Leon Trotsky

Soviet-Japanese War Inevitable

Trotsky Sees Japanese Militarists Headed for Blow-Up;
Internal Difficulties Force Stalin’s Hand

(August 1938)

Written: 12 August 1938.
First Published: Socialist Appeal, Vol. II No. 35, 27 August 1938, p. 3.
Transcription/HTML Markup: Einde O’Callaghan for the Trotsky Internet Archive.
Copyleft: Leon Trotsky Internet Archive (www.marxists.org) 2015. Permission is granted to copy and/or distribute this document under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0.

The feeling of satisfaction over the truce between the U.S.S.R. and Japan should not inspire optimism about the near future. Japan cannot move deeper into China and at the same time tolerate the U.S.S.R. in Vladivostok. No diplomatic art can remove this antagonism. Tokyo would prefer to postpone settling its accounts with the U.S.S.R. until its position in China is secure. But on the other hand, internal events in the U.S.S.R. tempt Japan to forge the iron while it is hot, that is, to measure strength immediately. Hence the ambiguous policy of Japan: provocations, border violations, bandit raids, and simultaneously – diplomatic negotiations so as to retain the possibility for temporary semi-retreats in case the U.S.S.R. proves stronger than Japan would like.

In Moscow the inevitability of a Far Eastern war has long been understood. Generally speaking, Moscow has always been interested in delaying the war, as much because rapid industrialization strengthened the military power of the Soviets as because the inner contradictions of Japan, where a semi-feudal regime still exists, are preparing the greatest social and political catastrophe.

Fears War, Not Japan

Military difficulties which Japan encountered in China and which the Japanese militarists in their extreme short-sightedness did not foresee, gave rise, however, to a new situation. The vital interests of the U.S.S.R. require that it help China with all its might, consciously facing the risk flowing from this. This is understood in the Kremlin, since a definite opinion upon the Far Eastern problem has been shaping itself during the entire twenty years of the Soviet regime. But the Kremlin oligarchy fears war. This does not mean that it fears Japan. No one in Moscow doubts that the Mikado could not withstand a big war. But in Moscow they give themselves no less clear an accounting of the fact that a war will inevitably lead to the collapse of the Stalinist dictatorship.

Stalin is willing to grant any concessions in foreign policy in order the more ruthlessly to maintain his power within the country. But these concessions and the failures of Soviet diplomacy in the last two years, kindle discontent within the country and force Stalin to demonstrative gestures of force intended to hide his readiness to make new concessions. This is the explanation for the latest bloody conflicts on the Manchurian and Korean border as well as for the fact that so far these conflicts have ended in truce and not in a new war.

Tokyo Holds Key

The key to the situation is now in the hands of Tokyo. The Japanese government is ruled by generals. The Japanese generals are commanded by lieutenants. This constitutes the immediate danger in the situation. The lieutenants grasp neither the position of Japan, nor the position of the U.S.S.R. Despite the Chinese lesson – and partly because of the Chinese lesson – they are seeking easy victories at the expense of the U.S.S.R. They are generally mistaken. If they provoke a war, it will not produce the immediate collapse of Stalin; on the contrary, it will strengthen his position for a year or two, and this period is more than sufficient to reveal in reality the full inner bankruptcy of Japan’s social and political regime. A big war will bring to Japan a revolutionary catastrophe similar to the one which befell Czarist Russia in the last great war. The collapse of the Stalinist dictatorship will come only in a second turn. That is why for the rulers of Japan it would not be wise to force Stalin into doing what he does not want, that is, defending the U.S.S.R. with arms in hand.

Coyoacan, D.F., Aug. 12, 1938.

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Last updated on: 12 September 2015