May Day in the West and the East - On the 35th Anniversary of the May Day Holiday

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A speech by Trotsky at the Commemorative Plenum of the Moscow Soviet in April 1923, in which he highlights the meaning of May Day in the light of the revolutionary events unfolding worldwide in that period.

Comrades, the May Day holiday was Instituted by the Second International 35 years ago. It was established by the direct pupils of Marx and Engels, amongst who was old Wilhelm Liebknecht, one of the founders of German social-democracy. On my way here I was flipping through the latest telegraph reports, which have not yet reached you owing to the absence of newspapers during this holiday period, and in these reports from the telegraph agencies I found a number of communiqués about how democratic Europe is preparing to celebrate May Day. Allow me to share them with you. The Bavarian government has issued an order forbidding the organization of a May Day demonstration. In Halle the social-democratic representatives in the government have prohibited the proposed May Day demonstration organized by the trade unions. The government of Saxony, in which the social-democrats have the majority, have banned the organization of May Day street demonstrations and finally in Berlin the social-democrat chief of police has banned the May Day street marches.

Leon TrotskyLeon Trotsky Just imagine to yourself for one moment that old Wilhelm Liebknecht, the founder of German social-democracy and institutor of the May Day holiday, were to turn up on the streets of Berlin and see and hear his pupils, or those who call themselves such, like the president of the German republic, the Berlin chief of police, the Saxon social-democratic government, in a word, how the ‘revolutionary, Marxist’, social-democratic party created by Wilhelm Liebknecht, is preparing to celebrate May Day! Just think of this: the Saxon social-democratic government has openly stated that all attempts to hold street marches will be crushed by armed force. There, comrades, is a little page of history for you: 35 years in all from the foundation of the holiday up till the present day and yet what a staggering history of world decay. In all the first line there is European social-democracy, with a history of the corruption of its leaders, a history of the fettering of the working masses by the trade union bureaucracies, a history of the treacherous deliverance of the toiling masses into the hands of degenerating capital in its bloody state of imperialism!

Is it necessary to add that the rest of European social-democracy does not differ from the German. In Hungary, Poland and France, not to mention Rumania, May Day street marches have been banned. And in all these states the social-democrats – the Mensheviks – if not participating directly in the administration, do still form a direct, or indirect pillar of the existing order.

Such is the destiny of the May Day holiday over these 35 years, that is over one human generation. This fate stands out before us even more sharply if you trace it more closely through the fundamental May Day demands of the proletariat. Let us recall them: the eight-hour working day, for which generations of the working class have fought, the international solidarity of workers and the struggle against militarism are the three fundamental May Day slogans.

The eight-hour working day! It has been realized to greater or lesser degree in Europe as a result of the first proletarian onslaught after the imperialist war. But today less and less remains of the eight-hour working day in Europe. If, comrades, there is now a single country or a single state which would have the right, at a moment of acute need, to demand from its workers an additional effort; if there is a country at all where the working class could, in case of need, give both a nine- and ten-hour day of labour then this could only be the workers’ republic, which has still not emerged from want and darkness and where the proletariat works for itself. Nevertheless, the only country which retains, and will retain, the eight-hour working day as a basic law of its labour code is our Soviet Republic and for us the eight-hour working day forms the prerequisite for the material, intellectual and cultural upsurge of the working class. [applause]

We represent not merely the irreconcilable opponents and enemies of today’s Second International but we also represent its direct heirs: everything that was liberating, progressive and forward looking in it we have taken over, including the May Day holiday. For us this is a great festival of liberation at the same time as German social-democracy suppresses it by force. And the same thing with the eight-hour working day and with all the rest of the May Day slogans.

The brotherhood of peoples! The slogan which social-democracy took over from idealist bourgeois democracy acquires an entirely specific historical meaning in the Europe of today, dismembered and bled white by the imperialist war. The bourgeois pacifists in despair called post-Versailles Europe a ‘lunatic asylum’. Several years have passed and Europe is still just as she emerged from the terrible kitchen of Versailles. Europe is divided by frontiers which were laid out by the united hands of villainy and cretinism. Europe is split into bits in which the economy and culture of the peoples are choking. Along all the frontiers there is hate, sparring and struggle. Both European social-democracy and the Second International have put their hands to the creation of this vicious order under whose roof the European proletariat greets the 35th anniversary of May Day.

The brotherhood of peoples! America issues a law prohibiting the entry of Japanese on to American soil. The Japanese are an inferior race, a yellow race! Japan is strangling Korea. Japan, together with bourgeois Europe and America is seeking to strangle China. The very latest issues of the newspaper carry a telegram which each of you ought to fix in your memory. It refers to a small, very small episode in Peking. We quite old politicians know what imperialism is, and what British colonial dominion and arrogance is; we know how the oppressed peoples of the East live and yet comrades, each new fact illustrating the living fabric of colonial slavery appears improbable and stuns the consciousness. And so I, for example, did not know that there is in Peking some wall by or along which (I cannot make it out from the telegram) only foreigners have the right to walk. The other day a Chinese soldier went along this wall. But there they have a special police force for the diplomatic quarter and it demanded that the Chinese soldier in the Chinese city of Peking clear off, for this place had been assigned to foreigners only! The Chinese soldier refused to do so. He was arrested and punished with the bamboo. Forty strokes of the bamboo in the name of the inviolability of the ‘civilized’ imperialist wall assigned to whites. The Chinese soldier who was punished with the bamboo declared that he would beat up 40 foreigners, but he beat up only three [applause] one Englishman, one Italian and the third, I don’t remember what he was. He still had 37 left to account for when the British ambassador of the British government, which is headed by MacDonald, one of the leaders of the Second International – the same International which 35 years ago established the May Day holiday of international brotherhood – demanded the arrest of this soldier and he was arrested and handed over to a tribunal, to the glory of the foreigners who lord it over China. Comrades, I do not wish to create any embarrassment to our diplomatic business, nor do I wish to provide any new material for reactionary British newspapers which seek to prove that we wish to break off the negotiations being conducted in London, yet all the same, to this soldier in Peking, I do want to proclaim in the name of us all that the proletariat of Moscow is heart and soul with him. [tumultuous applause] And, in connection with this minor fact, I got to know for the first time that in Shanghai, another big Chinese city, there is a boulevard or a park where there is a notice on all the seats saying: ‘For foreigners only.’ Just think of that: ‘For foreigners only.’ A Chinese in his own house, his own country, must avoid these seats for fear of a bamboo reaction from European civilization. And this, comrades, is 35 years after the proletariat of Europe instituted the holiday of the brotherhood of peoples. And I must admit together with those thoughts imbued with the ardent sympathy for the toiling masses of China and all the East which is natural to us all I also said to myself: but what would it have been like for us if in 1917 the proletariat led by its greatest leader had not overthrown the bourgeois world, had not taken power in this country and had not created for itself an organization of defence in the form of the Red Army? Comrades, we would have been fettered, crushed and trodden underfoot! Our enemies had fostered this dream! Who knows, perhaps on the walls of the Kremlin, on the Red Square where our leader now rests they would have attempted after their victory to hang up a placard ‘for civilized people only’ or ‘for foreigners only’. Let our Red soldier imagine to himself that here either in Moscow or in Leningrad or somewhere else there is a wall on which a notice is fixed ‘Russian and Soviet soldiers generally are forbidden to walk here’...no, no! This has not come to pass. We defended ourselves and we hope to assist the peoples of the East once and for ever and finish off the villainous regime of arrogance, violence and colonial bondage. [applause]

The brotherhood of peoples is for us not a naked principle but a pivot of our policy. We would betray ourselves if we betrayed this principle; above all we would undermine ourselves from within our own Union. Almost the other day I saw for the first time that part of the Union, which from the standpoint of strengthening the brotherhood of peoples, sets us the most difficult tasks and thereby reveals most clearly our achievements – this is our Caucasus, our Transcaucasia, where in the most remote areas, the barbaric custom of the blood feud is still preserved to the present day, against which however, the young Soviet power is fighting successfully. In these republics where the blood of internecine national strife has not yet dried, Soviet power created – it did not proclaim but it created in deed – the conditions for a new regime and sank into the ground the piles upon which the peaceful collaboration of scores of nationalities can rest. Our backward and, from the standpoint of civilized Europe, ‘semi-barbarian’ Caucasus is today an enormous historical school. It is still not so long ago, not so long ago at all, that members of MacDonald’s party, after travelling through Batum to Tiflis, censured us Bolsheviks for our suppression of national independence, freedom and rights! But now we can fling the politically Soviet aspect of the pacified Caucasus as a revolutionary challenge in the face of this tattered Europe which is intersected in all directions by lines of enmity and hate and where the whole soil quivers at the imminent shocks of new bloody clashes. What we have done in the Caucasus and what we achieved in the Caucasus cannot be achieved in civilized, cultured, advanced Europe so long as there reigns there the bourgeoisie supported by social-democracy! And here we once again represent the heirs and executors of the best behests of the First and Second Internationals.

At the moment France is attempting to arouse the East and especially Turkey against us and only today the telegrams say the Turkish Press is publishing, at the clear instigation of France, articles to the effect that the Italo-Soviet treaty obliges the Soviet Union, i.e. you and me, to give support to Italy’s rapacious plans in Asia Minor. Comrades, Turkey owes a great deal to the Soviet Union. Among the Turkish, as in the East in general, the name of Lenin is ever more and more supplanting the names of the old prophets. But in the top ruling circles there is soil for imperialist intrigue. France is attempting to play on this and is instigating the idea that our treaty with Italy is aimed directly or obliquely against the independence of Turkey and that of the people of the East as a whole. And we, in preparing for our May Day holiday, the holiday of international brotherhood and thereby the holiday of the liberation of the peoples of the East, declare that this assertion is a lie and a slander. We have concluded an agreement with Italy’s fascist government. We concluded it in good faith. Every letter of the treaty we will fulfil in the interests of the peoples of our Union and we demand the same of the other party. Through this treaty we hope to trade successfully and advantageously with Italy. We will sell Italy our southern wheat, a fine wheat from which I’ve heard that the Italians can successfully prepare their national macaroni; we will sell them oil and we will sell them timber. But one of the commodities we do not trade, and which we will never trade, is the independence of the peoples of the East. [applause] Let this be known to all those who are about to make treaties with us!

There is yet another nation in the East which deserves special mention today in connection with the holiday of international brotherhood. This is Afghanistan. Dramatic events are taking place there and the hand of British imperialism is embroiled in these events. Afghanistan is a backward country. Afghanistan is making its first step to Europeanize itself and guarantee its independence on a more cultured basis. The progressive nationalist elements of Afghanistan are in power and so British diplomacy mobilizes and arms everything which is in any way reactionary both in that country and along its borders with India and throws all this against the progressive elements in Kabul. Starting from the decrees by which not only the bourgeois but also the social-democratic authorities in Germany banned May Day demonstrations, passing through events in China and Afghanistan we can see everywhere the parties of the Second International behind the work of suppression and oppression. For, you know, the onslaught against Kabul organized with British resources, takes place under the government of the pacifist MacDonald.

But we are sure that not only here, in Moscow, but in London too, the voice of proletarian protest against the imperialist policy of Menshevism which has taken power with the blessing of the bourgeoisie will sound out on May Day.

Now I want to say a few words about how the policy of the brotherhood of peoples is handled by ourselves. In this regard the experience with Belorussia forms a good indicative lesson. Belorussia, which had a population of 1.5 million, has extended itself in the most peaceful and calm way to embrace almost 4 million. It has extended itself without civil wars, without uprisings of the popular masses by the simple stroke of the Soviet pen. This was accomplished purely on the basis of statistical data, by means of examining the balance of nationalities. For us this is merely a technical question – the national groupings of our Soviet Union. There is here no material for conflicts and struggle. I quoted this fact at some point in Tiflis not remembering that in the world there exist bourgeois correspondents and there exists the telegraph ... I mentioned that Belorussia had grown to more than twice its size and that this was the implementation of a slogan of our programme which Lenin had taught us: the right to national self-determination. And, besides that, I said the enlargement of Belorussia has for us a supplementary meaning; from the standpoint of defence this enlargement is equivalent to three Red Army corps. These words were quoted by the Polish Press although there, it was put differently: instead of three corps they spoke of one corps. We do not intend to argue about this and we hope that we shall be spared the verification of this quantitative disagreement in practice. At the same time the Polish bourgeois Press interprets this as follows: there’s why the Bolsheviks have opened the gates to Belorussia – in order to strengthen themselves, in order to weaken their neighbours, and in order to foment among Polish Belorussians the desire to set themselves up on our pattern and thereby strengthen centrifugal tendencies inside Poland, which will without doubt always weaken the state! That is how the artful Polish diplomats have unravelled our Bolshevik cunning. Well, so what! Try imitating us, that’s all! There exists the League of Nations which Poland has joined. This League of Nations teaches how to arrange the co-existence of nations. We have not issued any special patent to the League of Nations and we permit any state the opportunity of making use of our ‘cunning’ in favour of national self-determination. Our invention is not a monopoly. Imitate us, rulers of Poland and Rumania!

It is, however, interesting to know in what actually our ‘cunning’ consists. We can open the quotes: our cunning consists in the fact that we liberate nations while your cunning consists in the fact that you strangle them. There’s our strength! There’s your weakness!

That same France which incites Turkey against us, is conducting a frantic campaign of agitation against us in Poland by attempting to resurrect a senseless, puerile and at the same time vicious legend to the effect that we are on the point of moving the Red Army westwards. As we have already explained many times we firmly hope that the map of Europe will a little sooner or a little later look different from what it looks like on the 35th anniversary of May Day. But the recutting of the frontiers of European states will be a byproduct of the victorious revolution of the European proletariat. And, although we wholeheartedly wish this hour to approach, we have nevertheless already demonstrated, and we shall continue to demonstrate, that we have patience and that we possess self restraint. It would be an absurdity to think that we would, without awaiting the arrival of the great lord – the revolutionary proletariat – who is to review the relations of classes and the relations of nations in Europe, launch into an adventure for extending frontiers and for solving other particular tasks. No, our policy has a greater scope, it looks wider and further. It is true that many Polish politicians are having troubled consciences – if this word is in general appropriate here – their consciences are troubled because the Riga Treaty, which was made at a definite moment with a definite balance of forces, is now an extreme hindrance to co-operation. This even they understand. We shall not pose the question of the review of the Riga Treaty – at least I have not heard anything about it from our diplomats. But even the most inexpedient treaty is subject to a more or less reasonable interpretation and application depending upon circumstances and we would like to hope that the ruling classes of Poland can find in themselves sufficient maturity of thought to work in collaboration with our cautious and patient diplomacy in interpreting and applying the Riga Treaty in such a way as to guarantee the peaceful co-operation of which Poland has as much need as ourselves.

I mentioned that behind Turkey and behind Poland stands France. It is she who is continuing to disrupt and sabotage our negotiations over the Chinese Eastern Railway. Only just the other day Poincaré attempted, with a presumption unexpected to us in recent days, to interfere in our internal life by taking under his lofty protection his Kiev agents who on this occasion as chance had it belonged to the category of professors. He received a rebuff. And to this rebuff he replied in the tenderest (there’s no other word for it) telegram addressed to Comrade Chicherin. This is very much in the style of the French government over the recent months: first lay a trap for us, setting the Rumanian government upon us, sanctioning the seizure of Bessarabia, and try to trip us up in the Far East and then print a seductive article in the semi-official French Temps and send Comrade Chicherin a tender telegram. The meaning of this policy is evidently pedagogical, not only pedagogical but, if you like, almost medicinal and clinical: Poincaré subjects us to the effect of first cold and then hot water according to the well-known method of the French healer. [laughter] After Clemenceau had come unstuck with the rather more realistic methods of barbed wire he evidently hopes now to achieve success by operating by the Charcot method. Indeed Poincaré is a marvollous subject for our cartoonists. Poincaré with a hose squirting a jet of alternately hot and cold water! Now, of course, we would not want to hinder in the least degree those preaminary ‘sounding-out’ steps which are being undertaken from the Soviet and the French sides; nonetheless we cannot refrain from saying that this hydro-therapeutic method of dealing with the Soviet republic does not respond to the situation and it would not be a bad idea if a placard were carried in our street demonstrations on May Day which said: ‘Poincaré, put your hose away!’ [Laughter, applause] What do they want? They want us to pay them. This wish is very simple and very natural for the European and world moneylenders. But only just the other day I read an article by one of the former French ministers, a minister in Poincaré’s second government, Loucheur, one of the leading French magnates of post-war industry, an article where he proves that there is nothing amazing about the fact that France can in no way pay either America or Britain. In order to pay them she has to export a huge quantity of goods and this in turn will kill the industry of Britain and the United States. And Loucheur, a minister of a victorious country which has plundered and half strangled Germany, proves that France cannot and must not pay her debts. And yet at the same time these gentlemen attempt to set against us now Rumania, now Poland, now Turkey and to embroil us with China so as to force us to pay up. Once again one does have to imagine for one minute the role which the peoples of Russia have played in relation to the chieftains of present-day Europe. If in July 1914 the Tsarist Russian government of the day had told France and told Britain: ‘Russia feels under an obligation to wage war for your interests for as long as she is physically capable of waging war. Russia feels obliged for the sake of your interests to give a million and a half corpses. Russia feels obliged for the sake of your interests to inundate her towns and villages with cripples, ruin her economy and not to demand of you either Constantinople or the Straits in exchange. On the contrary she will by the same token permit you the right to donate the western Belorussian and Ukrainian lands to Poland and Bessarabia to Rumania’, then it is quite clear that the French and British governments would consider this to be an unheard-of and appallingly fantastic offer advantageous to them in the extreme. And if the Russian government of the day had said to the rulers of France: ‘You shall command Europe. You shall have the opportunity to half or three quarters, as you wish, strangle Germany, You shall plunder the Ruhr’s coal. You shall give provinces of Russia to whom you please – but you will pay 50 milliard francs for this’, would France not have agreed to this? Of course she would have and the old cynic Poincaré would have signed the deal with jubilation. But what, just what has in fact been the case? Have we not done all this? Have we not given a million and a half corpses and as many again permanent invalids? Have we not ruined our country in the imperialist war and is not France despoiling Europe, is she not handing out provinces populated not by the French people but Belorussians, Ukrainians and those Moldavians who do not wish to be Rumanians? She is doing just this. And then what? She is demanding from us that for these bloody and ghastly services involuntarily afforded by the Russian people that we ourselves pay the French moneylenders! No, this is not on! Not on at all! And though of course negotiations are negotiations our workers and our peasants must on May Day unroll the terrible chronicle of our part, the part the peoples of the former Tsarist empire took in the imperialist war and must tell the whole world – and they must listen to us: ‘No after all this, after all that terrible and bloody tribute which you have exacted from us, to turn us now into insolvent debtors, to turn us into vassals, into slaves of the French and world stock markets, this you will never do by whatever means, for we are standing firmly upon our own feet, we will stand fast and you will not knock us down!’ [Applause]

One of Poincaré’s last steps which I have already touched upon, was the interference in our internal affairs with regard to the Kiev trial. Here he came forward as the defender of the arrested, the persecuted and the condemned. A humane role without a shadow of doubt! But, comrades, let us not forget that May Day has become, especially in post-war Europe, a day of proletarian struggle for the release of arrested revolutionaries. And we can remind that same Poincaré that his authorities only the other day removed trom the election bills the names of two of our friends, names which had been put forward as candidates in the approaching general parliamentary elections in France, the names of two friends of ours who have been sentenced to death in absentia by the French courts and have no possibility of returning to France. And rather than exercising your tender mercy along the telegraph wire from Paris to Moscow it would be better for you, Mr Poincaré, to give Sadoul and Guilbeaux, our revolutionary friends who have been condemned to death by your courts because they raised a voice of protest against Clemenceau’s vile imperialist attempts to strangle the young Soviet Republic, the possibility of returning to France. Let us moreover remind Poincaré that in France’s vassal and semi-vassal states, Rumania and Poland the best militants are imprisoned. The very latest telegrams speak of a hunger strike in one of the prisons of Rumania in which our old friends – I have known them personally for over ten years – Cristescu and Dobrogeanu, are jailed. Dobrogeanu is the son of the Russian exile who was active for a long time in Rumania as a propounder of Marxism under the name of Dobrogeanu-Gherea and was one of the leading members of the Second International. His son belongs to the Third, our International. Today they are leading a large group of arrested Rumanian communists who are holding a hunger strike against the foul mockery of the working class generally and of those imprisoned in particular. There isn’t a country or a city where Mr Poincaré’s voice would not be heeded. However, we least of all hope, nor it must be admitted would we ask and expect, that this voice be raised. But on May Day both in Moscow and throughout our Union we raise the voice of fraternal solidarity with all prisoners – the arrested and incarcerated representatives of the revolutionary proletariat. And we shall tell them that we clearly reckon, know, and are deeply convinced that it is not today’s masters of Europe but precisely those brothers of ours, arrested and imprisoned, who personify the tomorrow of Europe and of all humanity. [applause]

The struggle against militarism is one of the major basic slogans of May Day. And here, once again, destiny has contrived that we have just obtained a marvellous illustration of what the struggle against militarism has become for bourgeois and petty-bourgeois, i.e. Menshevik, democracy. Not long ago the proposer of the military budget spoke in the French parliament. His name was Fabry. This name means nothing either to you or to me. This was a representative of the militarist interests of French capital, a colonel and a deputy, who defended the military budget. And listen to the words he began his speech with: ‘The soldiers of 1914 dreamt that the war which they were taking part in would be the last war. But now those of them who have remained in one piece [not at all badly put!] clearly understand that this was but a dream for at any time it may happen that the French people will again have to defend their honour and their territory.’ I spent the first years of the war in France. Day in and day out I observed the job which was being done by the French Press, French political parties and above all French official socialism and syndicalism, in moulding the consciousness of the toiling masses to suit the needs of French militarism. The main slogan, the main idea and the main programme was: ‘this war is the last war’. This formed the headline of editorials and the opening phrase of speeches. Once, when I was at the cathedral of Notre-Dame in Paris – I was there on the day devoted to the blessing of the ‘75 cannon’, the 75mm gun which was the pride of the French artillery – there was a solemn service there and at the same time patriotic marches in the steets. And then even the archbishop of France first commenced and then terminated his speech with the words: ‘Let us pray that it is the will of the Almighty that this war be the last war’. At that time we were publishing in Paris a small newspaper in Russian – it was called Nashe Slovo – and in this paper we attempted while under the heel of the French military censorship, to say that this war was not the last war, that, taken by itself, it did not hold within itself any elements making for the cessation of wars and that this one was merely the next link in the chain of bourgeois villainy, violence and bloodthirstiness. Our censor was a French officer, Challe, who had been previously a teacher of French in one of the gymnasiums of Tsarist Russia. I do not know where this Monsieur Challe is today, the man who deleted our articles where we refuted the idea that this war was the last war as an illusion and a pacifist Utopia. At present all the Challes regard it as their duty to prove that it is necessary to prepare for new wars; and whoever thinks that one can call a halt with the last scuffle which bled France white, is a poor patriot! But just what does the French proletariat today have to hear from the mouth of the official proposer of the military budget? In 1914 we called upon you, the French workers and French peasants to shed blood in the name of what? In the name of once and forever putting an end to imperialism and wars. To this, Renaudel, the erstwhile leader of the social-democratic party, swore; to this, Jouhaux, the then leader of the French syndicalists swore, both of them are still alive and to this day neither of them has burned with shame; no, they are alive and speak at workers’ meetings; and you see them there just when the proposer of the military budget says: ‘It was a little misunderstanding; a million and half Frenchmen were mown down, ten departments destroyed and the material standards of the country reduced ... why? We told you workers that all this was in order that this war would be the last war. But we made a little slip in the adding up: this is not the last war at all, there will be more wars, so get ready, we appeal to you, and meanwhile pay up your taxes!’

In the face of these facts, what a mockery, what a vile and yet miserable mockery is presented by a document, which you have not yet read but which you will do in tomorrow’s paper, which has been issued by the Amsterdam International in connection with the forthcoming tenth anniversary of the declaration of the ‘final’ imperialist war. These same Renaudels and these same Jouhauxs – they have different names in different countries but in essence they are just the same whatever meridian they are under – have once again got together in their Amsterdam and their Second Internationals to debate the question of how to prevent a new war. They do have a great experience which has been acquired, especially in the recent period during the imperialist war. And so they have issued a document and in this, they, the patriots and saviours of fatherlands, call upon all workers’ organizations affiliated to the Amsterdam association and also to the Socialist International to organize mass demonstrations against war and have declared the third Sunday in September of the present year an anti-war day. A mass demonstration against war! Against what war? Against war in ‘general’, in order that ‘in general’ there be no wars just as religious processions are held in order that there be no droughts. [laughter] When a war is imminent or is approaching then obviously this will be a ‘just war’ and then both Renaudel and Jouhaux will for a second time explain either that this once again is the last war or that it is an unavoidable war for democracy. But against war in general, against the spectre of war, against apparitions of war and against the word ‘war’ they are quite ready to protest on the streets of London, Paris and any where else. But, comrades, wouldn’t any rogue and any bourgeois come out on this sort of demonstration, wouldn’t Stinnes – but Stinnes though will be past coming out [laughter]. But it’s all the same perhaps his sister-in-law, his aunt, his ox or his donkey, as it is said in the Bible – all the donkeys of Stinnes – wouldn’t they come out on a demonstration of this sort? [Laughter, applause] And the second proposal: ‘Make the third Sunday in September a day of protest against the war.’ But why the third Sunday in September? Haven’t we already the May Day holiday for the struggle against militarism? What’s this third Sunday in September for? [Laughter] You know that the first of May by reason of the bad arrangement of the calendar does not always fall on a Sunday but it happens that six times out of seven, May 1 falls on a working day and the demonstration disrupts the normal course of capital exploitation. [laughter. And while German Social-Democracy in its governmental capacity is prohibiting May Day street marches, protests and demonstrations in Berlin, Halle, Dresden, Leipzig and other cities, the same social democracy, now not in the capacity of a German government, oh, no! – but as a member of the Amsterdam and the Second Internationals finds a new, happy solution: the third Sunday in September shall be a holy day when all the Stinnes’ donkeys will go to fight the bourgeoisie. [laughter, applause]

Comrades, read over in this regard, the simple, brief and veritably immortal instruction which Lenin wrote to our delegation at the Hague where he explained how profound are the prejudices in the sphere of struggle against militarism and how artfully the bourgeoisie here leads its Renaudels, its Jouhaux and (in order not to mention too highly placed official people) its Scheidemanns and so on, by the nose. Comrades! If there exists today a powerful political agent working for the preparation of a new war, then it is sham pacifist social-democracy with its ‘third Sunday in the month of September, for it is just this that lulls the consciousness of the working masses of Europe so as afterwards to place before them an accomplished fact. It does not brandish a sword like the open Bourbon of militarism but it creates new fictions, attempts to warm up the old ones, gathers together in its Internationals, issues manifestoes, creates an illusion and the froth of a struggle; it lulls, demoralizes and thereby prepares the cannon fodder for new wars. No, there can never be enough ruthlessness and irreconcilability in the struggle against this dishonest and treacherous work.

We can now see a further example – that of the government of the British trade unions, the government of the Labour Party, that is a government of the Amsterdam and the Second Internationals. And the ‘Amsterdam’ military budget of the British government? – I have worked it out, not a difficult job since you have to put together three parts: the army budget, the naval budget and the air force budget. In all it comes to £115m which, translated into roubles, comes to 1,150 million gold roubles. Not a scrap less it would appear and in fact 10 to 15 million gold roubles more than last year, that is more than the budget of the Conservative government of Britain, and some four if not five times more than our Soviet budget! When this budget was placed before the British parliament there happened to be present some naive MPs of this same Labour Party who threw up their hands and asked how this could be linked with the puritan pacifism of the Labour Party? And there was a member of this same party, one Mr Guest – I have not heard this surname before – who at that very moment nodding in the direction of Moscow said (I have quoted this once already) ‘and what about Moscow’s militarism?’ Comrades, permit me to give you a quotation from an old speech of Vladimir Ilyich. He made it on just this very same question against our Mensheviks on March 13th 1919: ‘A certain Prussian monarch in the 18th century made a very wise remark: “If our soldiers understood what we are fighting for, then we would not be able to wage a single war more”.’ The old Prussian monarch was no stupid man. But we now are in a position to say in comparing our situation with that of this monarch: ‘We can wage a war because the masses know what they are fighting for.’ And moreover: ‘there are some stupid people who howl about red militarism. Really what a ghastly crime. The imperialists of the whole world fling themselves upon the Russian Republic to strangle it and we set about creating an army which for the first time in history knows what it is fighting for and what it is making sacrifices for, and which is successfully resisting a numerically superior enemy, while each month brings nearer the resistance of the world revolution on a hitherto unseen scale. And they condemn this as red militarism! I repeat: either they are fools not standing up to political analysis, or they are political knaves.’ And further on a few lines lower down, he says again still more sharply and bluntly: ‘We have a position where only the filthiest and lowest political crooks can utter strong words and accuse us of red militarism.’ Vladimir Ilyich liked to express himself simply, clearly and sharply. And so in London, we find a so-called Labour MP who knows that it was not the Red Army which made a landing on the Thames but British forces which landed on the banks of the Northern Pechora and other rivers; who knows that British officers took part in the Yaroslav uprising and in other bloody acts; we find a so-called Labour MP who, in answer to the reproach that it is you who are building five new cruisers and new minesweepers and it is you who are expanding the Curzon programme for light tanks and are enlarging your air force and navy endlessly, says: ‘But look, over there in Moscow, isn’t there some militarism being started up?’ It is not surprising if after these words you go to the quotation from Ilyich where it is said only the dirtiest and lowest of political crooks can make this sort of accusation of red militarism. One feels like saying: Mr Guest, issue us a receipt. [applause]

Comrades, on May Day we must recall the so-called red militarism because it seems that some filth is being stirred again along our frontier. Rumours are circulating – the White Guard Press is broadcasting them and the hostile foreign Press is translating them – to the effect that new strikes are imminent on our frontier in the West. In the most recent period, rumours are multiplying that a threat is growing in the East too. It must frankly be said that not everything in these rumours is a product of the fantasy of White émigré circles.

A struggle is taking place among the rulers in Toyko in Japan. There is an extreme militarist wing which wishes to recoup the losses suffered from the terrible earthquake disaster which has swept Japan, at the expense of the Soviet Union. Japan has agreed to a big loan from America for the restoration of devastated areas. At the same time America ruthlessly boots out Japanese immigrants. Japan evidently takes this to mean that the American bourgeoisie is pointing a road out to it along our Soviet Pacific coast. Over recent months, the Japanese are once more talking about the fact that the population of the Pacific coast of the Soviet Union are increasingly striving for national independence and that representatives of this population are making approaches to authoritative and influential Japanese circles with requests for support. We know these representatives by name and the noisiest and most swaggering of these is Atarnan Semyonov. Out there in the Far East, and apparently with the knowledge of a section of Japanese ruling circles, even if a new military adventure is not being prepared, at least the political and psychological prerequisites for such a preparation are being created and on May Day we shall unmask this and bring this to the attention of the Japanese working class. In Japan a struggle is being waged for the democratization of the country. We have already said at some stage that Japan stands in a certain sense on the eve of its 1905, that great gateway to 1917. Surely the Japanese bourgeoisie cannot be so concerned about historical symmetry as to go to meet their 1905? They wish to preface it with a new Russo-Japanese war, this time Soviet-Japanese, a war not upon our initiative – we don’t want it – but upon the initiative of her extreme chauvinists. We are appealing to the toiling masses of Japan, we are warning them of the secret conclaves of the general staff and officers of state where new bloody deeds are being concocted and cooked up. And everything possible must be done so that our Far East and Japan can be safeguarded from new adventures. In the face of these undoubted, unfeigned, factual and real dangers not only can we not consider ourselves to be violating the precepts of May Day but, on the contrary, to be standing four square on the precepts of the struggle against militarism when we build, develop and strengthen the Red Army, for we revolutionaries understand the struggle against militarism not in a pacifist but a militant sense. We must force the bourgeoisie to disarm! We must disarm it by force! There is no other road. Or is there? The matter does not rest with us. We are ready to afford assistance to every bourgeois government or its Menshevik special agents if they would attempt to take but one step, if only half a step along the road of pacifism. Right now the American President is once again starting to play with the idea of disarmament. We accept this idea. We can take part in this and we are ready to. Of course there are correspondents who will say that this again is Bolshevik cunning as it was with Belorussia. What a truly striking thing! We welcome disarmament and they say to us: just how can you welcome disarmament and propose it to us when you know that we are incapable of it and when you know that we are highway robbers – how can you propose this to us? You propose to the bandits that they put their knives aside? This is just exactly what we are saying: the imperialist bandit will not give up his knife unless you take it off him by force. This is why it is necessary to have armaments. This is why, too, the Red Army is essential. The question of disarmament, the question of armament and the question of military policy are all pressing, serious and material – here you cannot hide behind words, for this is not the question of saving your soul to which MacDonald devotes his Sunday leisure-time. This is a question of dreadnoughts, cannon, gases and other terrible arguments. This is no joking matter. This is a matter of the life and death of bourgeois society and of the fate of the proletariat! That’s why our May Day holiday, the festival of the struggle against militarism, will be the festival of the Red Army.

It is true that Europe has now entered a new phase, a phase of conciliation which finds an expression in the fact that one government after another is recognizing us. In Britain it is the government of Mensheviks. The latest telegrams report that in Denmark too, the government of the social-democrat Stauning immediately exposed its face by inviting the aristocratic diplomat Count Moltke to become Minister of Foreign Affairs: because, you see, a minister of foreign affairs has to do business with ‘proper gentlemen’! Here the social-democratic government had to make way for Count Moltke. You must be able to recognize honesty!

In the United States of America both the old parties have compromised themselves in the oil scandal and every other kind of sin. The new ‘Progressive’ party rallies to their assistance and yet at the same time wishes to rest on both the farmers and the workers.

In France we shall have on May 13 new parliamentary elections which will bring the left bloc to power – the Mensheviks and the radicals who also call themselves socialists because nowadays that is the cheapest style of address. The same thing is happening too, but in other forms, in Italy and in Spain. Thus we can see that the bourgeoisie is producing a new regroupment – it has only just recently emerged from the phase of fascism when it operated with the assistance of picked class bands yet now it brings forward the conciliationist parties on the stage. To whoever has followed all the tribulations connected with the fascist phase it will become clear that the bourgeoisie would be compelled quickly to resort to another resource bringing forward degenerate epigone social-democracy. And if anything holds the European proletariat back from the struggle against its governments, then it is precisely this conciliationist rot which is not allowing it to throw itself into the struggle.

We can see how the government of the same MacDonald quivers at the voice of its masters, the bourgeoisie, while restraining the British proletariat from making a bold step to confront it. If there were any elements of energy and courage in the British Labour government then it would make a broad treaty with us and this treaty would mark a new page in the history of the whole world. Just look how in Britain deposits in her banks have grown over the last years. British industry does not have its former outlets; it has won back scarcely three-quarters of its pre-war markets. If they do not make a treaty with us they will be choked to death by the pressure of America. We, with our boundless spaces and our 130 million strong population, represent for them the most enormous interest. Our country is rich in the natural resources which Britain lacks. Look at our agricultural lands which could feed Europe. Look at our subterranean wealth, our oilfields and our forests with which we could furnish all of Europe, and all the world. All this cries out for British technique! Just let us unite and you will see how quickly you and we will be able to raise ourselves up. The British working class would have cheap wheat, bread, they would have meat and they would have sufficient raw materials and would grow richer – as we would ourselves. And an alliance of Labour Britain and the workers’ and peasants’ Soviet Union would be a mighty lever in the world, not a platonic demonstration on the third Sunday in September but the opportunity for combining the most powerful naval force with the most powerful land-based armed forces. Along with the working class of Britain we could order Europe to disarm and Europe would not dare shove us off! [Applause] And yet these gentlemen chide us for the fact that this or that sharp expression of ours is upsetting the progress of the negotiations in Britain. But isn’t this a shameful and contemptible view? Surely the interests of two great nations, two states, cannot be determined by this or that sharp expression? But why are these expressions on the tips of our tongues? Because the programme which I have just sketched in rude outline, this programme of the pacification of Europe and its rapid development upwards will not be realized, for the working class of Britain does not have a government which could make this bold step which is vouchsafed by all history, of an alliance with us. In London we have accepted a series of agreements and we shall quite sincerely accept new ones, we shall fulfil all our obligations and at the same time we will say – and no diplomatic considerations can prevent this – we will say to the British working class: ‘You do not have at your head a government which is worthy of you!’ When I called the MacDonald government a government of stewards to the British bourgeoisie the British Press pounced upon this expression almost as if it offended the national dignity of Britain. Over there they translated it in various ways. They asserted that I said that MacDonald was a bank ‘clerk’ and others said a ‘stock-market shark’. I have already explained that I didn’t say this. A bank clerk is an employee, a bank proletarian, and amoung them are many fine revolutionaries. As far as I know MacDonald has not worked in a bank and if he had, then he has now radically changed his profession [laughter]. Nor did I call him a stock-market shark. This too is the profession though a less laudable one, of the small speculator on the Stock Exchange. As far as I know, MacDonald has not had any relation to this category and at all events he has not now. But when I say that he is the political steward of the bourgeoisie, then this is the truth and on May Day we can repeat this truth with a clear conscience [applause]. When I said this I did not know that I was committing a literary plagiary on Lloyd George, for it was he (we must put this in!) who said on April 24: ‘The Liberals put MacDonald in power and wished him well but in three months he has completely squandered the reserve of their benevolence.’ Whose voice is this? This is the voice of the master who has ‘put a steward in charge’. ‘I put you in charge, I trusted you, but you have not fulfilled my trust.’ And are we not right to say that if MacDonald acknowledges this criticism and this voice of the master then can he blame us if we translate this into the language of our political terminology? It might seem that the British Labour government had been put in by the proletariat and bears responsibility to it. And it might seem that MacDonald should make an appeal to the proletariat in order to insert in his programme the policy of an alliance with the Soviet Union on a platform of fraternal co-operation. And had he presented such a programme and Lloyd George dared to raise his voice against it then nine-tenths of the proletariat would have swept both the Liberals and the Conservatives clean out and then the new Labour government of Britain would be unshakable. But will this happen now? No, nor will it happen tomorrow. But this hour is nevertheless approaching. And who is bringing it nearer? MacDonald and his associates are bringing it nearer. They accuse us of propaganda. But surely not a single one of us, if he went off to Britain knowing the English language., customs, habits and traditions to perfection, surely he could not have such an influence through his propaganda nor produce such a shift in the consciousness of the working class as the fact that at the head of the country stands a government which considers itself to be the government of the working class but to which Lloyd George says: ‘I put you in charge but you did not fulfil my trust.’ There’s an instructive dialogue! There’s propaganda for you! This will embed itself for ever in the consciousness of the workers of Britain. We are not making propaganda but a prediction for we do have a theory of political foresight and a perception wrought by revolutionary experience. We predict that MacDonald and his government will play in Britain a very great preparatory role for the revolution, not because MacDonald wishes it so but, on the contrary, because he does not wish it so. MacDonald belongs to the puritans. The puritan church is the English branch of Calvinism. Calvinism is the protestant doctrine at the base of which lies the law of predetermination. This law states that every man does not enjoy free will but carries out his destiny in accordance with the designs of divine providence. There is no free will. Every man is a tool in the hands of divine providence; this ideology of Calvinism closely resembles the politics, psychology and objective role of democracy and Menshevism in the present epoch of imperialist autocracy. Calvinism says: your ideas and hopes are but subjective illusions, for actually you are a tool in the hands of providence. And the petty-bourgeois politician is indeed fed with illusions, each step he takes is dictated by subjective error but in fact he is a tool if not in the hands of providence then in the hands of Morgan, Rockefeller and big capital in general. And while it is beyond doubt that in this sense MacDonald represents a tool in the hands of the City of London and of the British Stock Exchange, history has allotted him a still greater role in that he represents the unconscious tool not of divine providence – we have quite a serious difference with MacDonald on this score for there is no place for divine providence either in our programme or in our ideas – but of the laws of history. History has said to him: ‘MacDonald, guided by your subjective prejudices, show what you can do and show what you wish to do.’ And so MacDonald shows us that he wishes for little and is capable of even less [laughter, applause]. And it is this which is his enormous role – in the hands of the providence of hisiory. As a result MacDonald gives a mighty impulse to the revolutionary movement of the masses of Britain, Let me repeat once again: this is not propaganda; this is Marxist foresight made on the basis of the laws of history and of all our political experience. We are holding negotiations with MacDonald in good faith and I, like every one of you here, want these negotiations to bring practical results. These negotiations are on one plane while the problems of the great contest of classes and of the struggle between the two Internationals are on another, higher plane and embrace great masses of people and great periods. For we shall spend May Day in the profound certainty that in this great play of historical forces, in the struggle of the classes and in the working of the laws of history, MacDonald and the whole of European Menshevism form an instrument which is preparing, not according to the laws of Calvin but according to the laws of Marx, the ground for the advent of British Bolshevism.

Not so long ago, MacDonald said: ‘We fought against Moscow and we beat Moscow.’ This is presumably not propaganda! ‘We fought Moscow and we beat Moscow.’ He considers the fact that today, at the 35th anniversary of May Day. Europe, dismembered, bled white, led by Mensheviks and semi-Mensheviks (as far as the bourgeoisie permits them to lead), is still alive, he considers that this fact signifies our defeat. No, this is but one of the stages on the road to our forthcoming historic victory. You fought Moscow and you are fighting Moscow. And what of it? We are not afraid of waging this struggle alongside negotiations. But no, you haven’t yet beaten Moscow. Not by a long shot! What we are talking about is Red Moscow, that Moscow where we are here preparing to celebrate May Day in our own Soviet fashion. This Red Moscow is strong, a great and strong builder constructed it and European Menshevism and British MacDonaldism shall not beat it! It is true that the great builder of Red Moscow will not be greeting May Day with us – he lies in the heart of Moscow in the mausoleum on Red Square; but if the great builder of Red Moscow has died then he who shall defeat our Red Moscow has yet to be born! [Stormy applause – Internationale]

Leon TROTSKY

Courtesy of Marxists Internet Archive

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