Leon Trotsky

Towards the Catastrophe

(Early 1934)

Source: The Militant, Vol. VII No. 4, 29 January 1934, p 1.
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.

In view of the increasing tension in the Far East, we are herewith reprinting an important extract from the corrected version of comrade Leon Trotsky’s recent article on Japan and the Soviet Union. – Ed.

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1. The Myth of Invincibility

Manifestly, the ruling classes of Japan are suffering from swelled heads. Through policies of external aggression threats and violence, they are seeking a way out from unprecedented internal difficulties. And everywhere they meet with success. International pacts have been violated. Under the pretext of creating an independent government, an immense country has been annexed. The League of Nations piles up reports which get nowhere. America maintains cautious silence. The Soviet Union steers towards concessions and the logical conclusion seems to be that Japan is invincible and that its rulers are chosen to rule not only over the Asiatic continent but the whole world. But what are the facts?

Less than four decades ago the small island nation defeated the gigantic Chinese empire on land and sea. The entire world was startled. Fourteen days after the signature of the Treaty of Simonoseki, Richthofen, the famous German geographer, wrote that Japan had won “equality” and had raised itself to the rank of the Great Powers. Ten years later came an even greater miracle: Japan routed Czarist Russia. Among the very few who had foreseen such a result were first of all the Russian revolutionists; but who at that time was interested in what the revolutionists said? The prestige of the Island Empire rose all the higher the more unexpected to civilized humanity was the victory of Japan over its two neighbors whose combined population exceeded its own more than ten times.

In the World War Japan’s participation amounted to police operations on a major scale, carried on in the Far East and partly in the Mediterranean. However the very fact that it adhered to the camp of the victors and collected ample booty could not but increase still higher the national self-glorification of Japan’s ruling classes. Japanese imperialism completely revealed its jaws by the “twenty-one demands” to China, issued at the beginning of the war – only fifteen years after Japan had freed itself from humiliating treaties!

General Tanaka’s Memorial of 1927 set forth a complete program in which national ambitions convert into the dizziest megalomania The document is an astounding one! Official denials do not weaken one iota its persuasive force. There is no forging such a text. In any case, Japan’s policies during the past two years supply irrefutable proofs of the authenticity of this document. The conquest of Manchuria was achieved with comparatively insignificant forces by means of aviation and bombs; in a few strokes the Japanese concentrated some four or five divisions in China, hardly more than 50,000 men. The operations resembled military maneuvers rather than war. But all the more “prestige” to the general staff at Tokyo!

Nevertheless the military invincibility of Japan is a devout myth which has paid dividends so far but which sooner or later must be wrecked by reality. So far, Japan has had no occasion to match its strength with the advanced nations. Japan’s successes, however brilliant in themselves, have been the fruit of the superiority of a backward nation over nations still more backward. In war the principle of relativity is omnipotent. Once upon a time the empire of the Czars also passed from victory to victory; from an isolated Moscow principality it transformed itself into a mighty Empire stretching over two continents from the Atlantic to the Pacific. The Czar’s armies were also proclaimed invincible in all the school books. But in point of fact old Russia, depending on the semi-serf peasantry, gained single-handed victories only over the barbaric tribes of Central Asia and the Caucasus, or over states which had collapsed internally, like Poland under her feudal nobility or Turkey under the Sultans. In general from the beginning of the French revolution, the Czar’s armies represented a lympathic and ponderous impotence. True, between 1907 and 1914 the army and navy were energetically reformed and strengthened with the active aid of the patriotic Dumas. However, the test of the World War brought along with it bitter disillusions; the Russian army won tactical successes only so long as it was subjected to the play of the centrifugal forces of Austria-Hungary. But in the main theatre of the war it once again revealed its utter insufficiency.

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We beg the indulgence of our readers for the briefness of the extract from comrade Trotsky’s article. Our desire to put into this issue as much of the latest news about the hotel and restaurant workers’ strike caused technical difficulties which made it impossible to carry through the original plan. A lengthier section will appear in the next issue.

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Last updated on: 8 February 2016