Leon Trotsky

Social-Patriotic Sophistry

The Question of the Defense of Czechoslovakia’s “National Independence”

(October 1938)

Written: October 1938.
First Published: The New International, Vol. IV No. 11, November 1938, p. 328.
Online Version: Trotsky Internet Archive, April, 2001
Transcribed/HTML Markup: Tesla Coyle & David Walters

DURING THE CRITICAL WEEK in September, we have been told, voices were heard even at the left flank of socialism maintaining that in case of “single combat” between Czechoslovakia and Germany, the proletariat should help Czechoslovakia and save its “national independence” even in alliance with Benes. This hypothetical case did not occur – the heroes of Czechoslovakian independence, as was to be expected, capitulated without a struggle. However, in the interests of the future we must here point out the grave and most dangerous mistake of three untimely theoreticians of “national independence.”

Even irrespective of its international ties Czechoslovakia constitutes a thoroughly imperialist state. Economically, monopoly capitalism reigns there. Politically, the Czech bourgeoisie dominates (perhaps soon we will have to say, dominated!) several oppressed nationalities. Such a war, even on the part of isolated Czechoslovakia would thus have been carried on not for national independence but for the maintenance and if possible the extension of the borders of imperialist exploitation.

It is impermissible to consider a war between Czechoslovakia and Germany, even if other imperialist states were not immediately involved, outside of that entanglement of European and world imperialist relations from which the war might have broken out as an episode. A month or two later the Czech-German war – if the Czech bourgeoisie could fight and wanted to fight – would almost inevitably have involved other states. It would therefore be the greatest mistake for a Marxist to define his position on the basis of temporary conjunctural diplomatic and military groupings, rather than on the basis of the general character of the social forces standing behind the war.

We have repeated hundreds of times the priceless thesis of Clausewitz that war is but the continuation of politics by other means. In order to determine in each concrete case the historic and social character of the war we must be guided not by impressions and speculations but by a scientific analysis of the politics which preceded the war and determined it. These politics from the very first day of the creation of Czechoslovakia had an imperialist character.

One can say that besides the partition of the Sudeten Germans, Hungarians, Poles, and possibly the Slovaks too, Hitler will not stop before the enslavement of the Czechs themselves and that in this case their struggle for independence will have every claim upon the support of the proletariat. To pose the question in this manner is nothing but social-patriotic sophistry. What concrete roads further development of imperialist antagonisms will take we do not know. Complete destruction of Czechoslovakia is possible, of course. But it is also possible that before this destruction will have been accomplished a European war will break out and Czechoslovakia will find itself on the side of the victors and participate in a new dismemberment of Germany. Is the role of a revolutionary party then that of nurse of the “victimized” gangsters of imperialism?

It is absolutely clear that the proletariat must construct its policy on the basis of the given war as it is, i.e., as it has been determined by the whole preceding course of development and not on hypothetical speculation over a possible strategic result of the war. In such speculations everyone will inevitably choose that variant which corresponds best to his own desires, national sympathies and antipathies. It is clear that such a policy does not have a Marxist but a subjective, not an internationalist but a chauvinist character.

An imperialist war, no matter from what corner it begins, will be carried on not for “national independence” but for the division of the world in the interests of separate cliques of finance capital. This does not exclude that in passing the imperialist war could improve or worsen the condition of this or that “nation,” or, more exactly, of one nation at the expense of another. Thus, the Versailles peace treaty dismembered Germany. A new peace treaty may dismember France. Social-patriots utilize precisely this possible “national” danger of the future in order to support “their” imperialist bandits of the present. Czechoslovakia does not represent any exception from this role.

In reality all speculative arguments of this kind and the frightening of people over future national calamities for the sake of the support of this or that imperialist bourgeoisie flow from tacit rejection of revolutionary perspective and revolutionary policy. Naturally if a new war ends in the military victory of this or that imperialist camp; if a war calls forth neither a revolutionary uprising nor a victory of the proletariat; if a new imperialist peace more terrible than the Versailles treaty places new chains for decades upon the people; if unfortunate humanity bears all this in silence and submission – not only Czechoslovakia or Belgium but also France can be hurled back into the position of an oppressed nation (the same supposition may be made in regard to Germany). In this eventuality the further frightful decomposition of capitalism will cast all humanity back for many decades. Of course in the realization of this perspective, that is, a perspective of passivity, capitulation, defeat, and decline, oppressed classes and entire peoples must then climb on all fours in sweat and in blood over the historic road already once traversed. Is such an outlook excluded? if the proletariat suffers without end the leadership of social-imperialists and communist-chauvinists; if the Fourth International is unable to find a road to the masses; if the terrors of war do not push the workers and soldiers on the road to rebellion; if the colonial peoples bleed patiently in the interests of the slaveholders, under these conditions the level of civilization will inevitably be lowered and the general retrogression and decomposition may again place national wars on the order of the day for Europe. Even then we, or rather our sons, will have to determine the policy in regard to future wars on the basis of the new situation. But today we proceed not from the perspective of decline but from the perspective of revolution; we are defeatists at the expense of imperialists and not at the expense of the proletariat. We do not link the question of the fate of the Czechs, Belgians, French, and Germans as nations with conjunctural shifts on military fronts during a new brawl of the imperialists but with the uprising of the proletariat and its victory over all the imperialists. The program of the Fourth International states that the freedom of all European nations, both large and small, can be secured only within the frame of the Socialist United States of Europe. We look ahead and not backward!


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