Leon Trotsky

A Fresh Lesson

On the Character of the Coming War

(October 1938)

Written: 10 October 1938, in Coyoacan, Mexico, D.F.
Source: The New International, Vol. IV No. 12, December 1938, pp. 358–366.
Transcription/HTML Markup: David Walters.
Copyleft: Leon Trotsky Internet Archive (www.marxists.org) 2004. Permission is granted to copy and/or distribute this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License.

October 10, 1938 – Twenty years after the first imperialist world war, which completely destroyed “democratic” illusions, the leaders of the Comintern are trying to prove that the capitalist world has radically altered its nature; that imperialism is no longer the decisive factor on our planet; that world antagonisms are determined not by the predatory interests of monopoly capital, but by abstract political principles, and that the new slaughter of peoples will be a defensive war on the part of innocent, peace-loving democracies against the “fascist aggressors.” Human memory must indeed be very short if on the eve of a new imperialist war, the adventurists of the Third International dare to put in circulation the very ideas used by the traitors of the Second International to dupe the masses during the last war.

There is, however, more to it than mere repetition. Inasmuch as capitalism has, during the last quarter of a century, reached a very advanced stage of decay in economy as well as politics, the falsifications of the Third International assume an incomparably more obvious, cynical, and debased character than was attained by the social patriotic doctrines of the last war. The leaders of the Second International who had already lost faith in the virtues of “democratic” formulas and were verging on utter despair, seized with astonishment and a new hope upon the unexpected assistance of the Comintern. Following them, a section of the imperialist bourgeoisie cast its eyes toward the Communist patriots. Such is the chief source of the rotten and infamous policy of “People’s Fronts.”

Every profound crisis – whether economic, political, or military – has its positive side, in that it puts to a test all the various traditional values and formulas, laying bare the rottenness of those that served to mask “peacetime” contradictions, and thereby spurring forward the general development. The diplomatic crisis over Czechoslovakia excellently performed this progressive task. It only remains for Marxists to draw all the necessary political conclusions from the recent experience. 

The Experience of the Last War

Let us begin with a brief backward glance. The war of 191418 was, as is well known, a “war for democracy.” The alliance of France, Great Britain, Italy, and the United States enabled the social patriots of the Entente to keep their eyes shamefully shut to the fifth ally, czarism. After the February 1917 revolution overthrew Nicholas II, the democratic front was definitely aligned. Only the incorrigible Bolsheviks could still clamor thereafter about imperialism. Was it really worth cavilling because the liberal Miliukov and the quasi-socialist Kerensky wanted to grab Galicia, Armenia, and Constantinople? In the end, Miliukov and Kerensky explained that the Bolsheviks were simply the agents of Ludendorff (the “Hitler” of that day).

The war ended with the complete victory for the democracies, although Soviet Russia, led by the Bolsheviks, had abandoned their holy camp. The result of that victory was the Versailles treaty, paid for, to be sure, by millions of lives, but designed to establish once and for all on this earth the reign of democracy, the free development of nations, and the peaceful collaboration of peoples on the basis of general disarmament. The League of Nations crowned the conquests of a war which was supposed to have been a war “to end all wars” – so promised Wilson and the Second International.

A paradise, however, did not materialize, but something rather which very much resembled hell. The peace of Versailles suffocated Europe. Economic life was suffocated by protectionism. The war “for democracy” ushered in an epoch of the final decline of democracy. The world became more poverty-stricken and confined. One state after another took the road to a fascist or a military dictatorship. International relations grew more and more menacing. Disarmament came in the form of programs of militarism which would have seemed like a nightmare on the eve of the last war. The first clashes of new and bloody conflicts began to take place in different parts of the world. This very moment was chosen by the Comintern to abandon the last remnants of internationalism and to proclaim that the task of the new era was an alliance between the proletariat and the decaying imperialist democracies “against fascism.” The greatest source of infection in the world is the heap of filth that remains of what was once the Communist International. 

The Struggle For and Against a New Partition of the World

Certain theoreticians of the Second International, like Kautsky, who tried to envisage some sort of perspective, expressed a hope that the imperialists, having measured their forces in the great slaughter of the peoples, would be compelled to arrive at an agreement among themselves and to establish a peaceful rule over the world in the form of a corporation (the theory of “super-imperialism”). This philistine-pacifist theory – a Social Democratic shadow of the League of Nations – tried to shut its eyes to two processes: first, the constant change in the relation of forces between the various imperialist states, with the utter impossibility of measuring these changes in practice except by force of arms; second, the liberating struggle of the proletariat in the metropolitan centers and of the colonial peoples, a struggle that is the most important factor in disrupting the equilibrium, and which by its very nature excludes the possibility of “peaceful” imperialist looting. Precisely for these reasons, the programs of disarmament remain miserable utopias.

The flagrant and ever-growing disproportion between the specific weight of France and England, not to mention Holland, Belgium, and Portugal, in world economy and the colossal dimensions of their colonial possessions are as much the source of world conflicts and of new wars as the insatiable greed of the fascist “aggressors.” To put it better, the two phenomena are but two sides of the same coin. The “peaceful” English and French democracies rest on the suppression of national democratic movements of hundreds of millions in Asia and Africa for the sake of the superprofits derived from them. Conversely, Hitler and Mussolini promise to become more “moderate” if they obtain adequate colonial territory.

The United States, owing to her almost total possession of an entire continent with inexhaustible natural wealth, and owing to favorable historical conditions, has extended her sway over the world very “peacefully” and “democratically,” if we disregard such trifles as the extermination of the Indians, the robbery of the choicest portions of Mexico, the crushing of Spain, the participation in the last war, and so on. This “idyllic” mode of exploitation belongs now, however, to the past. The rapid and fearful decay of American capitalism poses before it the question of life and death in a more and more obvious military form. From Wilson’s pacifist fourteen points, Hoover’s Quaker ARA (the international philanthropic organization), Roosevelt’s reformist New Deal, the doctrine of isolation, the laws of absolute neutrality, etc., the United States is heading inevitably toward an imperialist explosion such as the world has never seen.

Hurled far back by the Versailles peace, Germany took the task of “national unification” as the basis of its imperialist program. Under this slogan, fascism, the legitimate heir of Weimar democracy, was born and grew strong. What an irony of fate! In its period of historical rise (from the Napoleonic wars to the Versailles peace of 1871) the belated German bourgeoisie proved incapable of achieving national unification through its own strength. Bismarck only half-fulfilled this task, leaving almost intact the entire feudal and particularist rubbish. True, the revolution of 1918 abolished the German dynasties (only because the Social Democracy was powerless to save them!), but betrayed by the Social Democracy into the hands of the Junkers, the bankers, the bureaucracy, and the army officers, the revolution was incapable not only of assuring a centralized Greater German Republic, but even of centralizing bureaucratically the Germany of the Hohenzollerns. Both these tasks fell to Hitler. The leader of fascism came forward, in his own fashion, as the continuator of Bismarck, who in his turn had been the executor of the bourgeois bankrupts of 1848. But this is, in the long run, only the superficial aspect of the process. Its social content has radically changed. From the progressive factor that it was, the national state has long since been transformed in advanced countries into a brake on the development of productive forces. Ten million more Germans within the boundaries of Germany do not alter the reactionary nature of the national state. In their own way, the imperialists understand this very well. For Hitler it is not at all a question of “unifying Germany” as an independent task, but of creating a broader European drill-ground for future world expansion. The crisis over the Sudeten Germans, or rather over the Sudeten mountains, was an episode on the road toward the struggle for colonies.

A new partition of the world is on the order of the day. The first step in the revolutionary education of the workers must be to develop the ability to perceive beneath the official formulas, slogans, and hypocritical phrases, the real imperialist appetites, plans, and calculations.

Imperialist Quartet Replaces the “Front of Democracies”

The lamb-like docility of European democracies is the product not of love of peace, but of weakness. The cause of weakness is not the democratic regime as such, but rather the disproportion between the economic foundations of the metropolitan centers and the colonial empires inherited from the past. To this disproportion is added the liberating struggle of the colonies which threatens, especially in time of war, to flare into a revolutionary conflagration. In these conditions, decaying “democracy” really becomes a supplementary source of weakness for the old imperialist powers.

Open reaction in France undoubtedly profits from the capitulations of the People’s Front. We can expect with certainty a strengthening of French fascism, favored by the patronage of leading military circles. In England, where the conservative bourgeoisie is in power, the Labourite opposition will probably gain more in the next period than fascism. But in view of the entire historic situation, the assumption of power by the Labour Party can only be an episode, or more exactly, a stage on the road to more radical changes. Neither Major Attlee nor Sir Walter Citrine will be able to cope with the malignant spirits of our epoch!

Somehow, the “world front of democracies” promised by the charlatans of the “People’s Fronts” found itself replaced by a four-power front of Germany, Italy, England, and France. After the Munich conference, where England and France capitulated to Hitler, with the as-always equivocal mediation of Mussolini, the heads of the four states appeared before their respective peoples as national heroes: Hitler had unified the Germans; Chamberlain and Daladier had averted war; Mussolini – helped both sides. Long live the Big Four! The petty-bourgeois fraternity which the GPU usually mobilizes for all kinds of pacifist congresses is already beginning to turn toward the new messiahs of peace. The French socialists abstained on the question of voting special powers to Daladier, the hero of capitulation. The abstention was only a transitional step from the camp of Moscow to the camp of the Big Four. The isolation of the Stalinist praetorians in the chamber of deputies and in the senate symbolized the complete isolation of the Kremlin in European politics.

But it can already be stated with certainty that the Munich quartet is as little capable of preserving peace as the “front of democracies” that was never realized. England and France threw Czechoslovakia into Hitler’s maw to give him something to digest for a time and thus postpone the question of colonies. Chamberlain and Daladier made very vague and uncertain promises that a common agreement on all controversial issues would be reached. On his part, Hitler promised to present no more territorial demands in Europe . Thereby he has in any case indicated his intention to present territorial demands in other parts of the world. As regards Alsace-Lorraine, Schleswig, etc., Hitler is at best postponing the solution of these questions until the new world war. Should fascism conquer France in the next year or two, and the Labour Party win in England, these political changes would alter very little the arrangement of the imperialist figures on the world chessboard. Fascist France would be as little inclined as the France of the “People’s Front” to yield Alsace-Lorraine to Hitler, or to share its colonies with him. The Labour Party, impregnated with the spirit of imperialism, could not mitigate the antagonism with Italy in the Mediterranean, nor check the development of the world antagonism between German and British interests. In these conditions, the four-power combination, if ever realized, will lead only to a new crisis, for which we have not long to wait. Imperialism is inevitably and irresistibly heading to a redivision of the world, corresponding to the changed relation of forces. To prevent the catastrophe, imperialism must be strangled. All other methods are fictions, illusions, lies.

The Meaning of the Governmental Turn in Czechoslovakia

The refusal by France and Britain to defend the imperialist interests of the Czech bourgeoisie led not only to the dismemberment of Czechoslovakia but also to the collapse of its political regime. This experience revealed in a chemically pure form that Czechoslovakian democracy was not an expression of the “people’s will” but simply an apparatus whereby Czech monopoly capitalism adapted itself to its patron states. No sooner did the military patronage fall away than the democratic machinery proved not only unnecessary but harmful in that it threatened to provoke needless friction with Hitler. The Czech bourgeois leaders immediately created a new apparatus of imperialist adaptation in the shape of a military dictatorship. This change of regimes was accomplished without the slightest participation of the people, without new elections, and even without any consultation of the old parliament. The president, elected by the people, the arch-”democrat” Benes, summoned the ranking general of the republic to power. This summons at first had some semblance of a concession to the people, who were aroused, and who were protesting, demonstrating and demanding resistance to Hitler, arms in hand. Resistance? Here is a general as a national leader! Having performed this deed, the president withdrew. Whereupon the general, who was formerly at the head of the armed forces, and who was, so to speak, the shining sword of democracy, announced his intention, for the sake of amity with Hitler, of instituting a new state regime. And that was all! [1]

Generally speaking, democracy is indispensable to the bourgeoisie in the epoch of free competition. To monopoly capitalism, resting not on “free” competition but on centralized command, democracy is of no use; it is hampered and embarrassed by it. Imperialism can tolerate democracy as a necessary evil up to a certain point. But its inner urge is toward dictatorship. During the last war, twenty-two years ago, Lenin wrote: “The difference between the republican-democratic and monarchic-reactionary imperialist bourgeoisie is being effaced precisely because both of them are rotting.” Further, he added: “Political reaction all along the line is inherent in imperialism.” Only hopeless idiots can believe that imperialist world antagonisms are determined by the irreconcilability between democracy and fascism. In fact, the ruling cliques of all countries look upon democracy, military dictatorship, fascism, etc., as so many different instruments for subjecting their own peoples to imperialist aims. Moreover, one of these political regimes, namely, democracy, includes within itself from the outset, in the shape, for example, of the general staff, another regime – that of military dictatorship.

In Germany the imperialist bourgeoisie, with the active assistance of the Social Democracy, placed Field Marshal von Hindenburg, as a defender against fascism, in the presidential office. Hindenburg, in his turn, summoned Hitler to power, after which the Field Marshal did not, to be sure, resign, but died. This involves, however, merely a question of technique and age. In essence, the overturn in Czechoslovakia reproduces the main features of the overturn in Germany, revealing thereby the mainsprings of the political mechanics of imperialism. The question of the Czechoslovakian regime was no doubt decided behind the scenes at conferences of magnates of Czech, French, British, and German capitalism, together with the leaders of the general staffs and of the diplomats. The chief concern in shifting the state boundaries was to cause as little damage as possible to the interests of the financial oligarchy. The change in orientation from France and England to Germany signified essentially an exchange of stocks, a new division of military orders for the Skoda plants and so on.

Nobody, by the way, concerned himself with the position of the Social Democracy and the ex-Communist Party, because in Czechoslovakia they were no more capable of resistance than were their elder brothers in Germany. Bowing before “national necessities” these utterly corroded organizations did everything in their power to paralyze the revolutionary resistance of the working class. After the overturn has been consummated, the financial clique will probably hold a “referendum,” i.e., provide the people, driven into a blind alley, with the precious opportunity of “approving,” under the muzzle of Syrovy’s gun, the changes made without them and against them.

Should Czechoslovakia’s ”National Independence” Be Defended?

During the critical week in September, we have been informed, voices were raised even at the left flank of socialism, holding that in case of “single combat” between Czechoslovakia and Germany, the proletariat would be obliged to help Czechoslovakia and save her “national independence,” even in an alliance with Benes. This hypothetical situation failed to arise. The heroes of Czechoslovakian independence, as was to be expected, capitulated without a struggle. It is impossible, however, in the interests of the future, not to point out here the gross and dangerous blunder of these out-of-season theoreticians of “national independence.”

Even irrespective of its international ties, Czechoslovakia is an absolutely imperialist state. Economically, monopoly capitalism reigns there. Politically, the Czech bourgeoisie rules (perhaps soon we will have to say, used to rule) over several oppressed nationalities. A war, even on the part of isolated Czechoslovakia, would thus have been waged not for national independence but for the preservation and, if possible, the extension of the borders of imperialist exploitation.

Even if the other imperialist states were not immediately involved, it would be impermissible to consider a war between Czechoslovakia and Germany apart from the pattern of European and world imperialist relations of which such a war would have been an episode. Within a month or two, a Czecho-German war – if the Czech bourgeoisie was desirous and capable of fighting – would almost inevitably have involved other states. It would therefore be an error for Marxists to define their position on the basis of episodic diplomatic and military groupings rather than on the basis of the general character of the social forces behind this war.

We have reiterated on hundreds of occasions the irreplaceable and invaluable thesis of Clausewitz that war is but the continuation of politics by other means. In order to determine in each given instance the historic and social character of a war, we must be guided not by impressions and conjectures but by a scientific analysis of the politics that preceded the war and conditioned it. These politics from the very first day of the formation of patched-up Czechoslovakia were of an imperialist character.

It may be argued that after separating the Sudeten Germans, the Hungarians, the Poles, and, perhaps, the Slovaks, Hitler will not stop before the enslavement of the Czechs themselves, and that in this case their struggle for national independence would have every claim upon the support of the proletariat. This means of formulating the question is nothing but social patriotic sophistry. What paths the future development of imperialist antagonisms will follow, we do not know. Complete destruction of Czechoslovakia is, of course, quite possible. But it is equally possible that before this destruction is accomplished, a European war will break out in which Czechoslovakia may be found on the victorious side, and participate in a new dismemberment of Germany. Is the role of a revolutionary party then that of a nurse to “crippled” gangsters of imperialism?

it is quite obvious that the proletariat must build its policy on the basis of a given war, as it is, i.e., as it has been conditioned by the whole preceding course of development, and not on hypothetical speculation over the possible strategic outcome of the war. In such speculations everyone will invariably choose that variant which best corresponds to his own desires, national sympathies, and antipathies. Obviously, such a policy would be not Marxist but subjective, not internationalist but chauvinist in character.

An imperialist war, no matter in what corner it begins, will be waged not for “national independence” but for a redivision of the world in the interests of separate cliques of finance capital. This does not exclude that in passing the imperialist war may improve or worsen the position of this or that “nation”; or, more exactly, of one nation at the expense of another. Thus, the Versailles treaty dismembered Germany. A new peace may dismember France. Social patriots invoke precisely this possible “national” peril of the future as an argument for supporting “their” imperialist bandits of the present. Czechoslovakia does not in the least constitute an exception to this rule.

In reality all speculative arguments of this sort and raising bogies of impending national calamities for the sake of supporting this or that imperialist bourgeoisie flow from the tacit rejection of the revolutionary perspective and a revolutionary policy . Naturally, if a new war ends only in a 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 that of Versailles places new chains for decades upon the people; if unfortunate humanity bears all this in silence and submission – then not only Czechoslovakia or Belgium but also France can be thrown back into the position of an oppressed nation (the same hypothesis may be drawn in regard to Germany). In this eventuality the further frightful decomposition of capitalism will drag all peoples backward for many decades to come. Of course if this perspective of passivity, capitulation, defeats, and decline comes to pass, the oppressed masses and entire peoples will be forced to climb anew, paying out their sweat and blood, retracing on their hands and knees the historic road once already traveled.

Is such a perspective excluded? If the proletariat suffers without end the leadership of social imperialists and communo-chauvinists; if the Fourth International is unable to find a way to the masses; if the horrors of war do not drive the workers and soldiers to rebellion; if the colonial peoples continue to bleed patiently in the interests of the slaveholders; then 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. But then we, or rather our sons, will have to determine their policy in relation to future wars on the basis of the new situation. Today we proceed not from the perspective of decline but that of revolution. We are defeatists at the expense of the 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 episodic shifts of military fronts during a new brawl of the imperialists, but with the uprising of the proletariat and its victory over all the imperialists. We look forward and not backward. The program of the Fourth International states that the freedom of all European nations, small and large, can be assured only within the framework of the Socialist United States of Europe.

Once Again on Democracy and Fascism

All of this does not, of course, imply that there is no difference at all between democracy and fascism, or that this difference is of no concern to the working class, as the Stalinists insisted not so very long ago. Marxists have nothing in common with such cheap political nihilism. Only, it is necessary in each given instance clearly to comprehend the actual content of this difference, and its true limits.

For the backward colonial and semicolonial countries, the struggle for democracy, including the struggle for national independence, represents a necessary and progressive stage of historical development. It is just for this reason that we deem it not only the right but also the duty of workers in these countries actively to participate in the “defense of the fatherland” against imperialism, on condition, to be sure, that they preserve the complete independence of their class organizations and conduct a ruthless struggle against the poison of chauvinism. Thus, in the conflict between Mexico and the oil kings and their executive committee, which is the democratic government of Great Britain, the class conscious proletariat of the world sides wholly with Mexico (this does not of course apply to the imperialist lackeys at the head of the British Labour Party).

As regards advanced capitalism, the latter has long since outgrown not only the old property forms but also the national state, and in consequence bourgeois democracy as well. The fundamental crisis of contemporary civilization lies precisely here. Imperialist democracy is putrefying and disintegrating. A program of “defense of democracy” for the advanced countries is a program of reaction. The only progressive task here is the preparation of the international socialist revolution. Its aim is to smash the framework of the old national state and build up the economy in accordance with geographic and technological conditions, without medieval taxes and duties.

Again, this does not imply an attitude of indifference toward the current political methods of imperialism. In all cases where the counterrevolutionary forces tend to pull back away from the decomposing “democratic” state and towards provincial particularism, towards monarchy, military dictatorship, fascism – the revolutionary proletariat without assuming the slightest responsibility for the “defense of democracy” (it is indefensible!) will meet these counterrevolutionary forces with armed resistance, in order, if successful, to direct its offensive against imperialist “democracy.”

This policy, however, is applicable only with regard to internal conflicts, that is, in those cases where the struggle really involves the issue of a political regime, as was for instance the case in Spain. The participation of Spanish workers in the struggle against Franco was their elementary duty. But precisely and only because the workers did not succeed in time in replacing the rule of bourgeois democracy with their own rule, “democracy” was able to clear the path for fascism.

It is, however, sheer fraud and charlatanism to transfer mechanically the laws and rules of the struggle between different classes of one and the same nation over to an imperialist war, that is, the struggle waged by one and the same class of different nations. At present, after the fresh experience of Czechoslovakia, there is no necessity, it seems, to demonstrate that the imperialists are fighting one another not for political principles but for domination over the world under the cover of any principles that will serve their purpose.

Mussolini and his closest associates, so far as one can gather, are atheists, that is, they believe neither in God nor the devil. The king of Britain and his ministers are mired in medieval superstitions and believe not only in the devil but in the devil’s grandmother. Yet this does not mean that a war between Italy and England would be a war of science against religion. Mussolini, the atheist, will do all in his power to fan the religious passions of the Mohammedans. The devout Protestant Chamberlain will, for his part, seek assistance from the Pope, and so on. In the calendar of human progress, a republic rates above a monarchy. But does this signify that a war waged by republican France, say, against monarchist Holland for colonies would be a war of a republic against a monarchy? We shall not even dwell on the fact that in the event of a national war waged by the bey of Tunis against France, progress would be on the side of the barbarian monarch and not that of the imperialist republic. Hygiene occupies an important place in human culture. But when a murder is involved, the question of whether the murderer washed his hands beforehand is not of decisive importance. To substitute political or moral abstractions for the actual aims of the warring imperialist camps is not to fight for democracy, but to help the brigands disguise their robbery, pillage, and violence. This is now precisely the main function of the Second and Third Internationals.

The International Policy of the Bonapartist Kremlin Clique

The immediate blow fell this time on Czechoslovakia. France and England have suffered serious injury. But the most formidable blow was suffered by the Kremlin. Its system of lies, charlatanism, and frauds has suffered international collapse.

Having crushed the Soviet masses and broken with the policy of international revolution, the Kremlin clique has become a toy of imperialism. In everything essential, Stalin’s diplomacy in the last five years was only a reflection of and a supplement to Hitler’s diplomacy. In 1933 Stalin strove might and main to become Hitler’s ally. But the extended hand was spurned, inasmuch as Hitler, in search of England’s friendship, presented himself as the savior of Germany and Europe from Bolshevism. Thereupon Stalin set himself the task of proving to capitalist Europe that it had no need of Hitler, that Bolshevism contained no dangers within itself, that the government of the Kremlin was a domestic animal, trained to stand up on its haunches and beg. Thus, in moving away from Hitler, or more exactly, in being repulsed by him, Stalin gradually became a lackey and hired assassin in the service of the countries of sated imperialism.

Hence, this sudden frenzy of genuflection before gangrenous bourgeois democracy on the part of the totalitarian Kremlin gang; hence, the idiotically false idealization of the League of Nations; hence, the “People’s Fronts” which strangled the Spanish revolution; hence, the substitution for the actual class struggle of declamations “against fascism.” The present international function of the Soviet bureaucracy and the Comintern was revealed with especial impudence at the pacifist congress in Mexico (September 1938), where the hired agents of Moscow tried to convince the peoples of Latin America that they had to fight not against the all too real imperialism that threatened them but solely against fascism.

As was to be expected, Stalin gained neither friendship nor trust through these cheap maneuvers. The imperialists have become accustomed to appraise society not by the declarations of its “leaders,” and not even by the character of its political superstructure, but by its social foundation. So long as state ownership of the means of production protected by monopoly of foreign trade is maintained in the Soviet Union, the imperialists, including the “democratic” imperialists, will continue to regard Stalin with no more confidence and incomparably less respect than feudal-monarchist Europe viewed the first Bonaparte. Surrounded by the aureole of victories and his suite of brilliant marshals, Napoleon could not escape Waterloo. Stalin has crowned the series of his capitulations, failures, and betrayals with the wholesale destruction of the marshals of the revolution. Can there be the slightest doubt about the fate awaiting him?

The only obstacle in the path of war is the fear of the property-owning classes of revolution. So long as the Communist International remained true to the principles of proletarian revolution, it represented, together with the Red Army, with which it was closely bound, the most important factor for peace. Having prostituted the Comintern, and turned it into an agency of “democratic” imperialism; having beheaded and paralyzed the military power of the Soviets, Stalin has completely untied Hitler’s hands, as well as the hands of Hitler’s adversaries, and pushed Europe close to war.

The Moscow falsifiers are nowadays heaping cheap curses upon their former democratic friend Benes because he “capitulated” prematurely and prevented the Red Army from crushing Hitler, regardless of France’s course. This theatrical thunder only illuminates all the more glaringly the impotence and duplicity of the Kremlin. Who then compelled you to believe in Benes? Who forced you to concoct the myth of the “alliance of democracies”? And, lastly, who prevented you in the critical hours when all of Czechoslovakia was seething like a cauldron, from calling upon the proletariat of Prague to seize power and sending the Red Army to their aid? Apparently it is much more difficult to fight against fascism than to shoot and poison Old Bolsheviks ... From the example of Czechoslovakia, all small states and especially all colonial peoples must learn what sort of help they may expect from Stalin.

Only the overthrow of the Bonapartist Kremlin clique can make possible the regeneration of the military strength of the USSR. Only the liquidation of the ex-Comintern will clear the way for revolutionary internationalism. The struggle against war, imperialism, and fascism demands a ruthless struggle against Stalinism, splotched with crimes. Whoever defends Stalinism directly or indirectly, whoever keeps silent about its betrayals or exaggerates its military strength is the worst enemy of the revolution, of socialism, of the oppressed peoples. The sooner the Kremlin gang is overthrown by the armed offensive of the workers, the greater will be the chances for a socialist regeneration of the USSR, the closer and broader will be the perspectives of the international revolution.

The Social Basis of Opportunism

In order to understand the present role of the Social Democracy and of the ex-Comintern, it is necessary once again to recall the economic foundation upon which opportunism in the world labor movement rests. The flowering of capitalism, which lasted, with inevitable oscillations, up to 1913, enabled the bourgeoisie on the one hand to raise slightly the living standard of certain proletarian layers, and on the other to throw rather juicy sops to the bureaucracy and aristocracy of labor, thus raising them above the masses. The trade union and parliamentary bureaucracy, whose “social problem” appeared close to a solution, was in a position to point out to the masses the beginnings of a change for the better in their own lives. This is the social basis for reformism (opportunism) as a system of illusions for the masses and a system of deceit on the part of the labor bureaucracy. The reformist optimism of the Second International reached its most luxuriant flowering in the years of the last economic boom prior to the war (1909-13). For this reason, the leaders hailed the war and depicted it to the masses as an external calamity that threatened the bases of growing national welfare. Hence, the policy of “defense of the fatherland,” which was in actuality on the part of the masses an unconscious, and on the bureaucracy’s part a conscious or semiconscious defense of the imperialist interests of their respective bourgeoisies.

The war proved in reality to be not an “external” calamity which had temporarily disrupted national progress but rather the explosion of internal contradictions of the imperialist system at a moment when further progress on the basis of this system had become practically impossible. And since the war could neither enlarge our planet nor restore youth to capitalism, it ended by accelerating and aggravating in the extreme all the processes of capitalist decay. With the decline of democracy set in the decline of the labor bureaucracy. Fascism brought the workers “only” redoubled enslavement; to the reformist bureaucracy it brought utter ruin.

The political form of democracy, even if in an extremely mutilated condition (“emergency powers,” immigration laws, abandonment of the right of asylum, etc.), has been preserved among the great powers only by Great Britain, France, and the United States, the richest, traditionally the most predatory and privileged capitalist countries, which have long since concentrated in their hands a lion’s share of the colonial possessions and the chief natural resources of our planet. It is not hard to find the explanation for this “natural selection.” Democracy can be maintained only so long as class contradictions do not reach an explosive state. In order to mitigate social frictions the bourgeoisie has been compelled to provide feed for a broad layer of petty-bourgeois intellectuals, and the bureaucracy and aristocracy of labor. The bigger the feeding-trough the more ardent is social patriotism. The reformist feeding-trough has nowadays been preserved only in those countries which were able in the past to accumulate vast wealth, thanks to the exploitation of the world market and their pillage of the colonies. In other words, in the condition of capitalist decay a democratic regime is accessible (up to a certain time) only to the most aristocratic bourgeoisie. The basis of social patriotism remains colonial slavery.

In countries like Italy and Germany, which have not inherited from the past vast accumulations of riches and which are deprived of the opportunity to obtain superprofits from their colonies, the bourgeoisie has destroyed the parliament dispersed the reformist bureaucracy and placed the workers in an iron vise. To be sure, the fascist bureaucracy devours not less but more than the reformist bureaucracy; but, in return, it is not compelled to make concessions to the masses nor to issue drafts, which decaying capitalism can no longer pay. Deprived of its feeding-trough, the retired Social Democratic bureaucracy of Italy, Germany, and Austria holds high the banner of defeatism – in emigration.

The chief source of strength of the social patriotic, or more exactly, the social imperialist parties is the protection of the bourgeoisie, which through the parliament, the press, the army, and the police protects and defends the Social Democracy against all kinds of revolutionary movements and even against revolutionary criticism. In the future war, owing to the sharpening of national and international contradictions, this organic bond between the bureaucracy and the bourgeoisie will be revealed still more openly and cynically, or to put it more exactly, it is already being revealed, especially in the treacherous policy of the People’s Fronts, which were absolutely inconceivable on the eve of the last war. However, the initiative for the People’s Fronts originates not from the Second but from the Third International.


The monstrous and rapid development of Soviet opportunism finds its explanation in causes analogous to those which, in the previous generation, led to the flowering of opportunism in capitalist countries, namely, the parasitism of the labor bureaucracy, which had successfully solved its “social question” on the basis of a rise of the productive forces in the USSR. But since the Soviet bureaucracy is incomparably more powerful than the labor bureaucracy in capitalist countries, and since the feeding-trough at its disposal is distinguished by its almost unlimited capacity, there is nothing astonishing in the fact that the Soviet variety of opportunism immediately assumed an especially perfidious and vile character.

As regards the ex-Comintern, its social basis, properly speaking, is of a twofold nature. On the one hand, it lives on the subsidies of the Kremlin, submits to the latter’s commands, and, in this respect, every ex-Communist bureaucrat is the younger brother and subordinate of the Soviet bureaucrat. On the other hand, the various machines of the ex-Comintern feed from the same sources as the Social Democracy, that is, the superprofits of imperialism. The growth of the Communist parties in recent years, their infiltration into the ranks of the petty bourgeoisie, their installation in the state machinery, the trade unions, parliaments, municipalities, etc., have strengthened in the extreme their dependence on national imperialism at the expense of their traditional dependence on the Kremlin. Ten years ago it was predicted that the theory of socialism in one country must inevitably lead to the growth of nationalist tendencies in the sections of the Comintern. This prediction has become an obvious fact. But until recently, the chauvinism of the French, British, Belgian, Czechoslovak, American, and other Communist parties seemed to be, and to a certain extent was, a refracted image of the interests of Soviet diplomacy (“the defense of the USSR”). Today, we can predict with assurance the inception of a new stage. The growth of imperialist antagonisms, the obvious proximity of the war danger, and the equally obvious isolation of the USSR must unavoidably strengthen the centrifugal nationalist tendencies within the Comintern. Each one of its sections will begin to evolve a patriotic policy on its own account. Stalin has reconciled the Communist parties of imperialist democracies with their national bourgeoisies. This stage has now been passed. The Bonapartist procurer has played his role. Henceforth the Communo-chauvinists will have to worry about their own hides, whose interests by no means always coincide with the “defense of the USSR.” When the American Browder deemed it possible to declare before a senate committee that in case of a war between the United States and the Soviet Union his party would be found on the side of its passionately beloved fatherland, he himself might have possibly considered this statement as a simple stratagem. But in reality, Browder’s answer is an unmistakable symptom of a change from a “Moscow” to a “national” orientation. The “stratagem” arose out of the necessity of adaptation to imperialist “patriotism.” The cynical grossness of this stratagem (the turn from the “fatherland of the toilers” to the republic of the dollar) reveals the profound extent of degeneration that has occurred and the full extent of the dependence of the sections of the Comintern on the public opinion of the bourgeoisie.

Fifteen years of uninterrupted purges, degradation, and corruption have brought the bureaucracy of the ex-Comintern to such a degree of demoralization that it has become able and anxious to openly take into its hands the banner of social patriotism. The Stalinists (we shall soon have to say, the ex-Stalinists) have not, of course, set the Thames on fire. They have simply picked up the well-worn banalities of petty-bourgeois opportunism. But in propagating them, they have injected into them the frenzy of “revolutionary” parvenus, who have turned totalitarian slander, blackmail, and murder into normal methods of “defending democracy.” As for the old classic reformists, washing their hands in innocence after every embarrassing situation, they have known how to use the support of the new recruits to chauvinism.

In that imperialist country which happens to be in the same camp with the USSR during the war (if any such is found), the section of the ex-Comintern will, naturally, “defend” Moscow. This defense, however, will be of no great value, for in such a country all parties will “defend” the USSR. (In order not to compromise itself with its imperialist ally, Moscow would probably order the Communist Party not to shout too loudly, and might possibly try to dissolve it altogether.) On the contrary, in countries of the hostile camp, i.e., precisely where Moscow will be in greatest need of defenders, the ex-Communist parties will be found completely on the side of their imperialist fatherland: this course will be infinitely less dangerous and far more profitable. The ruling Moscow clique will reap the just fruits of fifteen years’ prostitution of the Comintern.

The Second and Third Internationals in Colonial Countries

The true character of the Social Democracy as a party whose policy rested and still rests on imperialist exploitation of backward peoples appears most clearly in the fact that in colonial and semicolonial countries the Second International has never had any influence. The labor bureaucracy of imperialist countries feared either consciously or semiconsciously to set in motion a movement in the colonies that might have undermined the basis of its own prosperity in the metropolitan centers. It was otherwise with the Comintern. As a genuinely internationalist organization, it immediately threw itself upon the virgin soil of the colonies and thanks to the revolutionary program of Leninism gained important influence there. The subsequent bourgeois degeneration of the Comintern transformed its sections in colonial and semicolonial countries, especially in Latin America, into a left agency of European and American imperialism. Parallel with this, a change occurred also in the social basis of the colonial “Communist” parties. Mercilessly plundering its Asiatic and African slaves and its Latin American semislaves, foreign capitalism is at present compelled in the colonies to feed a thin layer of aristocracy – pitiful, pathetic, but still an aristocracy amid the universal poverty. Stalinism has in recent years become the party of this labor “aristocracy” as well as of the “left” section of the petty bourgeoisie, the office holders in particular. Bourgeois lawyers, journalists, teachers, etc., adapting themselves to the national revolution and exploiting the labor organizations to make careers for themselves, find in Stalinism the best possible ideology.

The revolutionary struggle against imperialism demands courage, resolution, and the spirit of self-sacrifice. Where are the petty-bourgeois heroes of the phrase to find these qualities? On the other hand, adaptation to “democratic” imperialism permits them to carve out placid and pleasant careers on the backs of the toilers. The best possible way of hiding this adaptation from the workers is provided by the slogan “defense of the USSR,” i.e., friendship with the Kremlin oligarchy. This opens up an opportunity to publish newspapers without readers, arrange pompous congresses and all sorts of international publicity. This corporation of professional “friends of the Soviet Union,” fake “socialists” and “Communists,” who by their noisy declamation against fascism cover up their social parasitism and their subservience to the imperialists and the Kremlin oligarchy, has become a veritable plague of the labor movement in colonial and semicolonial countries. Stalinism – under all its masks – is the chief obstacle in the path of the liberating struggle of backward and oppressed peoples. The problem of colonial revolutions has henceforth become indissolubly linked with the historic mission of the Fourth International.

The International Association of Squeezed Lemons (No.3¼)

The London Bureau of incurable centrists (Fenner Brockway, Walcher, and Company), jointly with Brandler, Sneevliet, Marceau Pivert, and with the participation of “sections that have split from the so-called Fourth International,” have united in view of the war danger to create – please do not smile! – the War Emergency Fund. These gentlemen did not bother their heads about a “fund” of ideas. Thank heaven, they are materialists and not idealists. It is open to doubt whether this new “unification” represents a danger to imperialism. But it does perform a great service to the Fourth International, for it brings together the shallowness, the hybridity, and the inconsistency of all varieties and shades of centrism, i.e., that tendency which is in sharpest contradiction with the spirit of our epoch. Like all similar mechanical “unifications,” it will become a source of new internal conflicts and splits and will fall to pieces at the very moment that the hour for action arrives.

Could it be otherwise? The organizations occupied with the heroic creation of the “Fund” did not arise on the basis of a common program, but have arrived from all the corners of the political map of centrism as the homeless splinters of old opportunist parties and factions, continuing even today to play with all the colors of the opportunist rainbow, and to evolve in different directions. All of them have steadily declined and grown weaker in recent years, with the exception of the newly split party of Marceau Pivert, for which the same unenviable fate may be predicted. In no country in the world did the London Bureau succeed in creating a new organization from young fresh elements on the basis of its own program. No revolutionary group will rally to this banner which has neither a past nor a future. In the colonial countries the London Bureau does not possess even a shadow of influence. It may be regarded as a law that the “revolutionary” organization which in our imperialist epoch is incapable of sinking its roots into the colonies is doomed to vegetate miserably.

Each of these outlived groups holds together by force of inertia and not by the strength of ideas. The one organization with a more serious revolutionary past in this quarter, the POUM, has to date proved incapable of courageously revising its centrist policy, which was one of the main reasons for the collapse of the Spanish revolution. The remaining members of the group are even less capable of criticism and self-criticism. The spirit of senile dilettantism hovers over this whole enterprise.

Assuredly not a few “remnants” had gathered in the beginning around the banner of the Fourth International. But the enormous work of selection, cleansing, and reeducation was accomplished here on the basis of a scientific theory and a clear program. This work, the meaning and importance of which philistines have never understood, has gone on and is still going on in an atmosphere of free, open, and patient discussion. Whoever has failed to pass this test has proved in action his organic inability to contribute anything to the building of a revolutionary International. It is these winnowed, worn, and rejected “remnants” that have been incorporated today into the “Fund” of international centrism. This fact alone places on the entire enterprise a stamp of hopeless disability.

In a lucid moment Marceau Pivert declared a few years ago that any tendency in the working class conducting a struggle against “Trotskyism” thereby characterizes itself as a reactionary tendency. This did not, we notice, prevent Pivert, as a congenital centrist whose words are always contrary to his deeds, from joining the London Bureau, which seeks to create a physiognomy of its own by convulsively shying away from “Trotskyism.”

It is not hard, however, to forecast that the bourgeoisie, the reformists, and the Stalinists will continue to label these creators of the “Fund” as – “Trotskyists” or “semi-Trotskyists.” This will be done in part out of ignorance but chiefly in order to compel them to excuse, justify, and demarcate themselves. And they will actually vow, with might and main, that they are not at all Trotskyists, and that if they should happen to try to roar like lions, then like their forerunner, Bottom the weaver, they succeed in “roaring” like sucking doves. We know them: they are no fledglings. The Fenner Brockways, the Walchers, the Brandlers, the Sneevliets, the Piverts, as well as the rejected elements of the Fourth International, have managed in the course of many long years – for some, decades – to evince their hopeless eclecticism in theory and their sterility in practice. They are less cynical than the Stalinists and a trifle to the left of the left Social Democrats – that is all that can be said for them. That is why in the list of the Internationals they must therefore be entered as number three and one-eighth or three and one-quarter. With a “fund” or without one, they will enter into history as an association of squeezed lemons. When the great masses, under the blows of the war, are set in revolutionary motion, they will not bother to inquire about the address of the London Bureau.


All the forces and mainsprings of the last war are again being set in motion but in an incomparably more violent and open form. The movement follows well-worn grooves and consequently proceeds at a swifter pace. Nobody believes at present, as they did on the eve of 1914, in the inviolability of frontiers or the stability of regimes. This is an enormous advantage to the revolutionary party. If on the eve of the last war, the sections of the Second International themselves did not know as yet what their conduct would be on the morrow, and adopted superrevolutionary resolutions; if the left elements only gradually freed themselves from the pacifist swamp and groped for their road, then today all the starting positions have been occupied with precision prior to the war. Nobody expects an internationalist policy from the Social Democratic parties, which themselves do not promise anything but the “defense of the fatherland.” The departure of the Czech social patriots from the Second International is the beginning of the latter’s official disintegration along national lines. The policy of the Third International is fixed in advance almost as distinctly; the prognosis in this case is only slightly complicated by an element of adventurism. If the German and Italian Social Democrats and ex-Communists will be platonic defeatists, it is only because Hitler and Mussolini forbid them to be patriots. But wherever the bourgeoisie still continues to feed the labor bureaucracy, the Social Democrats and ex-Communists will be found completely on the side of their general staffs, and, what is more, the first fiddle of chauvinism will be in the hands of the musicians of the Stalin school. Not only the fiddle, but also the revolver aimed at the revolutionary workers.

At the beginning of the last war, Jean Jaurès was assassinated, and at the end of the war, Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg. In France the assassination of the leader of the French Socialist Party did not deter other leaders from entering the government of imperialist war. In Germany the murder of two great revolutionists was accomplished with the direct participation of the Social Democratic government. The actual murderer in France was an obscure petty-bourgeois chauvinist, while in Germany counter-revolutionary officers did the killing. The situation today even in this respect is incomparably clearer. The work of exterminating the internationalists has already commenced on a world scale prior to the outbreak of the war. Imperialism no longer has to depend on a “happy accident.” In the Stalinist Mafia it has a ready-made international agency for the systematic extermination of revolutionists. Jaurès, Liebknecht, Luxemburg enjoyed world fame as socialist leaders. Rudolf Klement was a young and as yet little known revolutionist. Nevertheless the assassination of Klement because he was the secretary of the Fourth International is of profound symbolic significance. Through its Stalinist gangsters imperialism indicates beforehand from what side mortal danger will threaten it in time of war. The imperialists are not mistaken. If they succeeded, after the last war, in maintaining themselves everywhere except in Russia, it was only because of the absence of revolutionary parties. Freeing themselves with difficulty from the web of the old ideology, with its fetishism of “unity,” most of the oppositional elements in the Social Democracy did not go further than pacifism. In critical moments such groupings proved more capable of checking the revolutionary mass movement than of heading it. In this sense, it is no exaggeration to say that the “unity” of the parties of the Second International saved the European bourgeoisie.

At present, sections of the Fourth International exist in thirty countries. True, they are only the vanguard of the vanguard. But if today, prior to the war, we had mass revolutionary organizations, then revolution and not war would be on the order of the day. We lack this, of course, and we hold no illusions on this score. But the position of the revolutionary vanguard is far more favorable today than it was twenty-five years ago. The main conquest is that before the war there already exist in all the most important countries of the world tested cadres, numbering hundreds and thousands of revolutionists in growing numbers, welded together by the unity of a doctrine, and tested in the school of cruelest persecutions by the imperialist bourgeoisie, the Social Democracy, and, in particular, the Stalinist Mafia. The Second, the Third, and the Amsterdam Internationals cannot at present convene their congresses, because they are paralyzed by their dependence on imperialism and because they are torn asunder by “national” contradictions. On the contrary, the sections of the Fourth International, despite their extremely meager resources, the difficulties of obtaining visas, the murder of their secretary and the hall of repressions, were able in the most critical moment to convene their international congress and adopt unanimous decisions in which the tasks of the present titanic struggle are formulated precisely and concretely, on the basis of all historic experience.

These precious cadres will not be swerved from their road by any wave of chauvinism, nor intimidated by Stalinist Mausers and knives. The Fourth International will enter the next war as a tightly welded unit, whose sections will be able to follow one and the same policy, irrespective of the boundaries and trenches dividing them. It is quite possible that at the beginning of the war, when the blind instinct of self-preservation combined with chauvinist propaganda will push the popular masses towards their governments, the sections of the Fourth International will find themselves isolated. They will know how to withstand national hypnosis and the epidemic of patriotism. In the principles of internationalism they will find a bulwark against the herd panic below, and the terror from above. They will view with contempt the oscillations and vacillations of philistine “democracy.” On the other hand, they will listen closely to the most oppressed sections of the population and to the army pouring out its blood. Each new day of war will work in our favor. Mankind has become poorer than it was twenty-five years ago, while the means of destruction have become infinitely more powerful. In the very first months of the war, therefore, a stormy reaction against the fumes of chauvinism will set in among the working masses. The first victims of this reaction, along with fascism, will be the parties of the Second and Third Internationals. Their collapse will be the indispensable condition for an avowed revolutionary movement, which will find for its crystallization no axis other than the Fourth International. Its tempered cadres will lead the toilers to the great offensive.


1. Immediately upon his arrival in England, the former Czechoslovakian president, Benes, declared to the press that the fate of Czechoslovakia was in “reliable hands.” This dotted all the i’s. All distinctions between democracy and fascism faded away when it became a question of the basic interests of capitalism. Benes, the democrat and Francophile, feels no shame in publicly recognizing General Syrovy, the fascistophile and Germanophile, as a “reliable” guide of Czechoslovakia’s destiny. In the last analysis, they are both stewards of one and the same master.

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Last updated on: 12 September 2015