Written: End of June 1940.
First Published: Fourth International, Vol.1 No.5, October 1940, ppp.135-137.
Translated: By Fourth International.
Transcription/HTML Markup: David Walters.
Copyleft: Leon Trotsky Internet Archive (www.marxists.org) 2002. Permission is granted to copy and/or distribute this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License.
In the wake of a number of other and smaller European states, France is being transformed into an oppressed nation. German imperialism has risen to unprecedented military heights, with all the ensuing opportunities for world plunder.
What then follows?
From the side of all sorts of semi-internationalists one may expect approximately the following line of argumentation: Successful uprisings in conquered countries, under the Nazi heel, are impossible, because every revolutionary movement will be immediately drowned in blood by the conquerors. There is even less reason to expect a successful uprising in the camp of the totalitarian victors. Favorable conditions for revolution could be created only by the defeat of Hitler and Mussolini. Therefore, nothing remains except to aid England and the United States. Should the Soviet Union join us it would be possible not only to halt Germany’s military successes but to deal her heavy military and economic defeats. The further development of the revolution is possible only on this road. And so forth and so on.
This argumentation which appears on the surface to be inspired by the new map of Europe is in reality only an adaptation to the new map of Europe of the old arguments of social patriotism, i.e., class betrayal. Hitler’s victory over France has revealed completely the corruption of imperialist democracy, even in the sphere of its own tasks. It cannot be “saved” from fascism. It can only be replaced by proletarian democracy. Should the working class tie up its fate in the present war with the fate of imperialist democracy, it would only assure itself a new series of defeats.
“For victory’s sake” England has already found herself obliged to introduce the methods of dictatorship, the primary pre-requisite for which was the renunciation by the Labour Party of any political independence whatsoever. If the international proletariat, in the form of all its organizations and tendencies, were to take to the same road, then this would only facilitate and hasten the victory of the totalitarian regime on a world scale. Under the conditions of the world proletariat renouncing independent politics, an alliance between the USSR and the imperialist democracies would signify the growth of the omnipotence of the Moscow bureaucracy, its further transformation into an agency of imperialism, and its inevitably making concessions to imperialism in the economic sphere. In all likelihood the military position of the various imperialist countries on the world arena would be greatly changed thereby; but the position of the world proletariat, from the standpoint of the tasks of the socialist revolution, would be changed very little.
In order to create a revolutionary situation, say the sophists of social patriotism, it is necessary to deal Hitler a blow. To gain a victory over Hitler, it is necessary to support the imperialist democracies. But if for the sake of saving the “democracies” the proletariat renounces independent revolutionary politics, just who would utilize a revolutionary situation arising from Hitler’s defeat? There has been no lack of revolutionary situations in the last quarter of a century. But there has been lacking a revolutionary party capable of utilizing a revolutionary situation. To renounce the training of a revolutionary party for the sake of provoking a “revolutionary situation” is to lead the workers blindfolded to a massacre.
From the standpoint of a revolution in one’s own country the defeat of one’s own imperialist government is undoubtedly a “lesser evil.” Pseudo-internationalists, however, refuse to apply this principle in relation to the defeated democratic countries. In return, they interpret Hitler’s victory not as a relative but as an absolute obstacle in the way of a revolution in Germany. They lie in both instances.
In the defeated countries the position of the masses will immediately become worsened in the extreme. Added to social oppression is national oppression, the main burden of which is likewise borne by the workers. Of all the forms of dictatorship, the totalitarian dictatorship of a foreign conqueror is the most intolerable. At the same time, to the extent that the Nazis will try to utilize the natural resources and the industrial machinery of the nations defeated by them, the Nazis will themselves become inevitably dependent upon the native peasants and workers. Only after the victory do economic difficulties always begin. It is impossible to attach a soldier with a rifle to each Polish, Norwegian, Danish, Dutch, Belgian, French worker and peasant. National Socialism is without any prescription for transforming defeated peoples from foes into friends.
The experience of the Germans in the Ukraine in 1918 has demonstrated how difficult it is to utilize through military methods the natural wealth and labor power of a defeated people; and how swiftly an army of occupation is demoralized in an atmosphere of universal hostility. These very same processes will develop on a far vaster scale in the European continent under Nazi occupation. One can expect with assurance the rapid transformation of all the conquered countries into powder magazines. The danger is rather this, that the explosions may occur too soon without sufficient preparation and lead to isolated defeats. It is in general impossible, however, to speak of the European and the world revolution without taking into account partial defeats.
Hitler, the conqueror, has naturally day-dreams of becoming the chief executioner of the proletarian revolution in any part of Europe. But this does not at all mean that Hitler will be strong enough to deal with the proletarian revolution as he has been able to deal with imperialist democracy. It would be a fatal blunder, unworthy of a revolutionary party, to turn Hitler into a fetish, to exaggerate his power, to overlook the objective limits of his successes and conquests. True enough, Hitler boastfully promises to establish the domination of the German people at the expense of all Europe and even of the whole world, “for one thousand years.” But in all likelihood this splendor will not endure even for ten years.
We must learn from the lessons of the recent past. Twenty two years ago not only the defeated countries but also the victors emerged from the war with their economic life disrupted and were able to realize very slowly, to the extent that they realized at all, the economic advantages accruing from victory. Therefore the revolutionary movement assumed very great proportions in the countries of the victorious Entente as well. The only thing lacking was a revolutionary party capable of heading the movement.
The total, i.e., all-embracing character of the present war excludes the possibility of direct “enrichment” at the expense of the defeated countries. Even in the event of a complete victory over England, Germany in order to maintain her conquests would be compelled in the next few years to assume such economic sacrifices as would far outweigh those advantages which it might draw directly from her victories. The living conditions of the German masses must in any case worsen considerably in the next period. Million upon million of victorious soldiers will find on returning to their homeland an even more poverty-stricken home than the one from which they had been torn away by the war. A victory that lowers the living standard of the people does not strengthen a regime but weakens it. The self-confidence of the demobilized soldiers who had scored the greatest victories will have been raised in the extreme. Their betrayed hopes will turn into sharp dissatisfaction and embitterment. On the other hand, the Brown-Shirted caste will rise even higher above the people; its arbitrary rule and profligacy will provoke ever greater hostility. If in the last decade the political pendulum in Germany has, as a result of the impotence of belated democracy and the betrayal of labor parties, swung sharply to the right, then, as a result of disillusion in the consequences of the war and of the Nazi regime, the pendulum will now swing even more sharply and decisively to the left. Dissatisfaction, alarm, protests, strikes, armed clashes will again be on the order of the day for Germany. Hitler will have too many worries in Berlin to be able successfully to fulfill the role of executioner in Paris, Brussels or London.
Consequently the task of the revolutionary proletariat does not consist of helping the imperialist armies create a “revolutionary situation” but of preparing, fusing and tempering its international ranks for revolutionary situations of which there will be no lack.
The new war map of Europe does not invalidate the principles of revolutionary class struggle. The Fourth International does not change its course.
Last updated on: 22.4.2007