Open Diplomacy 1917: Lenin and Trotsky Comment

Workers Action

How the Russian Revolution Ended Imperialist Secret Treaties

As Wikileaks continues to release the U.S. documents labeled “secret,” “confidential,” etc., embarrassing governments around the world, the following statements by Trotsky and Lenin, made shortly after the Soviets took power, gain particularly keen relevance. As both illustrate, the Bolsheviks denounced secret diplomacy. Nor could they do otherwise. As Marxists, the Bolsheviks fought for an end to class exploitation and rule by a small, rich, capitalist minority. They were dedicated to building a society that operated in everyone’s interests, not just in the interests of the rich. But this goal in turn requires that the majority must themselves rule, which is impossible without a fully informed population. As Trotsky argues below, “The abolition of secret diplomacy is the primary condition for an honest, popular, truly democratic foreign policy.” In stark contrast, he observed, “Secret diplomacy is a necessary tool for a propertied minority that is compelled to deceive the majority in order to subject it to its interests.”
Statement by Leon Trotsky on the Publication of the Secret Treaties
November 22, 1917

In publishing the secret diplomatic documents from the foreign policy archives of Tsarism and of the bourgeois coalition Governments of the first seven months of the revolution, we are carrying out the undertaking that we made when our party was in opposition. Secret diplomacy is a necessary tool for a propertied minority that is compelled to deceive the majority in order to subject it to its interests. Imperialism, with its dark plans of conquest and its robber alliances and deals, developed the system of secret diplomacy to the highest level. The struggle against the imperialism that is exhausting and destroying the peoples of Europe is at the same time a struggle against capitalist diplomacy, which has cause enough to fear the light of day. The Russian people, and the peoples of Europe and the whole world, should learn the documentary truth about the plans forged in secret by the financiers and industrialists together with their parliamentary and diplomatic agents. The peoples of Europe have paid for the right to this truth with countless sacrifices and universal economic desolation.

The abolition of secret diplomacy is the primary condition for an honest, popular, truly democratic foreign policy. The Soviet Government regards it as its duty to carry out such a policy in practice. That is precisely why, while openly proposing an immediate armistice to all the belligerent peoples and their Governments, we are at the same time publishing these treaties and agreements, which have lost all binding force for the Russian workers, soldiers, and peasants who have taken power into their own hands.

The bourgeois politicians and journalists of Germany and Austria-Hungary may try to make use of the documents published in order to present the diplomacy of the Central Empires in a more advantageous light. But any such attempt would be doomed to pitiful failure, and that for two reasons. In the first place, we intend quickly to place before the tribunal of public opinion secret documents that treat sufficiently clearly of the diplomacy of the Central Empires. Secondly, and more important, the methods of secret diplomacy are as universal as imperialist robbery. When the German proletariat enters the revolutionary path leading to the secrets of their chancelleries, they will extract documents no whit inferior to those that we are about to publish. It only remains to hope that this will take place quickly.

The workers’ and peasants’ Government abolishes secret diplomacy and its intrigues, codes, and lies. We have nothing to hide. Our program, expresses the ardent wishes of millions of workers, soldiers, and peasants. We want the rule of capital to be overthrown as soon as possible. In exposing to the entire world the work of the ruling classes, as expressed in the secret diplomatic documents, we address the workers with the call which forms the unchangeable foundation of our foreign policy: ‘Proletarians of all countries, unite.’


The Decree on Peace (Excerpt)
Vladimir Lenin
November 8, 1917

The government abolishes secret diplomacy, and, for its part, announces its firm intention to conduct all negotiations quite openly in full view of the whole people. It will proceed immediately with the full publication of the secret treaties endorsed or concluded by the government of landowners and capitalists from February to October 25, 1917. The government proclaims the unconditional and immediate annulment of everything contained in these secret treaties insofar as it is aimed, as is mostly the case, at securing advantages and privileges for the Russian landowners and capitalists and at the retention, or extension, of the annexations made by the Great Russians.

Source: Marxist Internet Archive: Trotsky


Concluding Speech Following the Discussion (Excerpt)
Vladimir Lenin
November 8, 1917

There is still another point, comrades, to which you must pay the most careful attention. The secret treaties must be published. The clauses dealing with annexations and indemnities must be annulled. There are various clauses, comrades — the predatory governments, you know, not only made agreements between themselves on plunder, but among them they also included economic agreements and various other clauses on good-neighborly relations.

We shall not bind ourselves by treaties. We shall not allow ourselves to be entangled by treaties. We reject all clauses on plunder and violence, but we shall welcome all clauses containing provisions for good-neighborly relations and all economic agreements; we cannot reject these. We propose an armistice for three months; we choose a lengthy period because the peoples are exhausted, the peoples long for a respite from this bloody shambles that has lasted over three years. We must realize that the peoples should be given an opportunity to discuss the peace terms and to express their will with parliament participating, and this takes time.

Source: Marxists Internet Archive: Lenin

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