Leon Trotsky

How to Really
Defend Democracy

(August 1940)

Written: 13 August 1940.
First Published: Fourth International, Vol.1 No.5, October 1940, pp.126-127.
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:

Transcriber’s comments:
This letter is a part of a series of letters published in this issue of Fourth International
under the heading of Trotsky’s Last Letters,
D.W., 2002.

Editor of Fourth International comments:

The theme of the following letter is the same as that of the article upon which Trotsky was working when he was assassinated; the article appears in this issue.

August 13, 1940

Dear Friends:

We should, in my opinion, fortify and deepen our campaign against the pacifist tendencies, prejudices and falsehoods.

The liberals and democrats say: “We must help the democracies by all means except direct military intervention in Europe.” Why this stupid and hypocritical limitation? If democracy is to be defended, we should defend it also on European soil; the more so as this is the best way to defend democracy in America. To help England – to crush Hitler – by all means including military intervention, would signify the best way to defend “American democracy”. The purely geographical limitation has neither political nor military sense.

That which we workers find worth defending, we are ready to defend by military means – in Europe as well as in the United States. It is the only possibility we have of assuring the defense of civil liberties and other good things in America.

But we categorically refuse to defend civil liberties and democracy in the French manner; the workers and farmers to give their flesh and blood while the capitalists concentrate in their hands the command. The Petain experiment should flow from the center of our war propaganda. It is important, of course, to explain to the advanced workers that the genuine fight against fascism is the socialist revolution. But it is more urgent, more imperative, to explain to the millions of American workers that the defense of their “democracy” cannot be delivered over to an American Marshal Petain – and there are many candidates for such a role.

Carl O’Shea’s article in the Socialist Appeal of August 10th is very good. We can, in this manner, develop a very effective campaign against William Green as well as against John L. Lewis, who flatly reject conscription in favor of a voluntary slave army.

The Institute of Public Opinion established that over 70% of the workers are in favor of conscription. It is a fact of tremendous importance! Workers take every question seriously. If the Fatherland should be defended, then the defense cannot be abandoned to the arbitrary will of individuals. It should be a common attitude. This realistic conception shows how right we were in rejecting beforehand purely negative pacifist or semi-pacifist attitudes. We place ourselves on the same ground as the 70% of the workers; against Green and Lewis, and on this premise we begin to develop a campaign in order to oppose the workers to their exploiters in the military field. You, workers, wish to defend and improve democracy. We, of the Fourth International, wish to go further. However, we are ready to defend democracy with you, only on condition that it should be a real defense, and not a betrayal in the Petain manner.

On this road I am sure we can make some progress.


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Last updated on: 22.4.2007