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Leon Trotsky 19381104 "Peace in Our Time"?

Leon Trotsky: "Peace in Our Time"?

November 4, 1938

[Writings of Leon Trotsky, Vol 11, 1938-1938, New York ²1974, p. 94-97]

Chamberlain has proclaimed the formula that the Munich agreement inaugurated "peace in our time." Never before, if you please, has major policy been so empirical, so blind, never has it been so content to simply "live for today," never has it been so quickly satisfied with ephemeral results, never so much as now. The explanation for this is that those who guide the world's destiny, especially that of Europe, are afraid to face what tomorrow will bring. Every soothing formula, however empty it may be, fulfills a ready and grateful demand. "Peace in our time"? It seems, then, that all the disputes and convulsions of European politics were caused by nothing more than the patchwork existence of Czechoslovakia or the absence of cordial talks between the German and English rulers. In truth, it is almost frightening to observe the credulity and passivity of a public opinion that can be served up with such sugary banalities from the most authoritative rostrums!

Let's go back to the ABC's. The essence of the present world crisis is conditioned by two fundamental circumstances. First, the classic capitalism of free trade has transformed itself into monopoly capitalism and has long since outgrown the boundaries of the nation state. Hence, the pursuit of foreign markets for goods and capital, the struggle for sources of raw materials, and crowning all this, the colonial policy. The second historical factor is the unevenness of the economic, political, and military development of the different countries. The development of the old mother countries of capital, like England and France, has come to a halt. The upstarts, like Germany, the United States, and Japan, have moved a long way forward. As a result of this radical and feverish alteration in the relationship of forces, it is necessary ever more frequently to revise the map of the world. The Munich agreement changed nothing in these basic conditions.

The last war was begun by Germany with the slogan: "The world has been divided up? Then it must be redivided." The twenty years which passed after the war revealed with new force the disparity between the specific weight of the main European states and their share in the world's plunder, based on the Versailles treaty. Naive public opinion was surprised by the weakness the European democracies displayed during the recent crisis; the international prestige of fascism has undoubtedly risen. This, however, had nothing to do with "democracy" per se, but with the specific economic weight of England, and especially France, in the world economy. The present economic foundations of these two "democracies" has absolutely no correspondence with the size and wealth of their colonial empires. On the other hand, the dynamic of the German economy, temporarily paralyzed by the Versailles peace, has been reestablished and it is again beginning to loosen and knock down boundary markers. We are not talking specifically about Italy since war and peace are not in Italy's hands. Until Hitler came to power, Mussolini was quiet as a mouse. In the struggle for world supremacy, he is doomed henceforth to the role of a satellite.

England and France fear every earthshaking tremor since they have nothing to gain and everything to lose. Hence their panicky willingness to concede. But partial concessions secure only short breathing spells, without eliminating or weakening the fundamental source of the conflicts. As aresult of the Munich agreement Germany's European base has widened; her opponents' base has narrowed. If one takes Chamberlain's words seriously, it turns out that the weakening of the democracies and the strengthening of the fascist states opens up an "era of peace." The head of the Conservative government clearly did not mean to say this. However, just what he did mean to say is not completely clear, apparently even to himself.

It would be possible to speak with some justification of "peace in our time" if German capitalism's demands for raw materials and markets were satisfied by the incorporation of Germany's "blood brothers" or by the increased influence of Germany in Central and South-Eastern Europe. But in fact the incorporation of the Saar region, Austria, and the Sudetenland only kindles the aggressive tendencies of the German economy. German imperialism must look for the resolution of its internal contradictions in the world arena. It is no accident, therefore, that General Von Epp,i03 the future minister of the future colonies, immediately after the opening of the "era of peace," on Hitler's instructions, raised the demand for the return to

Germany of its former colonial possessions. Chamberlain intends, as several voices affirm, to make a "symbolic" gesture, namely to return to Germany not all– oh, of course not! –but some of her former possessions and to satisfy Hitler's ambitions by restoring Germany to the ranks of the colonial powers.

All this has a ring of childishness, if not mockery. Germany had insignificant colonies before the world war; but it became so cramped within its old borders that it sought to break out onto the real arena of world exploitation by means of war. Therefore, returning its old overseas possessions will not resolve even one of the problems of German capitalism. Hitler needs Hohenzollern's old patches of colonial territory only as strong points in the struggle for "real" colonies, i.e., for a re-division of the world. But this redivision cannot be carried out in any way short of the liquidation of the British and French empires.

In the process, the second- and third-rate colonial powers will be eliminated. The destructive law of concentration is applied in the very same measure to petty slaveholding states as to petty capitalists within states. It is quite probable, therefore, that the next four-power agreement will be achieved at the expense of the colonies of Holland, Belgium, Spain, and Portugal. But this, again, would only mean a short breathing space.

What then? In no way can the tempo at which Germany is presenting its demands be called slow and patient. Even if England and France decided to liquidate themselves in installments, this would only give the German offensive new strength. Moreover, the United States could not remain a passive observer of such an obvious upsetting of the "balance of forces" in the world. The North American colossus in no way relishes the prospect of finding itself face to face with a Germany which is the mistress of world colonies and the major shipping routes. That is why it will use all its strength to urge England and France not toward compliance but toward resistance. And meanwhile Tokyo's Prince Konoye has proclaimed the need to "revise all treaties in the interest of justice," i.e., in the interest of Japan. The Pacific Ocean hardly promises to be a fount of peace during the next ten years.

In the good old days, it was only England that thought in terms of continents. And she thought slowly: in terms of centuries. In the present epoch, all the imperialist states have learned to think in such terms. And the timetable is no longer laid out in centuries, but in decades, or even years. This is the real character of our epoch, which after the Munich meeting remains an epoch of unbridled, frenzied, and violent imperialism. Until the peoples subdue it, it will more and more frequently recarve our bloody planet.

The state of the German economy requires Hitler to exercise his military strength as soon as possible. On the other hand, the army requires postponement, since it is not yet ready for war; it is a new army, in which not everything is yet coordinated or adjusted to the proper proportions. But the contradiction between these two requirements can be measured in terms not of decades but of a year or maybe two, possibly even months. The mobilizations that Hitler carried out so demonstratively during the Czechoslovakian crisis had the aim of testing the ruling classes of England and France. From Hitler's point of view, the test was a marvelous success. The sources of restraint upon him, none too sturdy to begin with, were decisively weakened. Opposition from the German generals and the leaders of the German economy was undermined, and a decisive step toward war was taken.

Hitler will not be able to repeat his bluff a second time. But he will undoubtedly exploit the effect of this ever-so-successful experiment to produce the opposite result. In a new crisis, when he mobilizes, he will try to give the impression that he is simply making a threat, giving the outward appearance of a new bluff, and then, in fact, will fall upon his opponents with the combined strength of all his armies.

Meanwhile, the diplomatic gentlemen are once again warming up the notion of an arms limitation agreement. The pacifists (in accordance with their fundamental profession as social imperialists), those such as Jouhaux and Company, come trailing along behind the diplomats, calling for total disarmament. It was not without reason that the Russian poet said:

We treasure deceit that uplifts us More than thousands of burdensome truths. However, these worthy gentlemen are deceiving not themselves so much as the people.

The war of 1914-18 was termed by statesmen the "war to end all wars," as a sop to the peoples of the world. Since then the phrase has acquired a certain ironic ring. There can be no doubt that soon that same bitter note of irony will attach itself to Chamberlain's phrase of "peace in our time" as well. For our part, we look to the future with eyes wide open. Europe is heading toward war, and with it all of humanity.