Leon Trotsky

Who Defends Russia?
Who Helps Hitler?

(July 1935)

Written: 29 July 1935.
First Published: The New International [New York], Vol. II No. 6, October 1935, pp. 189–191.
Translated: The New International.
Transcription/HTML Markup: David Walters.
Copyleft: Leon Trotsky Internet Archive (www.marxists.org) 2002. Permission is granted to copy and/or distribute this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License.

JAQUEMOTTE, the pathetic little leader of the Belgian Stalinists has asked Walter Dauge, leader of the Left wing of the Belgian socialist party, if he would “march” in the event of a Hitler attack on the Soviet Union. At one stroke the whole shallowness of this philistine mind is laid bare. What does “to march” mean in this connection? If Belgium, in alliance with France, advances on Germany – certainly not for reasons of democracy or of friendship for the Soviets but for purely imperialist purposes – and if Dauge is eligible for military service then he must march along. He will also have to march, however, should Belgium decide to adhere to an anti-Soviet war coalition. Should Belgium remain neutral Dauge will not be able to march. The very wise Jaquemotte and his followers and co-workers in France, Czechoslovakia, and elsewhere, simply forget that it is not for the oppressed workers but for the oppressing bourgeoisie to decide when and under what circumstances the dogs of war shall be unleashed.

Vaillant-Couturier sought to settle this “small” point by advancing the thesis: “We are a realistic party, a government party.” It is quite true that we are not anarchists. But it is necessary to make a distinction between a proletarian and an imperialist government. To become the government party, in reality, it is necessary to overthrow the powers that be by revolutionary action and to organize our own Red army. Then and only then, will we be able to decide if, and for what purpose we shall “march”. The Stalinist “theoreticians” – permit us to call them that – obscure more and more the main question of the conquest of power. More and more they place the defense of the Soviets in the hands of the deadly enemy of the working class – the national bourgeoisie. That is the betrayal in its final theoretical implications.

If we continue to push the class struggle in France, Belgium, Czechoslovakia, etc., answer the Stalinists and their worshippers, we will weaken the allies that the Soviet Union has made and so harm the Soviet Union itself. Hitler will, as a result, be strengthened whether we like it or not. We cannot tell when the class struggle will lead to the conquest of power. Hitler, however, may have won his war before that time has come. Hitler as the ruler of Europe would delay or smash our fight altogether (in France, Belgium, Czechoslovakia, etc.). To continue our class struggle activities, would actually strengthen Hitler.

This explanation – logical as it would like to be – is nothing else than a repetition of the arguments the imperialists and social-patriots (i.e., social-imperialists) always and invariably invoked against their revolutionary opponents. Was not Liebknecht a lackey of the Czar and Lenin an agent of the Hohenzollerns? And so forth without end.

You will remind me that there was no Soviet Union at that time and you are quite right. That fact proves only that the ideology of social patriotism existed before the October revolution and that the greatest historical events have produced no change in the spcious shallowness of the social-patriots.

German social democrats – not only the mercenary scoundrels, but honest workers – said during the war: victory for the Czar means that his Cossacks would dissolve, devastate, destroy our party and our unions, papers, and halls. The average French worker likewise listened trustingly to the appeals of Renaudel, Cachin, etc.,to keep the Republic and democracy out of the hands of the Kaiser and his junkers. The Soviet state, on its side, did not fall from the heavens. It came into existence only because of action by the proletarian vanguard. To defend the Soviet Union – and rightly we must defend the organizations of labor in capitalist lands. These two tasks are politically the same, in any event closely connected. It is our undeniable duty to defend the Soviet state as it is (with the theories of Doriot, Treint, etc., we have nothing in common), just as we defend any labor organization, though led by tile worst reformists, against Fascism and military reaction. The whole question is however – how and with what methods?

Marxists say: Only with those means which we have at our disposal. which we can consciously utilize, that is, with the methods of the revolutionary class struggle in all belligerent countries. Whatever the fortunes of war, the revolutionary class struggle in the last analysis, yield the best results to the workers. This applies to the defense of labor organizations and of the democratic institutions of capitalist lands, no less than to the defense of the Soviet Union. Our methods remain basically the same. Under no circumstances or pretext can we transfer our revolutionary task into the hands of our national bourgeoisie.

All this – the wise Philistine retorts – may be very well “theoretically”. But who will disagree that the carrying on of the class struggle in France will strengthen Hitler’s position and will increase the possibility of a war outbreak and Hitler’s chances of victory in such a war? And is not Fascist Germany the chief danger for the Soviets? And would not the defeat of the Soviet Union paralyze the development of the world revolution for years?

This argument – again a slavish repetition of the old arguments of Scheidemann, Wels, Vandervelde, De Man, Cachin and consorts – is false all the way through. Touched by the wand of Marxian criticism it falls to pieces.

Fascism is nothing else than the idea of the identity of interest of the classes, brought to its highest power and invested with mysticism. If the French, Belgian and Czech workers ally themselves with “their” bourgeoisie, the German workers are inevitably driven thereby to rally around the Nazis. Social-patriotism can only be water in the mill stream of racialism. To weaken Hitler, the fire of the class struggle must be set blazing. A mighty movement of the workers in any nation of Europe would do more to cripple racially insane militarism than all kinds of combinations between the powers and with the Soviet Union. Every alliance thus formed against Germany gives the race fanatics more ammunition and drives antagonistic imperialist states to Germany’s side, especially since they are not concerned with democracy or the Soviet Union but with the notorious balance of power (Poland, Japan, England, etc.).

If the proletariat of those lands allied with the Soviet Union (for how long?) is to support its bourgeoisie in war, that political line must begin in time of peace. For before it can be hoped to prevent Hitler’s victory, efforts must be made to ward off the war itself. This means support of the anti-Hitler imperialist powers in peace-time to sway the balance of power against him early enough. This, however, signifies nothing more or less than the complete abandonment of the class struggle. This was also the purpose of the infamous declaration of Stalin. He approves, now, in peace-time, the military crimes of the French – naturally also of the Belgian and the Czechoslovakian-bourgeoisie. And how could it be otherwise?

If we are to do nothing to weaken the imperialist allies of the Soviet Union through the class struggle, that means naturally that we must strengthen the confidence of the people in their rule. What will we do then, when French, Belgian, Czechoslovakian militarism, buttressed by its own proletariat, turns, in the course of the war – a perfectly understandable and possible development – to direct their weapons against the Soviets? To delude ourselves with the idea that, in such a case, we can strongly oppose them, is madness. The great masses do not make such sharp turns. The power which we have helped militarism to gain, will not be so easily wished away. In such a case, we would have put ourselves into the position of being not only passive but active agents in the destruction of the Soviet Union.

The Stalinists hesitate, however, to draw the final conclusions from their premises. In order to maintain their status in at least a fake parliamentary opposition, they cry that there are Fascists among the army officers. Such an argument testifies only to the entire hollowness and stupidity of Stalinist social-patriotism. As far as the argument of utilizing the antagonisms between the imperialist powers goes, it is quite as feasible to play one group of Fascists against the other. As an ally of France, Mussolini now also becomes an ally of the Soviet Union. The contradiction between Germany and France is by no means that of democracy vs. Fascism, but rather that between a hungry and a sated imperialism. This contradiction will remain, even should France become Fascist itself.

The readiness of the Communist party of France to vote for the imperialist army if only it is “cleansed” of Fascist elements, proves that they, no more than Blunt, have any concern about the Soviet Union, but that their only worry is about French “democracy”. They have set themselves a lofty goal – to implant pure democracy in the officer corps of the Versailles army (Versailles – in the sense of the Commune as well as of the Versailles peace). How? Through a government of Daladier. “Les Soviets partout. Daladier an pouvoir!” [Soviets everywhere! Daladier to power!] Why however did the great democrat Daladier who was War Minister for two years (1932-34) do nothing to purge the army of Fascists, Bonapartists and royalists? Could it be because Daladier had not at that time been purified in the magic waters of the People’s Front? Could perhaps l’Humanité, with its depths of profound wisdom and honesty, clarify this riddle for us? Could it also answer: why did Daladier capitulate at the first sign of pressure from the forces of armed reaction in February 1934? May we answer for them? It is because the Radical Socialist party is the most wretched, cowardly and servile of all the parties of finance capital. It is only necessary for Messrs. de Wendel, Schneider, Rothschild, Mercier and company to put their foot down. The Radicals will always bend the knee. Herriot first, then just a little later, Daladier.

Let us assume that the People’s Front should come to power and as a demonstration (that is, for purposes of duping the masses) should succeed in ousting some second-rank reactionaries from the army and should dissolve (on paper) some of the organized bandit gangs. What, fundamentally, would be changed? The army then as now – would remain the chief imperialist weapon. The general staff of the army would continue to be the staff of the military conspiracy against the toilers. The war-time the most reactionary, determined and most ruthless elements in the officer corps would gain the upper hand. The Italian and German examples show that imperialist war is an excellent school of Fascism for army officers.

Further, what of those lands whose position toward the USSR is not yet known, whose war stand is still a secret? The British labor and trade union movement is already paralyzing the fight against its own imperialists on the ground that Great Britain may be forced to come to the defense of the Soviet Union. These political jugglers naturally refer to Stalin, not only successfully but properly. If the French Stalinists can promise “to control” the foreign policy of their own imperialists, the British laborites can play the same game. And what is the Polish proletariat to do? The Polish bourgeoisie is bound to France by an alliance and entertains the closest friendship to Germany.

Whatever the pretext may be, civil peace (union sacré) always means the basest servility of the socialists to imperialism, just at the time when it is performing its bloodiest and most horrible work. The last war showed the results of patriotic belly-crawling. The leaders of the social democracy came out of the school of “civil peace” completely crushed, politically annihilated, without faith or courage, honor or conscience. The workers of Germany had seized power after the war. But the leaders of the social democracy gave the power back to the generals and the capitalists. Had the leaders of French labor not conic out of the war as wretched political invalids, France would today he a land of socialism.

The civil peace of of 1914–1918 did not merely sentence the people of the world to unheard-of sacrifices and burdens. It gave a rotting capitalism a new lease on life for decades. The civil peace of 1914–1918 in the interests of “one’s own nation” only prepared the new imperialist war which threatens the complete extermination of the nations. Under whatever slogans the socialpatriots may prepare for a new “civil peace” (”Defense of the Fatherland”, “defense of democracy”, “defense of the USSR”) the result of this new betrayal will be the collapse of all modern culture.

Naturally, the Soviet bureaucracy wants ’to defend the USSR, as well as to build socialism. This it wishes to do, however, after its own fashion, which is in gross contradiction to the interests of the international and thereby also of the Russian proletariat. This bureaucracy does not believe in the international revolution. It sees only the dangers, difficulties and drawbacks, not the tremendous possibilities. Nor have Stalin’s miserable yes-men in France, Belgium, and the whole world, one hit of faith in themselves or in their parties. They do not regard themselves – and rightly so – as the leaders of the rebellions masses, but only as the agents of Soviet diplomacy, before the forum of these masses. With this diplomacy, they stand or fall.

The Comintern bureaucracy is, therefore, organically incapable of opposing the bourgeois patriots in time of war. That is why cowardly wretches like Cachin, Jaquemotte, Gottwald, cling to every miserable excuse to hide their capitulation to the unleashed floods of patriotic “public opinion”. Such a pretext – a pretext, not a reason – they find in “defense of the Soviet Union”. Doriot is of the same political physiognomy as Cachin and Duclos – a product of the same school. It is interesting to see, therefore, how easily he breaks with the idea of the defense of the Soviets and substitutes for it “understanding with Hitler”. It should be clear to every St. Denis youngster that an understanding between the French bourgeoisie and Hitler must be directed against the Soviet Union. Such a gentleman has only to dump the Stalinist bureaucrats overboard immediately to turn his back on the USSR. These politicians lack only the minor matter of a backbone. Crawling on their bellies before the Stalin clique was only training for their obeisance before their own bourgeoisie.

With that amazing lack of decency that characterizes them, these people turn promptly to the attack on the revolutionary internationalists and accuse us – of supporting Hitler. They forget that Hitler can be conquered only by the German working class, at present unorganized and crushed by the crimes of the Second and the Third Internationals. But it will rise again. To help it to its feet again, to invigorate it, the international revolutionary movement, especially in France, must be developed.

Every patriotic declaration of Blum, Zyromski, Thorez, etc., is new grist for racial theory (nationalism) and, in the last analysis, aids Hitler. The uncompromising Marxian, Bolshevik line of the world proletariat – in peace as in war – will scuttle the race fanatics, for it will prove in action that the fate of mankind is determined by the struggle of the classes and not of the nations. Is it really necessary to prove this? The Third International – walking in the footsteps of the Second – has finally sidetracked the class struggle for the “general” offensive against Hitler. Hitlerism has only been helped by this retreat. Undeniable facts and figures prove it: the growth of National Socialism in Austria, the Saar plebiscite, the elections in Bohemia (German Czechoslovakia). To fight Fascism with nationalist weapons is but to throw oil on the flames. The first real success for the forces of proletarian revolution in France, Belgium, Czechoslovakia or any land, will sound in the ears of Hitler like the tolling of the death bell. This ABC must be understood by anyone who wishes to deal with the problems of socialism.

What the result of war may be – should the weakness of labor permit its outbreak – we cannot say in advance. The fronts will shift, national boundaries will be shattered. At the present stage of development of aviation, all borders will be violated, all national territories will be laid waste. Only the most outspoken reactionary (who often goes by the name socialist or even communist) can, under these conditions, call upon labor to join with “its” bourgeoisie in defense of “its” frontiers. The real task of the workers is to use the war difficulties of the bourgeoisie in order to overthrow it, abolish national boundaries which stifle industry and culture.

The bourgeoisie is strongest in the first period of the war. But with every month of warfare, its strength diminishes. Labor’s vanguard, on the other hand, if it has taken care to maintain its independence from the patriotic jackals, will grow firmer and stronger not only every day but every hour. In the last analysis, the late of the war is not determined on the military front, as much as by the relationships of the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. Only the victorious revolution can mend the cares, the woes and the disturbances of war. Not only Fascism, but imperialism will thus receive its death-blow. Not only the external foes of the Soviet Union will thereby be defeated but the internal contradictions, which engender the barbarous dictatorship of the Stalin clique, will be overcome. The proletarian dictatorship will unite our dismembered, bloodless continent, will rescue a culture threatened with ruin, will establish the Soviet United States of Europe. It will penetrate America and bring into motion the oppressed masses of the East. All mankind will be brought together into a socialist society and a harmonious culture.

Leon Trotsky
July 29, 1935

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Last updated on: 25 February 2016