Interviewed: 18 March 1939.
Source: Fourth International [New York], Vol. III No. 1, March 1942, p. 117.
Translated: Fourth International.
Transcription/HTML Markup: David Walters.
Public Domain: Leon Trotsky Internet Archive 2008. This work is completely free to copy and distribute.
Answers of L.D. Trotsky to the Questions of Sybil Vincent, Representative of the London Daily Herald—March 18, 1939
Question: Is a world war inevitable? If so, will it mean the end of the capitalist system?
Answer: Yes, a world war is inevitable, if the revolution does not forestall it. The inevitability of the war flows, first, from the incurable crisis of the capitalist system; secondly, from the fact that the present partition of our planet, that is to say above all, of the colonies, no longer corresponds to the specific economic weight of the imperialist states. Looking for an escape out of the mortal crisis, the parvenu states aspire, and cannot fail to aspire, to a new partitioning of the world. Only suckling babes and professional “pacifists,” to whom even the experience of the unfortunate League of Nations has taught nothing, can suppose that a more “equitable” repartition of the terrestrial surface can be realized around the green tables of diplomacy.
If the Spanish revolution had been victorious, it would have given a powerful impulse to the revolutionary movement in France and in other countries in Europe. In this case it would have been possible to hope confidently that the victorious socialist movement would forestall the imperialist war, making it useless and impossible. But the socialist proletariat of Spain was strangled by the coalition of Stalin-AzanaCaballero-Negrin-Garcia Oliver, even before it was definitely crushed by the bands of Franco. The defeat of the Spanish revolution postponed the revolutionary perspective and has hastened the imperialist war. Only the blind can fail to see that!
Of course, the more energetically and the more audaciously the advanced workers will fight in all countries against militarism and imperialism now, in spite of the unfavorable conditions, the more quickly they will be able to stop the war when it has started, the greater will he the hopes for the salvation of our civilization from destruction.
Yes, I do not doubt that the new world war will provoke with an absolute inevitability the world revolution and the collapse of the capitalist system. The imperialist governments of all countries are doing all that is possible to accelerate this collapse. It is only necessary that the world proletariat is not again taken unawares by the great events.
Question: Is not the world too afraid of Hitler?
Answer: The democratic governments consider, with admiration and fear, Hitler, who succeeded in “liquidating” the social question. The working class, which during one and a half centuries periodically shook the civilized countries of Europe by its revolts, is suddenly reduced to complete silence in Italy and Germany. Messrs. the official politicians attribute this “success” to the internal, quasi-mystical properties of Fascism and National Socialism. In reality the strength of Hitler is not in himself, nor in his contemptible philosophy, but in the terrible deception of the working masses, in their confusion and in their lassitude. During many decades the proletariat of Germany built up a trade union organization and a Social-Democratic party. Abreast of the strong SocialDemocracy appeared later a powerful Communist party. And all these organizations, which rose upon the shoulders of the proletariat, were in the critical moment a zero, and crumbled away before the offensive of Hitler. They did not find in themselves the courage to call the masses to struggle, as they themselves were completely degenerated, bourgeoisified and had lost the habit of thinking about struggle. The masses pass through catastrophes heavily and slowly. It is incorrect to say that the German proletariat has reconciled itself with Hitler! But it no longer believes in the old parties, in the old slogans, and at the same time it has not yet found a new way. This and only this explains the strong-arm omnipotence of fascism. It will continue until the masses have dressed their wounds, have regenerated themselves and once more lifted their heads. I think we can expect that in not a long time.
The fear of Great Britain and France before Hitler and Mussolini explains itself by the fact that the world position of these two colony-holding countries, as has already been said, no longer corresponds with their specific economic weight. The war can bring nothing to them, but can take a great deal from them. It is natural that they attempt to postpone the moment of a new partitioning of the world and that they toss a bone, as Spain and Czechoslovakia, to Mussolini and Hitler. The struggle is for the colonial possessions, for the domination of the world. The attempt to represent this brawl of interests and appetites as a struggle between “democracy” and “fascism” can only dupe the working class. Chamberlain will give all the democracies in the world (there are not many left) for a tenth part of India.
The strength of Hitler (at the same time also his weakness) consists in the fact that, under the pressure of the helpless position of German capitalism, he is ready to resort to the more extreme means, using in passing blackmail and bluff, at the risk of leading to war. Hitler has felt well the fear of the old colony-holders before any disturbance and played on this fear, if not with a very great heart, at least with indubitable success.
Question: Should the “democracies” and the USSR unite to crush Hitler?
Answer: I do not feel that it is my mission to give counsel to imperialist governments, even if they name themselves democratic, nor to the Bonapartist clique of the Kremlin, even if it names itself socialist. I can give counsel only to the workers. My counsel to them is not to believe for a single instant that the war of the two imperialist camps can bring anything else but oppression and reaction in both camps. It will be the war of the slave-owners who cover themselves with various masks: “democracy,” “civilization,” on the one hand, “race,” “honor,” on the other. Only the overthrow of all slave-owners can once for all end the war and open an epoch of true civilization.
Question: Does Hitler represent a great danger for the democracies?
Answer: The “democracies” themselves represent a much greater danger for themselves. The regime of bourgeois democracy appeared on the basis of liberal capitalism, that is to say, free competition. That epoch is now far in the past. The present monopoly capitalism which has decomposed and degraded the petty and middle bourgeoisie, has thus undermined the ground under bourgeois democracy. Fascism is he product of this development. It does not come at all ’from without.” In Italy and Germany fascism conquered without foreign intervention. Bourgeois democracy is dead lot only in Europe but also for America. If it is not liquidated n time by socialist revolution, fascism will inevitably conquer ti France, England and the United States, with the aid of Mussolini and Hitler, or without this aid. But fascism is only a respite. Capitalism is condemned. Nothing will save it from collapse. The more resolute and audacious will be the policy of the proletariat the less the socialist revolution will provoke sacrifice, the sooner mankind will enter upon a new road.
Answers of L. D. Trotsky to the Questions of Julius Klyman – Feb. 14, 1940
Question: What do you believe will be the outcome of the European war—politically, economically, socially and territorially?
Answer: In order to formulate an opinion about the possible outcome of the war, it is necessary to first answer the question whether it will be possible shortly to pacify the unfurled fury through a compromise or whether the war will develop its devastation and destruction to the end. I don’t believe for a minute that the pacifist attempts of the neutrals (including the mysterious mission of Mr. Sumner Welles) will meet with success in the more or less near future. The contradictions between the two camps are irreconcilable. As great as may be Hitler’s conquests in Europe, they will not solve the problem of German capitalism; on the contrary they only aggravate it. The Austrian, Czech and Polish industries were added to the German; all of them suffered from narrowness of national borders and lack of raw materials. Further, in order to retain the new territories, a constant tension of military forces is unavoidable. Hitler can capitalize on his European successes only on a world scale. In order to do this he must crush France and England. Hitler cannot stop. Consequently the Allies cannot stop either if they do not wish to commit voluntary suicide. The humanitarian lamentations and references to reason will not help. The war will last until it exhausts all the resources of civirization or until it breaks its head on the revolution.
Question: How will Europe and the world look after the war?
Answer: The peace programs of both camps of this war are not only reactionary but also fantastic, that is, unrealizable. The British Government dreams of the establishment of a moderate, conservative monarchy in Germany, of the restoration of the Hapsburgs in Austria-Hungary and of an agreement of all European states on the question of raw materials and markets. London would act correctly if it first found the secret of a peaceful agreement with Ireland about Ulster and with India. Meanwhile we see terrorist acts, executions, passive and active resistance, sanguinary pacifications. Is it possible to expect that a victorious England will renounce its colonial rights in favor of Germany? Fundamentally England proposes, if victorious, a new edition of the League of Nations with all its old antagonisms but without the old illusions.
With France it is even worse. Its specific economic weight is in evident contradiction with its world position and with the extent of its colonial empire. France seeks a way out of this contradiction in the dismemberment of Germany. As if it were possible to turn the clock of history back to the epoch preceding 1870! The unification of the German nation was an inseparable result of its capitalistic development. In order to dismember the present Germany, it would be necessary to break the backbone of the German technique, destroy the German factories and exterminate a significant part of the population. This is easier said than done.
The program of freedom and independence for small nationals proclaimed by the Allies sounds very attractive but is entirely devoid of content. Under an unlimited domination of imperialist interests on a world scale, the independence of small and weak states has as little reality as the independence of small industrial and commercial enterprises under the domination of trusts and corporations (in this respect see the statistics of the United States).
At the same time that France wishes to dismember Germany, the latter wants on the contrary to unify Europe, naturally under its heel. Concurrently, the colonies of the European states would have to be subjected to German rule. Such is the program of the most dynamic and aggressive imperialism. The task of the economic unification of Europe is in itself progressive. However the entire problem is who is to unify, how and what for? One cannot believe for one minute that the European nations will accept being locked in the barracks of National Socialism. Pax Germanica would mean unavoidably a new series of bloody convulsions.
Such are the two “peace” programs: on the one hand, the Balkanization of Germany and thereby of Europe; on the other, the transformation of Europe and then of the entire world into a totalitarian barracks. The present war is being waged for the sake of these two programs.
Question: What, in your opinion, is the way out? When and how and by whom can real peace be achieved?
Answer: First of all, I recall that in the past war, which was fundamentally a rehearsal for the present, not only did none of the governments materialize its peace program but neither did they survive for long the conclusions of the peace treaty. Into an abyss fell three old and solid firms: the Romanovs, the Hapsburgs and the Hohenzollerns, with a suite of smaller dynasties. Clemenceau and Lloyd George were swept from power. Wilson ended his days as a victim of his crushed hopes and illusions. Before his death Clemenceau foresaw the coming war. Lloyd George was doomed to see a new catastrophe with his own eyes.
None of the present governments will survive this war. The programs which are now proclaimed will soon be forgotten just as will their authors. The only program that the ruling classes will maintain is: Save our own skins.
The capitalist system is in a blind alley. Without an entire reconstruction of the economic system on a European and a world scale our civilization is doomed. The struggle of blind forces and unbridled interests must be replaced by the rule of reason, of plan, of conscious organization.
The economic unification of Europe is a question of life and death for it. The accomplishment of this task belongs, however, not to the present governments but to the popular masses, led by the proletariat. Europe must become Socialist United States if it is not to become the cemetery. of the old culture. A socialist Europe will proclaim the full independence of the colonies, establish friendly economic relations with them and, step by step, without the slightest violence, by means of example and collaboration, introduce them into a world socialist federation. The USSR, liberated from its own ruling caste, will join the European federation which will help it to reach a higher level. The economy of the unified Europe will function as one whole. The question of state borders will provoke as few difficulties as now the question of administrative divisions inside a country. Borders inside the new Europe will be determined in relation to language, and national culture by free decisions of the populations involved.
Will this seem utopian to the “realistic” politicians? To cannibals in their time the giving up of human flesh was utopian.
Last updated on: 3 December 2015