Leon Trotsky

On the War in China


Written: 1933.
First Published: 1933.
Source: Class Struggle Official Organ Of The Communist League Of Struggle (Adhering to the International Left Opposition), Volume 3, Number 2, February 1933.
Online Version: Vera Buch & Albert Weisbord Internet Archive.
Transcribed/HTML Markup: Albert Weisbord Internet Archive/David Walters.

Japan’s military procedure in China is developing in spiral fashion: its scope is increasing from month to month. Such a system offers political and diplomatic advantages: by degrees first their own people and then the opponents are drawn in, while the world is confronted by a series of accomplished facts. But at the same time it also knows that the military clique at present has to overcome not only external but international difficulties. From the purely military point of view such action “par petits paquets” (in sections) carries a disadvantage with it. Evidently the powerful circles in Japan are of the opinion that China’s military weakness and the insoluble contradictions in the enemy’s camp permit them a certain loss of time, which is connected with a spiral advance.

In the meantime, with or without delay, the second phase (the phase of a real war) must inevitably follow the first. What is Japan’s political object? The leading Paris papers, which carefully render in the French tongue the views and remarks of the Japanese general staff, have continually emphasized that there cannot be talk of war but only of police measures. This information belongs as a necessary constituent to the “section method” of the spiral system. It will fall apart of itself as soon as the military action has come to a full development and as the defensive forces stand before the sought-for aims.

Japan’s aim is the colonization of China, a really grandiose plan. But we can also say that it surpasses Japans strength. Japan has arrived too late upon the scene. At a time when Great Britain must contemplate the loss of India, Japan will not succeed in making a new India out of China.

Is it however not possible that the rulers in Tokio are pursuing a different aim, namely a drive against the Soviet Republic? It would be hasty to declare such a plan as completely excluded. It can however surely not be placed in the front ranks. Only when Manchuria has been occupied and its position there consolidated can it be thought of, to make a drive in a northwestern direction. But while the Soviet government neither will nor can lead a war, evidently Japan will not decide to undertake an immediate aggressive path against Soviet Russia, before it has assured and strengthened its position in China and Manchuria.

A war against the Soviet Union would have to be carried on with quite other methods. Without strong allies in a position to finance the war extensively, it must be considered doubtful whether Japan will decide to overstep the boundaries of Manchuria. How far Tokyo today or tomorrow can count on million-dollar loans for military purposes, can be established better in Paris, London, or New York than here in Prinkipo.

Every attempt to repeat the Soviet Government’s aggressive plans in the Far East comes up against a lack of support. A war would mean a severe blow to the industrial plan with which Russia’s whole future is closely bound up. A factory which is 09% finished is yet no factory, and in Soviet Russia there are hundreds and thousands of factories which are still in the building. Through a war they would be for a long time turned into dead capital. All this is really so clear, that it does not need to be brought out further.

If we admit then a military conflict in the far East is nevertheless inevitable—and of this not only many politicians in Japan, but also elsewhere are convinced—in this case there is no ground for the Soviet Union to hasten this event. Japan has forced its way into China in consequence of a high-flown enterprise, which will have unexpected consequences. It can and will have military and diplomatic partial results, but these will be of a negligible nature, while the difficulties will be not only enduring, but will also increase. In Korea Japan already posses her Ireland. In China she is trying to get her India. One must be a completely dumb general of the feudal type to look down with contempt upon the national movement in China. A powerful nation of 450 millions of people which has awakened to self-consciousness by a display of arms. Japan will sink to her knees, if not to her waist, in the fat Manchurian soil, and will stick fast there. And since in Japan itself the industrial development has prospered in complete contradiction with the feudal structure of society, we must regard an inner crisis as quite inevitable. First the Selyakai Party must clear the field for the Minsei Party, which will develop further to the Left. Then the revolutionary party will lift its head. France has lost not a little through the financing of Tzarism. She is making a mistake if she believes that she has assured herself against losses by the financing of Mishado. It is quite plain in the Far East the Soviet Regime has no occasion to make haste or to sacrifice.

Consequently a war between Soviet Russia and Japan could only arise if the conflict were provoked by Japan designedly and knowingly with the consent of strong allies. The object of such a war could be incomparably greater than the question of the Chinese Eastern railway and the whole Manchurian problem together. Certain French papers have been rather hasty with the prediction that Bolshevism will go to ruin in the Siberian steppes. The steppes and the forests of Siberia have room enough to make way for the fall of many things, but is it so sure that it must be Bolshevism which is to go down there?

The idea of a war between Soviet Russia and Japan like the parallel thought of a war between Japan and the United States brings the problem of distances before us: a land ocean or a water ocean as probable scenes of military operation. At the very first glance the strategic problem goes straight to the question of distances. Which brings up the point, many people come quickly to conclusions which are disagreeable for Russia; the weak protection of the Asiatic districts of the Soviet Union, the industrial backwardness and the lack of railroad connections must be seen as so many factors which are unfavorable to the Soviet Union. This is correct to a certain point. If however one approaches the question first from a purely military-technical standpoint, it must not be overlooked that these same powerful distances will likewise be allies for the Soviets. When we also admit the possibility of military success of the Japanese in the advance to the West, it can be easily seen that its difficulties in the section which lies behind the Japanese troops would increase with the distances. Its successes would be thereby complicated, and in the bargain Japan would leave behind its back its Ireland and its India.

Meanwhile we cannot contemplate the problem within such narrow limits. The war would not be carried out entirely by military means ... Soviet Russia would not stand alone. China is awakened. It will fight for its existence, and is in a position to do this. Whoever overlooks this factor, risks to lose his head.

The transportation of millions of soldiers on the Siberian railroad and their provisioning with all that belongs to the conduct of a war is certainly no light problem. But since now Russia’s industrial facilities are greatly improved, transportation by rail in case of necessity could be considerably increased. This will certainly take time. But a war over great distances would also be a war of long duration. One could perhaps propose a 5-year war plan or alter the industrial 5-year plan to correspond with the requirements of the war. Naturally the industry and culture of the countries affected by the war would be dealt a terrible blow. I proceed from the proposition that there is no other way. Once a war is inevitable it must be conducted thoroughly, and no help and means must be spared. The participation of Soviet Russia in the war through which the Chinese people would gain new prospects, would have to open up a patriotic movement of powerful scope in China. Of this there can be no doubt for anyone who understands anything of the logic of events and of mass psychology. In China there is no lack of human material. Millions of Chinese have learned to go around with a gun. They do not lack the will to struggle, but only an ordered military preparation, an organization, a system and a trained leadership. Here the Red Army could render the Chinese very efficacious help. The qualified units in Chang Kai-Shek’s army as is known, have been built up under the leadership of Russian instructors. The experiment of the military school at Whempoo could, if it were put on a different political foundation (this question I will not broach here) be built up to powerful proportions. Then the Transiberian Railway, as the necessary military instrument, would have to advance not an army but only the quintessence of an army.

How troops can be improvised out of awakened and aroused human material the Bolsheviks have thoroughly learned, and should not have forgotten. I do not doubt that it would be possible in 12 or 18 months to mobilize a million fighters, to clothe, arm and train them and place them on the battle line, and that these troops would not fall behind the Japanese in anything which concerns training. With regard to preparation for fight they would be even superior to the Japanese. For the second million, six months would not be needed. I speak of China, and beside China stand the Soviet Republic, the Red Army, their powerful reserves ... The leading French papers, which hold the world’s regard for reaction, have really been too hasty to bury the Soviet in Siberia’s cities. Hatred is generally a bad counsellor and it is particularly so in making prophecies.

But if, you will ask me, the prophets are so hopeful, why does the Soviet Government try with all means to avoid war? To this question I have already answered; the time factor in the Far East worked against Japanese imperialism which has already passed its peak and is moving to ruin. But setting this aside, it must not be forgotten, and this side of the problem is not to be underestimated, that the world does not consist of the Far East alone. The key to the world situation lies for the moment not in Mukden, but in Berlin. If Hitler attains power, it would be a far greater danger to Soviet Russia than all the plans of the Tokyo military clique.

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Last updated on: 4.3.2007