Leon Trotsky

The World Crisis and Its Revolutionary Implications


Source: The Militant, Vol. V No. 12 (Whole No. 108), 19 March 1932, p. 4.
Extract from Germany – the Key to the International Situation.
Transcription/HTML Mark-up: Einde O’Callaghan for the Trotsky Internet Archive.
Copyleft: Leon Trotsky Internet Archive (www.marxists.org) 2012. Permission is granted to copy and/or distribute this document under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0.

It is the aim of the present lines to indicate – if only in its general outlines – the composition of the political world situation today, as it has resulted from the fundamental contradictions of decay capitalism, complicated and sharpened by the severe commercial, industrial and flnancial crisis. The following, hastily sketched reflections, far from embracing all countries and all questions, are to be the subject of serious further, collective treatment.

1. The Spanish Revolution has created the general political premises for the immediate struggle for power of the proletariat. The syndicalist traditions of the Spanish proletariat have at once revealed themselves as one of the most important obstacles in the way of the development of the revolution. The Comintern was caught unawares by the events. The Communist party, totally impotent at the beginning of the revolution, occupied a false position on all the fundamental questions. The Spanish experiences have shown – let it be recalled once more – what a frightful instrument of the disorganization of the revolutionary consciousness of the advanced workers, the present Comintern leadership represents! The extraordinary delay of the proletarian vanguard lagging behind the events, the politically dispersed character of the heroic struggles of the laboring masses, the actual assurances of reciprocity between anarcho-syndicalism and social democracy – these are the fundamental political conditions that made it possible for the republican bourgeoisie, in league with the social democracy, to establish an apparatus of repression, and by dealing the insurgent masses blow for blow, to concentrate a considerable amount of political power in the hands of the government.

By this example, we see that Fascism, does not at all represent the only means of the bourgeoisie in its struggle against the revolutionary masses. The regime existing in Spain today corresponds best to the conception of the Kerenskiad, that is, the last (or “the one before the last”) “left” government, which the bourgeoisie can only set up in its struggle against the revolution. But this kind of government does not necessarily signify weakness and prostration. In the absence of a strong revolutionary party of the proletariat, a combination of semi-reforms, left phrases and gestures still more to the left, and of reprisals can prove to be of much more effective service to the bourgeoisie than Fascism.

Needless to say, the Spanish revolution has not yet concluded. It has not solved its most elementary tasks (the agrarian, the church and the national questions) and is still far from having exhausted the revolutionary resources of the masses. More than it has already given, the bourgeois revolution will not be able to give. With regard to the proletarian revolution, however, the present internal situation in Spain may be characterized as pre-revolutionary, but scarcely more than that. It is quite probable that the offensive development of the Spanish revolution will take on a more or less protracted character. In this manner, the historical process opens up, as it were, a new credit account for Spanish Communism,.

2. The situation in England can likewise be termed with a certain degree of justification, as pre-revolutionary, provided it is strictly agreed, that a period covering several years of partial ebbs and and tides can elapse between the pre-revolutionary and the immediately revolutionary situation. The economic situation in England has reached extreme acuteness. Still, the political super-structure of this arch-conservative country extraordinary lags behind the changes in the economic basis. Before taking recourse to new political forms and methods, all the classes of the English nation are attempting time and again to ransack the old storerooms, to turn the old clothes of their grandfathers and greatmothers inside out. The fact remains, that despite the dreadful national decline there does not exist in England as yet, either a revolutionary party of any significance or its antipode – the Fascist party. Thanks to these circumstances, the bourgeoisie has had the opportunity of mobilizing the majority of the people under the “national” banner, that is, under the most hollow of all possible slogans.

In the pre-revolutionary situation, the most dull-witted of conservatisms had acquired tremendous political predominance. It will in all probability take more than one month, perhaps more than one year, for the political super-structure to become adapted to the real economic and international situation of the country.

There is no ground for assuming that the collapse of the “national” bloc – and such a collapse is inevitable in the relatively near future – will lead directly to the proletarian revolution (it is a matter of course, that there can be no other revolution in England) or to the triumph of “Fascism”. On the contrary, it may be assmed with much greater probability that on her path to the revolutionary solution, England will go through a lengthy period of the radical democratic and social-pacifist demagogy of the Lloyd-Georgiad and of Labourism. These can therefore be no doubt that England’s historical development will grant British Communism ample time to transform itself into the genuine party of the proletariat at the moment it will be confronted with the solution. From this, however, it does not at all follow that we can afford to continue losing time with disastrous experiments and Centrist zig-zags. In the present world situation, time is the most precious of raw materials.

3. France, which the sages of the Comintern had placed a year and a half or two years ago in the foremost ranks of the revolutionary “upsurge”, is in actuality the most conservative country, not only of Europe, but perhaps of the entire world. The relative stability of the capitalist regime in France has its roots, to a large extent, in its backwardness. The crisis has less telling effects on it than on other countries. On the financial field, Paris even attempts to vie with New York. The present financial “prosperity” of the French bourgeoisie has its direct source in the robbery of Versailles. But it is precisely the Versailles peace itself that contains the chief threat to the entire regime of the French republic. Between the size of the population, the productive forces and the national income of France on the one hand, and her present international position on the other, there is a crying contradiction which must inevitably lead to an explosion. To maintain her shortlived hegemony, “nationalist” as well as radical-socialist France is forced to depend upon the support in the entire World, of the most reactionary forces, of the most archaic forms of exploitation, of the abominable Rumanian clique, of the decadent Pilsudski regime, of the dictatorship of the Jugloslavian military; to uphold the dismemberment of the German nation (Germany and Austria), to defend the Polish corridor in East Prussia, to aid Japanese intervention in Manchuria, to spur the Japanese military clique against the U.S.S.R., to come forward as the chief enemy of the liberation movement of the colonial peoples, etc. The contradiction between France’s secondary role in world economy and her immense privileges and pretensions in world politics will become more distinct every month, will heap dangers upon dangers, upset her internal stability, promote restlessness and discontent among the masses of the people and create ever deeper political derangements. These processes will undoubtedly become manifest as early as the next parliamentary elections.

On the other hand, however, all indications compel us to assume that, if no great events take place outside of the country (the victory of the revolution in Germany or the reverse: the victory of Fascism), the development of the internal relationships in France itself will, in the next period, take a relatively “normal” course which will open up for Communism the opportunity of utilizing a considerable period of preparation in order to consolidate itself prior to the advent of the pre-revolutionary and revolutionary situation.

4. In the United States, the most powerful country of capital, the present crisis has laid bare frightful social contradictions with striking forcefulness. After an unprecedented period of prosperity which amazed the whole world with its fireworks of millions and billions, the United States at once entered a period of unemployment for millions of people, of the most appalling physical destitution for the toilers. Such a gigantic social convulsion cannot fail to leave its traces on the political development of the country. Today it is still hard to ascertain, at least from the distance, any measure of important radicalization in the American working masses. It may be assumed that the masses themselves have been so startled by the castastrophic upheaval in the conjuncture, so stunned, and crushed by unemployment or by the fear of unemployment, that they have not as yet been able to draw even the most elementary political conclusions from the calamity that has befallen them. This requires a certain amount of time. But the conclusions will be drawn. The tremendous economic crisis, which has taken on the character of a social crisis, will inevitably be converted into a crisis of the political consciousness of the American working class. It is quite possible that the revolutionary radicalization of the broadest layers of workers will reveal itself, not in the period of the greatest decline in the conjuncture, but on the contrary, during the burn toward revival and upswing. In either case, the present crisis will open up a new epoch in the life of the American proletariat and of the people as a whole. Serious regroupments and clashes among the ruling parties are to be expected, as well as new attempts to create a third party, etc. With the first signs of a rise in the conjuncture, the trade union movement will acutely sense the necessity of tearing itself loose from the claws of the despicable A.F. of L. bureaucracy. At the same time, unlimited possibilities will unfold themselves for Communism.

In the past, America has known more than one stormy outburst of revolutionary or semi-revolutionary mass movements. Every time they died out quickly, because America at every time entered a new phase of economic upswing and also because the movements themselves were characterized by crass empiricism and theoretical helplessness. These two conditions belong to the past. A new economic upswing (and one cannot consider it excluded in advance) will have to be based, not on the internal “equilibrium”, but on the present chaos of world economy. American capitalism will enter an epoch of monstrous imperialism, of an uninterrupted growth of armaments, of intervention in the affairs of the entire world, of military conflicts and convulsions. On the other hand, in the form of Communism the masses of the American proletariat possess – rather, could possess, provided with a correct policy – no longer the old melange of empiricism, mysticism and quackery, but a scientifically grounded, up-to-date doctrine. These radical changes permit us to predict with certainty that the inevitable and relatively rapid, revolutionary transformation of the American proletariat will no more to be the former, easily extinguishable “bonfire”, but the beginning of a veritable revolutionary conflagration. In America, Communism can face its great future with confidence.

5. The Czarist adventure in Manchuria led to the Russo-Japanese war; the war – to he 1905 revolution. The present Japanese adventure in Manchuria can lead to revolution in Japan.

At the beginning of the century, the feudal-military regime of that country could still successfully serve the interests of the young Japanese capitalism. But in the course of the last quarter of a century, capitalist development has brought extraordinary decomposition into the old social and political forms. Since that time, Japan has more than once been on the brink of revolution. But the latter lacked a strong revolutionary class to fulfill the tasks imposed on it by the developments. The Manchurian adventure may accelerate the revolutionary catastrophe of the Japanese regime.

Present day China, no matter how enfeebled it may be by the dictatorship of the Kuo Min Tang cliques, greatly differs from the China which Japan, following the European powers, despoiled in the past. China has not the strength to drive out the Japanese expeditionary forces immediately, but the national consciousness and activity of the Chinese people have grown enormously. Hundreds of thousands, millions of Chinese have gone through military training. The Chinese will always improvise new armies. The Japanese will feel themselves besieged. The railroads will be of far greater service for war than for economic purposes. More and more new troops will have to be sent out. The Manchurian expedition spreading out will begin to exhaust Japan’s economic organism, increase the discontent inside the country, sharpen the contradictions and thereby, accelerate the revolutionary crisis.

6. In China, the necessity of a determined defense against the imperialist invasion will also bring with it serious internal, political consequences. The Kuo Min Tang regime arose out of the national revolutionary mass movement, which was exploited and strangled by the bourgeois militarists (with the aid of the Stalinist bureaucracy). Precisely for this reason, the present regime, shaky and full of contradictions, is incapable of initiating a revolutionary war. The necessity of a defense against the Japanese invaders will turn more and more against the Kuo Min Tang regime and nourish the revolutionary sentiments of the masses. With a correct policy, the proletarian vanguard can, under these conditions, make up for all that was so tragically lost in the course of the years 1924–1927.

7. The present events in Manchuria prove particularly how naive those gentlemen were, who demanded of the Soviet Union the simple return of the Chinese Eastern Railroad to China. That would have meant surrendering it voluntarily to Japan, in whose hands the railroad would have become a weapon against China as well as against the U.S.S.R. If anything at all had hitherto prevented the Japanese military cliques from intervention in Manchuria and if anything may still hold them within the boundaries of caution today, it is the fact that the Chinese Eastern Railroad is the property of the Soviets.

8. Cannot the Manchurian adventure of the Japanese, nevertheless, lead to war with the U.S.S.R.? It is understood, this is not excluded even with the wisest and most cautious policy on the part of the Soviet government. The internal contradictions of feudal-capitalistic Japan have obviously unbalanced her government. There is no lack of instigators (France). And from the historical experiences of Czarism in the Far East, we know what an unbalanced military-bureaucratic monarchy is capable of.

The struggle unfolding in the Far East is, it is understood, carried on not for the sake of the railroads, but over the fate of all of China. In this gigantic historical struggle, the Soviet government cannot be neutral, take the same position with regard to China as to Japan. It is duty-bound to stand completely and fully on the side of the Chinese people. Only the unflinching loyalty of the Soviet government to the struggle for the liberation of the oppressed peoples can really protect the Soviet Union on the Eastern frontier against Japan, England, France, the United States.

Under what forms the Soviet government will support the struggle of the Chinese people in the coming period, depends upon the concrete historical circumstances. If it had been insane to surrender the Chinese Eastern Railroad voluntarily to Japan before, then it would be just as insane to subordinate the entire policy in the Far East to the problem of the Chinese Eastern Railroad. There are many indications that the behavior of the Japanese military clique in this question bears a consciously provocatory character. Directly behind this provocation, stands ruling France. The aim of the provocation is to tie the hands of the Soviet Union in the East. All the more firmness and far-sightedness is required on the part of the Soviet government.

The fundamental conditions of the East: its immense expanse, its countless human masses, its economic backwardness – give these processes their slow, their drawn out and crawling character. In any case, there is no threat of an immediate and acute danger to the existence of the Soviet Union from the Far East. During the coming period, the main events will develop in Europe. Here great opportunities may arise, but from the same source also, great dangers threaten. For the present, only Japan has tied its hands in the Far East. The Soviet Union must, for the present, keeps its hands free.


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Last updated on: 19.5.2013