Fourth International Index | Main Newspaper Index

Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive

Fourth International, Autumn 1960


Leon Trotsky

Our Position on War as Nurturing Revolution



From Fourth International, No. 11, Autumn 1960, pp. 61–62.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Prefatory Note

In the current quarter we have arrived, with an undiminished sense of irreparable loss, at the twentieth anniversary of the assassination of our great theoretical leader, Leon Trotsky. It occurs at a moment when, behind all the Byzantine indirectness, false antitheses, and confused formulations of the current Soviet-Chinese polemics about the Khrushchevist theory of “peaceful coexistence” and its manifold repercussions on Communist policy, the question of the “inevitability” of nuclear world war takes on particular importance, especially since the Chinese – though deserving our critical support on most of the matters in dispute (see Problems and Prospects of Our Time in the Mirror of the Sino-Soviet Polemics, page 11) – have expressed a most offhand, not to say adventuristic, attitude toward war. Hence, on the occasion of this tragic anniversary, we can perhaps best pay tribute to our fallen leader by recalling, on this life-and-death subject, some thoughtful words that this unparalleled theoretician uttered during his closing speech at the Thirteenth Session of the Hearing of the Preliminary Commission of Inquiry (John Dewey, Chairman), quoted from The Case of Leon Trotsky (pp. 512–14, Harper & Brothers, New York 1937).

The second fantastic theory which is put into circulation by the friends of the GPU declares that in view of my general position, I am presumably politically interested in expediting war. The usual line of argument is as follows: Trotsky is for the international revolution. It is well known that war often produces revolution. Ergo, Trotsky must be interested in expediting war.

People who believe this, or who ascribe such ideas to me, have a very feeble conception of revolution, war, and their interdependence.

War has in fact often expedited revolution. But precisely for that reason, it has often led to abortive results. War sharpens social contradictions and mass discontent. But that is insufficient for the triumph of the proletarian revolution. Without a revolutionary party rooted in the masses, the revolutionary situation leads to the most cruel defeats. The task is not to “expedite” war – for this, unfortunately, the imperialists of all countries are working, not unsuccessfully. The task is to utilize the time which the imperialists still leave to the working masses for the building of a revolutionary party and revolutionary trade unions.

It is in the vital interest of the proletarian revolution that the outbreak of war be delayed as long as possible, that the maximum possible time be gained for preparation. The more firm, the more courageous, the more revolutionary the conduct of the toilers, the more the imperialists will hesitate, the more surely will it be possible to postpone war, the greater will be the chances that the revolution will occur prior to war and perhaps make war itself impossible.

It is precisely because the Fourth International stands for the international revolution that it is one of the factors working against war; for – I repeat – the only check to a new world war is the fear, among the propertied classes, of revolution.

War, we are told, creates a revolutionary situation. But have we had a lack of revolutionary situations in the period from 1917 until today? Let us glance briefly at the post-war period:

Despite the superabundance of revolutionary situations, the toiling masses have not carried off any revolutionary victory in any of the enumerated cases. What is lacking? A party capable of utilizing the revolutionary situation.

The Social-Democracy has sufficiently demonstrated in Germany that it is hostile to the revolution, It now demonstrates this anew in France (Leon Blum). The Comintern, for its part, having usurped the authority of the October Revolution, disorganizes the revolutionary movement in all countries. The Comintern has, in reality, regardless of its intentions, become the best assistant of fascism and reaction in general.

Precisely for this reason there rises before the proletariat the iron necessity of building new parties and a new International which correspond to the character of our epoch – an epoch of great social convulsions and permanent war danger.

If, in the event of new war, the masses are not headed by a bold, courageous, consistent revolutionary party, tested through experience and enjoying the confidence of the masses, a new revolutionary situation would throw society back. A war may, under such circumstances, terminate not with a victorious revolution, but with the crumbling of our whole civilization. One would have to be pathetically blind not to see this danger.

War and revolution are the gravest and most tragic phenomena in human history. You cannot joke with them. They do not tolerate dilettantism. We must understand clearly the interrelationship of war and revolution. We must understand no less clearly the interrelationship of the objective revolutionary factors, which cannot be induced at will, and the subjective factor of the revolution – the conscious vanguard of the proletariat, its party. It is necessary to prepare this party with the utmost energy.

Can one admit for a moment that the so-called “Trotskyites,” the extreme left wing, hounded and persecuted by all other tendencies, would devote their forces to contemptible adventures, sabotage and war provocation, instead of building a new revolutionary party capable of meeting the revolutionary situation well armed? Only the cynical contempt of Stalin and his school for world public opinion, together with Stalin’s primitive police cunning, are capable of creating such a monstrous and nonsensical accusation!

Top of page

Fourth International Index | Main Newspaper Index

Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive

Last updated on 28 March 2016