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Leon Trotsky 19350722 To Young Communists and Socialists Who Wish to Think

Leon Trotsky: To Young Communists and Socialists Who Wish to Think

July 22, 1935

[Writing of Leon Trotsky, Vol. 8, 1935-36, New York ²1977, p. 49-52]

The youth are at present deeply preoccupied with the question of the war danger. And rightly so. Their heads are at stake first.

We revolutionary Marxists reject absolutely those prescriptions against war that are issued by the leaders of the Second and Third Internationals. They preach “disarmament” and “accord” through the League of Nations. This means that they believe in the possibility of changing the nature of capitalism through peaceful reforms, since the armed struggle between capitalist states applies just as much to the nature of capitalism as the competition between individual capitalists or their trusts. There are people who call themselves Socialists or Communists who characterize the capitalist state as a thoroughly imperialist set-up but at the same time believe in the League of Nations, that is, in the stock exchange of the imperialist states.

For Marxists the struggle against war coincides with the struggle against imperialism. The means for this struggle is not “general disarmament” but the arming of the proletariat for the revolutionary overthrow of the bourgeoisie and the establishment of a workers’ state. Our slogan is not the League of Nations, but the Soviet United States of Europe and of the entire world!

Today we see in France how the reformists and the so-called “Communists” (in reality only Stalinists) have allied themselves with the Radicals, ostensibly for the purpose of struggling against war and fascism. Who are the Radicals? A thoroughly imperialist party which stands for the Versailles treaty and for the French colonial empire. How can one lead a struggle against the imperialists’ war together with an imperialist party?

Naturally, the Radicals readily speak for peace. Hitler also works in the sweat of his brow for peace. They are all for peace: priests, bankers, generals. But what does the pacifism of the bourgeois governments and parties mean? Vile hypocrisy. Every robber prefers, if possible, to take away his victim’s purse “peacefully” without taking his life. Mussolini would naturally prefer to pocket Ethiopia “peacefully,” that is, without the expenses and sacrifices of war. England and France would like to enjoy their plunder “in peace.” But woe to whoever hinders them! That is the meaning of capitalist love for peace.

Petty-bourgeois pacifism is in general sincere, but so much the more blind and helpless, since in essence it is but the belief of peasants and petty merchants that it is possible to make the ruling classes better, to disarm the great capitalist robbers and induce them to live peacefully side by side. But with all its good intentions petty-bourgeois pacifism becomes a drug with the help of which the imperialists overcome the masses at the proper moment and make cannon fodder out of them. We accuse the leaders of the Second and Third Internationals of helping capitalism to prepare a new world slaughter through their nonsensical twaddle. In a new war the reformists and the Stalinists will in the majority of cases stand on the side of their governments, especially in France, Belgium, and Czechoslovakia. Whoever really wants to fight against war must speak to the people clearly, must gather the fighters under one revolutionary banner, under the banner of the Fourth International.

Between the two old “Internationals” (which in reality are no longer that) and us, the champions of the Fourth International, stand many factions and intermediate groups, which we call centrist. This name is not an insult, as many simple minds suppose, but a thoroughly scientific term. We call those currents centrist which vacillate between Marxism (internationalism) and reformism (patriotism), but which tend, by their nature, to come nearer to reformism. The French Bataille Socialiste group, centrist in character, combines declaring itself for the defense of the fatherland with worship of pacifism (Zyromsky), and tolerates at its left wing a hazy internationalism (Pivert). Such currents are to be found in a number of countries. In the present period we can with justice point to the German Socialist Workers Party (SAP) as an example of centrism. The SAP is by no means a mass organization. But it has quite a number of old party and trade union functionaries who are scattered as emigrants in various countries. They often possess a considerable knack for practical work and a certain theoretical schooling, but never does their activity go beyond centrist conceptions. That is why they are against the Fourth International. That is why they combat parties and organizations which rally around the banner of the Fourth International. That is why they seek friends to the right, while they direct their enmity to the left.

From time to time they even declare that they are really not against the Fourth International as such, but that they find it not timely. This objection, however, is devoid of all content. What is involved is not a mathematical but a political problem, where the time factor is secondary. Socialism is also not “timely” as long as we are not in a position to realize it. But we have inscribed it on our banner and carry this banner quite openly to the masses. Once we become convinced that the struggle against war and for socialism requires the revolutionary consolidation of the proletarian vanguard on the basis of a new program, we must immediately set about the task.

Whoever is today, like the SAP, against the Fourth International, against its defenders and builders, shows thereby that consciously or unconsciously he wishes to leave open the back door to the reformists and patriots. This assertion may sound like “sectarianism” or even “slander” to the naive. The most recent, thoroughly anti-Marxist position of the SAP on the war question has, however, irrefutably confirmed our opinion. Whoever has not read the famous SAP resolution on the “struggle for peace,” must by all means get it and learn certain passages by heart. No high-sounding phrases on the socialist revolution and the dictatorship of the proletariat can wipe away the real, that is, pacifist, character of the SAP policy which proposes to gather “all forces” for disarmament and peace, to form for this purpose an “all-inclusive committee.” Whoever preaches that the imperialists can — under the “pressure” of the masses — disarm peacefully, denies at the same time the necessity of proletarian revolution. For what sort of a revolution can there be against a disarmed bourgeoisie? There is an undeniable relation between pacifism in internal policy, and pacifism in foreign policy. A man may swear to us solemnly that he is a materialist, but if he goes to church on Easter he remains for us a miserable victim of the priesthood. Whoever combines phrases on the social revolution with agitation for pacifist disarmament is no proletarian revolutionist but a pitiful victim of petty-bourgeois prejudice.

But are there not, we are often reminded, good, revolutionary-minded workers in the SAP and similar organizations who must not be pushed away? This argument misses the mark. Very likely, almost certainly, there are in the SAP and similar organizations workers who are not satisfied with the vacillating, evasive policy of the leaders. However, we can best help these elements capable of development by exposing mercilessly the false policy of their leaders. At first even the advanced elements are taken unawares. Nevertheless, criticism penetrates their minds. Then come new facts which strengthen our criticism. And finally the honest revolutionary worker says to himself: the Leninists are right, I must go with them. It was always so in the development of a revolutionary party. And it will be so this time.

Young comrades and friends! We combat everything that is ambiguous and confused not out of “fanatical” hatred, and certainly not out of personal animosity. Our stem epoch has little respect for sentimentality, personal consideration, and similar lovely things. It demands a correct program and an iron will to victory. To the masses that are seeking a revolutionary leadership we must display the greatest patience and attentiveness. Hundreds and thousands of times we must show them revolutionary principles through their daily experiences. But on those who appear before the masses as leaders, who unfurl their own banner, we must place the strictest demands. The first is clarity.

The shilly-shalliers, the confused, the centrists, the pacifists, can vegetate years on end, issue papers, hold conferences, yes, even register temporary organizational successes. Great historic turns, however — war, revolution — knock these parties over like a house of cards. On the other hand, organizations that have reached real revolutionary clarity and consciousness really develop their greatest strength in critical historic situations. Then the philistine is astonished, and the left philistine is exultant — without understanding, however, that the “miracle” of the successes was only possible through long and persevering preparatory work, and that Marxian intransigence was the best weapon in this preparatory work.

Splinters and chips fly in every big ideological struggle. The centrists are in the habit of making use of this miserable material to distract attention from what is important and decisive. Young workers who want to think must learn to despise the maliciously impotent gossip of the centrists. You must examine things to the very bottom! The most important questions for the shaping of proletarian revolutionists are at present the attitude toward war and the Fourth International. You must pose these questions before you in their full scope! We, Bolshevik-Leninists, issued more than a year ago the pamphlet War and the Fourth International, To become thoroughly acquainted with this programmatic document is the first duty of every revolutionist who wants to arrive at a position. Lose no time; study; reflect; discuss honestly; strive incessantly for revolutionary clarity!

With fraternal greetings,

L. Trotsky