Sunday, 5 December 2010

Trotsky on Diplomacy

Thanks to Dave Parks for posting this on the UK Left Network. In the light of the Wikileaks, um, leaks, what Trotsky had to say on the secrecy of diplomacy and treaties may be of interest to some readers. The original, 'Statement by Trotsky on the Publication of the Secret Treaties', can be found on the Marxists Internet Archive here. Is Old Trotters correct or hopelessly ultra left? Is there a necessary role for secrecy in international relations?

22 November 1918
Trotsky, iii, 2 p. 64

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 which we made when our party was in opposition. Secret diplomacy is a necessary tool for a propertied minority which 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 which 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, winch 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 AustriaHungary 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 which 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 which 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 programme, expresses the ardent wishes of millions of workers, soldiers, and peasants. We want the rule of capital to be overthrown 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.'

13 comments:

skidmarx said...

I had thought this should come up at some point. Though the arrest of Mike Hancock's researcher shows it didn't stay like that in Russia forever.

Phil said...

Lol, no. I see the press today are trying to imply Hancock "inadvertently" passed on nuclear secrets to his assistant.

But anyway, back to the question at hand, is Trotsky's prescription a principle that must never be broken or should fledgling workers' states be more flexible? If secrecy is permissible in revolutionary organisations (both within and between them), why not states?

skidmarx said...

Definitely tactic rather than principle.

Because secrecy may be useful to stop the ruling class knowing what you're up to, whereas when dealing with those who would prefer their exercise of power to remain hidden, openness should be the norm.

Mick Hall said...

Phil

Your question on secrecy is very interesting, pity more have not taken it up, to put it down as a mere tactic, not a matter of principle is one of the reasons the left often falls over its own feet, for example the SSP.

Of course there is a difference between those who are engaged in legal activities and those due to the nature of the state they challenge being involved underground.

Nevertheless I see no reason to lie or deceive, much better to say nothing. (I am thinking here of Gerry Adams denial of IRA membership and oh what a tangled we weave when we first practice to deceive.)

When and if the left enters government it must always pursue open democracy, by the way if it wishes to continue use its diplomatic corp as a collector of title tattle, then it has failed at the first hurdle.

Socialist often talk a great deal about being truthful before the WC, but when it comes to putting that into practice they far to often, shrug their shoulders and say, how can we be open when we are engaged in a class war.

Bollocks I say, if we cannot act in a better manner than the bourgeois what purpose do we serve. One of the main reasons the USSR experiment imploded was the Leninists/Stalinists had lost confidence in the class and began to treat us with contempt. The WC caught on to this deceit and in the end refused to defend the first workers state, despite it being in their interests to do so.

Trust and respect is a two way thing and there can be no half measures.

modernity said...

What Mick said.

"One of the main reasons the USSR experiment imploded was the Leninists/Stalinists had lost confidence in the class and began to treat us with contempt. The WC caught on to this deceit and in the end refused to defend the first workers state,"

Leninists, Stalinists and even Trotskyists often think they know better than others (the working-class), and take on many of the contemptible attitudes which we see within capitalist society, ie. the them and us, do what you told and don't answer back, etc

The failure of various groupings in Britain to develop a healthy internal political culture is evidence of this, also their inability to recruit and maintain working-class members.

Unless and until the British left can address issues, warts and all, then it won't fool anyone and it won't succeed.

skidmarx said...

One of the main reasons the USSR experiment imploded was the Leninists/Stalinists had lost confidence in the class and began to treat us with contempt. The WC caught on to this deceit and in the end refused to defend the first workers state, despite it being in their interests to do so.
Far more plausible to think that they refused to defend it because it wasn't their state any more, but that's perhaps an argument for another time.
Formal legality doesn't necessarily mean that you want the state knowing the details of your activities.
Yes a real difference in governance from the bourgeois method of restricting diascussion to approved channels until information is ready to be managed is vital, but let's not accept "Original Sin" style arguments from those who pursue their agenda of attacking the left in a less-than-honest manner themselves.
Oh, and Umberto Eco makes the point that collecting tittle tattle is what embassies do, which wouldn't seem to make sense as a model for anyone to follow.

Phil said...

I agree Mick, any and always a left government - whether brought to power peacefully or in an unlikely re-enactment of 1917 - must endeavour to be as transparent at possible as far as circumstances allow.

Mod, the reason why far left groups have unhealthy internal regimes is symptomatic of their isolation from the mass. Hence the strength of their apparatus being out of all proportion to membership size - they need it to keep the show on the road.

Thinking back to my time in the SP, it did have a very healthy regime at the local level. A member could easily find out what the doing was in terms of finances, membership levels, etc. It was more opaque however the further you went up. How monies were allocated, on what grounds full timers were employed, national paper sales, membership levels (I only ever saw the figure written down in a document once in four years), the proceedings of executive meetings - all of which were, shall we say, less readily available. That isn't to say the SP had a bad internal regime, but there were certainly some things that could have been fixed.

ModernityBlog said...

"Mod, the reason why far left groups have unhealthy internal regimes is symptomatic of their isolation from the mass"

Marvellous rationalisation, Phil,

And you're probably unaware of it, but that ability to rationalise the absurd is one of the characteristics of political cults, and/or Stalinist/Leninist/Trotskyist groups...

The problem is they don't see it because they are inside a bubble.

It's all about the leaders and the led, which is all very unconvincing to the working class when we've seen it before, in capitalism.

ModernityBlog said...

PS: I don't deny there is some correlation, but it hardly a satisfactory answer, as an academic you will understand that one generalisation can barely cover 70 plus years of failure, failure across numerous countries and numerous circumstances..so it doesn't cut mustard

Neil said...

"It was more opaque however the further you went up. How monies were allocated, on what grounds full timers were employed, national paper sales, membership levels (I only ever saw the figure written down in a document once in four years)"


Have to say I'm surprised you felt that way. Membership figures were reported at National Conference and at the CWI summer school (ditto for other sections). Even if you hadn't been to those events, and if I recall I don't think you were at very many National conferences, they are regularly discussed in the emails that go out every week to branch secretaries, where there is also regular information on paper sales broken down on a regional and branch basis.

I believe you were a branch secretary of Stoke branch when you were in the SP for a time? Didn't you read the branch secretaries emails?

As for fulltimers; when new regional fulltimers are taken on then there is a full discussion in the region where the local branch secretaries are consulted prior to anyone being taken on. As for national full timers the National Committee is consulted when they are taken on.

Red Mike said...

For what its worth when it comes to international relations its a bad idea to play it out completely in the open especially when troubled by rival states, at the least you should try to keep a lid on things until the negotiations are finalised, but you should never make a deal that you wouldn't be able to justify once it became public.

Phil said...

Sorry I don't come up to your exacting standards, Mod. Unlike you however I believe the sorts of practices we see in the far left in Britain are rooted in the material circumstances those groups operate it. If it was all down to not having the right ideas about organising, how come more open latter day Leninists, such as the AWL and cpgb merely retread a well worn past. Well, you might say, they're still Leninists. Okay, then how about libertarian socialist and anarchist groupings. how about non-Leninist left outfits like the SLP. How about every two-bit split from the mainstream parties that get consumed in petty power struggles.

It seems to me this isolation, which in the case of British Trotskyism has been rationalised by decades of subsequent theory and practice, is a more convincing explanation than any original sin argument.

Phil said...

Yes Neil, I was branch sec, and no, for all but one occasion I never saw how many members the SP or the CWI had. I had an idea how our region was doing in paper sales but never saw how many we, as an organisation, sold on a weekly basis. We did however get regular reports on numbers of new recruits though - but of course, never on how many dropped out ;)

As I said this was much better from how things operate in other left groups, for whom this sort of information was jealously guarded. But it was still not ideal. The full timer appointment process was opaque and seemed to be done on the hoof, their conditions, remuneration levels etc. were not known, the status of the party as a legal entity completely unknown, etc. True, most members aren't exercised by this info and neither was I really - which was why I didn't push it while I was a member. But for complete transparency this has to be readily available for members if they want to find such stuff out.