SocialismToday           Socialist Party magazine

Issue 213 November 2017

After October: the Soviet call for peace

Following the October revolution, the Soviet government moved quickly to pull Russia out of the first world war, issuing international appeals for an end to the carnage. In the first of two articles (translated into English for the first time by Pete Dickenson), LEON TROTSKY, People's Commissar for Foreign Affairs, examines the geopolitical importance of the Soviet position.(1)

Our policy in foreign affairs is determined by the decree on peace adopted by the All-Russia Congress of Soviets. The very fact of its adoption was unexpected for the routinist consciousness of the bourgeois European world, and at first they reacted to the decree more as a statement of party policy than as a concrete act of a government power representing millions. The bourgeoisie of the allied countries treated the decree with the greatest hostility. The attitude of the governments of the hostile countries was, and could not but have been, ambivalent.

On the one hand, the overturn interested them because the deepening troubles in Russia increased their military chances and this gave them cause for schadenfreude. On the other hand, to the extent that they understood that they were not dealing with an ephemeral phenomenon, to the extent that they saw that Soviet power was relying on a broad armed mass, then to this extent they could not but have realised that the victory of the soviets was a fact of enormous international significance. This attitude was typical of the German response to the news about the victory over Kerensky. (2) Our radio broadcast from Tsarkoe Selo was intercepted by the Austrians but Hamburg radio jammed the signal to prevent its dissemination.

Germany’s ambivalence stems from the fact that while, as Germans, they are ready as a bourgeois possessing class to gloat, they understand that it is also necessary to be afraid. The responsibility lay on the Soviet government to issue a proposal for peace negotiations and a truce. The military-political situation was not favourable to take this political step earlier. Krasnov’s units were outside Petrograd and it was possible that other forces would arrive behind them. (3) In Moscow, the struggle for power was going on. Information from the provinces was uncertain, partly because of the so-called neutrality of the Post and Telegraph Union.

In western Europe the mood was expectant. There was a lack of belief in the new Soviet government. The working masses had trust in the government but there was a danger that it would not hold out. Now, the government is established as a fact in both capitals of the country, in many important points in the provinces, in the overwhelming majority in the army, and it is attracting the peasant masses. These facts are indisputable. However, referring to the sabotage of the bureaucratic tops and the intelligentsia, the Council of People’s Commissars has an absolutely definite opinion. The sabotage of the tops must be broken with the help of those at the bottom, the saboteurs are lackeys of the counter-revolutionary bourgeoisie.

Now, the most hidebound European diplomats understand that it is impossible to break Soviet power in a day or a week. The complete political helplessness of the Russian bourgeoisie has been revealed to them, regardless of its huge economic power. They must reckon with the Soviet government as a fact and adopt a certain attitude towards it. These attitudes are being formed empirically, in practice. Agents of the European powers are obliged to refer to us on all sorts of questions of everyday life like, for example, entry and exit.

Allied power reaction

Political relations with the Soviet government are uneven from the side of the different powers. Perhaps the greatest hostility comes from the British government where the bourgeois tops risk the least from losing the war and expect to gain the most. The protracted character of the war is not at all contrary to the policy of Great Britain. As for France, the majority of the petit-bourgeois democracy is inclined to be friendly, but it is helpless. The government of the petit bourgeoisie is at the mercy of the stock exchange.

The small French shopkeeper-pacifists personally know nothing about the secret treaties and imperialist aims for which they are shedding their blood. France has suffered from the war more than anyone. France feels that the drawn-out nature of the war threatens her with degeneration and death. The struggle of the French working class against the war is growing every day.

France responded to the emergence of Soviet power with the administration of Clemenceau, which was a result of the acuteness of the situation and the growth of the internal opposition of the working class. Clemenceau is on the extreme chauvinist wing of the Radicals and for three years he could not form his own government. Now it has been put together without the participation of the socialists, and directed against them, the French petit-bourgeois democracy is having convulsions, terrorised by the creation of the Soviet government. Petit-bourgeois France thinks that our government is allied with Wilhelm, and perhaps will fight against France. (4)

Fragmentary information from Italy speaks of the enthusiasm of the Italian working class for the Soviet government. Italy hesitated for nine months about which side in the war to join, to gain the greatest advantage. In these nine months, the Italian working class had the opportunity to see the pernicious role that the collaboration of the proletariat with the bourgeoisie played. The middle class and the peasantry have been frustrated by the war and this frustration is creating a favourable echo to the protesting voice of the proletariat.

The United States intervened in the war after three years as a result of a sober accounting by the American stock exchange. America could not permit the victory of one coalition over the other; America was interested in weakening both and strengthening the hegemony of American capital. In addition, the American war industries have an interest. During the war, American exports more than doubled and attained a level never reached before by a capitalist state. All the exports, almost without exception, go to the allied countries.

In January, when Germany announced unrestricted naval warfare, stations and docks in the United States were overflowing with the output of the military industries. Transport was disrupted and New York experienced food riots that had not been seen there before. Finance capital then presented Wilson with an ultimatum to ensure the distribution of war industry materials. (5) Wilson submitted to this ultimatum – and from there war preparations and then the war itself. But America can tolerate the fact of the Soviet government since it is quite satisfied with the depletion of the allied countries and Germany – and also America has interests in capital investment in Russia.

International appeal

As far as Germany is concerned, her internal economic situation forces her to semi-tolerate the Soviet government. The peace proposal made by Germany, on the one hand, was testing the political water and, on the other hand, was aimed at offloading responsibility for the continuation of the war onto the enemy camp.

All the information we have about the impression produced by the peace decree in Europe shows that our most optimistic assumptions were justified. The German working class is aware of what is going on now in Russia, maybe even better than these events are understood in Russia itself. The deeds of the working class in Russia are more revolutionary than its consciousness, whereas the consciousness of the European working class was nurtured over decades. On the basis of a class analysis of the events occurring in Russia, the proletariat in the west realises that we did not accomplish what we did as the result of a small group of conspirators grabbing power with the help of Red Guards and sailors, as the bourgeois press tries to portray, but that here a new epoch of world history is beginning.

The working class holds in its hands the apparatus of the state and this will become an apparatus for peace. On the historic night of 25 October, the slaughter was dealt a mortal blow. The war, as a colossal enterprise of various classes and groups, was broken. European governments already no longer care about the achievement of their initial aims but about closing down this enterprise with the least damage to their supremacy. Thinking about victory is not possible for either side, and involvement of the working class in the feud has an immeasurable impact. The decree on peace is being widely dispersed in Europe. The war is creaking and the task of the Soviet government is to inflict a blow on it with a formal proposal to begin peace negotiations.

Pressure on imperialism

Secret treaties are in my hands. The old officials at the ministry, Neratov and Tatishev, passed them on to me voluntarily, to the extent it is possible to talk about voluntary agreement here. These are not treaties written on parchment, it is essentially about diplomatic correspondence exchanged by governments in encoded telegrams. In the forthcoming days I will begin their publication. Their contents are even more cynical than we expected and we have no doubt that, when the German social democracy gets access to the ironclad cabinets that guard the secret treaties there, they will show that German imperialism, in its cynicism and rapacity, does not lag behind the rapacity of the allied countries.

I sent out today to the ambassadors of the allied powers the following document: "I have the honour to inform you Mr Ambassador that the All-Russia Congress of Soviets of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies organised, on 26 October, a new government of the Russian Republic in the form of the Council of People’s Commissars. The chairman of this government is Vladimir Ilyich Lenin; leadership of foreign affairs is entrusted to me as people’s commissar for foreign affairs.

"In drawing your attention to the text approved by the All-Russia Congress of Soviets of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies, of a proposal for a truce and a democratic peace without annexations and indemnities on the basis of the self-determination of peoples, I have the honour to ask you to consider this document as a formal proposal for an immediate truce on all fronts and the immediate opening of peace negotiations. The competent government of the Russian Republic is circulating this proposal simultaneously to all belligerent nations and their governments. Please be assured Mr Ambassador that the Soviet government holds the people of your country in the deepest respect who, like all other peoples, exhausted and bleeding from this unprecedented slaughter, cannot but strive for peace.

"The People’s Commissar for Foreign Affairs, L Trotsky".

Ultimatum to a tsarist general

The commissar for military affairs, comrade Krylenko, together with the chairman of the Council of People’s Commissars, comrade Lenin, have undertaken negotiations with the supreme commander. (6) The following appeal was sent to the supreme commander:

"Citizen Supreme Commander. On the authority of the All-Russia Congress of Soviets of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies, the Council of People’s Commissars has taken power into its hands, and has an obligation to propose to all belligerent nations and their governments an immediate truce on all fronts, and an immediate opening of negotiations with the aim of concluding peace on a democratic basis. Now, when the Soviet government has been established in all important parts of the country, the Council of People’s Commissars thinks it is necessary to urgently make a formal proposal of a truce to all belligerent countries, to the allies and to those hostile to us.

"The corresponding notification has been sent by the people’s commissar for foreign affairs to all competent representatives of allied countries in Petrograd. Citizen Supreme Commander, you are directed by the Council of People’s Commissars, pursuant of a decision of the All-Russia Congress of Soviets of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies, immediately on receipt of the present notice to contact the military authorities of the hostile armies with a proposal for an immediate cessation of military action with the aim of opening peace negotiations. Investing in you the conduct of these preliminary negotiations, the Council of People’s Commissars orders you:

"1. To give constant reports to the Council about the progress of your negotiations with representatives of the hostile armies; 2. To sign an armistice only with the agreement of the Council of People’s Commissars.

"Chairman of the Council of People’s Commissars, V Ulyanov (Lenin), the Commissar for Foreign Affairs, L Trotsky, the Commissar for Military Affairs, Krylenko. Sealed: N Gorbunov, Secretary".

For a true peace

We expect that the reply of Dukhonin will follow the political line of the Soviet government. But whatever the reply it cannot deflect the Soviets from the path of peace. The Petrograd printing presses are publishing the peace decree in all languages, above all in German. We are distributing it in very large numbers.

I have a document which proves that Kerensky consciously acted as a representative of allied imperialism. We put to the allied governments, as well as to those hostile to us, the fact that the Russian people and the Russian army want to put an end to the war, that we have no imperialist demands, that we are throwing into the dustbin of history all the old treaties that granted us other people’s territory, that we stand for a true peace and so we are making a formal proposal to begin peace negotiations and to conclude a truce.

All governments are under pressure from their people and our policy is a force to increase that pressure. This is the only guarantee that we will achieve peace, an honourable peace that does not crush Russia, and fraternal cohabitation with the neighbouring peoples of western Europe.

What do the secret treaties reveal?

In this second article, LEON TROTSKY exposes the secret deals between Britain, France and tsarist Russia to carve up the Ottoman empire. (7)

Only a fraction of the documents of the hidden secret agreements of the capitalists has been published so far. More and more will become clear from the ministry of foreign affairs as the secret archives are sorted out. There, the evidence is preserved against the imperialist diplomacy – of course, never expecting its publication, never imagining the possibility of the victory of the proletarian revolution.

The plan of the seizures marked out by the Russian bourgeoisie and its ‘allies’ is exposed in its main outline. ‘Britain’ and ‘France’ stipulated their rights ‘freely’ – that is, at their sole discretion – to determine the western frontiers of Germany and Austria, giving in return for these seizures the same rights for Russia: namely, to determine at her discretion the eastern borders of Austria and Germany. ‘You scratch my back...’ is the first principle (law) of the politics of imperialist robbery.

The project is not limited to annexation in Europe. ‘Russia’ (ie Sazonov and Tereshchenko) stipulated, as is well-known, the annexation of Constantinople [Istanbul]. (8) But from the treaties it is clear that not only Constantinople but the whole of European Turkey must be given to the Russian bourgeoisie. The agreements on the Balkans have yet to be published but, from the ‘Note’ printed today on Russo-Romanian relations, the blackmailing policy of the Romanian government is clearly visible, seizing territory from the purely Slavic population, as are the politics of deceit that at a ‘convenient’ moment will be implemented by Russia, violating the treaty made with Romania.

But a much broader plan of seizures relates to Asiatic Turkey. To a significant extent the entire present war is a war to strip away the ‘Turkish inheritance’, followed by the ‘redistribution’ of Turkish land between the banks, industrialists and merchants of the strongest capitalist powers. According to the agreement that is published by us today, Turkey will be subject to distribution piece by piece to all the ‘allies’.

Only a ‘small tail’ will remain for Turkey – a small area of land surrounded on all sides by the fortunate owners, living at its expense. Italy and Greece get relatively little. France gets a solid haul in the shape of the Syrian coast and land to the north from the Mediterranean coast. The region conferred on France adjoins the region yielded to Russia, which includes part of the Black Sea coast (as far as a point west of Trebizond) and land lying from there to the south.

The Russian and French regions to the east adjoin with the British region, which tapers off in a strip down the Persian Gulf encompassing all of Mesopotamia with Baghdad. In addition to these three big slices of the Turkish pie that the ‘powers’ will openly have in their hands, the agreements envisage the formation of an ‘independent’ Arab Federation – subject, however, to ‘zones of influence’ that will be allocated.

‘A zone of influence’ is a diplomatic term that in everyday life means a region of dominance. Of course, in practice, it would be ‘independent’ only from the Arabs, bossed by and dependent on international capital. In addition to the agreements on the division of Turkey between ‘Russia’ and ‘Britain’, an agreement was also concluded about the division of Persia [Iran] finally depriving the Persian people of any shadow of an independent existence.

It is not possible that the people of Russia will seek to plunder other nations or commit violence against them. The peasantry, making up nine-tenths of the army, do not need Turkish or Persian lands. The land that the peasantry has its eye on is the landlords’ estates for which it is not necessary to go far.

The slogan ‘peace without annexations or indemnities’ is honestly welcomed by workers and peasants, and honestly welcomed by the workers’ and peasants’ government. But this slogan was completely unacceptable to the Russian bourgeoisie. Miliukov and Tereshchenko were just as bad as Sazonov in continuing the gangster war and defending the secret treaties which the bloody hand of the last Romanov fraudulently signed in the name of Russia. (9)


1. Written on 8 November 1917 as ‘Report at the Central Executive Committee on the Work of the People’s Commissariat of Foreign Affairs’. Published in the Protocols of the Central Executive Committee for 1917 (Protocol No.8).

2. Alexander Kerensky had been the Social Revolutionary leader of the provisional governments between July and October 1917.

3. General Krasnov was a Cossack officer in the tsarist army. He took up arms against the Soviet government immediately after the October revolution.

4. Wilhelm is a reference to the German Kaiser.

5. Woodrow Wilson (Democratic Party), US president 1913-21.

6. General Dukhonin was the de facto supreme commander of the Russian army. He refused to accept the decree on peace and was killed by pro-Bolshevik soldiers in December 1917, despite efforts by Nikolai Krylenko, commissar for military affairs, to save his life.

7. Published in the Bolshevik newspaper Pravda (No.187, 12 November 1917).

8. Sergey Sazonov was foreign minister under the tsar. Mikhail Tereshchenko, a rich businessman, was the minister of foreign affairs in the coalition governments of 1917.

9. Pavel Miliukov was foreign minister in the first Provisional Government, and the leader of the Kadets (Constitutional Democrats), the main capitalist party in Russia. Romanov refers to Tsar Nicholas II, overthrown by the February revolution.

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