Leon Trotsky

Why Is Russia Mobilizing?

Not Even the Kremlin Knows!

(September 1939)

Written: 11 September 1939.
Source: Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 70, 15 September 1939, p. 1.
Transcription/HTML Markup: Einde O’Callaghan for the Trotsky Internet Archive.
Copyleft: Leon Trotsky Internet Archive (www.marxists.org) 2016. Permission is granted to copy and/or distribute this document under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0.

Moscow mobilizes and everybody asks himself, against whom? But at the present moment even the Kremlin doesn’t know. One thing is clear: the German-Soviet agreement facilitated the defeat of Poland, but didn’t at all guarantee the Soviet Union’s neutrality. The Polish army proved to be weaker than many supposed. Now in Paris and London, undoubtedly, the people are looking at the German army’s approach to the Soviet border with interest and without excessive alarm. The friendship of Stalin and Hitler needs distance. The complete defeat of Poland can prove fatal to the German-Soviet agreement. Having settled down on the borders of the Ukraine and White Russia, Hitler will propose to Stalin to give a more active character to his new “friendship”. Simultaneously, he can turn to Paris and London with a proposition to give the German army an opportunity to march farther east, and will show complete willingness to bind himself, at the same time, not to raise the question of colonies for twenty-five or fifty years (Hitler gladly exchange time for space). Under the pressure of double blackmail Stalin will have to make a definite choice. In view of this critical moment’s approach, the Kremlin is mobilizing. In order to maintain both possibilities, the Moscow radio stations are giving news in the Russian language favorable to the Western democracies, and in the German language favorable to Germany. It is difficult to imagine a more symbolic expression of the Kremlin’s double dealing politics and of Stalin’s personal character. In what way is this double dealing going to be solved?

Long War Dangerous to Hitler

Stalin understands what even ex-Kaiser Wilhelm understood: namely, that with a prolonged war Hitler is headed toward a great catastrophe. But the whole question is one of time limits and tempo. On the road to the abyss Hitler can not only crush Poland, but he can give the Soviet Union such blows as to cost the Kremlin oligarchy their heads. And those gentlemen value their heads above everything. For their salvation they can be compelled to go farther on the road with Hitler than they wanted at the moment the pact was concluded.

As an obstacle on this road there is, it is true, the extreme unpopularity among the masses of the alliance with fascism. Molotov referred to it recently in his latest speech when he complained that the “simplified propaganda” (that is, the Comintern’s propaganda of yesterday against fascism) gave birth even to the Soviet Union to discontent with a German-Soviet combination. The above mentioned radio news in the Russian language testifies to this fact. But Stalin expects to master public opinion in his own country by further purges: the enmity of the Russian workers and peasants, unlike the enmity of Hitler, is not yet armed. Thus, having started as Hitler’s quartermaster, Stalin can become his half-prisoner and ally.

Is a New Turn Possible?

But can’t the Kremlin complete a new sharp turn, breaking the Soviet-German agreement and throwing itself at the last moment against Hitler? For this there would be necessary, of course, serious military successes by France and England in the next period, plus a radical change of the neutrality law in the United States. But the Kremlin would hardly enter an open war against Hitler even in this case. However, the concentration of significant forces on the western border would permit Stalin to reject Hitler’s absolutely inevitable new demands.

To connect the question of the direction of Moscow politics with the ideas of the international working class, with the tasks of socialism, with the principles of democracy, etcetera, can only be done by completely ignorant babblers or by paid agents of the Kremlin. In reality, Moscow politics is exclusively determined by the ruling oligarchy’s struggle for self-preservation. The Kremlin’s choice of roads will be determined by the material interrelation of forces of both camps and by the march of military operations in the next weeks. It is better not to say the “choice of roads”, but the direction of the next zig-zag.

Coyoacan, D.F.
September 11, 1939

Leon Trotsky

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Last updated on: 17 March 2016