memoirs says that ‘Trotsky and other Russian refugees were being detained at Halifax until the wishes of the Provisional Government with regard to them had been ascertained’. According to the British ambassador, Milyukov was immediately informed of our arrest. As early as April 8th the British ambassador claims he conveyed Milyukov’s request for our release to his government. Two days later, however, the same Milyukov withdrew his request and expressed the hope that our stay in Halifax would be prolonged. ‘It was the Provisional government, therefore’, concludes Buchanan, ‘that was responsible for their further detention’. This all sounds very much like the truth. The only thing that Buchanan forgot to explain in his memoirs is. What became of the German subsidy that I was supposed to have accepted to overthrow the Provisional government? And no wonder — for as soon as I arrived in Petrograd, Buchanan was forced to state in the press that he knew nothing at all about the subsidy. Never before did people he as much as they did during the ‘great war for liberty’. If lies could explode, our planet would have been blown to dust long before the treaty of Versailles.

From Chapter Three of My Life (1930).

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. . . By publishing the secret treaties we would win enemies for ourselves in the shape of heads of state, but the support of their peoples will be with us. It is not a diplomatic peace we will conclude but a people’s peace, a soldiers’ peace, a trench peace! [stormy applause]. And the results of this frank policy have shown themselves: Judson24 appeared in the Smolny Institute and declared on behalf of America that its protest to Dukhonin’s25 staff against the new authorities was a misunderstanding and that America does not at all wish to interfere in Russia’s internal affairs. Thus the question of America has been settled.

Another conflict is as yet unsettled and I wish to give you a report on it. In their struggle for peace, the British government has arrested and holds in its concentration camp Georgi Chicherin, who has contributed his wealth and knowledge to the peoples of Russia, Britain, Germany and France, and the bold agitator among British workers, the exile Petrov. I sent a letter to the British embassy where I pointed out that, as Russia is tolerating the presence of many rich British people who are in conspiracy with the counter-revolutionary bourgeoisie, we can even less allow Russian citizens to be imprisoned in British jails, and consequently those against whom no criminal charges have been made must be immediately released. Non-compliance with this demand will entail the refusal of passports to British citizens wishing to leave Russia. People’s Soviet power is responsible for the interests of all its citizens; wherever each one may find himself he is under its protection. Kerensky may have addressed the allies like a steward to his master, but we have to show them that we can live with them only on an equal footing. We are here stating once and for all that whoever wishes to count on the support and friendship of the free and independent Russian people must treat its human dignity with respect.

From a report on the work of the Workers’ and Peasants’ Government, 3rd December 1917

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The German imperialists have in words renounced claims to indemnities but they have presented a whole number of demands whose satisfaction would on our reckoning require four to eight thousand million from us. German imperialism’s Shylockian account has not yet been presented to us, but we feel convinced that they will not stint themselves an assessment of all the losses from confiscations and requisitions and so on, crimes of the war period which had been committed by the Tsarist government and Kerensky government. In our firm conviction, the account as well as the terms to be put by the German annexationists have been tacitly approved in London. British imperialism well knows that it is in no state to beat Germany and thus allow her the compensation at Russia’s expense which German imperialism needs to be given to make it more amenable at negotiations with its British and French colleagues. This diabolical plan emerges from a very superficial analysis of one of Lloyd George’s speeches, where he could not conceal this common account of world imperialism for the Russian revolution. Similarly pointing in this direction is the whole of world imperialism’s policy in the Ukraine, Rumania and all the regions where imperialism borders on the Russian revolution.

From a speech to the 3rd All-Russian Congress of Soviets, 23rd January 1918


1 The ‘Young Turks’ were exiled Turkish liberals who in 1907 joined with young army officers, led by Enver Pasha, who staged a rising in Macedonia in July 1908 to demand the restoration of the constitution by the Sultan, Abdul Hamid II. In the face of the wide support that this movement attracted the Sultan quickly gave way, and a parliament was called in December. ‘Young Turk’ officers were from then on to dominate the Turkish government, building an alliance with Germany while continuing to oppress the non-Turkish peoples of the Ottoman Empire. The Sultan dismissed the ‘Young Turks’ from the government upon Turkey’s defeat in October 1918.

2 Extreme reactionary St. Petersburg newspaper published from 1868 until 1917. After 1905 it openly supported the ultra-fight terrorist bands known as the Black Hundreds.

3 Russian Foreign Minister from 1905 to 1909.

4 Bosnia-Hercegovina was annexed by Austria-Hungary in October 1908. This consolidation of Austro-Hungarian power in the Balkans was opposed by Tsarist Russia.

5 The Persian Revolution of 1905-1908 was led by petty-bourgeois democrats with the support of the peasantry and workers to win democratic reforms from the Shah’s feudal regime. Local revolutionary councils (enjumens) were set up with their main centre at Tabriz. In September 1906 Shah Mohammed Ali was forced to convene the Majlis (parliament) with a restricted franchise. Further minor reforms were insufficient to stem an upsurge of strikes and land seizures, and in June 1908, with the backing of British and Russian imperialism, the Shah staged a coup dissolving the Majlis and the Teheran enjumen. Tabriz then rose up in arms and the enjumen took power only to be overthrown by Tsarist forces in October 1908.

6 The ‘sentence’ was the Anglo-Russian Entente of August 1907 which defined the two imperial powers’ interests in Central Asia, Tibet, Afghanistan and Persia, where a northern zone (including Teheran and Tabriz) and an eastern zone were assigned respectively to Russia and Britain as ‘spheres of influence’.

7 The political police of Austria-Hungary which ruled Bosnia-Hercegovina, a mainly Slav-inhabited territory where Serbian-backed nationalist terrorists were active, assassinating the Austrian heir, Franz-Ferdinand, in July 1914 and thus causing Austria to declare war on Serbia.

8 French was born at Ripple, Kent.

9 Chief of Prussian and, later, German General Staff from 1857 to 1888, responsible for re-organising the Prussian Army and the strategic planning of the Danish, Austrian and French campaigns between 1864 and 1870. His nephew was Chief of German General Staff from 1906 to September 1914 when he was asked to resign over the failure to take Paris and the setback on the Marne.

10 President of the Boer Transvaal Republic from 1883 until 1900.

11 A character in Tolstoy’s War and Peace who leads daring guerrilla raids on Napoleon’s retreating armies in Russia in 1812.

12 British War Secretary from 1912 to 1914.

13 The Marshall Islands lie 3,500 miles east of Java and were a German colony until they were seized by Japan in 1914.

14 A territory and naval base in northern China adjacent to Shantung province; occupied by Germany in 1897 but captured by the Japanese in November 1914.

15 Right-wing daily newspaper published in Paris from 1888 to 1924.

16 The scheme referred to here was published in The Mutual Defence of Nations by O. F. Maclagan.

17 ‘Thinking Internationally’, Nineteenth Century, July 1916.

18 The British Ambassador to Russia.

19 Russian Foreign Minister from 1909 to 1916.

20 Witte had been Russian Prime Minister in 1905 and 1906. At the outbreak of the First World War he opposed Russian war policy and favoured alliance with France and Germany against Britain.

21 Russian Foreign Minister from May to October 1917.

22 The United States of America entered the First World War on 6th April 1917 in response to Germany’s resumption of unlimited submarine warfare and diplomatic approaches to Mexico.

23 Menshevik and Socialist-Revolutionary ministers in the Russian Provisional Government of May-August 1917.

24 United States military attachŽ in Petrograd.

25 Chief of Russian Staff until November 1917.

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