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Leon Trotsky 19390723 On the Eve of World War II

Leon Trotsky: On the Eve of World War II

July 23, 1939

[Writings of Leon Trotsky, Vol 12, 1939-1940, New York ²1973, p. 17-27]

I welcome you, ladies and gentlemen, to our house, and I thank you very much for your visit, and I will try to answer your questions as well as I can. My English is as bad this year as it was a year ago. I promised Mr. Herring two years ago to improve my English on the condition that the people in Washington give me a visa for the United States, but it seems that they are not interested in my English.

Permit me to answer your questions sitting. There are eleven or twelve very important questions. They cover almost the whole world situation. It is not easy to answer them clearly, because they concern the activities of all the governments, and I don't believe that the governments themselves see very clearly what they want, especially at this time, when we have a situation of a world impasse. The capitalistic system is in a state of impasse. From my side, I do not see any normal, legal, peaceful outcome from this impasse. The outcome can only be created by a tremendous historic explosion. Historic explosions are of two kinds-wars and revolutions. I believe we will have both. The programs of the present governments, the good ones as well as the bad ones-if we suppose that there are good governments also — the programs of different parties, pacifist programs and reformist programs, seem now, at least to a man who observes them from the side, as child's play on the sloping side of a volcano before an eruption. This is the general picture of the world today.

You created a World's Fair. I can judge it only from the outside for the same reason for which my English is so bad, but from what I have learned about the Fair from the papers, it is a tremendous human creation from the point of view of the 'World of Tomorrow." I believe this characterization is a bit one-sided. Only from a technical point of view can your World's Fair be named 'World of Tomorrow," because if you wish to consider the real world of tomorrow we should see a hundred military airplanes over the World's Fair, with bombs, some hundreds of bombs, and the result of this activity would be the world of tomorrow. This grandiose human creative power from one side, and this terrible backwardness in the field which is the most important for us, the social field — technical genius, and, permit me the word, social idiocy — this is the world of today.

Question: How do you estimate the real military strength of Soviet Russia today?

Answer: Te military strength of Soviet Russia, better to say the military status of Soviet Russia, is contradictory. On one side we have a population of 170,000,000 awakened by the greatest revolution in history, with fresh energy, with great dynamics, with a more or less developed war industry. On the other side we have a political regime paralyzing all of the forces of the new society. What would be the balance of these contradictory forces I cannot foretell. I believe nobody can foretell, because there are moral factors which can be measured only by the events themselves. One thing I am sure: the political regime will not survive the war. Te social regime, which is the nationalized property of production, is incomparably more powerful than the political regime, which has a despotic character. T e new forms of property are of tremendous importance from the point of view of historic progress. Te inner life of the Soviet Union, as the inner life of the army of the Soviet Union, is characterized by the contradictions between the political regime and the necessity for the development of the new society, economic, cultural, etc. Every social contradiction takes its sharpest form in the army, because the army is the armed power of society. Te representatives of the political regime, or the bureaucracy, are afraid of the prospect of a war, because they know better than we that they will not survive a war as a regime.

Q: 'What was the real reason for the execution of Tukhachevsky and the generals?

A: This question is connected with the first. The new society has its methods of social crystallization, or selection of different human beings for different functions. They have a new selection for the economics, a selection for the army and navy, a selection also for the power [administration], and these selections are very different. Te bureaucracy became during the last ten years a tremendous brake on the Soviet society. It is a parasitic caste which is interested in their power, in their privileges, and in their incomes, and they subordinate all other questions today to their material interests as a caste. On the other hand, the creative functions of the society, economic, cultural, the army and navy — which is also in a certain sense a creative function — have their own selection of individuals, of inventors, of administrators, etc., and we see in every branch, in every section of social life, that one selection is directed against the other. .

The army needs capable, honest men, just as the economists and scientists, independent men with open minds. Every man and woman with an independent' mind comes into conflict with the bureaucracy, and the bureaucracy must decapitate the one section at the expense of the other in order to preserve themselves. This is the obvious historical explanation of the dramatic Moscow trials, the famous frame-ups, etc. The American press is more interested for its side of the happenings [i.e., is more interested in certain aspects it can turn to account], but we can give them a more objective, scientific, social explanation. It was a clash between two kinds of selections in different strata of society. A man who is a good general, like Tukhachevsky, needs independent aides, other generals around him, and he appreciates every man according to his intrinsic value. The bureaucracy needs docile people, byzantine people, slaves, and these two types come into conflict in every state. In view of the fact that the bureaucracy holds all of the power, it is the heads of the army that fall, and not the heads of the bureaucracy.

Q: How do you explain the dropping of Litvinov as minister of foreign affairs?

A: On general lines it is explained by the considerations I developed some minutes ago. Personally Litvinov was a capable man — is a capable man. He is not an independent political figure; he never was. But he is intelligent; he knows several different languages; he has visited several different countries; he knows Europe very well. Because of his travels, his knowledge of different countries, he troubles and embarrasses the Politburo, which is the creation of Stalin. In the bureaucracy nobody knows foreign languages, nobody has lived in Europe, and nobody knows foreign politics. When Litvinov presented his views to the Politburo they felt a bit annoyed. This is one individual reason more for his being dropped, but I believe it was also a hint from the Kremlin to Hitler that we are ready to change our politics, to realize our objective, our aim, that we presented to you and Hitler some years ago, because the objective of Stalin in international politics is a settlement with Hitler.

We had a very interesting article by Krivitsky in the Saturday Evening Post He observed these proceedings from a special point of view — his own. He was in the military espionage service, and he had very delicate missions from Moscow. What he says is very interesting as a confirmation of a general point of view which we expressed many times before this revelation. The Moscow bureaucracy do not wish war. They are afraid of a war because they will not survive. They wish peace at any price. The country which is now threatening the Soviet Union is Germany, and her allies, Italy and Japan. An agreement with Hitler signifies no war. .An alliance with Chamberlain signifies military help during the war, but no more, because the hopes that an alliance between England, France, and the Soviet Union would avoid a war are childish. You remember that Europe was divided in two camps before the Great War, and those two camps produced the war. Then Woodrow Wilson proposed the League of Nations, with the argument that only collective security can avoid wars. Now after the collapse of the League of Nations they begin to say that the division of Europe in two camps, by the creation of an alliance between England, France, and Russia, will avoid a war. It is childish. It can signify only mutual help during the war. It is a repetition of the whole experience of twenty- five years ago on a new historic scale. It is better to have an alliance if war is inevitable, but the Kremlin wishes to avoid the war. It can be reached only by an agreement with Hitler. The whole policy of the Kremlin is directed to an agreement with Hitler. Stalin says that if you don't wish to come to an agreement with me, then I will be forced to conclude an agreement with England.

Q: 'What vitality has the stop-Hitler bloc? What course will Soviet Russia take in making an alliance with Britain and France? Do you consider it likely that Stalin may come to an understanding with Hitler?

A It depends not only on Stalin, but on Hitler. Stalin has proclaimed that he is ready to conclude an agreement with Hitler. Hitler up to now rejected his proposition. Possibly he will accept it. Hitler wishes to create for Germany a world-dominating position. The rationalizing formulas are only a mask, as for the French, British, and American empires democracy is only a mask. The real interest for Britain is India; for Germany, to seize India; for France, it is to not lose the colonies; for Italy, to seize new colonies. The colonies do not have democracy. If Great Britain, for example, fights for democracy, it would do well to start by giving India democracy. The very democratic English people do not give them democracy because they can exploit India only by dictatorial means. Germany wishes to crush France and Great Britain. Moscow is absolutely ready to give Hitler a free hand, because they know very well that if he is engaged in this destruction Russia will be free for years from attacks from Germany. I am sure they would furnish raw materials to Germany during the war under the condition that Russia stand aside. Stalin does not wish a military alliance with Hitler, but an agreement to remain neutral in the war, But Hitler is afraid. the Soviet Union can become powerful enough to conquer, in one way or another, Rumania, Poland, and the Balkan states, during the time Germany would be engaged in a world war, and so approach directly the German frontier. That is why Hitler wished to have a preventive war with the Soviet Union, to crush the Soviet Union, and after that begin his war for world domination. Between these two possibilities, two variants, the Germans vacillate. What will be the final decision, I cannot foretell. I am not sure if Hitler himself knows today. Stalin does not know, because he hesitates and continues the discussions with Britain, and at the same time concludes economic and commercial agreements with Germany. He has, as the Germans say, two irons in the fire.

Q: How do you interpret the underlying purposes of the Chamberlain government?

A I believe the underlying factors are panic and headlessness. It is not an individual characteristic of Mr. Chamberlain. I do not believe he has any worse head than any other person, but the situation of Great Britain is very difficult, the same as that of France. England was a leading world power in the past — in the nineteenth century — but no more. But she has the greatest world empire. France, with her stagnating population and more or less backward economic structure, has a second colonial empire. This is the situation. It is very difficult to be inventive as a British prime minister in this situation. Only the old formula of "wait and see." This was good when Great Britain was the strongest power in the world and they had enough power to reach their aims. No more now. The war can only crush and disrupt the British empire and the French empire. They can gain nothing by the war — only lose. That is why Mr. Chamberlain was so friendly to Hitler during the Munich period. He believed that the question was about Central Europe and the Danube, but now he understands that it is the question of world domination. Great Britain and France cannot avoid a war, and now they do everything they can in a feverish tempo to avoid the war threatened by the situation created by the rearmament of Germany. That war is inevitable.

Q: How do you analyze the movements in France? Is French nationalism strong enough to offset the unity of capitalistic interests between France and Germany?

A I believe that every capitalistic government at the beginning of the war will have the tremendous majority of the people behind it. But I believe also that not one of the existing governments will have its own people behind it at the end of the war. This is why they are all afraid of the war which they cannot escape.

Q: Do you still believe that a socialist revolution in a single country is impossible without world participation?

A I believe there is some misunderstanding in the formulation of this question. I never affirmed that a socialist revolution is impossible in a single country. We had a socialist revolution in the Soviet Union. I participated in it The socialist revolution signifies the seizure of power by a revolutionary class, by the proletariat. Of course it cannot be accomplished simultaneously in all countries. Some historic time is given for every country by its conditions. A socialist revolution is not only possible but inevitable in every country. What I affirm is that it is impossible to construct a socialistic society in the environment of a capitalistic world. It is a different question, absolutely different.

Q: Does not the great economic progress made by the Soviet Union in the last five years demonstrate the practicability of building a socialist state in a capitalist world?

A I would prefer to read it "of building a socialist society," not a socialist state, because the conquest of power by the proletariat signifies the creation of the socialist state. The socialist state is only instrumental for the creation of the socialist society, because the socialist society signifies the abolition of the state as a very barbaric instrument. Every state is a barbaric survival. The question asks whether economic progress during the last five years does not prove the possibility of building a socialist society in a capitalist world.

Not in my mind, I do not believe, because economic progress is not identical with socialism. America, [the] United States, had in its history more grandiose economic progress on a capitalistic basis. Socialism signifies the progressive equality and the progressive abolition of the state. The state is an instrument of submission. Equality involves abolition of the state. During the five years, parallel with indisputable economic progress, we had in the Soviet Union a terrible growth of inequality, and a terrible reinforcement of the state. What do the Moscow trials signify from the point of view of equality and abolition of the state? I doubt if there exists now any man who believes there was justice in these trials. We had in Moscow a purge, during the last few years, of a hundred thousand people, the extermination of the Old Guard of the Bolshevik Party, generals, the best officers, the best diplomats, etc. The state is not abolished. The state exists, and what is the state? It is the subjugation of the populace to the state machine, to the new power, the new caste, the new leader — the bureaucracy is a new privileged caste. It is not socialism and this caste is not withering. They refuse to die. They prefer to kill others. Even the best elements of the army, the instrument of their own defense.

I do not say that there must be established immediately an absolute equality.. That is not possible. But the general tendency should be from the base bourgeois inequality towards equality, but we now have an absolutely opposite tendency. If you will establish statistical diagrams, it will prove that the highest stratum of the Soviet society is living like the highest bourgeoisie in America and Europe, the middle class like the middle bourgeoisie, and the workers worse than in a large country such as the United States. From the economic point of view the. revolution signifies progress for Russia. Yes, it is absolutely indisputable. But it is not socialism. It is very far from socialism. It becomes now further and further from socialism.

Q: What is your analysis of the situation in Japan? Will Japan force Britain into a war in order to save her own face?

A I do not believe that Britain will be surprised in a war with Japan, but Britain cannot avoid a war, and when the war begins Japan will of course use the European situation for her own purposes. Britain will have a war with Japan. It is not a question of saving face, but of saving lives.

Q: If Germany seizes Danzig, what will Chamberlain do?

A If Germany seizes Danzig within the next month, it signifies that Germany wants a war, because Germany knows the situation. If Germany wishes war, a war there will be. If Germany feels she is strong enough, she will provoke a war, and Chamberlain will enter the war.

Q: What is your judgment as to the probable course of events in Spain?

A I believe that the Spanish problem is only a small part of the European problem. Until the defeat it was a great problem. If the Spanish bourgeois republicans, with their socialist allies, with their Communist allies, or with their anarchist allies, had not succeeded in stifling the Spanish revolution — because it was not the victory of Franco, it was the defeat of the People's Front — then they could hope that the victory of the Spanish proletariat could provoke a great revolutionary movement in France, and we observed the beginning of it in June 1936, in the sit-down strikes in France, and under this condition Europe could avoid a war, but Moscow succeeded in killing the Spanish revolution and helping Franco in his victory. It signifies now that Spain ceases to be an independent factor. Of course, in the socialist press of Mr. Norman Thomas, and in the even less intelligent press of Mr. Browder, you can find they observe that Franco will not dominate Spain, that he will fall down. It was almost the same as the victory of Hitler in June 1933. At that time, as now, I was of the opposite opinion. The strength of Franco is not in Franco himself, but in the complete bankruptcies of the Second and Third Internationals, in the leadership of the Spanish revolution.

For the workers and peasants of Spain the defeat is not only a military accident, but it is a tremendous historic tragedy. It is the breakdown of their organizations, of their historical ideal, of their trade unions, of their happiness, all of their hopes that they have cultivated for decades, even for centuries. Can a reasonable human being imagine that this class, during one, two, or three years, can create new organizations, a new militant spirit and overcome, in this form, Franco? I do not believe it. Spain is now, more than all [other] countries, remote from revolution. Of course, if the war begins, and I am sure that it will begin, the tempo of the revolutionary movement would be accelerated in all countries. We will have a war. We had the experience in the last world war. Now all nations are poorer. The means of destruction are incomparably more effective. The old generation has the old experience in their blood. The new generation will learn from experience and from the older generation. I am sure that a consequence of a new war would be revolution, and in this case Spain would also be involved in the revolution, not on their own initiative, but on the initiative of others.

Q: What would be your advice to the United States as to its course in international affairs?

A: I must say that I do not feel competent to give advice to the Washington government because of the same political reason for which the Washington government finds it is not necessary to give me a visa. We are in a different social position from the Washington government. I could give advice to a government which had the same objectives as my own, not to a capitalistic government, and the government of the United States, in spite of the New Deal, is, in my opinion, an imperialistic and capitalistic government. I can only say what a revolutionary government should do — a genuine workers' government in the United States.

I believe the first thing would be to expropriate the Sixty Families. It would be a very good measure, not only from the national point of view, but from the point of view of settling world affairs — it would be a good example to the other nations. To nationalize the banks; to give, by radical social measures, work to the ten or twelve millions unemployed; to give material aid to the farmers to facilitate free cultivation. I believe that it would signify the rise of the national income of the United States from $67 billions to $200 or $300 billions a year in the next years, because the following years we cannot foresee the tremendous rise of the material power of this powerful nation, and of course such a nation could be the genuine dictator of the world, but a very good one, and I am sure that in this case the fascist countries of Hitler and Mussolini, and all their poor and miserable people would, in the last analysis, disappear from the historic scene if the United States, as the economic power, would find the political power to reorganize their present very sick economic structure.

I do not see any other outcome, any other solution. We have, during the last six or seven years, observed the New Deal politics. The New Deal provoked great hopes. I didn't share their hopes. I had, here in Mexico, a visit from some conservative senators, two years ago, and they asked me if we were still in favor of surgical revolutionary measures. I answered, I don't see any others but if the New Deal succeeds I am ready to abandon my revolutionary conception in favor of the New Deal conceptions. It did not succeed, and I dare to affirm that if Mr. Roosevelt were elected for the third term the New Deal would not succeed in the third term. But this powerful economic body of the United States, the most powerful in the world, is in a state of decomposition. Nobody has indicated how to stop this decomposition. A whole new structure must be made, and it cannot be realized as long as you have the Sixty Families. This is why I began with the advice to expropriate them.

Two years ago, when your Congress passed the neutrality laws, I had a discussion with some American politicians, and I expressed my astonishment about the fact that the most powerful nation in the world, with such creative power and technical genius, does not understand the world situation — that it is their wish to separate themselves from the world by a scrap of paper of the law of neutrality. If American capitalism survives, and it will survive for some time, we will have in the United States the most powerful imperialism and militarism in the world. We already see the beginning now. Of course, this armament is, as a fact, creating a new situation. Armaments are also an enterprise. To stop the armaments now without a war would cause the greatest social crisis in the world — ten millions of unemployed. The crisis would be enough to provoke a revolution, and the fear of this revolution is also a reason to continue the armaments, and the armaments become an independent factor of history. It is necessary to utilize them. Your ruling class had the slogan "Open Door to China," but what signifies it — only by battleships, in hope of preserving the freedom of the Pacific Ocean by a tremendous fleet. I don't see any other means of [defeating?] capitalistic Japan. Who is capable of doing this but the most powerful nation in the world? America will say we don't wish a German peace. Japan is supported by German arms. We do not wish an Italian, German, Japanese peace. We will impose our American peace because we are stronger. It signifies an explosion of American militarism and imperialism.

This is the dilemma, socialism or imperialism. Democracy does not answer this question. This is the advice I would give to the American government.