From Fourth International, Vol.6 No.8, August 1945, pp. 244-248.
Transcribed by Daniel Gaido.
Marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).
The objective economic and political conditions of the “United Nations Charter” world differ considerably from those that prevailed after the Peace of Versailles. Despite these differences, the “peace” and “postwar security” issuing out of World War II is strikingly parallel to the “peace” and “security” that followed the termination of hostilities in 1918. This is hardly surprising. Identical class causes tend to produce identical class results. Nothing except an imperialist peace could possibly come out of an imperialist war, unless the proletarian revolution first intervened.
The peace frolic of the first world holocaust was staged in Geneva, Switzerland, on January 10, 1920, when the representatives of the victorious Entente formally launched the League of Nations. Essentially the same obscene fraud was repeated on April 25, 1945, at San Francisco when the Anglo-American imperialists jointly with the Kremlin formed the “United Nations.” The League of Nations came into existence automatically under the Versailles Treaty; the “United Nations” was hatched, even before the signing of any peace, in the secret conferences of the “Big Three” at Moscow, Teheran, Yalta, and it was preceded by such purely decorative gatherings as the one at Dumbarton Oaks.
The League of Nations, according to Lenin, was an unification “on paper only; in reality it is a group of beasts of prey, who only fight one another and do not at all trust one another.” (Lenin’s Collected Works, Vol.XXV, p.297, Third Russian Edition) He branded the League as a Thieves’ Kitchen, a “piece of fakery from beginning to end; it is a deception from beginning to end; it is a lie from beginning to end.” (Idem, p.97) Lenin’s position was also that of Leon Trotsky. It was the position of the Communist International in Lenin’s lifetime.
If the League of Nations is inseparable from the Versailles Treaty and the secret diplomacy which produced it, then the “United Nations” is the product of the super-secret Washington-Kremlin-London diplomacy and equally inseparable from it. Like the League of Nations, the “United Nations” bears all the features of the source from which it sprang – the second imperialist slaughter. It is inseparably bound up with a super-Versailles, still unsigned. It is calculated to counteract and to destroy any and all insurgent movements of the European peoples, above all Germany. It is aimed to perpetuate the existing inequality among nations rather than to establish any genuine equality among them. The chances for a peaceful coexistence of nations and harmonious collaboration among them are far slimmer under the “United Nations” than they were in the days of the League.
Structurally the “United Nations” organization differs in name only from the defunct League. In place of the latter’s executive body, the San Francisco Conference set up a “Security Council.” The utterly impotent International Labor office has been supplanted by an “Economic and Social Council.” The emptier the barrel, the more noise it makes. As for the “World Court,” the guiding spirits of San Francisco did not even bother to change the name, retaining the old one: International Court of Justice.
The similarity between the League and the “United Nations” extends even to the leading figures. Many of the participants at Geneva bobbed up again at San Francisco. Columnist Samuel Grafton was among those dismayed by “an array of depressingly familiar faces, and the feeling is that those who couldn’t do it once are going to try to do it again.” (New York Post, April 30)
To cover up this insolent repetition of bankrupt policies, the propagandists of Anglo-American imperialism and the pen-prostitutes of the Kremlin have been proclaiming with unbounded cynicism that the Versailles Peace was a “soft” peace; and that in this softness are rooted the causes both for the failure of the League of Nations as well as for the outbreak of World War II.
Had Versailles been “hard,” they allege, the League of Nations would not have turned into the soft, poisonous, reeking slime it actually turned out to be. It goes without saying that this same lie of lies serves concurrently to justify the bestial crushing of Germany, the enslavement and vilification of the German people and spoliation of Europe as a whole by the “democratic” imperialists and their Kremlin ally. Let us yield the floor to two of history’s most candid, unimpeachable and incorruptible witnesses , in order (1) to expose the lies of Washington-Moscow-London; and (2) to cast additional light on the abysmal degeneracy of the “Big Three.”
Lenin and Trotsky characterized the Treaty of Versailles, signed by the German delegation on January 28, 1919, as a peace of imperialist pillage, rapine and oppression. The treaty imposed in 1918 by the victors upon the vanquished was “infamous and ignoble,” “utterly permeated with cruelty, greed and baseness” (Trotsky). It was the peace of “plunderers and robbers” “a hundred times more humiliating, rapacious and predatory than the Peace of Brest-Litovsk” (Lenin).
Upon the signing of the Versailles Treaty, Lenin declared:
A peace has been imposed on Germany, but it is a usurer’s peace, a strangler’s peace, a butcher’s peace; because they have plundered and dismembered Germany and Austria. They have deprived these countries of all the means of livelihood; they have left children to starve and die of starvation. It is an unheard-of robbers’ peace. And so what is the Versailles Peace? It is an unheard-of robber’s peace which has plunged tens of millions, including the most civilized peoples, into a condition of slavery. This is no peace but a set of conditions dictated to a helpless victim by highwaymen with knives in hand. (Loc. cit., vol.XXV, pp.417-18.)
While Versailles was still in its preparatory stages, Lenin insisted:
We see that they are preparing a Peace for Germany that amounts to regular strangulation and is more coercive than the Peace of Brest-Litovsk. (Loc. cit., vol.XXIII, p.283, English Edition.)
Lenin and Trotsky alike were not taken by surprise by the unprecedented harshness of Versailles. They knew its authors and their goal, namely: to serve the interests of their respective imperialisms. The views of Lenin and Trotsky appear in literally scores of articles, speeches, books and programmatic documents. Among the latter is the resolution on Versailles passed by the Fourth World Congress (1922) of the Comintern. This resolution characterizes the treaty as an “attempt to stabilize the world domination of the four victorious states [the United States, England, France and Japan] through the reduction – politically and economically – of the rest of the world to the status of colonies and semi-colonies.” The imperialist victors of World War II have an identical program.
The Communist International under Lenin stresses that the Versailles Treaty was in reality the most powerful lever created by the victorious bourgeoisie for the purpose of extending their political and economic domination over the European continent. The League of Nations served simply as a fulcrum for that lever, a role that is now assigned to the “United Nations.”
In Lenin’s estimation, Versailles constituted irrefutable proof of his analysis of imperialism. And among Lenin’s theses on imperialism a main one is that capitalism in its final stage of development renders all imperialists, regardless of the political form of their rule, equally reactionary. No distinction whatever can be drawn among the imperialists, insisted Lenin:
The history of recent times, (the history of the war and post-war period, is distinguished by an extraordinary speed of development, and it proves the thesis that British and French imperialism is just as infamous as German imperialism. Idem., p. 330.)
He repeated this indefatigably:
... These spokesmen, these protectors of democracy, these Wilsons and the like, are imposing on the vanquished people treaties of their own a good deal worse than the Brest-Litovsk Peace imposed on us. (Idem, p.439.)
The Versailles Peace has demonstrated even to imbeciles and the blind, even to the mass of myopic people that the Entente was and remained an imperialist brigand just as bloody and dirty as Germany. This could have been overlooked only by hypocrites and liars, consciously transmitting bourgeois polities into the labor movement, or by the direct agents and errand-boys of the bourgeoisie (labor lieutenants of capital, in the words of the American socialists); or by people who have so succumbed to bourgeois ideas and bourgeois influence as to become socialists only in words, while in their deeds they remain petty bourgeois, philistines, chorus boys of the capitalists. (Loc. cit., vol.XXIV, p.389.)
In Lenin’s eyes only hypocrites or liars could draw a distinction in favor of the “democratic” imperialists; only direct agents and errand-boys of the bourgeoisie could stoop to defend Versailles. But the Stalinists have gone even beyond this during the Second World War, when the Kremlin began by drawing distinctions in favor of the “peace-loving” Nazi imperialists and ended by hailing and collaborating with the “peace-loving” and “democratic” imperialists. They prescribe treatment for Germany and other European countries that really does make Versailles seem “soft” by comparison. And, finally, the Kremlin is aiding directly in the Allied attempts to stifle the European revolution.
From the Leninist standpoint, it is least of all permissible to spread any illusions about the role of either the United States or any “world security” organization it initiates or sponsors. Thus, in the days of Versailles and the League Lenin insisted that both imperialist camps were equally reactionary, and he especially warned:
By now it is clear to all the appetites of the Allied imperialists even exceed those of the German: the terms they have demanded of Germany are even worse than the Brest-Litovsk Peace; and, what is more, they are out to stifle the revolution generally and act as international gendarmes. (Loc. cit., vol.XXIII, p.317. English Edition.)
And Trotsky wrote:
Under the “League of Nations” flag, the United States made an attempt to extend to the other side of the ocean its experience with a federated unification of large, multi-national masse – an attempt to chain to its chariot of gold, the peoples of Europe arid other parts of the world, and bring them under Washington’s rule. In essence the League of Nations was intended to be a world monopoly corporation, “Yankee and Co.”
The American bourgeoisie is jamming through today the same program that it sought but failed to apply after 1914-1918. The “United Nations” charter is designed to finally install the “world monopoly corporation, ‘Yankee and Co.’” Thus far, the Kremlin’s sole objection has been to the role assigned to it by Wall Street. Stalin wants to be promoted from the ranks of a junior partner to that of a senior.
What sort of peace will and must the “United Nations” impose? The Stalinists swear it can and will be a “people’s peace.” They are merely parroting the words of Woodrow Wilson who hailed Versailles as a “people’s peace.” To counter this hypocrisy and deception, Lenin and the Bolsheviks compared Versailles with the Brest-Litovsk Peace, which the young Soviet Republic was compelled to sign, and which was universally denounced at the time as the most rapacious, ruthless peace ever imposed by victors upon a vanquished foe. Needless to mention the “democratic” Allies were the loudest in their spurious indignation. The Allied Supreme War Council issued a statement in London protesting against the Brest Peace as a set of “political crimes which, under the name of German peace, have been committed against the Russian people.” These bourgeois Tartuffes jesuitically lamented that the Brest provisions were so onerous that “Russian economic life was reduced by it (Brest Peace) to a shadow ...”
One of the authoritative spokesmen of the English Tories, Lord Cecil shrieked in horror at the news of the most “hypocritical part” of the Brest-Litovsk Treaty, namely: the indemnities clause which, according to Lord Cecil, “imposed one of the heaviest war indemnities ever levied.” For his part, Woodrow Wilson fulminated not only against Brest, but also against the Bolsheviks. In Wilson’s eyes, Brest-Litovsk was a “cheap triumph in which no brave or gallant nation can long take pride. A great people, helpless by their own act, lies for the time at their mercy.”
This did not hinder the same Wilson from imposing a peace on Germany which surpassed many times the savagery of the Brest Peace; nor do the successors of Wilson hesitate to treat defeated Germany with a savagery which surpasses by far the savagery of Versailles.
Where Versailles provided for the military occupation of sections of Germany, today all of Germany and Austria, not to mention the rest of Western and Eastern Europe, groans under military occupation. Nor have the victors the slightest intention of withdrawing their troops. When Monarchist Germany of the Hohenzollerns tried to impose the military occupation of Moscow in its peace terms, the young and weak Workers’ Republic firmly resisted. The Junkers were forced to withdraw their demand. Here is what Lenin said in 1918 about the military occupation clause in the Versailles Treaty:
This is the peace which those who cried that the Bolsheviks are traitors because they signed the Brest-Litovsk Peace are now imposing on a comparatively weak state that is already falling to pieces. When the Germans wanted to send their soldiers to Moscow, we said that we would rather lay down our lives in battle to a man than consent to such a thing ... And now the democratic soldiers of England and France are to be used to “maintain order” ... We know what this order means. It means that the British and American soldiers are to act as butchers and hangmen of the world revolution. (Loc. cit., vol.XXIII, p.282. English Edition. )
Today, the imperialist spokesmen together with the Stalinists and all the liberals – from all the Lerners of PM to the writers of The Nation and The New Republic – proclaim that military occupation is the principal guarantee of peace. In his day, Lenin viewed it as a deliberate act of aggression against the revolutionary peoples. Just what has altered since Lenin’s day to impel any one who is not gullible or a Stalinist knave to take a different position?
Lenin denied that the imperialists could employ their troops with impunity to crush the rising revolution in Europe. Lenin, like Trotsky, based his revolutionary optimism on the impact of Versailles and the League of Nations upon the consciousness of the war-weary masses, upon the sharp break in mass moods that suffering, disillusionment and indignation would bring. In the Manifesto of the Second World Congress (July-August 1920) Leon Trotsky wrote:
Workers and Peasants of Europe, America, Asia, Africa and Australia! You have suffered ten million dead, twenty million wounded and crippled. Today you at least know what you have gained at this price!
In an introduction written in 1920 for the then projected French and German editions of his book, Imperialism, Lenin stated:
The Brest-Litovsk Peace, dictated by monarchist Germany, followed by the infinitely more bestial and ignominious Versailles Peace, dictated by the “democratic” American and French Republics along with “free” England – all this has performed a most beneficent service to mankind, by exposing both the hired pen-and-ink coolies of imperialism as well as the reactionary townspeople, even if they do call themselves pacifists and socialists – the same townspeople who sang paeans of praise to ‘Wilsonism’ and who argued that peace and reforms are possible under imperialism.” (Loc. cit., vol.XIX, p.75.)
... Many religiously believed in the purity of the aims of the Allies; but now all this has been exposed, and everybody can see that the notorious Allies, who have dictated terms to Germany even more monstrous than those of the Brest-Litovsk Peace, are robbers no less than the German imperialists. (Loc. cit., vol.XXIII, pp.303-4. English Edition.)
But what do we find the Wilsons doing to defeated Germany? See what a picture of world relations is unfolding before our eyes! This picture, from which we get our idea of what the Wilson gentry are offering their friends, is a million and a trillion times more convincing. What we are arguing over, the Wilsons would settle in a trice. These gentry – the free billionaires, the most humane people in the world – would wean their friends in a trice even of thinking, let alone talking of “independence” of any sort. (Idem, p.442.)
Until now the petty bourgeoisie hoped that the British, French and Americans stood for real democracy; until now it still cherished that illusion; but now that illusion is being completely dispelled by the peace that is being imposed on Austria and Germany. The British are behaving as if they had made it their special purpose to prove the correctness of the Bolshevik views on international imperialism. The British, French and Americans are behaving as if they made it their purpose to prove that the Bolsheviks were right. (Idem, p.329.)
And now history, with the malicious irony characteristic of it, has brought it about that, after German imperialism, it is now the turn of Anglo-French imperialism to expose itself, and it is doing it thoroughly. And we declare to the Russian, German and Austrian working class masses: “These are not the Russian serf troops of 1848! They are going to crush a people which is about to liberate itself from capitalism – to strangle a revolution.” And we say with absolute confidence that this gorged beast will meet its doom, just as did the beast of German imperialism. (Idem, pp.282-3.)
Any number of similar quotations from Lenin and Trotsky can be cited. But there is one fact that is worth a whole library of, quotations, namely: in Lenin’s lifetime, the fight against Versailles, especially in the victor countries, was placed at the head of the political agenda of the Communist International. Thus the French Communist Party placed “the fight against the Versailles Treaty in the foreground of our tasks” as one of its spokesmen wrote at the time, and then went on to add:
It lays upon us the duty of strengthening by word of mouth and by aid of the press the feeling of solidarity binding the workers of France to the workers of Germany. (Inprecorr, 1923, Vol.VI, p.53.)
Today the Stalinists in France, England, the U.S. and elsewhere express their solidarity not with the German workers but with the French and Allied Imperialists and, in return, demand slave labor from Germany. One must be either blind or hypnotized to accept this, in good faith, as – ”Leninism”!
Neither Lenin nor Trotsky based their revolutionary optimism solely on the break in mass-moods, following the war and the Peace of Versailles, crucial as this subjective factor is. They also took into account the objective foundation of the revolution, namely: the ruination and disintegration of the economic (and political) system of capitalism. “The victory of the Entente and the Versailles Peace have not halted the process of economic ruination – and decay but have only altered its paths and forms.” (Trotsky).
And, moreover, there are additional important considerations:
The war, through the Versailles Treaty, has imposed such conditions upon the advanced peoples that they now find themselves in a position of colonial dependency, poverty-stricken, famished, ruined and deprived of all rights. Because they have been bound hand and foot by the Treaty and placed by it for many generations to come under conditions such as no civilized people have ever had to live. There you have a picture of the world: Immediately following the war, not less than a billion and a quarter of the world population remains subject to colonial bondage, and must submit to the bestial exploitation of capitalism which has boasted so much of its peace-loving nature. Some fifty years ago, there was some justification for this boast, that is, before the earth was already divided, before the monopolies established their rule, at a time when capitalism was still able to develop in relative peace and without plunging into colossal military conflicts. But today, in the wake of this epoch of peace, there has taken place a monstrous intensification of oppression; there is to be observed a regression toward colonial and military bondage worse than any hitherto. The Versailles Peace has placed Germany and a whole number of defeated states in conditions which make economic existence impossible – conditions that deprive them of all rights and plunge them into degradation.
The foregoing citation is from a three-hour opening speech delivered by Lenin to the Second World Congress of the Comintern (Loc. cit., vol.XXV, pp.332-3). The economic chaos, aggravated by Versailles, was so critical that the English economist Keynes called Europe a “madhouse.” Lenin used Keynes’ volume The Economic Consequences of the Peace to illustrate, at the Second World Congress, his own views on imperialism and the impasse into which it had driven mankind: “Economically Germany cannot exist after the Versailles Peace, and not only Germany, but all of the defeated countries.” (Idem, p.507).
This was likewise acknowledged by Keynes, the same gentleman who today unhesitatingly underwrites wilder and more destructive schemes for Germany and all of the world.
The economic consequences of Versailles which brought only calamities to the European continent, was summed up by the Bolsheviks as having “dismembered, tortured, Balkanized all of Europe” (Lenin); “while the Balkan peninsula is being barbarized, Europe is becoming Balkanized” (Trotsky).
... And indeed from the standpoint of economic development this entire particularism of tiny states (set up by Versailles) with their shut-inness, their tariff systems and so on, represent a monstrous anachronism, an insane implantation of medievalist into the twentieth century (Trotsky).
By the Versailles Peace they have created a financial system of which they are themselves unable to make either head or tail (Lenin, Op. cit., vol.XXVII, p.346).
German technology and the high productivity of German labor, these most important factors in the regeneration of world economy, are being ever more paralyzed after the Versailles Peace than was the case in wartime. The Entente is faced with insolvable contradictions. In order to exact payment, one must provide the possibility of work. In order to make work possible one must make it possible to live. And giving crushed, dismembered, exhausted Germany the possibility to live means – to make it possible for her to resist (Trotsky).
In the interval between the two world wars, Versailles and the League of Nations secured anything but peace. In the space of 21 years, almost a score of wars were fought, as a prelude to the second world collision. In place of peace Versailles brought growth to militarism, one of the biggest obstacles in the way of economic progress. As for the “peace” brought by San Francisco, its sessions were accompanied by the beating of the war drums. Failing the revolution, militarism will continue its fearful growth.
What has changed since Lenin and Trotsky made their foregoing analyses? Every single one of the conditions cited and analyzed by them has been aggravated. Europe under the League of Nations seems almost like good times compared with Europe under the “United Nations” charter.
“But what about the United States?” Precisely this same cry was raised after the war of 1914-1918. The French bourgeoisie was then the loudest booster of America’s humanitarian future.
Here is what Trotsky wrote at that time:
But what about the United States? “America is the hope of humanity!” Through the lips of Millerand, the French bourgeois repeats this phrase of Turgot in the hope of having his own debts remitted, although he himself never remits anyone’s debts. But the United States is incapable of leading Europe out of its economic blind alley. America’s incapacity, to say nothing of her utter lack of desire, to succor Europe was manifested almost three decades ago, when America, during and after World War 1, not only preserved but actually expanded her economic apparatus, in large measure at the expense of the imperialist rivals, whether allies or enemies. Today, the United States emerges not richer but much poorer than it entered the Second World War. The whole world has been wrecked and impoverished. Not only does the United States still remain incapable of leading Europe out of her economic blind alley, but it is making all the necessary plans to prevent the European peoples from rising to their feet again.
From the crisis of the war and the crisis of the liquidation period of the war, Lenin and Trotsky drew the most direct revolutionary conclusions. Lenin was of the opinion that Versailles must lead to revolutionary upheavals:
The Entente powers have overstepped the bounds of the possible for bourgeois policy; they have overdone it, just as the German imperialists overdid it in February and March 1918 in concluding the Brest Peace. The cause that led to the collapse of German imperialism is again clearly perceptible in the case of Anglo-French imperialism. The latter have imposed peace terms on Germany that are far worse, far more onerous than those which Germany imposed on us when concluding the Brest Peace. In doing so, Anglo-French imperialism has overstepped the bounds and this will later prove fatal to them. Once beyond these bounds imperialism forfeits the hope of holding the laboring masses in obedience. (Loc. cit., vol. XXIII, p. 470. English Edition.)
Tens of millions of corpses and cripples left by the war – a war to decide whether the English or German group of financial bandits would obtain the greater share of the loot, and on top of al this, the two peace treaties (Brest and Versailles) are opening at an unprecedented speed the eyes of millions and tens of millions of those whom the bourgeoisie grinds down, crushes, deceives and dupes. (Loc. cit., vol.XIX, p.75.)
For his part, Trotsky analyzed the situation in exactly the same way:
Today the one and only issue is: Who shall henceforth be the bearer of state-ized production – the imperialist state or the state of the victorious proletariat? In other words: Is all toiling mankind to become the bond slaves of the victorious world cliques who, under the firm name of the “League of Nations” and aided by an “international” army and an “international” navy, will here plunder and strangle some peoples and there cast crumbs to others, while everywhere and always shackling the proletariat – with the sole ‘object of maintaining their own rule? Or shall the working class of Europe and of the advanced countries in other parts of the world take in hand the disrupted and ruined economy in order to assure its regeneration upon socialist principles. It is possible to shorten the epoch of crisis through which we are passing only by measures of the proletarian dictatorship which does not look back to the past, which respects neither inherited privileges nor property rights, which takes as its starting point the need of saving the starving masses.
For all these reasons, Lenin’s conclusion was:
Everybody knows that the social revolution is maturing in Western Europe not by the day but by the hour; that the same thing is taking place in America and in England – these alleged representatives of culture and civilization, and these victors over the Hun-the German imperialists. (Loc. cit., Vol.XXIV, pp.545-6.)
The social revolution did come in Western Europe but it ran up against the betrayal of the official leadership of the labor movement – the Socialist parties of the Second International – and the immaturity of the Communist parties of the Third International.
This time, the bourgeoisie has passed far beyond the bounds it transgressed in 1918-1919. Nowhere in Europe can the workers be kept docile. The revolutionary process which began in the period following World War I is clearly to be discerned today both in England and in America. The English workers have shown what their real temper and aspirations are by crushing the Tory government at the polls. But the same internal enemies – the labor agents of imperialism – still obstruct the road. The old generation of renegade “Socialists” have been re-enforced by a new generation of renegade “Communists” (the Stalinists). On the other hand, the necessary instrument of the revolution – the World Party of the Socialist Revolution, The Fourth international – has been forged well in advance of the war, and not during its aftermath as was unavoidably the case with Lenin’s Comintern.
With the League of Nations, in Lenin’s opinion, the bourgeoisie began “digging its own grave.” With the “United Nations” charter, our entire civilization will be dragged into the abyss, unless the workers succeed in providing the long overdue burial for the brutalized, blood-crazed brigands of imperialism.
1. Unless otherwise specified in the text, all citations from Trotsky are from his book, The First Five Years of the Communist International, scheduled for publication in September by Pioneer Publishers; the citations from Lenin are translated by the writer from the Third Russian Edition of Lenin’s Collected Works.
Last updated: 29.12.2005