SocialismToday           Socialist Party magazine

Issue 214 Dec/Jan 2017/18

To the workers and oppressed peoples of Europe bled white by the war

When the ceasefire was declared on the eastern front, LEON TROTSKY, the People’s Commissar of Foreign Affairs, wrote this article to outline the Soviet government’s approach to the peace talks. He also explained how only international workers’ revolution could ensure a lasting peace. Published in Izvestia (No.244, 6 December 1917), this is the first English translation – by Pete Dickenson.

A truce has been signed at Brest-Litovsk. On the eastern front military operations have been suspended for 28 days. This fact alone is a huge victory for humanity. After 42 months of relentless slaughter with no end in sight, the workers’ and peasants’ revolution in Russia has opened the road to peace.

We have published the secret treaties. In the coming days we will continue their publication. We have stated that the policy of the Soviet government is not at all bound by these treaties. We have proposed to all nations, big or small, advanced or backward, the route of an open agreement on the basis of the right of the peoples to freely determine their own destiny. We do not hide from anyone that we do not consider today’s capitalist governments capable of a democratic peace. Only the revolutionary struggle of the masses against the present governments can bring such a peace closer in Europe. This will be fully realised only by victorious proletarian revolutions in all capitalist countries.

Entering into negotiations with the present governments, permeated to the core on both sides with imperialism, the Soviet of People’s Commissars not for a moment deviates from the path of social revolution. A genuine democratic peace for the nations has still to be fought for. Everywhere except in Russia the first stage in the struggle finds the old monarchist and capitalist governments in office, who bear responsibility for the present war and who have still not been called to account by their deceived peoples for the bloodletting and the squandered wealth.

We have been forced to begin negotiations with those governments that still exist now just as, on the other side, the monarchist and reactionary governments of the central powers have been forced to conduct negotiations with representatives of the Soviet power, since the Russian people presented them with the fact of a workers’ and peasants’ government in Russia.

In the peace negotiations, the Soviet government has two tasks. Firstly, to obtain as quickly as possible an end to the shameful and criminal slaughter that is destroying Europe. Secondly, to help with all means available to us the working classes of all countries to overthrow the rule of capital and to take state power, with the aim of a democratic peace and the socialist reconstruction of Europe and the whole world.

The truce on the eastern front has been signed. But on the other fronts the slaughter continues. The peace talks are only just beginning. Socialists of all countries, above all socialists in Germany, must be clear that between the peace programme of the Russian workers and peasants and the programme of the German capitalists, landowners and generals there is an irreconcilable difference. If it was just a clash of these two programmes then, clearly, peace would be impossible for the Russian people did not overthrow their own monarchy and bourgeoisie to bow down to the monarchs and capitalists of other countries.

Workers’ voice must be heard

Peace can only be brought closer, accomplished and secured if in Germany and in its allies the resolute and strong voice of the working people is heard. German, Austro-Hungarian, Bulgarian and Turkish workers must counterpose to the imperialist programme of their ruling classes their revolutionary programme of agreement and cooperation of the workers and exploited of all countries.

A truce has been concluded only on one front. After a long struggle, our delegation obtained from the German government, in the terms of the conditions of the truce, an agreement not to transfer armed forces to other fronts. So, those German regiments stationed between the Black Sea and the Baltic obtained a month’s respite from the bloody nightmare.

The Romanian army has adhered to the truce against the wishes of the Romanian government. But on the French, Italian and all other fronts the war continues. The truce remains partial. The capitalist governments are afraid of peace because they will have to account for themselves to the people. They are trying to postpone the hour of their final bankruptcy. Will the peoples continue to patiently tolerate the criminal activity of the stock exchange cliques of France, Britain, Italy and the United States?

Talking about eternal justice and a future community of nations, the capitalist rulers of these countries hide the base and mercenary calculations of exploiters. They do not want a truce, they fight against peace. But you, the peoples of Europe, the proletariat of France, Italy, Britain, Belgium, Serbia, you, our brothers in suffering and struggle together with us, do you not want an honourable, democratic people’s peace?

Those who tell you that such a peace can only come through victory are deceiving you. Firstly, for 42 months they have been incapable of giving you victory and there is nothing to show that they will if the war continues for more years. Secondly, victory, if it proves to be possible for one or another country, would only lead to new violence of the strong over the weak and would thus sow the seeds of a new war.

Belgium, Serbia, Romania, Poland, Ukraine, Greece, Persia and Armenia cannot be freed by one of the victorious imperialist coalitions, only by the revolutionary workers of all belligerent and neutral countries in the struggle against all imperialists. We appeal to you, workers of all countries, to join the struggle. There is no other road. The rulers, the exploiting classes, have committed countless crimes in this war. These crimes cry out for revolutionary retribution. Toiling humanity would repudiate itself and its future if it continued any further to meekly bear the yoke of the imperialist bourgeoisie, its militarists, its governments and its diplomacy.

We, the Council of People’s Commissars, with the authority of the Russian workers, peasants, soldiers, sailors, widows and orphans, call on you to join us in the struggle for an immediate cessation of hostilities on all fronts. Let the news about the signing of the truce at Brest-Litovsk ring out like a tocsin for the soldiers and workers of all belligerent countries.

Down with the war! Down with those responsible for the war! Governments opposing peace must be swept away like the governments that mask their robber intentions with speeches about peace. Workers and soldiers must tear the issue of war and peace from the criminal hands of the bourgeoisie and take it into their own. We have the right to demand this from you because we have done it ourselves. Such is the only road to salvation for you and for us. Proletarians of all countries, close your ranks under the banner of peace and social revolution!

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