Leon Trotsky

Germany and the USSR

(March 1933)

Written in exile in Turkey, March 17, 1933.
Letter signed with a pen-name.
Translated for the Internal Bulletin of the Communist League of America, no.11, March 31, 1933.

The complete absence of resistance on the part of the German workers has provoked certain troubles within our own ranks. We expected that the onward march of the fascist danger would surmount not only the perfidious policy of the reformists but also the ultimatist sabotage of the Stalinists. These hopes were not confirmed. Were our expectations false? This question cannot be put in such a formal manner. We were obliged to proceed from a course based upon resistance and to do all in our power for its realization. To acknowledge a priori the impossibility of resistance would have meant not to push the proletariat forward but to introduce a supplementary demoralizing element.

The events have brought their verification. The first lesson is drawn in Trotsky’s article The Tragedy of the German Proletariat. Now one can say almost with certainty that only a change of conjuncture would create an impulse toward a real mass struggle. In the meantime, the task is mainly one of criticism and preparation. The regime of fascist terror will be a serious test for our cadres as a whole and for each member in particular. It is precisely such a period that steels and educates the revolutionists. So long as the fascists tolerate the existence of the trade unions, it is necessary for the Left Opposition at all costs to penetrate them and take up definite conspiratorial work within them. The transition to illegality does not simply mean to go underground (establishment of an organ in a foreign country, smuggling and distribution, illegal nuclei within the country, etc.), but also ability to undertake conspiratorial work within the mass organizations to the extent that these exist.

The question of the possible role of the Red Army is posed sharply for many comrades. It is evidently not a question of revision of our principled position. If the internal situation in the USSR had permitted, the Soviet government at the time of Hitler’s first approach toward power, should have mobilized some army divisions in White Russia and the Ukraine, naturally under the shield of defending the Soviet borders. Departing from the indisputable idea that the Red Army can only assist and not replace the revolution in another country, some comrades incline to the conclusion that in the absence of open civil war in Germany it would be inadmissible to resort to mobilization in the USSR. To put the question in such a manner is too abstract. Naturally, the Red Army cannot replace the German workers in making the revolution; rather, it can only assist the revolution of the German workers. But in different stages this assistance can have different manifestations. For example, the Red Army can assist the German workers to begin the revolution.

What paralyzed the German proletariat was the feeling of disunity, isolation, and despair. Merely the prospect of armed assistance from the outside would have exercised an enormously encouraging influence upon the vanguard. The first serious act of resistance against Hitler on the part of the German workers could have provoked a breach between fascist Germany and the USSR and could have led to a military solution. The Soviet government cannot have the slightest interest in acting the aggressor. It is not a question of principle but a question of political expediency. To the peasant masses, a war with the objective of assisting the German proletariat would have been hardly comprehensible. But it is possible to draw the peasants into the kind of war which begins as a defense of the Soviet territory against a menacing danger. (All that was said in Trotsky’s History of the Russian Revolution on the subject of defense and offense in regard to revolution relates no less to the question of war.)

The form Red Army action might take in the German events naturally would have to accord completely with the development of those events and with the spirit of the German working masses. But just because the German workers feel themselves unable to break the chains of passivity, the initiative in the struggle, even in the preliminary form mentioned above, would belong to the Red Army. The obstacle to this initiative, however, is not the present situation in Germany, but the situation in the USSR It appears that many foreign comrades give insufficient attention to this side of the question. It is more than a year since we spoke of the necessity of the intervention of the Red Army in case fascism should come to power. In this we based our thinking on the hope that not only in Germany but also in Russia the necessary political change would be produced which would improve the economic situation, and that thereby the Soviet power would have acquired the necessary freedom of movement. In reality, however, the internal developments during the last year have assumed an extremely unfavorable character. The economic situation as well as the spirit of the masses renders a war difficult in the highest degree. All information from the USSR affirms that under the present conditions the slogan of military assistance to the German proletariat would appear even to the advanced Russian workers as unrealizable, unreal, and fantastic.

We do not yield one iota of our principled position. While the position of active internationalism serves us today above all for the purpose of pursuing an unmerciful criticism of the Stalinist bureaucracy, which in the decisive hour paralyzes the workers’ state, yet we can in no case leave the objective situation out of consideration: the consequences of the mistakes have become transformed into objective factors. To demand the mobilization of the Red Army under the present conditions would be sheer adventurism. But so much more resolutely must we then demand a change in the policy of the USSR in the name of consolidation of the proletarian dictatorship and the active role of the Red Army.

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