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Leon Trotsky 19380602 Remarks on Czechoslovakia

Leon Trotsky: Remarks on Czechoslovakia

June 2, 1938

[Writings of Leon Trotsky 1937-1938, New York ²1976, p. 353-357]

Question: What would be the tactics of the Bolshevik-Leninists in Czechoslovakia in face of the aggression from fascist Germany? Where do these tactics differ from those pursued, for example, in Spain and China?

Trotsky: Why is the question especially put for Czechoslovakia? We can ask the same about France or any other country. I believe that Czechoslovakia is a small country and in the event of war her existence would be directly threatened. But the difference between Czechoslovakia and France lies in the fact that France has colonies. It is an imperialist country. Czechoslovakia has no colonies. But this difference is only apparent. Czechoslovakia is an imperialist country in every respect. It is a highly developed country with finance capital in a leading position in a very concentrated industry, the very important war industry. This is why Czechoslovakia is a developed capitalist country, but not only that.

In Czechoslovakia we now have a population of about 15 million. It is not a big country. Under European conditions it is a medium-sized country. Of this 15 million population there are only 6 million Czechs. The official state statistics record the Czechs and Slovaks together (they are different nations). This reckoning them together is done only to give a false impression. The Slovaks, numbering about 3.5 million, feel like oppressed people and fight for autonomy. Then the Germans, the Sudeten Germans, number 3.5 million, and the Hungarians almost a million. Seven or eight hundred thousand are Ruthenians (really part of Russia). Then there are Poles and Jews, but in small numbers. You see that they have 6 million Czechs and 9 million of different minorities who are oppressed by the Czechs – severely

oppressed. In a national and economic sense the Czechs have different privileges and during the last crisis the pressure on the minorities became terrible.

You see that if they don't have foreign colonies they have internal colonies, and the relation arithmetically between the Czechs and the internal colonies is approximately the same as with France and her colonies, the same six to nine. Now the Stalinists wish to force these 15 million people to defend democracy, but they do not speak of the fact that the Czech democracy is one of the shabbiest in this epoch, when all democracies have doubtful status. These national minorities under the national oppression of Czech democracy should no more defend democracy than the Algerians or Moroccans or the Indians in their relation to England. Now if we question Czechoslovakia as a "democracy" for 6 million – then for the 9 million it is a machine of oppression.

These general statistics are necessary as an introduction to the political questions. In the first period, with the creation of Czechoslovakia after the war, the bourgeois classes of the minority nations looked with hope toward the new Czechoslovakian state. They became patriotic. Hungarians, Germans, Ruthenians, Slovakians all became patriotic for the following reasons: First, it was more profitable to be in the camp of the victors (and furthermore the situation in Germany was very bad from the point of view of the bourgeoisie). From this point we have the paradox that the German minority looked for aid not to Germany but to Prague. Second, the situation in Germany was very disquieting. In Hungary we even had a soviet republic in 1919 and it was not clear whether the counterrevolution was stable.

That was the reason why the German bourgeoisie became Czech patriots. The bourgeois class in this respect is more flexible in that it subordinates its national sympathies and antipathies to its economic interests. It was not so with the workers. It was possible to unite the workers of different nations in Czechoslovakia only by separating the workers as a class on the basis of their class interests, that is, on the basis of revolutionary policy, which meant irreconcilable opposition to the state. This was the only way of having a united proletariat in Czechoslovakia. But thanks to the national petty-bourgeois prejudices and the false policies determined by these prejudices and the interests of the higher strata of the workers, the proletarian party was divided into national camps. We have had a Czech Social Democracy, a German Social Democracy, German trade unions and Czech trade unions. Then these trade unions were divided by the Czechs to correspond to different political parties, but that is a second element of the whole picture.

Now the situation has changed since the conquest of power by Hitler. Germany became a solid, strong state with a population of 68 million or so and the German bourgeoisie of Czechoslovakia, oppressed to a certain degree, began to put its hopes and its patriotism not in Prague but in Berlin. The reasons for this are entirely clear. It is a large arena for capitalist development, it is German – the same language, no national oppression, a surer existence. It is a stronger state. But what is very important is that this turn of German capital to Germany attracted the German petty bourgeoisie and not only the petty bourgeoisie but also the German workers and German Social Democrats. Why? Because the German workers can hope for nothing in Czechoslovakia. They see that the dominant bourgeoisie is supported by the Czech trade unions. They are democratic (patriotic) and the German workers, who are oppressed doubly as a class and as a nationality, cannot become Czech patriots.

Moreover, in Czechoslovakia there is no longer a revolutionary party because the Stalinists also are patriots. They say to the 9 million: "You must support the Czech government." They can deceive the Czech workers but it is not so easy with the German workers. By this democratic-patriotic policy, they, like the Social Democrats of the Second International, transformed the German population into cannon fodder for fascism, and we see in the latest cables that Henlein has had the greatest success in the elections.347 He fully dominates the Germans. It is a classical example of the fact that the People's Front policy brings about fascism. Not only the Sudeten workers but the lower classes of the cities could be won against the state, but People's Front democracy-patriotism divides the workers according to national lines and transforms them into cannon fodder. That is the situation in Czechoslovakia.

Now, in time of peace as in time of war, what must be the policy of the proletarian party? Naturally, irreconcilable opposition to the state, the bourgeoisie, and to advance the slogan that the main enemy is in our own country – the ruling class. One can say that this policy would help Hitler. The same could be said of France or any other country. But Czechoslovakia is even now a prisoner of Hitler. On the map, since the Anschluss, Germany forms a pincers upon Czechoslovakia. She has no access to her allies to the west, and is a country which must import food, wheat, etc. It is a country which, from the military point of view, is doomed to catastrophe. Czechoslovakia can be saved only through a revolution in Europe, including Czechoslovakia and Germany. If we can theoretically accept the defeatist position of the working class, the working class can serve the military purposes of Hitler. It can add to his advantage at first. But this is a question only of the military map. It is a question not only of where the military lines will be formed during the war but also of the fate of nations and peoples.

Czechoslovakia can be saved from fascism only by revolution and revolution can be provoked in Germany only by the revolutionary attitude of workers in other countries, because the strength of Hitler consists in that "we were vanquished," "we have no colonies," "we are the oppressed country," "in all other countries the workers support the bourgeoisie." In Czechoslovakia the People's Front policy furnished Henlein with his army. The People's Front policy in France and in Czechoslovakia is the best service that can be rendered Hitler. If we had a revolutionary party, it would sap the ideology of the fascists insofar as it could affect the workers. On the other hand, a revolutionary policy has a contagious nature. Imagine in Czechoslovakia that we have a revolutionary policy and that it leads to the conquest of power. It would be a hundred times more dangerous to Hitler than patriotic support of Czechoslovakia. That is why it is absolutely obligatory that our comrades follow a defeatist policy.

In China we do not have an imperialist country but a backward country which is being changed into a colonial country by Japan. (I forgot to add that Czechoslovakia is a partner of a world corporation of imperialist countries. If it doesn't have colonies, it has loans from Britain. These loans are possible because of Britain's colonies; likewise with military support from France. It is a link in the imperialist chain.) China is an isolated country and with the imperialists it is only a question of China's division.

There is no analogy between China and Spain. In Spain we have a civil war between two groups of the bourgeoisie. Because the workers do not have an independent policy we see the victory of fascism. It is a civil war in one capitalist country. It is a different kind of situation. It is important in this respect that on the internal scale of a state there can be a fight between two parts of the ruling class as to what form of rule is best. But whether in the fascist or democratic form they exploit the people. In this sense it is a fight between fascism and democracy. But when two countries enter a war, with its international complications, it can never be a war between democracy and fascism. The war is always for colonies, etc. That is why it is absolutely stupid to say that Czechoslovakia would enter into war to save democracy. If Czechoslovakia is victorious it is likely that the military clique will dominate the oppressed minorities which would become very rebellious during the war. It can be victorious only as an absolutist military machine.

For Czechoslovakia what is important is not its economic-political-military salvation. What shall be the slogan? The United Socialist States of Europe. For Czechoslovakia this is a burning question. The United Socialist States of Europe can be organized only by an independent working class policy, and that independent working class policy cannot support the bourgeoisie.

Question: What should be the policy of the Bolshevik-Leninists when the government sent troops to the German region? Would a revolutionary party fight against it?

Trotsky: It is a question of practical possibilities. If we can do it, if we have the strength, of course we fight against sending troops into the German region.