Main NI Index | Main Newspaper Index

Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive

The Militant, 19 May 1945

Trotsky’s Warnings About World War II

From The Militant, Vol. IX No. 20, 19 May 1945, p. 5.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Last week’s Militant published a few of Trotsky’s many warnings to the workers of the dangers of Nazism. In this issue we present more excerpts from Trotsky’s writings concerning Hitlerism and the Second World War. Eleven years ago all the demagogues promised the people enduring peace. Using the Marxist method of analysing history in the making, Trotsky exposed the hidden mainsprings of both the German and Allied moves and warned the workers of the impending slaughter.

“The same causes,” said Trotsky in 1934, “inseparable from modern capitalism which brought about the last imperialist war have now reached infinitely greater tension than in the middle of 1914. The fear of the consequences of a new war is the only factor which fetters the will of imperialism. But the efficacy of this brake is limited. The stress of inner contradictions pushes one country after another on the road to fascism which, in its turn, cannot maintain power except by preparing international explosions. All governments fear war. But none of the governments has any freedom of choice. Without a proletarian revolution a new world war is inevitable.” (War and the Fourth International, 1934)

Six years before Roosevelt promised again and again and again to keep the sons of the fathers and mothers from fighting in any foreign wars, Trotsky foresaw even the main alignments in the coming war.

“Driven by its unbearable contradictions and the consequences of defeat, German capitalism has been forced to tear off the strait-jacket of democratic pacifism and now comes forward as the chief threat to the Versailles system. State combinations on the European continent still follow in the main the line of victors and vanquished. Italy occupies the place of a treacherous go-between, ready to sell its friendship at the decisive moment to the stronger side, as she did during the last war.” (War and the Fourth International, 1934)

Fearing the approaching war would upset his bureaucratic grip on the Soviet Union, Stalin sought alliances with the “democracies.” In 1938 Trotsky predicted Stalin would soon consummate a pact with Hitler.

“Stalin’s next move will be a diplomatic approach to Hitler, and Hitler, in turn, will talk business. But not on the basis of abstractions, shibboleths, or ‘principles’ – Hitler’s principles are as false and phony as Stalin’s. Hitler will demand, and Stalin will offer, concessions, concrete and tangible.” (Socialist Appeal, October 15, 1938) [1]

After the signing of their pact, common belief held Hitler and Stalin were “twins” who would set out together to conquer the world. Trotsky again warned that reality was different from this superficial view.

“To picture it as if the new western boundary of the USSR were a permanent barrier to Hitler’s road eastward violates all proportion ... The march eastward presupposes a major war between Germany and the USSR. When the time comes for this war, the question as to what meridian the struggle will begin upon will have only secondary significance.” (Article in Liberty, January 27, 1940)

Foretold Fate of German Imperialism

In the early months of 1940 many commentators talked about the “phony” war and predicted that German armies would not attempt to attack France. Trotsky saw differently.

“As great as may be Hitler’s conquests in Europe, they will not solve the problem of German capitalism; on the contrary, they only aggravate it. The Austrian, Czech and Polish industries were added to the German; all of them suffered from narrowness of national borders and lack of raw materials. Further, in order to retain the new territories, a constant tension of military forces is unavoidable. Hitler can capitalize on his European successes only on a world scale. In order to do this he must crush France and England. Hitler cannot stop. Consequently the Allies cannot stop either if they do not wish to commit voluntary suicide.” (Interview in St. Louis Post Dispatch, February 14, 1940)

At the beginning of Hitler’s conquests, many politicians imagined he would endure for an unlimited period of time. Trotsky, however, saw no prospect of the stabilization of European capitalism under Hitler.

“In return for the enslavement of the peoples Hitler promises to establish a ‘German Peace’ in Europe for a period of centuries. An empty mirage! The ‘British Peace’ after the victory over Napoleon could endure a century – not a thousand years – solely because Britain was the pioneer of a new technology and a progressive system of production. Notwithstanding the strength of her industry, present-day Germany, like her enemies, is the standard bearer of a doomed social system. Hitler’s victory would in reality not mean peace but the beginning of a new series of bloody clashes on a world scale ... But neither would an Allied triumph result in any more radiant consequences.” (Manifesto of the Fourth International on the Imperialist War and the Proletarian Revolution>, 1940)

The German military machine was the most formidable history had seen before the hot-house development of American militarism. Nevertheless Trotsky was able to foresee the hopeless impasse of the German armies.

“I do not believe for a moment, as I have stated, in the actual realization of Hitler’s plans concerning a Pax Germanica – that is, world domination. German imperialism arrived too late; its military fury will end in a tremendous catastrophe.” (Article in Liberty, January 27, 1940)

Today many are pessimistic about the future of socialism. They feel that capitalism will be able to maintain itself indefinitely. Trotsky, however, before he was assassinated by an agent of Stalin, looked still further into the future and made the following forecast.

“None of the present governments will survive this war. The programs which are now proclaimed will soon be forgotten just as will their authors. The only program that the ruling classes will maintain is: Save their own skins.

“The capitalist system is in a blind alley. Without an entire reconstruction of the economic system on a European and a world scale our civilization is doomed. The struggle of blind forces and unbridled interests must be replaced by the rule of reason, or plan, of conscious organization.” (Interview in St. Louis Post Dispatch, February 14, 1940)

Note by ETOL

1. This reference must be wrong as there is no article by Trotsky or about the coming war in that issue of Socialist Appeal.

Top of page

Main Militant Index | Main Newspaper Index

Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive

Last updated on 7 November 2018