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Fourth International, August 1942


Editorial Comment

[Trotsky’s Revolutionary Optimism]


From Fourth International, vol.3 No.8, August 1942, pp.227-229.
Transcribed, Edited & Formatted by Ted Crawford & David Walters in 2008 for the ETOL.


On the Second Anniversary of Trotsky’s Death – His Prophetic Warnings on Fascism and the War – His Equally Prophetic Revolutionary Perspectives for India and America

The second anniversary of the death of the founder of the Red Army comes in Soviet Russia’s darkest hour. With what insight he foretold this moment of mortal danger for the first workers’ state; how he fought to prevent that moment from coming! For this he died on August 21, 1940, at the hands of an assassin sent by Stalin. Millions of workers are alive in the Soviet Union who remember from their own experiences how Trotsky led the Red Army to victory against imperialist intervention. Millions more know the true facts despite Stalin’s monstrous lies. Stalin knew that during the war the thoughts of these millions of Soviet workers and peasants would turn to their leader of old. Stalin feared that in the moment of danger they would demand the return of the man who once before had led the Soviet Union to victory against imperialist invaders. It did not matter to Stalin that in murdering Trotsky he struck a damaging blow to the Soviet Union. Stalin is interested in saving the Soviet Union only in such a way as to preserve the rule within it of the Kremlin bureaucracy. But millions of Soviet workers mourn with us on this bitter anniversary.

As Hitler’s armies continue advancing deep into the Soviet Union we recall how clearly and how long ago Trotsky warned of this danger. Urging the united front between the Communist and Social-Democratic parties to prevent Hitler from coming to power, Trotsky warned in 1931:

“Once Hitler comes to power, and proceeds to mush the vanguard of the German workers, pulverizing and demoralizing the whole proletariat for years to come, the Fascist government alone will be the only government capable of waging war against the USSR ... In case of victory in Germany Hitler will become the super-Wrangel of the world bourgeoisie.” (Germany, the Key to the International Situation)

In July 1932 Trotsky gave his famous outline for the course the Soviet government should follow in the event of the victory of fascism in Germany:

“In my opinion this is how the Soviet government OUGHT to act in case of a Fascist coup in Germany. Upon receiving the telegraphic communication of this event I would, in their place, sign an order for the mobilization of the army reserves. When you have a mortal enemy before you, and when war flows with necessity from the objective situation, it would be unpardonable lightmindedness to give that enemy time to establish and fortify himself, conclude the necessary alliances, receive the necessary help, work out a plan of concentric military actions – not only from the west but from the east – and thus grow up to the dimensions of a colossal danger.”(Liberty , July 16, 1932.)

Two months after Hitler took power in 1933 Trotsky wrote:

“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? ...

“Or have the Stalinists perhaps assimilated the pacifist wisdom of the ‘purely defensive’ war being the only permissible one? ...

“He who does not outstrip the enemy while he is still weak; who passively lets him strengthen and reinforce himself, protect his rear-guard, create an army for himself, receive support from abroad, assure himself, of allies; who leave to the enemy the complete liberty 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 Militant, April 8, 1933.)

But Stalin’s policy prevailed and has brought the Soviet Union to the brink of annihilation, while Trotsky was murdered to prevent the development of a Soviet mass movement centering around the demand for the return of Trotsky to help defend the Soviet Union.

Yet, if Trotsky is no longer with us, and without minimizing what the international proletariat lost by his death, the methods by which he brought the Red Army to victory can still bring victory today.

In 1918-21 the Red Army, far more than now, was inferior in equipment to that of its imperialist enemies. Despite this the Red Army won. For, in addition to its arms, it had a unique weapon which only it could employ: revolutionary propaganda, which demoralized and disintegrated the enemy armies.

In an article of May 21, 1922, summing up the experiences of the Red Army against its capitalist foes, Trotsky wrote:

“The superiority of our propaganda lies in its content. Our propaganda invariably fused together the ranks of the Red Army and disintegrated the army of the enemy not by any sort of special technical methods and tricks but by the communist idea which constituted the content of this propaganda. This is our military secret and we advertise it openly without any fear of plagiarism on the part of our enemies.”

In speeches early in 1920, Lenin likewise explained the rôle of Bolshevik propaganda to the Red Army soldiers:

“In all their sheets, the White Guards write that the Bolsheviks conduct excellent agitation, and do not spare money for agitation. But after all, the people have listened to all sorts of agitation – including that of the White Guards and that of the partisans of the Constituent Assembly. It is silly to think that the people have followed the Bolsheviks because the agitation of the latter was more skillful. No, the whole thing lies in this, that the agitation of the Bolsheviks tells the truth.” (Collected Works, 3rd Russian ed., vol.25, p.14.)

“How is this victory over the interventionists to be explained? Clearly this was not achieved only by victories at the front, but rather by this, that we were able to attract to our side the soldiers of the countries warring against us ... By means of agitation and propaganda we took away from the Entente their own soldiers. We vanquished the imperialists not only by means of our own soldiers but by basing ourselves on the sympathy of their own soldiers.” (ibid., p.26.)

Stalin too conducts propaganda, dropping leaflets over the German lines, addressing them by loud-speakers, etc. He has had far better technical resources for carrying on such propaganda than Lenin and Trotsky had. But his most sycophantic hirelings do not pretend that this propaganda is having any effect. Why does not the Kremlin’s propaganda today have the same effect as the Bolshevik propaganda of Lenin and Trotsky? Let the Stalinists answer that question?

The superiority of the Bolshevik propaganda lay, as Trotsky said, in its content. It told the truth. It called on the soldiers and workers of the imperialist armies to join hands with the young Soviet republic in overthrowing the imperialist governments and fighting for a socialist world. General Ludendorff wryly testified to the powerful effect of this propaganda on the German armies of occupation in the Ukraine, The German armies of today are as susceptible to such propaganda as those of Ludendorff. But Stalin’s propaganda has an entirely different content than that of Lenin and Trotsky. Instead of revolutionary internationalism it is permeated with anti-Germanism. Instead of calling for a Soviet Germany and the Soviet United States of Europe, it offers no better prospect than a second and worse Versailles. In this difference in propaganda content is expressed the fundamental difference between the revolutionary government of Lenin-Trotsky and the bureaucratic régime of Stalin. Before the Soviet Union can return to the revolutionary propaganda which brought victory in 1918-21 the Soviet masses must overthrow the Kremlin bureaucracy.

Trotsky’s Revolutionary Optimism

No one reading Trotsky’s writings during the years preceding the second World War could accuse him of blind optimism. On the contrary he expected the most awful catastrophes, preventable only if the workers overthrew their oppressors. After the crushing of the Spanish workers by the Negrin government in 1937 and the derailment of the French workers by the Blum government the same year, he knew there was no way to stop the imperialist war from beginning and unfolding. It was not optimism that critics accused him of, but undue pessimism. (We have in mind particularly the ludicrous figure of Norman Thomas, who complained that Trotsky’s insistence of the inevitability of the war was paralyzing resistance to it; naturally Thomas now sees “no political alternative” to the war.) Many of Trotsky’s dire warnings sounded, indeed, in the old prophetic tradition of Jeremiah. And how many of them came terribly true!

Trotsky won the right to have his predictions listened to. Not only for his dire warnings, but also for his revolutionary optimism. No man saw more clearly the deadly pattern of war and fascism that was to unfold. But, equally, no man more firmly looked beyond that pattern to the revolutionary consequences of the war. Over and over he explained that the catastrophes of war and fascism were expressions of the death agony of capitalism. World imperialism would not be strengthened by them but all the more speedily would be undermined. As in the dark days of the first World War he and Lenin saw the revolutionary aftermath, so in the first days of this war he urged us to prepare for the great days that were coming at blitzkrieg pace.

His revolutionary optimism was not all based on a mere analogy with 1914-18. He sharply emphasized that this war was not a repetition of the first but a continuation on the part of all the imperialist powers. The continuation was bringing new forces into play which were passive in 1914-18. This time, unlike the last, a principal arena of struggle would be the basin of the Pacific. That meant that the great masses of Asia, who played almost no rôle last time, would now come forward to “utilize the war” to win their freedom. “The most important object of the struggle will be China, embracing about one-fourth of the human race. The fate of the Soviet Union – the other big stake in the coming war –” he wrote in 1938, “will also to a certain degree be decided in the Far East.”

On July 25, 1939, a few weeks before the war began, he wrote an Open Letter to the advanced workers of India, urging them to prepare for the opportunity which would be opened for them by the war. “The Indian people must divorce their fate from the very outset from that of British imperialism. The oppressors and the oppressed stand on opposite sides of the trenches. No aid whatsoever to the slave-owners! On the contrary, those immense difficulties which the war will bring in its wake must be utilized so as to deal a mortal blow to all the ruling classes.” How eagerly he would be reading the dispatches from India today as the revolution he so ardently anticipated actually begins to unfold!

In bold strokes he outlined the concrete course which the Indian workers and peasants must follow. “In the event that the Indian bourgeoisie finds itself compelled to take even the tiniest step on the road of struggle against the arbitrary rule of Great Britain, the proletariat will naturally support such a step. But they will support it with their own methods: mass meetings, bold slogans, strikes, demonstrations and more decisive combat actions, depending on the relationship of forces and the circumstances. Precisely to do this must the proletariat have its hands free. Complete independence from the bourgeoisie is indispensable to the proletariat, above all in order to exert influence on the peasantry, the predominant mass of India’s population. Only the proletariat is capable of advancing a bold, revolutionary agrarian program, of rousing and rallying tens of millions of peasants and leading them in struggle against the native oppressors and British imperialism. The alliance of workers and poor peasants is the only honest, reliable alliance that can assure the final victory of the Indian revolution. (Fourth International, September 1939. [Note by ETOL: This shopuld, of course, be New international]) There, in a few words, is the program of the Indian revolutionary party.

The Stalinists have now come out openly in opposition to India’s struggle for independence. Trotsky expected that: “Stalin and his clique, for the sake of an alliance with the imperialist governments, have completely renounced the revolutionary program for the emancipation of the colonies.” For Stalin this is a method of defending the interests of the Soviet bureaucracy; for the real defense of the Soviet Union, however, the success of the Indian revolution would be a gigantic advance. Revolutions in the capitalist world will create really reliable allies for the Soviet Union and, as Trotsky wrote in his Letter to the Workers of the USSR (May 1940), “shall re-invigorate the Soviet working masses with new courage and resoluteness and shall undermine the bureaucratic props of Stalin’s caste.”

Like the involvement of the Pacific basin in world war and the consequent new opportunities for revolutionary development of China and India, the new situation of the United States was also considered of revolutionary significance by Trotsky. Just before his death he noted that America’s problems in the second World War were vastly different from the first. The long years of “peaceful” and extremely profitable sales to the Allies (1914-17); the triumphant entry of the AEF into France and its speedy victory with relatively little expenditure of men and equipment – that bore little resemblance to the gigantic undertakings of the United States in the second World War. Hence, in the very last weeks of his life Trotsky was thinking especially about the revolutionary future of America. On August 7 – less than two weeks before the assassin struck him down – Trotsky wrote Some Questions on American Problems (Fourth International, October 1940).

“Now,” he wrote, “the war will teach the American workers social thinking. The economic crisis has already begun and in the CIO we see the first reaction of the workers – confused but important. They begin to feel themselves as a class ... Now the war will continue to teach them social thinking, and this means revolutionary thinking ... The next historic waves in the United States will be waves of radicalism of the masses; not fascism. Of course the war can hinder the radicalization for some time but then it will give to the radicalization a more tremendous tempo and swing.”

And in the very last article he wrote – it remained unfinished – he wrote:

“It is quite self-evident that the radicalization of the working class in the United States has passed only through its initial phases, almost exclusively in the sphere of the trade union movement (the CIO). The pre-war period, and then the war itself, may temporarily interrupt this process of radicalization, especially if a considerable number of workers are absorbed into war industry. But this interruption of the process of radicalization cannot be of long duration. The second stage of radicalization will assume a more sharply expressive character. The problem of forming an independent labor party will be put on the order of the day. Our transitional demands will gain great popularity ... Ahead lies a favorable perspective, providing all the justification for revolutionary activism.”

“Of especial importance to the workers of the United States,” Trotsky concluded in this last article, is to understand that they have a clear opportunity to conquer power before the rise of a mass fascist party. “We may set it down as a historical law: Fascism was able to conquer only in those countries where the conservative labor parties prevented the proletariat from utilizing the revolutionary situation and seizing power ... Only under these conditions and in this situation did the stormy rise of Fascism and its gaining of power prove possible.” First in the United States will come the radicalization of the great masses and the revolutionary opportunity.

We will have our chance; and we shall not miss it!

That is what Trotsky taught. By his prophetic grasp of events, demonstrated throughout the past decades, he earned the right to be believed. We honor his memory in the only way he wanted it. His last word are our directives: “I am sure of the victory of the Fourth International. Go forward.”

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