Encyclopedia of Trotskyism On-Line: Revolutionary History

4. Daniel Guerin’s Postscript

Comrades from several Trotskyist tendencies, Lutte Ouvrière, Informations Ouvrières, and, to a lesser extent, La Gauche (Belgian) have vehemently criticised certain passages in the Preface to this book, the first edition of which appeared in Belgium. One of them has even written that I have covered Trotsky’s writings with filth.

All of them accuse me of having cut the texts that I have collected. In the Preface I took care to say that I had “deliberately left out passages of certain texts that have no connection with the question”. That question was, of course, the Second World War.

Furthermore, they maintain, war is not a phenomenon in itself but, following the formulation of Clausewitz, the continuation of politics by other means, and thus Trotsky’s arguments only take on their full meaning in the context of events with which I did not deal. Even worse, my cuts in the text were intended opportunistically to favour the hypotheses that I maintained in my Preface.


I do not believe that these criticisms are deserved. If I made cuts in the writings that I chose, it is because Trotsky treated of so many and so different questions that it would be necessary to select not merely articles on the Second World War, but to publish the whole body of his complete works.

I did not like mutilating the record of the discussion between Trotsky and the American Trotskyists who visited him on 12 to 25 July 1940, particularly as, until now, none of this was available in French. But it is a question of an extremely long document, the result of an often violent discussion where the most varied subjects were thrown into the debate, and where the contributions of many of the participants were as long as Trotsky’s replies. This is so particularly with the cuts that I had to make on one page. (See p.196 of the present edition.) But it really is not my fault. I maintain that these cut passages dealt with very different questions, generally of internal American politics, without any connection with the theme of this collection, and that in no way do the texts collected here lose their “full significance” and that their suppression does not in any way “favour” the statements made in the Preface.

The severity of these criticisms depends on a passage on pp.15-16 of the Preface where I write, “It is thus that, presenting or even calling for the entry of the United States into the war on the side of the Western Allies, Trotsky was led into lambasting the American pacifists, considered as ‘Enemy No.1’ by him, and to encouraging the United States to accelerate their military preparations. On several occasions, as has been seen, in the same way he insisted on the fact (which to him seems to provide extenuating circumstances) that Stalin had cooperated with Hitler out of fear of him, and that the only way to help him out of the clutches of the Nazi dictator was for the Allies to show themselves strong.”

Here I can only be referring to an article published in the New York Times on 4 October 1939 under the title The United States Will Participate in the War. Trotsky here says expressly that “the intervention of the United States ... would be capable of changing the orientation not only of Moscow but also of Rome”, and, further on, “to make the Kremlin change its policy there remains only one way, but a sure one. It is necessary to give Hitler such a decisive blow that Stalin will cease to fear him. In this sense it is possible to say that the most important key to the Kremlin’s policy is now in Washington.” [1] Since Trotsky published it in the most important American bourgeois paper the view expressed here that it could even be taken as advice seems to me to have the more weight.

The curious thing is that the citation which precedes this quotation is not reproduced as a whole by my critics; and the brief fragment that they do quote, they attribute to me, whom they accuse of ‘falsification’, and not to their author: Leon Trotsky.

I must here recall that the passage in question has already been recalled and examined by Isaac Deutscher. His biography of Trotsky made the following comment: “He repeated the same thought during the ‘Phoney War’ in the winter of 1939-40, saying that France and Britain, in avoiding a real military collision with Germany, were conducting a sort of ‘military strike’ against the United States.” [2] Deutscher left out the inverted commas around the last four words. In fact Trotsky had only reported, without contradiction, the opinion of the Kremlin that the passivity of the European Allies towards Hitler annoyed the United States – though still then ‘neutral’. The Kremlin, like Trotsky, had sensed that the United States, under the cover of ‘neutrality’ had both raised a hue and cry over secret contacts with Berlin, and pushed Britain and. France to be less passive and cowardly, and to unsheath their sword.

Here I must deal with the third accusation that is levelled at me, that I was wrong to suppose that besides the international revolutionary Trotsky there was a Trotsky “who was very much a Soviet militant still, staying faithful to the revolution he had himself led and the military power that he had created”, a Trotsky “concerned above all, we must repeat, with the unconditional defence of the USSR”. However, Trotsky left no-one in any doubt that this was his position. Already in his thesis of May 1934, War and the Fourth International, he affirmed that “the defence of the Soviet Union from the blows of the capitalist enemies, irrespective of the circumstances and immediate causes of the conflict, is the elementary and imperative duty of every honest labour organisation”. [3] He repeated this, as we have seen, in the Manifesto of the Fourth International in 1940, where he called for “the defence of so colossal a conquest as planned economy against the restoration of capitalist relations”. [4] It is precisely on this point that he denounced so sharply the splitters from the American Trotskyist party, the disciples of Max Shachtman, the Workers Party, whose journal was Labor Action. It is not the result of chance then, if as we have seen, Labor Action, distinct from Trotsky, took a position against both conscription (compulsory military service), and of American entry into the war by the side of John Lewis, the great trade union leader and the bitter adversary of President Roosevelt.

Doubtless Trotsky would have resolved the contradiction between his defencist attitude and his revolutionary internationalist position in upholding that, as André Frankin has written in La Gauche “the defence of the USSR coincides in principle with the preparation of the revolution of the world working class”, and that I was mistaken when I stated – in the Preface – that Trotsky was torn between these two positions. But, as will be seen, he compromised a little when he came to take up positions in the real world.


If Trotsky was still as defencist in August 1940 as before it was because he foresaw how much the USSR was threatened in the immediate future. The greatest part of the Manifesto of the Fourth International, which I have published uncut, was produced before the complete defeat of France by Hitler’s formidable military machine (there is only an allusion of a few phrases, added at the last moment, at the end of the Manifesto to “the German armies [which] are rolling like a fiery tide of fire towards Paris and the Channel)” [5] and, in any case, he had written it before the direct threat to Britain of all-out air attack, the famous Blitz which started on 8 August 1940. As regards the threat to Great Britain, Trotsky had already, in an article of 4 October 1939, given the opinion that “Hitler wants to split the British Empire wide open and prepare a base for war with the United States”. [6]

This brutal expansion of Hitler’s imperialism in the direction of the British Isles had, by mid-August 1940, reinforced Trotsky in his conviction that one day or another the USSR, despite the German-Soviet pact, would be attacked in its turn, and that it would have a great need of military aid from the USA. And as he was anxious to see Stalin cease to be the more or less blind satellite of Hitler, he showed his impatience – even more impatient than on 4 October of the previous year – that a decisive blow be struck against the Führer by his imperialist adversaries.

In support of this interpretation I will refer to several texts that I have not published. First of all is the thesis which I have already cited: War and the Fourth International. Trotsky here stated that “the proletariat of a capitalist country that finds itself in an alliance with the USSR must retain fully and completely its irreconcilable hostility to the imperialist government of its own country”. However, he drew a “difference” between the practical attitude adopted by the working class in a country at war with the USSR in comparison with the working class in a country allied to the USSR, such as for example the American proletariat: in this last case he declared that it “would be absurd and criminal ... for the American proletariat to sabotage the sending of American munitions to the USSR”, and that by contrast “the proletariat of a country fighting against the USSR would be absolutely obliged to resort to actions of this sort”. [7]

The same recommendations will be found in the response made by Trotsky in Mexico in 1937 to a question put to him by the Dewey Commission in its report on the Moscow Trials. [8] Trotsky here defined the attitude that he would adopt towards a France allied to the USSR against Hitler’s Germany: this attitude according to him would be different on the other side of the Rhine. In a Germany at war with the USSR he would sabotage all the military means of carrying on the war, while in France he would oppose the bourgeoisie politically, with a view to the coming proletarian revolution. When Trotsky in August 1940 suggested the position to take as regards the United States, he well understood the temporary character of the Hitler-Stalin pact in the perspective of an alliance between the USA and the USSR against Hitler, where his attitude followed from that which he had taken in 1934 and 1937.

Elsewhere I have included in the present edition two new texts of Trotsky’s. I was not able to put them in the Belgian edition because it was already being printed when I received them from New York. [9] It is important to note that these last two letters of Trotsky were written in the last days of his life, The author this time dots the ‘i’s and crosses the ‘t’s, and does not hesitate to write:

If democracy is to be defended we should defend it also on European soil: the more so as this is the best way to defend democracy in America. To help England ’ to crush Hitler ’ by all means, including military intervention, would signify the best way to defend ‘American democracy’. [9]

Certainly Trotsky did not hide the fact that in his eyes this was a ‘transitional’ programme. The real aim of the Fourth International and the final aim of the struggle remained the Socialist revolution. When he spoke in his first letter of the Fatherland (with a capital letter), he took care to clarify in the second, when he had to, that he had meant the Capitalist Fatherland (with two capital letters).

But he believed at the same time, and he said it clearly, that one must not make an abstract affirmation of doctrinal purity, which was in his eyes sterile. He thought it necessary to be realistic, and to align oneself with the patriotic feeling which then prevailed among the American working masses, and that is why he demanded the democratisation of the army, “compulsory military service of workers under the control of workers” (reminiscent of the Armée Nouvelle of Jaurès), the first step, according to him, “towards workers’ militias”.

This led, in the debate of 12-15 June 1940, to the leader of the American Trotskyist party James P. Cannon anxiously asking him the question: “What about the possibility of confusing us with the patriots?” [10]

Before ending I wish to reply to the last criticism: that I was wrong to present Trotsky as a “super-lucid” forecaster of events. For this great revolutionary was simply applying the Marxist method, and the proclamation of the Fourth International did the rest. I would have to say that this was a fantasy, since the Fourth International was, for the most part, just Leon Trotsky, Trotsky the unique author of the powerful manifesto reproduced in extenso in this book and written in his own hand. Whatever the manner of “applying the Marxist method”, a long historical experience has, alas, taught us that it is often done differently and, in the way it is often done, it is not necessarily infallible – even when it is applied by Trotsky, who, as I show in my Preface, also makes mistakes. I would firmly maintain that it is his personal genius which seems to me to have contributed for the most part to the formulation of his prophecies, which, all the same, contain many inevitable errors of prediction.



1. L.D. Trotsky, The US Will Participate in the War, 1 October 1939, in Writings of Leon Trotsky 1939-40, New York 1973, pp.95-97. Cf. also the discussion in n93, pp.431-2. [Editor’s note] The reader will note the contradiction between this passage and that in another article of Trotsky’s on 30 June 1940 where he accuses “the social-patriotic sophists” of saying that “it is necessary to strike a blow against Hitler”. [Guérin’s note] (Cf. L.D. Trotsky, We Do Not Change Our Course, 30 June 1940 in Writings of Leon Trotsky 1939-40, p.297.)

2. Isaac Deutscher, The Prophet Outcast, Oxford 1970, p.458. Let us remember that in the article already cited of 4 October 1939 Trotsky wrote: “The ‘operations’ on the Western Front during the first month of the war only strengthened Moscow in its estimation ... Moscow thinks, consequently, that the present confused and indecisive conduct of operations by France and Great Britain is a kind of military sitdown strike against the United States, but not a war against Germany.” (L.D. Trotsky, The US Will Participate in the War, 1 October 1939 in Writings of Leon Trotsky 1939-40, p.94.) [Deutscher also omitted the word “sitdown”. – Editor’s note]

3. L.D. Trotsky, War and the Fourth International, 10 June 1934, in Writings of Leon Trotsky 1933-34, New York 1975, p.304.

4. L.D. Trotsky, Manifesto of the Fourth International on the Imperialist War and the Proletarian World Revolution, May 1940, in Writings of Leon Trotsky 1939-40, New York 1973, p.199.

5. Ibid., p.220.

6. L.D. Trotsky, The US Will Participate in the War, 1 October 1939, op. cit., p.96.

7. L.D. Trotsky, War and the Fourth International, op. cit., p.315.

8. The Case of Leon Trotsky, New York 1969, p.290. Trotsky here refers in his reply to the passage cited before in the Theses of 1934 [Guérin’s note].

9. L.D. Trotsky, How to Really Defend Democracy, 13 August 1940, Writings of Leon Trotsky 1939-40, New York 1973, p.344.

10. Writings of Leon Trotsky 1939-40, New York 1973, p.254.

Updated by ETOL: 24.7.2003