Written: 18 March 1939.
Source: Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 21, 4 April 1939, pp. 1, 3 & 4.
Transcription/HTML Markup: Einde O’Callaghan for the Trotsky Internet Archive.
Copyleft: Leon Trotsky Internet Archive (www.marxists.org) 2016. Permission is granted to copy and/or distribute this document under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0.
Sybil Vincent, correspondent for the London Daily Herald, submitted a series of questions to Leon Trotsky on the development of the war crisis. Below we print comrade Trotsky’s answers.
Is a world war inevitable? If so, will it mean the end of the capitalist system?
Yes, a world war is inevitable, if a revolution does not forestall it. The inevitability of the war flows, first, from the incurable crisis of the capitalist system; secondly, from the fact that the present partition of our planet, that is to say above all, of the colonies, no longer corresponds to the economic specific weight of the imperialist states. Looking for an escape out of the mortal crisis, the parvenu states aspire, and cannot fail to aspire, to new partitioning of the world. Only children at the breast and professional “pacifists” to whom even the experience of the unfortunate League of Nations has taught nothing, can suppose that a more “equitable” repartition of the territorial surface can be realized around the green tables of democracy.
If the Spanish revolution had been victorious, it would have given a powerful impulse to the revolutionary movement in France and in other countries of Europe. In this case it would have been possible to hope confidently that the victorious socialist movement would forestall the imperialist war, making it useless and impossible. But the socialist proletariat of Spain was strangled by the coalition of Stalin-Azana-Caballero-Negrin-Garcia Oliver, even before it was definitely crushed by the bands of Franco. The defeat of the Spanish revolution postponed a revolutionary perspective for the imperialist war. Only the blind can not see that!
Of course, the more energetically and the more audaciously the advanced workers will fight in all countries against militarism and imperialism now, in spite of the unfavorable conditions, the more quickly they will be able to stop the war when it has started, the greater will be the hopes for the salvation of our civilization from destruction.
Yes, I do not doubt that the new world war will provoke with absolute inevitability the world revolution and the collapse of the capitalist system. The imperialist governments of all countries are doing all that is possible to accelerate this collapse. It is only necessary that the world proletariat be not again taken unawares by the great events.
The task that the Fourth International puts before itself, I note in passing, is precisely the revolutionary preparations of the vanguard. This is exactly why it names itself the World Party of Socialist Revolution.
Is not the world too afraid of Hitler?
The democratic governments look upon Hitler, who succeeded in “liquidating” the social question, with admiration and fear. The working class, which during one and a half centuries, periodically shook the civilized countries of Europe by its revolts, is suddenly reduced to complete silence in Italy and Germany. Messrs. the official politicians attribute this “success” to the internal, quasi-mystical properties of Fascism and National Socialism. In reality the strength of Hitler is not in himself, nor in his contemptible philosophy, but in the terrible deception of the working masses, in their confusion and in their lassitude.
During many decades the proletariat of Germany built up a trade union organization and a Social Democratic party. Abreast of the strong Social democracy appeared later a powerful Communist party. And all these organizations, which rose upon the shoulders of the proletariat, were in the critical moment a zero, and crumbled away before the offensive of Hitler. They did not find in themselves the courage to call the masses to struggle, as they themselves were completely degenerated, bourgeoisified and had lost the habit of thinking about struggle.
The masses pass through such catastrophes heavily and slowly. It is incorrect to say that the German proletariat has reconciled itself with Hitler! But it no longer believes in the old parties, in the old slogans, and at the same time it has not yet found a new way. This and only this explains the strong-arm omnipotence of fascism. It will continue until the masses have dressed their wounds, have regenerated themselves and once more lifted their heads. I think we can expect that in not a long time.
The fear Great Britain and France has for Hitler and Mussolini explains itself by the fact that the world position of these two colony-holding countries, as has already been said, no longer corresponds with their economic specific weight. The war can bring nothing to them, but can take a great deal from them. It is natural that they attempt to postpone the moment of a new partitioning of the world and that they toss a bone, as Spain and Czechoslovakia, to Mussolini and Hitler.
The struggle is for colonial possessions, for the domination of the world. The attempt to represent this brawl of interests and appetites as a struggle between “democracy”’ and “fascism” can only dupe the working class. Chamberlain will give all the democracies in the world (there are not many left) for a tenth part of India.
The strength of Hitler (at the same time also his weakness) consists in the fact that, under the pressure of the helpless position of German capitalism, he is ready to resort to the more extreme means, using blackmail and bluff in passing, at the risk of leading to war. Hitler has fully realized the fear of the old colony-holders before any disturbance and has played on this fear, if not with a very great heart, at least with indubitable success.
Should the “democracies” and the U.S.S.R. unite to crush Hitler?
I do not feel that it is my mission to give counsel to imperialist governments, even if they call themselves democratic, nor to the Bonapartist clique of the Kremlin, even if it calls itself socialist. I can only give counsel to the workers. My counsel to them is not to believe for a single instant that the war of the two imperialist camps can bring anything else but oppression and reaction in
both camps. It will be the war of the slave-owners who cover themselves with various masks: “democracy,” “civilization,” oh the one hand, “race,” “honor,” on the other. Only the overthrow of all slave-owners can once for all put an end to war and open an epoch of true civilization.
Does Hitler represent a great danger for the democracies?
The “democracies” themselves represent a much greater danger for themselves. The regime of bourgeois democracy appeared on the basis of liberal capitalism, that is to say free competition. That epoch is now far in the past. The present monopoly capitalism which has decomposed and degraded the petty and middle bourgeoisie, has thus undermined the ground under bourgeois democracy. Fascism is the product of this development. It does not come at all “from without” In Italy and Germany fascism conquered without foreign intervention. Bourgeois democracy is dead not only in Europe but also in America.
If it is not liquidated in time by socialist revolution, fascism will inevitably conquer in France, England and the United States, with the aid of Mussolini and Hitler, or without this aid. But fascism is only a respite. Capitalism is condemned. Nothing will save it from collapse. The more resolute and audacious will be the policy of the proletariat the less the socialist revolution will provoke sacrifice, the sooner mankind will enter upon a new road.
My opinion about the civil war in Spain? I have expressed myself on this subject in the press many times.
The Spanish revolution was socialist in its essence: the workers attempted several times to overthrow the bourgeoisie, to seize the factories; the peasants wanted to take the land. The “people’s front,” led by the Stalinists, strangled the socialist revolution in the name of an outlived bourgeois democracy. Hence the disappointment, the hopelessness, the discouragement of the worker and peasant masses, the demoralization of the Republican army and, as a result, the military collapse.
To invoke the treacherous policy of England and France explains nothing. Of course the “democratic” imperialists were with the Spanish reaction with all their hearts and helped Franco as much as possible. It was so and will always be so. The British were naturally on the side of the Spanish bourgeoisie, which passed entirely to the side of Franco. Only, in the beginning Chamberlain did not believe in the victory of Franco and feared to compromise himself by a premature revelation of his sympathies. France, as ever, executed the will of the French bourgeoisie. The Soviet government played the role of hangman toward the revolutionary Spanish workers, in order to demonstrate its trustworthiness and loyalty to London and Paris.
The fundamental cause of the defeat of a powerful and heroic revolution is the treacherous anti-socialist policy of the so-called “people’s front.” If the peasants had seized the land and the workers the factories, Franco never would have been able to wrest this victory from their hands!
Can the regime of Franco maintain itself?
Of course not for a thousand years, as the boasting National Socialism of Germany promises. But Franco will maintain himself for a certain time thanks to the same conditions as Hitler. After great efforts and sacrifices, after terrible defeats, in spite of these sacrifices, the Spanish working masses must be disappointed to the bottom of their hearts in the old leading parties: socialists, anarchists, “communists,” who by their common forces, under the banner of the “people’s front,” strangled the socialist revolution. The Spanish workers will now pass inevitably through a period of discouragement, before they begin slowly and stubbornly to look for a new road. The period during which the masses lie prostrate will coincide precisely with the time of Franco’s domination.
You ask how serious a menace Japan is to the U.S.S.R., England and the United States. Japan is not capable of a war on a great scale, partly for economic reasons, but above all for social reasons. Not having emancipated itself up to now from the heritage of feudalism, Japan represents the reservoir of a gigantic revolutionary explosion. In many respects it calls to mind the Tsarist empire on the eve of 1905.
Japan’s leading circles attempt to escape from the internal contradictions by the seizure and pillage of China. But the internal contradictions make external success on a great scale unfeasible.
To seize strategical positions in China is one thing; to subdue China is another, Japan would never dare to challenge the Soviet Union, if there were not a glaring antagonism, evident to everyone, between the leading clique of the Kremlin and the Soviet people. The regime of Stalin, which is weakening the U.S.S.R.. can make a Soviet-Japanese war possible.
What would be the results of this war?
I cannot believe for a single instant in the victory of Japan. I think that the most indubitable results of the war would be the collapse of the medieval regime of the Mikado and of the Bonapartist regime of Stalin.
On my life in Mexico I can communicate very little. On the part of the authorities I have met with nothing but kindness. I am absolutely apart from Mexican political life, but I follow the efforts of the Mexican people to conquer a complete and true independence with ardent sympathy.
I am finishing a book on Stalin, which will appear this year in the United States, England and other countries. The book is a political biography of Stalin and has as its objective an explanation of how a second or third rank revolutionary can appear at the head of the country when the Thermidorian reaction begins. The book will show, in particular, how and why the former Bolshevik, Stalin, is now completely ripe for an alliance with Hitler.
Last updated on: 18 January 2016