Leon Trotsky’s Writings on Britain
Volume 2

Problems of the British Revolution

Once More on Pacifism
and Revolution

(May 1926)

[A reply to The New Leader, February 26, 1926,
Trotsky on our sins by Bertrand Russell [1]]

THE majority of British critics of my book see its chief failing in that the author is not British and that consequently he is incapable of understanding British psychology, British traditions and so on. It must however be said that the more the British Fabians clutch at this argument the less they appear to be British: in the final analysis they add very little to the arguments which we have heard more than enough of from the Russian Mensheviks and before that, from the populists.

Today, when we are victorious, British and European socialists in general are inclined to permit us to be left alone in view of the peculiarities of our country and its national culture. They want in this way to erect an essentially ideological barrier along the same frontiers where Lloyd George, Churchill, Clemenceau [2] and others attempted to set up a material barbed wire blockade. “It may be all right for Russians” – so the “lefts” say to all intents, “but just let the Russians dare to cross the Russian frontiers with their experience and their conclusions”. The peculiarities of the British character are introduced as a philosophical justification for the theory of Bolshevik “non-intervention”.

Fabian and other critics do not know that we have been well tempered by all our past against arguments of this brand. But the irony in it is that while the Fabians are agreed nowadays, that is after our victory, to recognize Bolshevism, that is Marxism in action, as corresponding to the national peculiarities of Russia, the old traditional Russian ideology and not just that of the government but that of the opposition, invariably regarded Marxism as a creature of western culture and would proclaim its total incompatibility with the peculiarities of Russian national development.

My generation can still remember how the overwhelming majority of the Russian press declared the Russian Marxists to be ideological aliens who were trying in vain to transplant Britain’s historical experience on to Russian soil. On every pretext we were reminded that Marx created his theory of economic development in the British Museum and through observing British capitalism and its contradictions. How could the lessons of British capitalism have any relevance to Russia with its enormous “peculiarities”, its predominantly peasant population, its patriarchal traditions, its village commune and its Orthodox Church? Thus spoke the Russian reactionaries and the Russian populists with the appropriate right and left variations. And it was not only before and during the war but even after the February revolution of 1917, when Mr Henderson came over to Russia to try to persuade the Russian workers to continue the war against Germany, that there was scarcely a single “socialist” in the world, right or left, who considered that Bolshevism suited the national peculiarities of Russia. No, at that time we were regarded at best as maniacs. Our own Fabians, the Russian Mensheviks and the so-called Social-Revolutionaries brought against us, all the same arguments which today we hear from Lansbury, Brailsford, Russell and their more right-wing colleagues. presented as the conquests of a pure British philosophy. In the final count resorting to the question of national peculiarities forms the last tool of any ideological reaction in shielding itself from the revolutionary demands of the time. By this we do not at all mean that there do not exist national peculiarities or that they are of no substance. The residue of the past represents in institutions and customs a great conservative force. But in the final analysis the living forces of the present decide. The position of the British coal industry on the world market cannot be rectified by any recourse to national traditions. At the same time the role of the coal industry in the fate of Great Britain is immeasurably more important than all the devices and ceremonies of parliamentarism. The House of Commons rests upon coal and not the converse. The conservatism of British forms of property and the means of production comprise just that national “peculiarity” which is capable only of deepening the social crisis together with all the revolutionary contradictions which flow from it.

Mr Bertrand Russell, a philosopher of mathematicians, a mathematician of philosophers, an aristocrat of democracy and a dilettante of socialism has considered it his duty to set his hand also, and not for the first time, to the destruction of those pernicious ideas which emanate from Moscow and are inimical to the Anglo-Saxon spirit.

On the question of religion Russell takes a step forward from Brailsford. He admits that in present conditions any organized religion must become a reactionary force (this does not stop Russell from leaving a loop-hole on this point: personal religion, well that’s another matter). Russell approves of our arguments concerning the fact that even the most economic king cannot become a component part of a socialist society. Russell refuses to regard the parliamentary road as a guaranteed road to socialism. But all these admissions as well as certain others are made by Russell only in order to reveal more sharply the antirevolutionary character of his thinking on the question of the future road of the British working class. Russell declares the proletarian revolution in Britain not only to be dangerous but also disastrous. Britain is too dependent upon overseas countries and above all upon the United States of America. If cut off by a blockade from the outside world the British Isles would not be able to feed a population of more than 20 million. “While [such a reduction of] the population was being effected by starvation,” Russell taunts us, “Trotsky’s sympathy would be a great comfort. But until Soviet Russia can place a fleet in the Atlantic stronger than that of America it is not clear what we should gain by sympathy, however enthusiastic.” These strategic considerations are most interesting from the lips of a pacifist. We find that in the first place the fate of British pacifism. as far as it attempts to link itself to the working class, depends upon the strength of the American navy. We find in the second place that it would not be at all a bad thing if British pacifism could be protected from its enemies by a Soviet navy of the necessary strength. Our worthy idealist disdainfully tosses aside an ideological sympathy which is not reinforced by sufficient quantities of shells and mines. But for us, however, it evidently more than suffices.

Russell’s own sympathies for the October Revolution (which are however very much like antipathies) have not over the last few years provided us with any “comfort”. But the sympathies of the British and European workers in general saved us. Of course Churchill caused us as much trouble as he could. Chamberlain is doing everything he can. But we would have been crushed long ago if the ruling classes of Great Britain and Europe had not been afraid to send their armed forces against us. Of course this safeguard is not an absolute one. But along with the antagonisms between the capitalist states it proved sufficient to protect us from intervention on a major scale during the most critical first years. And yet both before October and after October our own Russells would assure us that we would be crushed by either the armies of Hohenzollern [3] or the armies of the Entente. [4]

They told us that the Russian proletariat, as the most backward and numerically small one, could take power into its hands only in the event of a victory of the world revolution. To make reference to the international revolution as a preliminary condition for the overthrow of the bourgeois state in one’s own country represents a masked denial of revolution. For what is the international revolution? It is a chain – and not an even one either – of national revolutions within which each one feeds the others with its successes and, in turn, loses from the failures of the others. In 1923 when the revolutionary situation reached its sharpest point in Germany the left Social-Democrats in their struggle against the communists argued the danger of military intervention by France and Poland. The German left Mensheviks were totally prepared, at least in words, to seize power in Germany under the condition of a preliminary victory of the proletariat in France. This Menshevik agitation was one of the factors which paralysed the revolutionary initiative of the German working class. In the event of a decisive sharpening of the political situation in France – and this is the way things are going – the French socialists will doubtless intimidate the French workers with the danger of a German revanche on the one hand and with that of a British blockade on the other. But who would have the slightest doubt that Leon Blum [5], Jean Longuet [6] and other heroes would agree to the conquest of power under the condition of a preliminary and what is more a complete victory of the working class of Great Britain and Germany? And the socialists of small states consider it to be doubly impossible to start a revolution at home as long as the bourgeoisie maintains power in the large states. The Mensheviks of the different countries toss the right to revolutionary initiative back and forth with about as much skill as performing seals at the circus toss burning torches from one to another.

Russell the pacifist considers it impossible to embark upon a revolution in Britain as long as the United States retains its powerful navy. It would of course be pretty good if the American proletariat seized power in its hands in the near future and with it the navy. But then wouldn”t the American Russells tell us that proletarian power in the United States would inevitably be threatened by the combined navies of Great Britain and Japan? True, this argument could be ignored if the proletarian revolution really was on the immediate agenda in the United States. Unfortunately it is not yet. Great Britain from every point of view is immeasurably closer to revolution than North America. Consequently we have to reckon with the fact that the struggle of the proletariat for power in Britain will take place in the face of the still unshaken rule of the American bourgeoisie. So what can we do? Russell indicates, more in irony it is true, a solution to the problem: he proposes to the Soviet Union that it creates a navy capable of guaranteeing free access to proletarian Britain. Unfortunately the poverty and technological backwardness of our country do not permit us at the moment to fulfil such a programme. Of course it would be more advantageous, economical and simpler, if the proletarian revolution commenced in the United States and extended through Britain and from the West eastwards across Europe and Asia. But the actual course of development is not like this: the chain of capitalist rule like any other chain breaks at its weakest link. After Tsarist Russia, Austro-Hungary, Germany and Italy came closest of all to the proletarian revolution. For France and Britain the day of reckoning for the war is merely still to come. Europe as a whole is immeasurably closer to the revolutionary overthrow than the United States. And this has to be taken into account.

Of course the situation of a blockaded Britain would, in view of its vital dependence upon imports and exports, be more grave than the situation of any other European country. However the resources of a revolutionary Britain in its struggle against hardships would also be extremely great.

While referring to the American navy Russell for some reason forgets about the British navy. In whose hands would it be? If it remained in the hands of the bourgeoisie then the closer and more acute danger to threaten the proletarian revolution would be not from the American navy but from the British navy. But if the latter ended up in the hands of the proletariat then the position would at once become immeasurably more favourable than Russell depicts it. From our critic there is not a word on this question of no little importance. But we must dwell on it in somewhat more detail.

The major peculiarities of British development have been determined by its island position. The role of the British navy in the fate of the country has formed the sharpest expression of these peculiarities. At the same time the British socialists who reproach us for ignorance or incomprehension of the hidden and imponderable peculiarities of the British spirit forget without exception when discussing the question of the proletarian revolution such an extremely ponderable quantity as the British navy. Russell while ironically appealing for assistance from the Soviet navy says nothing about the navy which continued to be reinforced with light cruisers when the party of MacDonald. Brailsford and Lansbury was in power.

Here we have a question of conquering power in a country where the proletariat constitutes the preponderant majority of the population. The political prerequisite for success must only be the aspiration of the proletariat itself to master power at any cost, that is at the price of any sacrifice. Only a revolutionary party is capable of uniting the working masses in this aspiration. The second prerequisite of success is a clear understanding of the paths and methods of struggle. Only a workers’ party freed from pacifist cataracts in its eyes can see itself and explain to the proletariat that the real transfer of power from the hands of one class into the hands of another depends in immeasurably greater degree upon the British army and the British navy than upon parliament. The struggle of the proletariat for power must therefore be its struggle for the navy. Sailors, not of course the admirals but the stokers, electricians and ratings must be schooled to understand the tasks and aims of the working class. A road to them must be found across all obstacles. Only systematic, stubborn and insistent preparatory work can create a situation where the bourgeoisie cannot rely upon the navy in the struggle against the proletariat. And without this condition it is senseless to talk about victory.

It is of course impossible to conceive the question as though in the first period of the revolution the navy will en bloc and in full combat order go over to the side of the proletariat. Matters will not proceed without deep internal unrest inside the navy itself. The history of all revolutions bears witness to this. Unrest in the navy connected with an overall renewal of the officer corps inevitably signifies a general weakening of a navy over a fairly long period. Once again one cannot close one’s eyes to this. But a period of crisis and an internal weakening of the navy will proceed more rapidly the more decisive the leading party of the proletariat, the more contacts it has in the navy during the preparatory period, the bolder it is during the period of the struggle and the more clearly it shows to all oppressed people that it is capable of seizing power and retaining it. Pacifism only to a very insignificant extent affects the military machine of the ruling class. The best evidence of this is provided by Russell’s own courageous but generally futile experience during the war. It resulted merely in a few thousand young people being put in prison on account of their “conscience”. In the old Tsarist army members of sects and especially followers of Tolstoy frequently suffered persecution for this kind of passive anti-militarism. But they did not solve the problem of the overthrow of Tsarism. And in Britain they did not and could not prevent the war being carried on until the end. Pacifism turns its face not so much towards the military organization of the bourgeois state as towards the working masses. Here its influence is absolutely pernicious. It paralyses the will of those who as it is suffer no shortage of it. It preaches the harmfulness of armaments to those who are, as it is, disarmed and represent the victims of class violence. Under the present conditions of British life when the problem is posed point-blank Russell’s pacifism is reactionary through and through.

Not so long ago Lansbury, according to the newspapers, invoked British soldiers not to fire on strikers. Thousands of those present at the meeting of working men and women raised their hands to show their solidarity with this appeal which, it is true, hardly reconciles itself with MacDonald’s policy and yet represents a certain step forward on the road to revolution. One must be very naive to think that Lansbury’s appeal opens up the possibility of a peaceful, bloodless, pacifist solution to the problem of power. On the contrary this appeal inasmuch as it makes any headway in practice will inevitably bring on the sharpest military conflicts. It cannot be imagined that all soldiers and all sailors will simultaneously refuse to fire on workers. In actual fact the revolution will drive a wedge into the army and navy; a rift will pass through every company and through the crew of every warship. One soldier will have firmly made his mind up not to fire even though it may cost him his life. A second will waver. A third will be prepared to fire on the one who refuses to fire. And in the early stage most numerous are those who waver. How was it with us in 1905 and 1917? The soldier or sailor who showed in practice his solidarity with the workers fell under the fire of an officer. In the next stage an officer would fall under the fire of soldiers inspired by the heroic example of their more advanced comrades. Such conflicts spread. A regiment in which revolutionary elements hold control stands against a regiment where the command of the old officer corps is maintained. At the same time finding support in the revolutionary regiments the workers arm themselves. In the navy it was no different. We would very much advise Russell and his sympathizers to see the Soviet film The Battleship Potemkin which shows quite graphically the mechanism of the revolution inside an armed mass of people. Even more important it would be to show this film to British workers and sailors. Let us hope that the Labour Party will do so when it comes to power.

The congenital bourgeois bigots and the civilized cannibals will of course speak with the greatest vexation of how we are striving to set brother against brother, soldier against officer and so forth. The pacifists will echo them. They will once again not fail to remind us that we see everything in a bloody light because we do not know the peculiarities of Great Britain and because we underestimate the beneficial influence of Christian morality upon the naval officers, the policemen and Joynson-Hicks. But this cannot stop us. A revolutionary policy requires above all that we look facts openly in the face so as to foretell the course of their subsequent development. A revolutionary policy appears fantastic to philistines only because it is able to predict the day after next, while they do not dare to give a thought to the next day.

In conditions where the national organism as a whole can be saved not by conservative therapy but only by surgical intervention and amputating the malignant organ – that is, the class which has outlived itself – the pacifist sermons flow in essence from an attitude of complacent indifference. The highest degree of “mercy” in such conditions demands the greatest firmness so as to reduce the time-span and minimize the pain. The more decisively the British proletariat sets its hand upon all means and implements of the British bourgeoisie the less temptation the American bourgeoisie will have to intervene in the struggle. The more speedily and fully the proletarian power dominates the British navy the less opportunity the American navy will have to destroy that power in Britain. We do not mean by this that military intervention by the transatlantic republic is excluded. On the contrary it is very probable and within certain limits entirely inevitable. But the results of such an intervention will depend in enormous measure upon our own policy before and during the revolution.

To impose a total blockade of the British Isles and above all their isolation from the European continent the behaviour of the French navy will be of no little significance. Will the French bourgeoisie send its warships against the proletarian revolution in Britain? On this score we have had certain experiences. In 1918 Millerand [7] sent French warships to the Black Sea against Soviet ports. The result is well known. The cruiser Waldeck-Rousseau raised the banner of mutiny. Neither did everything go well with the British in the Russian North. Revolution is highly infectious. And sailors are, more than anyone else, susceptible to revolutionary infection. At the time when the French sailors Marty [8] and Badin [9] mounted the uprising because they did not wish to go into action against the proletarian revolution in Russia, France seemed to be at the summit of her power. But today the period of reckoning for the war has begun for her too, no less than for Britain. To think that even in the event where in Britain the monarchy, landlords, bankers and industrialists have been thrown overboard the French bourgeoisie will retain the possibility of playing the part of the gendarme in the Atlantic Ocean or even just in the English Channel is to display a monstrous optimism on behalf of the bourgeoisie and a shameful pessimism as regards the proletariat. Britain, that is her bourgeoisie, was not for nothing the ruler of the waves. The British revolution will set ripples in motion throughout the oceans. Its first result will be to upset the discipline of all navies. Who knows whether in these conditions the American naval commanders will have to abandon the idea of a tight naval blockade and to withdraw their vessels away from the European infection?

But in the end even in America itself the navy is not the final decisive factor. The capitalist regime is more powerful in America than anywhere else. We know as well as Russell does the counter-revolutionary character of the American Federation of Labour” of which he reminds us. just as the bourgeoisie of the United States has raised the power of capital to an unprecedented height so the American Federation of Labour [10] has brought the methods of conciliation to the lowest limit. But this does not at all mean that the American bourgeoisie is all-powerful. It is immeasurably more powerful against the European bourgeoisie than against the European proletariat. Under the lid of the American labour aristocracy, the most privileged of all the world’s labour aristocracies, there slumber and ferment the revolutionary instincts and moods of the multi-racial working masses of North America. A revolution in the Anglo-Saxon country on the other side of the Atlantic will affect the proletariat of the United States more strongly than any other revolution previously. This still does not mean that the rule of the American bourgeoisie will be toppled the day after the conquest of power by the British proletariat. A series of serious economic, military and political crises will be required before the kingdom of the dollar is toppled. The American bourgeoisie is itself today preparing these crises by investing its capital throughout the world and thereby tying its rule to the European chaos and to the powder magazines of the East. But the revolution in Britain will inevitably evoke a powerful reaction on the other side of the “great water” both on the New York Stock Exchange and in the workers’ ghettoes of Chicago. A change will immediately take place in the self-awareness of the bourgeoisie and the proletariat of the United States: the bourgeoisie will feel weaker and the working class stronger. And the self-awareness of classes is a major component element of the so-called balance of forces. Again this does not mean that the American bankers and tycoons will be unable to make attempts with their navy to choke economically the revolution of the British proletariat. But such an attempt will in itself mean a further crisis in the internal regime of the United States. In the final count, in the very heart of every American warship, in the engine room, not only the revolutionary events in Great Britain but also the new moods produced by them in the proletariat of the United States will take their effect. Taken together all this does not signify that the proletarian revolution in Britain is not fraught with hardships and dangers. On the contrary both the former and the latter are colossal. But they exist on both sides. And this is in fact what the essence of revolution consists of. The greater the place occupied by a given nation in the world the more sweeping will be the forces of action and counteraction that the revolution awakens and releases. Our “sympathies” can in these conditions prove to be of some use.

Revolutions are not made in the order of the most advantageous sequence. Revolutions are not generally made at will. If one could rationally map out a revolutionary itinerary then it would probably avoid revolution altogether. But this is just the point, for revolution forms the expression of the impossibility of reconstructing class society by rational methods. Logical arguments even if elevated by Russell to the status of mathematical formulae are impotent against material interests. The ruling classes will sooner condemn all civilization, including mathematics, to ruin rather than renounce their privileges. In the struggle between the miners and the coal owners of Great Britain the coming revolution already wholly exists in embryo just as in the grain of corn the future stalk and ear exists in embryo. The irrational factors of human history operate most brutally of all through class contradictions. Over these irrational factors one cannot leap. Just as mathematics by working with irrational quantities arrives at completely realistic conclusions so in politics one can rationalize, that is bring a social system into a reasonable order, only by clearly taking into account the irrational contradictions of society so as to overcome them finally – not by avoiding revolution but through its agency.

We could essentially finish at this point. Russell’s objections have given us an opportunity to examine additionally those sides of the question which our pamphlet left in the shade. But perhaps it would not he superfluous to touch upon the last and most powerful argument of the pacifist critic. Russell declares that our attitude towards the British revolution is dictated by ... our Russian patriotism. He says:

I am afraid that like the rest of us Trotsky is a patriot when it comes to the pinch: a communist revolution in England would be advantageous to Russia; and therefore he advises it without considering impartially whether it would be advantageous to us.

This argument has everything in its favour except novelty. Chamberlain’s and Joynson-Hicks’ Press – the Morning Post [11] takes this up with the greatest fervour – long ago proved that the international communist movement serves the aims of Soviet imperialism which in turn continues the traditions of Tsarist policy. This sort of accusation started at the time when the bourgeoisie became convinced that our party had taken power in earnest and was not about to give up. In the period preceding the seizure of power and directly following it the accusations had. as is well known, a directly converse nature. The Bolsheviks were accused of being alien to national feelings and patriotic considerations and of carrying out Hohenzollern policy in relation to Russia. And this was not at all so long ago. Arthur Henderson [12], Emil Vandervelde [13], Albert Thomas [14] and others made visits to Russia to convince the Russian workers that the Bolsheviks were prepared to betray the basic interests of Russia in favour of their international chimera (or according to another version for the German Kaiser’s gold). Again it was the Morning Post which developed this theme with the most sharpness and vigour. In exactly the same way as Russell now accuses us of being ready to reduce the population of Great Britain to 20 million for the benefit of Soviet imperialism, nine years ago we were accused of a heartless readiness to reduce the population of Russia two- and three-fold in the name of our international aims. Our party, as is well known, took the point of view that the defeat of Tsarist Russia in the war would be advantageous as much for the Russian as for the international working class. The socialist lackeys of the Entente could not shift us from this position. In the period of the Brest-Litovsk peace, accusations of an antinational policy (in the other version – of collaboration with Hohenzollern) reached fever pitch. Nevertheless our party did not allow itself to be drawn into the war in the interests of American capital. The Hohenzollern regime fell and in its downfall the October revolution played no less a role than did the arms of the Entente. The antagonism between the Soviet Republic and the governments of the victorious Entente moved into the foreground. The most reactionary world role is played by the ruling class of Great Britain: in Europe, in Egypt, in Turkey, in Persia, in India and in China. Any changes in the world situation, either economically or politically are directed against the ruling class of Great Britain. Hence the obsolete British bourgeoisie in its struggle for its dwindling power furiously fights against changes. The American bourgeoisie is more powerful. Its struggle against the revolution will be on a larger scale. But America stands for the moment in the second line. The most active and vicious enemy of the revolutionary movement in Europe, in Asia and in Africa is the dominant class of Great Britain. It would appear that for a socialist this fact is more than sufficient to explain the antagonism between the Soviet Union and the British Empire. Are we “patriots”? To the same degree as we were “anti-patriots” during the imperialist war. By the methods of state power we are defending the same interests for which we fought by the methods of insurrection: the interests of the world proletariat.

When Russell says that we are prepared in the interests of the Soviet state to make a sacrifice of the interests of the British working class then this is not only false but absurd. Any weakening of the British proletariat and even more so its defeat in open struggle must inevitably inflict a heavy blow both to the international and to the internal position of the Soviet Union. When in March 1921 the German communists made an attempt artificially to force the proletarian revolution they were subjected to sharp criticism at the Third World Congress of the Communist International. They justified themselves by referring to the difficult position of the Soviet Republic and to the necessity of assisting it. Lenin and ourselves said to them: neither heroic outbursts nor even less revolutionary adventures can help the Soviet Republic; we need the same thing that the German proletariat needs: that is a victorious revolution; it would be fundamentally wrong to think that the proletariat of any country must in the interests of the Soviet state undertake any steps which do not flow from its own interests as a class fighting for its complete liberation. This standpoint which has entered our flesh and blood is alien to socialists who. if not always then at least at the decisive moment, invariably end up on the side of their own bourgeoisie. And Russell does not form an exception. To be sure during the war he displayed brave, though politically quite hopeless, resistance to his government: this was an individual demonstration, the tribute of conscience – the fate of the regime was not in slightest degree placed in jeopardy. But when it comes to the revolution of the proletariat Russell cannot find in his intellectual arsenal any other arguments beyond those which make him kindred to the Morning Post and all the Churchills of his country.

The principal peculiarity of British politics, and its past history is summed up in the blatant disparity between the revolutionary maturity of the objective economic factors and the extreme backwardness of ideological forms particularly in the ranks of the working class. Least of all is this basic peculiarity understood by the very people who most sharply demonstrate it: the bourgeois humanists and the latter-day enlighteners and pacifists. Along with the reactionary petty-bourgeois reformists they consider themselves to be the anointed leaders of the proletariat. Bertrand Russell is not the worst among them. But his writings on social and political topics, his outcry against war, his polemic with Scott Nearing [15] regarding the Soviet regime characterize his unmistakable superficial dilettantism, his political blindness and his complete lack of comprehension of the basic mechanism of historical development; that is the struggle of living classes which grow out of the basis of production. To history he counterposes the propaganda of a few pacifist slogans which he formulates quite wretchedly. And in the process he forgets to explain to us why pacifist enlightenment has not saved us from wars and revolutions despite the fact that such eminent people as Robert Owen [16] in the first half of the 19th century, the French enlighteners of the 18th century, the quakers beginning in the 17th century and many, many, others concerned themselves with this question. Russell is a latter-day enlightener who has inherited from the old enlightenment not so much its enthusiasm as its idealistic prejudices. Russell is a sceptic through and through. He counterposes the peaceful and gradual methods of science and technology to the violent methods of revolution. But he believes just as little in the salutary force of scientific thought as he does in the force of revolutionary action. In his polemic with Nearing he attempts under the cover of pseudo-socialist phrases to belittle, discredit and compromise the revolutionary initiative of the Russian proletariat. In his polemic against the biologist Holden he makes a mockery of scientific-technical optimism. In his pamphlet Icarus he openly expresses his conviction that the best outcome would be the destruction of all our civilization. And this man, worm-eaten through and through with scepticism, egoistic, reclusive and aristocratic, considers himself called upon to give advice to the British proletariat and to warn it against our communist intrigues! The British working class is entering a period when it requires the greatest belief in its mission and its strength. To gain this there is no need for any stimulants like religion or idealist morality. It is necessary and sufficient that the British proletariat understands the position of its country in relation to the position of the whole world, that it has become clear about the rottenness of the ruling classes and that it has thrown out of its way the careerists, quacks and those bourgeois sceptics who imagine themselves to be socialists only because they from time to time vomit in the atmosphere of rotting bourgeois society.

Crimea, en route
May 3, 1926

P.S. These lines were being written during the days when the question of the miners’ strike and the General Strike hung on a thin thread. Today a final solution has still not come about or at least news of it has not reached us. But whatever direction events in Britain take in the coming days and weeks the questions to which the present article in particular is devoted can no longer be taken off the agenda of British political life.

Problems of the British Revolution


1. Bertrand Russell (1872-1970). Great British philosopher, a long-time pacifist and radical who, very late in life, took a left position on the Vietnam War.

2. Georges Clemenceau (1841-1929). Leading French bourgeois politician. He emerged as a radical during the period of the Paris Commune (1871). In the 1890s he became popular through his part in the Dreyfus case, whom he defended along with Zola and Jaurés. As a prominent deputy in parliament Clemenceau more than once caused the fall of a government by his energetic speeches, and thus received the nickname of “the breaker of ministries”. From 1902 he was either Prime Minister or another government member. As Prime Minister from 1917-1920 Clemenceau was hailed as the “architect of victory” and was the leading figure of the Versailles peace conference in 1919. At the same period, he was the inspirer of intervention against Soviet Russia.

3. Hohenzollern was the name of the ruling dynasty in Prussia from 1701 to 1918. From 1871 the King of Prussia was also German Emperor. The dynasty was overthrown in the German Revolution of November 1918.

4. The Entente was the name of the alliance between Britain, France and Russia that fought the first world War against the Central Powers, Germany, Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria and the Ottoman empire.

5. Leon Blum (1872-1950). Leader of the French Socialist Party from 1924. As an extreme right-winger he formed a coalition that year with the Radicals (Liberals) under Herriot. He became Prime Minister of a similar coalition in 1936 on the wave of major labour struggles but pursued a treacherous policy of preserving capitalism and won the support of the Stalinists by his demagogic appeal to defend democracy against fascism. He pursued Laval’s policy of non-intervention in Spain jointly with Baldwin and Neville Chamberlain in Britain. Replaced as Prime Minister by Daladier in 1938, he remained leader of the socialists until his death.

6. Jean Longuet (1876-1938). French Lawyer and Socialist who in the First World War held a pacifist position but invariably voted for war credits. Founder and editor of the newspaper Le Populaire. At the Strasbourg Congress in 1918 the majority of the French Socialist Party adopted Longuet’s policy. After the Tours Congress in 1920 where the communists gained the majority he supported the minority and joined the centrist two-and-a-half International which returned later to the Second International. [He was also the grandson of Karl Marx. – ERC]

7. Alexandre Millerand (1859-1943). Originally a French socialist, he achieved notoriety as the first socialist ever to enter a bourgeois government, which he did in 1899. This gave rise to the condemnation of parliamentarism at the Amsterdam Congress of the Second International in 1904 and the unification of the French Socialist Party on a basis of opposition to participation in bourgeois governments. He proceeded to become a leading bourgeois politician and as Prime Minister in 1920 formed a coalition (the “Bloc Nationale”) and gave support to the Polish Whites against Soviet Russia in that year. He was President from 1920 to 1924 when he resigned through the opposition of the Left Bloc which had come to power.

8. André Marty (1886-1956). French sailor who led the mutiny in the Black Sea fleet on 16th April 1919 when French units were operating in support of the Whites in Russia. The fleet had to be withdrawn. Marty became a leading member of the French Communist Party but was expelled in 1952.

9. A lesser-known associate of Marty in the leadership of the French sailors’ uprising.

10. Founded in 1881 as the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions, in 1886 it became the American Federation of Labor. Led by Samuel Gompers, the federation linked craft unions which preserved a wide degree of independence. The leaders were extremely patriotic and anti-revolutionary, basing themselves on the most skilled and conservative sections of American workers.

11. The Morning Post was a conservative daily paper published in London from 1772 to 1937 when it was purchased by the Daily Telegraph.

12. Arthur Henderson (1863-1935), a leader of the British Labour Party, who rallied the party to support World War I and became a government minister. He later served as Home Secretary in the first Labour government (1924) and Foreign Secretary in the second Labour government (1929-1931).

13. Emile Vandervelde (1866-1941), Leader of the Belgian Labour Party (POB) and president of the Socialist International (1900-1918)

14. Albert Thomas (1878-1932), a moderate French socialist, who supported the first world War and became a government minister. He was sent to Russia in 1917 to try to persuade the new government to stay in the war. After the war he became head of the International Labour Organisation (ILO).

15. Scott Nearing (1883-1983). Sociologist in the US who lost a university post there for opposing the First World War. Worked as a journalist in Britain for a time during the 1920s.

16. Robert Owen (1771-1858), a Welsh utopian socialist who played an important role in the early British working class and socialist movements. He is also regarded as a founder of the cooperative movement.

Volume 2 Index

Trotsky’s Writings on Britain

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Last updated on: 2.7.2007