Extracts from an interview with Leon Trotsky by Sybil Vincent, of the London Daily Herald, March 18 1939
Question: Is a world war inevitable? If so, will it mean the end of the capitalist system?
Answer: Yes, a world war is inevitable, if the revolution does not forestall it. The inevitability of the war flows, first, from the incurable crisis of the capitalist system; secondly, from the fact that the present partition of our planet, that is to say above all, of the colonies, no longer corresponds to the specific economic weight of the imperialist states. Looking for an escape out of the mortal crisis, the parvenu states aspire, and cannot fail to aspire, to a new partitioning of the world. Only suckling babes and professional “pacifists,” to whom even the experience of the unfortunate League of Nations has taught nothing, can suppose that a more “equitable” repartition of the terrestrial surface can be realised around the green tables of diplomacy.
If the Spanish revolution had been victorious, it would have given a powerful impulse to the revolutionary movement in France and in other countries in Europe. In this case it would have been possible to hope confidently that the victorious socialist movement would forestall the imperialist war, making it useless and impossible. But the socialist proletariat of Spain was strangled by the coalition of Stalin-Azana Caballero-Negrin-Garcia Oliver, even before it was definitely crushed by the bands of Franco. The defeat of the Spanish revolution postponed the revolutionary perspective and has hastened the imperialist war. Only the blind can fail to see that!
Of course, the more energetically and the more audaciously the advanced workers will fight in all countries against militarism and imperialism now, in spite of the unfavourable conditions, the more quickly they will be able to stop the war when it has started, the greater will he the hopes for the salvation of our civilization from destruction.
Yes, I do not doubt that the new world war will provoke with an absolute inevitability the world revolution and the collapse of the capitalist system. The imperialist governments of all countries are doing all that is possible to accelerate this collapse. It is only necessary that the world proletariat is not again taken unawares by the great events.
Question: Is not the world too afraid of Hitler?
Answer: The democratic governments consider, with admiration and fear, Hitler, who succeeded in “liquidating” the social question. The working class, which during one and a half centuries periodically shook the civilized countries of Europe by its revolts, is suddenly reduced to complete silence in Italy and Germany. Messrs. the official politicians attribute this “success” to the internal, quasi-mystical properties of fascism and National Socialism.
In reality the strength of Hitler is not in himself, nor in his contemptible philosophy, but in the terrible deception of the working masses, in their confusion and in their lassitude. During many decades the proletariat of Germany built up a trade union organization and a Social-Democratic party. Abreast of the strong Social Democracy appeared later a powerful Communist party. And all these organisations, which rose upon the shoulders of the proletariat, were in the critical moment a zero, and crumbled away before the offensive of Hitler. They did not find in themselves the courage to call the masses to struggle, as they themselves were completely degenerated, bourgeoisified and had lost the habit of thinking about struggle.
The masses pass through catastrophes heavily and slowly. It is incorrect to say that the German proletariat has reconciled itself with Hitler! But it no longer believes in the old parties, in the old slogans, and at the same time it has not yet found a new way. This and only this explains the strong-arm omnipotence of fascism. It will continue until the masses have dressed their wounds, have regenerated themselves and once more lifted their heads. I think we can expect that in not a long time.
The fear of Great Britain and France before Hitler and Mussolini explains itself by the fact that the world position of these two colony-holding countries, as has already been said, no longer corresponds with their specific economic weight. The war can bring nothing to them, but can take a great deal from them. It is natural that they attempt to postpone the moment of a new partitioning of the world and that they toss a bone, as Spain and Czechoslovakia, to Mussolini and Hitler. The struggle is for the colonial possessions, for the domination of the world. The attempt to represent this brawl of interests and appetites as a struggle between “democracy” and “fascism” can only dupe the working class. Chamberlain will give all the democracies in the world (there are not many left) for a tenth part of India.
The strength of Hitler (at the same time also his weakness) consists in the fact that, under the pressure of the helpless position of German capitalism, he is ready to resort to the more extreme means, using in passing blackmail and bluff, at the risk of leading to war. Hitler has felt well the fear of the old colony-holders before any disturbance and played on this fear, if not with a very great heart, at least with indubitable success.
Question: Should the “democracies” and the USSR unite to crush Hitler?
Answer: I do not feel that it is my mission to give counsel to imperialist governments, even if they name themselves democratic, nor to the Bonapartist clique of the Kremlin, even if it names itself socialist. I can give counsel only to the workers. My counsel to them is not to believe for a single instant that the war of the two imperialist camps can bring anything else but oppression and reaction in both camps. It will be the war of the slave-owners who cover themselves with various masks: “democracy,” “civilization,” on the one hand, “race,” “honour,” on the other. Only the overthrow of all slave-owners can once for all end the war and open an epoch of true civilization.