Leon Trotsky

Hitler and the Red Army

(March 1933)

Written in exile in Turkey, March 21, 1933.
Bulletin of the Opposition, No.34, May 1933.
Translated for The Militant, April 8, 1933.

America has reproduced European capitalism on a grandiose scale, but it has reproduced European socialism only on an insignificant scale. American Social Democracy has never been anything but a caricature of European Social Democracy. This “law of uneven development” has also retained all its force so far as Stalinism is concerned. The CPUSA is weaker than any of the European parties, yet the Stalinist bureaucracy in America carries out all the zigzags and all the mistakes with a fabulous exaggeration.

A year and a half ago, the Stalinists thought that an attack on the USSR by Japan was a matter of days, and on this “prognosis,” dictated by the bourgeois press, they tried to base their whole policy. We declared on the contrary that, so long as it had not assimilated Manchuria, the danger of an attack by Japan was absolutely unlikely. The American Stalinists accused us in this connection of being in the service of the Japanese general staff. In general, these gentlemen draw their arguments from sewers and drainpipes.

We declared furthermore that the danger of a fascist victory in Germany – a danger for the world revolution and above all for the Soviet Union – was more real and more imminent than the danger of Japanese intervention. The European Stalinists shouted that we were “panic-stricken.” The American Stalinists, more impudently, declared that we were consciously aiming to distract the attention of the world proletariat from the imminent danger in the East to the Soviet Union. The events brought their verification. For a year and a half, the “imminent” Japanese aggression has failed to take place. (Obviously this does not mean that the danger of Japanese intervention does not exist in general.) During this time, Hitler has come to power and with a few blows has defeated the principal ally of the USSR, the German Communist Party, weakened in advance by the lies and the falsity of Stalinism.

A year and a half ago, we wrote that the Red Army, in its principal mass, ought to turn its face to the West to acquire the possibility of smashing fascism before it destroys the German proletariat and unites with European and world imperialism. In answer to this, the American Stalinists, the most stupid and impudent of all, declared that we wanted to drag the USSR into a war, interrupt its economic buildup, and assure the victory of imperialism. The old fable says that nothing is so dangerous as an ignorant friend. To appeal for military actions against Japan while there was not and could not be an immediate danger in that direction meant to distract from the real danger of fascism. Obviously, the Stalinists carried out this task not because they desired the victory of Hitler, but out of political blindness. At the same time, we must be just to them: if they had desired the victory of Hitler, they could not have acted otherwise than they did. Now that Hitler is in power, and his whole policy compels him to prepare a coup toward the East (the revelations of the Polish-Ukrainian program of Göring are sufficiently eloquent!), the Stalinists say: whoever makes up his mind to appeal to the Red Army injures socialist construction. But even leaving aside the question of help to the German proletariat, there remains the question of the defense of socialist construction against German fascism, the shock troops of world imperialism. Do the Stalinists deny this danger? The most they can say is that Hitler is not yet today, capable of carrying on a war. That is true, and we said so some time ago. But if Hitler, today incapable of carrying on a war, will be capable of it tomorrow – and he will not be able to avoid carrying on war – does not a correct strategy demand that Hitler be prevented from preparing his blow, that is, that the German workers get rid of Hitler before he gets rid of the German workers? Marxists have often made fun of parliamentary cretinism, but kolkhoz [collective-farm] cretinism is no better. One cannot sow grain and plant cabbages with his back turned to the West, from which, for the first time since 1918, comes the greatest threat, which can be a mortal danger if it is not paralyzed in time.

Or have the Stalinists perhaps assimilated the pacifist wisdom of the "purely defensive war being the only permissible one? Let Hitler attack us first, then we will defend ourselves. This was always the reasoning of the German Social Democracy: let the National Socialists first openly attack the constitution, ah, then ... etc. Still, when Hitler openly attacked the constitution, it was already too late to think of its defense.

He who does not outstrip the enemy while he is still weak; who passively lets him strengthen and reinforce himself, protect his rearguard, create an army for himself, receive support from abroad, assure himself of allies; who leaves to the enemy complete freedom of initiative – such a man is a traitor, even if the motives for his treason are not to render service to imperialism, but consist of petty-bourgeois weakness and political blindness.

The “justification” of a policy of waiting and evasion under these conditions can only be weakness. This is a very serious argument but we have to give a clear account of it to ourselves. We must say: the Stalinist policies in the USSR have so thoroughly disorganized the economy and the relations between proletariat and peasantry, have so badly weakened the party, that the necessary premises for an active foreign policy do not exist today.

We take into consideration the force of this argument. We know that the consequences of a false policy become transformed into objective obstacles along the road. We reckon with these obstacles; we don’ t advocate an adventure. But we draw the conclusion: a fundamental change in the policy, the methods, the leadership of the party is necessary in order to assure the Soviet state, in addition to everything else, a real capacity for defense and freedom of initiative internationally.

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Last updated on: 25.4.2007