Hands off Russia

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Hands off Russia


the slogan and name of a movement among the working class and other democratic strata of the capitalist countries to defend the Soviet state against foreign military intervention. The movement, which lasted from 1918 through 1920, reflected the enormous revolutionizing influence of the Great October Socialist Revolution and the solidarity of the workers of the entire world with the workers and peasants in the land of the Soviets. It assumed different forms in different countries.

In Great Britain, as early as the autumn of 1918, the participants in workers’ and trade union meetings, with the demand “Hands off Russia,” threatened a general strike if the British government did not abandon its attempts to suppress the Russian revolution by military force. The National Committee for the Hands off Russia Movement was elected at a conference in London in January 1919, and by the summer of 1919 the movement had assumed greater proportions. P. Coates was the national secretary of the movement, and H. Pollit was the national organizer. The local committees began active work. The demand for an immediate halt to the intervention also spread among the military units in and on their way to the land of the Soviets.

In France the Socialist Party urged workers to struggle against the anti-Soviet intervention; the General Confederation of Labor hailed the sailors of French naval vessels who in April 1919 had refused to fire at the Soviet Russian cities along the Black Sea. The Society of Friends of the Russian Peoples, founded in 1919, was active in the struggle against the intervention. Prominent cultural figures, such as A. France and H. Barbusse, came out in defense of the Soviet Republic. In December 1919 the dockworkers of Bordeaux refused to load military supplies for the interventionists and White Guards.

In Italy the demand to withdraw foreign troops from Soviet Russia was made by the socialists in December 1918, and it held a prominent place in the May Day demonstrations of the Italian workers in 1919. In the USA mass workers’ meetings supported the protest of the Friends of Soviet Russia League, founded in June 1919, against the intervention. From July to October 1919 these meetings were attended by 1 million persons in New York City alone. In China, leaflets protesting China’s anti-Soviet agreements with Japan were distributed, and similar petitions were sent to the government.

The revolutionary struggles in Germany, Finland, and Hungary and the revolutionary actions in other nations helped thwart the anti-Soviet intervention and blockade. In weakening the common front of imperialism, these actions, which demonstrated profound sympathy for the Soviet state, provided direct aid to the workers of Soviet Russia.

There was a new upsurge in the Hands off Russia movement in 1920, when the imperialists organized the Polish military attack on the Soviet Republic. The struggle against the anti-Soviet war unleashed by the imperialists assumed a particularly broad scope in Great Britain. In May 1920, London dockworkers refused to load weapons destined for Poland onto the vessel Jolly George. The Communist Party of Great Britain took part in the movement. Under strong pressure from the British working class, the Labour and trade union leaders joined the movement. On August 9, in connection with the British government’s ultimatum demanding the cessation of the Red Army counter-offensive, there was a joint meeting of the representatives of the parliamentary Labourite fraction, the Executive Committee of the Labour Party, and the Parliamentary Committee of the Trade Union Congress. The Council of Action was formed at the meeting, and on August 13 it called an all-British workers’ conference. The conference demanded diplomatic recognition of Soviet Russia and the establishment of normal economic relations. It also empowered the Council of Action to use all forms of work stoppages, including a general strike, in the struggle against the war. At the same time, the local councils (committees of action), which numbered approximately 350 and included communists, were doing their part. Ultimately the British workers forced the government to abandon direct intervention in the Polish-Soviet War on the side of Poland.

Actions were taken in Germany, Italy, and other countries in defense of the Soviet Republic. For example, in Italy railroad workers prevented the shipment of weapons and ammunition to Poland, and sailors on the steamship Calabria, which was carrying Polish reservists, kept the vessel from leaving port. In France there was a series of strikes in 1920 protesting the shipment of military matériel to the interventionists and the White Guards.

The Hands off Russia movement, a vivid example of proletarian internationalism, helped the young socialist state preserve its very existence. “We were able to defeat the enemy,” said V. I. Lenin, “because the sympathy of the workers of the whole world made itself felt at the most difficult moment” (Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 39, p. 346).


Lenin, V. I. “Pis’mo k rabochim Evropy i Ameriki.” Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 37.
Lenin, V. I. “Pis’mo k angliiskim rabochim.” Ibid., vol. 41.
Lenin, V. I. “Otvet na pis’mo Soedinennogo vremennogo komiteta po obrazovaniiu Kommunisticheskoi partii Velikobritanii.” Ibid., vol. 41.
Lenin, V. I. “Tovarishchu Tomasu Bellu.” Ibid., vol. 44.
Lenin, V. I. “O politike angliiskoi Rabochei partii.” Ibid., vol. 44.
Pollit, H. Izbrannye stat’i i rechi [vol. 1]. Moscow, 1955. (Translated from English.)
Volkov, F. D. Krakh angliiskoipolitiki interventsii i diplomaticheskoi izoliatsii Sovetskogo gosudarstva (1917–1924). [Moscow] 1954.
Gurovich, P. V. Pod”em rabochego dvizheniia v Anglii 1918–1921 gg. Moscow, 1956.
Antivoennye traditsii mezhdunarodnogo rabochego dvizheniia. Moscow, 1972.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
However, the 'Hands off Russia' campaign succeeded when London dockers refused to load the SS Jolly George with armaments bound for the anti-Bolsheviks.