[Classics] The War and the International

Author’s Preface

The forces of production which capitalism has evolved have outgrown the limits of nation and state. The national state, the present political form, is too narrow for the exploitation of these productive forces. The natural tendency of our economic system, therefore, is to seek to break through the state boundaries. The whole globe, the land and the sea, the surface as well as the interior has become one economic workshop, the different parts of which are inseparably connected with each other. This work was accomplished by capitalism. But in accomplishing it the capitalist states were led to struggle for the subjection of the world-embracing economic system to the profit interests of the bourgeoisie of each country. What the politics of imperialism has demonstrated more than anything else is that the old national state that was created in the revolutions and the wars [5] of 1789–1815, 1848–1859, 1864–1866, and 1870 has outlived itself, and is now an intolerable hindrance to economic development.

The present war is at bottom a revolt of the forces of production against the political form of nation and state. It means the collapse of the national state as an independent economic unit.

The nation must continue to exist as a cultural, ideologic and psychological fact, but its economic foundation has been pulled from under its feet. All talk of the present bloody clash being a work of national defense is either hypocrisy or blindness. On the contrary, the real, objective significance of the War is the breakdown of the present national economic centers, and the substitution of a world economy in its stead. But the way the governments propose to solve this problem of imperialism is not through the intelligent, organized cooperation of all of humanity’s producers, but through the exploitation of the world’s economic system by the capitalist class of the victorious country; which country is by this War to be transformed from a Great Power into the World Power.

The War proclaims the downfall of the national state. Yet at the same time it proclaims the downfall of the capitalist system of economy. By means of the national state, capitalism has revolutionized the whole economic system of the world. It has divided the whole earth among the oligarchies of the great powers, around which were grouped the satellites, the small nations, who lived off the rivalry between the great ones. The future development of world economy on the capitalistic basis means a ceaseless struggle for new and ever new fields of capitalist exploitation, which must be obtained from one and the same source, the earth. The economic rivalry under the banner of militarism is accompanied by robbery and destruction which violate the elementary principles of human economy. World production revolts not only against the confusion produced by national and state divisions but also against the capitalist economic organizations, which has now turned into barbarous disorganization and chaos.

The War of 1914 is the most colossal breakdown in history of an economic system destroyed by its own inherent contradictions.

All the historical forces whose task it has been to guide the bourgeois society, to speak in its name and to exploit it, have declared their historical bankruptcy by the War. They defended capitalism as a system of human civilization, and the catastrophe born out of that system is primarily their catastrophe. The first wave of events raised the national governments and armies to unprecedented heights never attained before. For the moment the nations rallied around them. But the more terrible will be the crash of the governments when the people, deafened by the thunder of the cannon, realize the meaning of the events now taking place in all their truth and frightfulness.

The revolutionary reaction of the masses will be all the more powerful the more prodigious the cataclysm which history is now bringing upon them.

Capitalism has created the material conditions of a new Socialist economic system. Imperialism has led the capitalist nations into historic chaos. The War of 1914 shows the way out of this chaos by violently urging the proletariat on to the path of Revolution.

For the economically backward countries of Europe the War brings to the fore problems of a far earlier historic origin – problems of democracy and national unity. This is in a large measure the case with the peoples of Russia, Austria-Hungary, and the Balkan Peninsula. But these historically belated questions, which were bequeathed to the present epoch as a heritage from the past, do not alter the fundamental character of the events. It is not the national aspirations of the Serbs, Poles, Rumanians or Finns that has mobilized twenty-five million soldiers and placed them in the battlefields, but the imperialistic interests of the bourgeoisie of the Great Powers. It is imperialism that has upset completely the European status quo, maintained for forty five years, and raised again the old questions which the bourgeois revolution proved itself powerless to solve. Yet in the present epoch it is quite impossible to treat these questions in and by themselves. They are utterly devoid of an independent character. The creation of normal relations of national life and economic development on the Balkan Peninsula is unthinkable if Czarism and Austria-Hungary are preserved. Czarism is now the indispensable military reservoir for the financial imperialism of France and the conservative colonial power of England. Austria-Hungary is the mainstay of Germany’s imperialism. Issuing from the private family clashes between the national Serbian terrorists and the Habsburg political police, the War very quickly revealed its true fundamental character – a struggle of life and death between Germany and England. While the simpletons and hypocrites prate of the defense of national freedom and independence, the German English War is really being waged for the freedom of the imperialistic exploitation of the peoples of India and Egypt on the one hand, and for the imperialistic division of the peoples of the earth on the other.

Germany began its capitalistic development on a national basis with the destruction of the continental hegemony of France in the year 1870–1871. Now that the development of Germany industry on a national foundation has transformed Germany into the first ‘capitalistic power of the world, she finds herself colliding with the hegemony of England in her further course of development. The complete and unlimited domination of the European continent seems to Germany the indispensable prerequisite of the overthrow of her world enemy. The first thing, therefore, that imperialistic Germany writes in her program is the creation of a Middle European League of Nations. Germany, Austria-Hungary, the Balkan Peninsula and Turkey, Holland, the Scandinavian countries, Switzerland, Italy, and, if possible, enfeebled France and Spain and Portugal, are to make one economic and military whole, a Great Germany under the hegemony of the present German state.

This program, which has been thoroughly elaborated by the economists, political students, jurists and diplomats of German imperialism and translated into reality by its strategists, is the most striking proof and most eloquent expression of the fact that capitalism has expanded beyond the limits of the national state and feels intolerably cramped within its boundaries. The national Great Power must go and in its place must step the imperialistic World Power.

In these historical circumstances the working class, the proletariat, can have no interest in defending the outlived and antiquated national “fatherland”, which has become the main obstacle to economic development. The task of the proletariat is to create a far more powerful fatherland, with far greater power of resistance – the republican United States of Europe [6] as the foundation of the United States of the World.

The only way in which the proletariat can meet the imperialistic perplexity of capitalism is by opposing to it as a practical program of the day the Socialist organization of world economy.

War is the method by which capitalism, at the climax of its development, seeks to solve its insoluble contradictions. To this. method the proletariat must oppose its own method, the method of the Social Revolution.

The Balkan question and the question of the overthrow of Czarism, propounded to us by the Europe of yesterday, can be solved only in a revolutionary way, in connection with the problem of the United Europe of tomorrow. The immediate, urgent task of the Russian Social Democracy, to which the author belongs, is the fight against Czarism. What Czarism primarily seeks in Austria-Hungary and the Balkans is a market for its political methods of plunder, robbery and acts of violence. The Russian bourgeoisie all the way up to its radical intellectuals has become completely demoralized by the tremendous growth of industry in the last five years, and it has entered into a bloody league with the dynasty, which had to secure to the impatient Russian capitalists their part of the world’s booty by new land robberies. While Czarism stormed and devastated Galicia, and deprived it even of the rags and tatters of liberty granted to it by the Habsburgs, while it dismembered unhappy Persia, and from the corner of the Bosphorus strove to throw the noose around the neck of the Balkan peoples, it left to the liberalism which it despised the task of concealing its robbery by sickening declamations over the defense of Belgium and France. The year 1914 spells the complete bankruptcy of Russian liberalism, and makes the Russian proletariat the sole champion of the war of liberation. It makes the Russian Revolution definitively an integral part of the Social Revolution of the European proletariat.

In our war against Czarism, in which we have never known a “national” truce [7] we have never looked for help from Habsburg or Hohenzollern militarism, and we are not looking for it now. We have preserved a sufficiently clear revolutionary vision to know that the idea of destroying Czarism was utterly repugnant to German imperialism. Czarism has been its best ally on the Eastern border. It is united to it by close ties of social structure and historical aims. Yet even if it were otherwise, even if it could be assumed that, in. obedience to the logic of military operations, it would deal a destructive blow to Czarism, in defiance of the logic of its own political interests – even in such a highly improbable case we should refuse to regard the Hohenzollerns as an ally by sympathy or even by identity of immediate aims. The fate of the Russian Revolution is so inseparably bound up with the fate of European Socialism, and we Russian Socialists stand so firmly on the ground of internationalism, that we cannot, we must not for a moment, entertain the idea of purchasing the doubtful liberation of Russia by the certain destruction of the liberty of Belgium and France, and – what is more important still – thereby inoculating the German and Austrian proletariat with the virus of imperialism.

We are united by many ties to the German Social Democracy. We have all gone through the German Socialist school, and learned lessons from its successes as well as from its failures. The German Social Democracy was to us not only a party of the International ... It was the Party par excellence. We have always preserved and fortified the fraternal bond that united us with the Austrian Social Democracy. On the other hand we have always taken pride in the fact that we have made our modest contribution towards winning the franchise in Austria and arousing revolutionary tendencies in the German working class. [8] It cost more than one drop of blood to do it. We have unhesitatingly accepted moral and material support from our older brother who fought for the same ends as we on the other side of our Western border.

Yet it is just because of this respect for the past, and still more out of respect for the future, which ought to unite the working class. of Russia with the working classes of Germany and Austria, that we indignantly reject the “liberating” aid which German imperialism offers us in a Krupp munitions box, with the blessing, alas! of German Socialism. And we hope that the indignant protest of Russian Socialism will be loud enough to be heard in Berlin and in Vienna.

The collapse of the Second International [9] is a tragic fact, and it were blindness or cowardice to close one’s eyes to it. The position taken by the French and by the larger part of English Socialism is as much a part of this breakdown as is the position of the German and Austrian Social Democracy. If the present work addresses itself chiefly to the German Social Democracy it is only because the German party was the strongest, most influential, and in principle the most basic member of the Socialist world. Its historic capitulation reveals most clearly the causes of the downfall of the Second International.

At first glance it may appear that the social revolutionary prospects of the future are wholly deceptive. The insolvency of the old Socialist parties has become catastrophically apparent. Why should we have faith in the future of the Socialist movement? Such skepticism, though natural, nevertheless leads to quite an erroneous conclusion. It leaves out of account the good will of history, just as we have often been too prone to ignore its ill will, which has now so cruelly shown itself in the fate that has overcome the International.

The present War signalizes the collapse of the national states. The Socialist parties of the epoch now concluded were national parties. They had become ingrained in the national states with all the different branches of their organizations, with all their activities and with their psyology. In the face of the solemn declarations at their congresses they rose to the defense of the conservative state, when imperialisrn, grown big on the national soil, began to demolish the antiquated national barriers. And in their historic crash the national states have pulled down with them the national Socialist parties also.

It is not Socialism that has gone down, but its temporary historical external form. The revolutionary idea begins its life anew as it casts off its rigid shell. This shell is made up of living human beings, of an entire generation of Socialists that has become fossilized in the self-abnegating work of agitation and organization through a period of several decades of political reaction, and has fallen into the habits and views of national opportunism or possibilism. All efforts to save the Second International on the old basis, by personal diplomatic methods and mutual concessions, are quite hopeless. The old mole of history is now digging its passageways all too well and none has the power to stop him.

As the national states have become a hindrance to the development of the forces of production, so the old Socialist parties have become the main hindrance to the revolutionary movement of theworking class. It was necessary that they should demonstrate to the full their extreme backwardness, that they should discredit their utterly inadequate and narrow methods, and bring the shame and horror of national discord upon the proletariat, in order that working class might emancipate itself, through these fearful disillusionments, from the prejudices and slavish habits of the period of preparation, and become at last that which the voice of history is now calling it to be the revolutionary class fighting for power.

The Second International has not lived in vain. It has accomplished a huge cultural work. There has been nothing like it in history before. It has educated and assembled the oppressed classes The proletariat does not now need to begin at the beginning. It enters on the new road not with empty hands. The past epoch hagbequeathed to it a rich arsenal of ideas. It has bequeathed to it the weapons of criticism. The new epoch will teach the proletariat to combine the old weapons of criticism with the new criticism or weapons. [10]

This book was written in extreme haste, under conditions far from favourable to systematic work. A large part of it is devoted to the old International which has fallen. But the entire book, from the first to the last page, was written with the idea of the New International constantly in mind, the New International which must rise up out of the present world cataclysm, the International of the last conflict and the final victory.

Leon Trotsky


5. Revolutions and wars: (a) 1789–1815: The French Revolutionary Wars (led since 1799 by Napoleon Bonaparte established the French nation-state and abolished feudal rights west of the Elbe. (b) 1848–1859: The struggle for the liberation of Italy from Austria and the unification of Italy including the liberation of the City of Rome from the Pope. (c) 1864–1868: Prussia and Austria attacked Denmark in January 1864: Prussia annexed Schleswig, Austria took Holstein. In 1866 Prussia, having secured the neutrality of Russia, France and Italy, declared war on Austria, a war, which in the words of Moltke, Chief of Staff, “was a fight for hegemony ... long contemplated and calmly prepared ...” On July 3, 1866, at Sadowa (Königgrätz) the Austrians were decisively defeated. This assured the domination of the Hohenzollerns over the North German Confederation and ended the German Confederation. (d) 1870–1871: On July 2, 1869, the Provisional Government of Spain promulgated the candidature of Prince Leopold of Hohenzollern to succeed Queen Isabella who had been deposed in 1868. On July 6, France protested and six days later, the candidature was withdrawn. On July 7, the French Ambassador to Germany, Benedetti, demanded an apology from the Kaiser and an undertaking that a Hohenzollern would never again aspire to the Spanish throne. The Kaiser was at Ems, taking the waters. Bismarck redrafted the Kaiser’s reply (the now-famous Ems despatch) so as to make war inevitable. On July 19, 1870 France declared war. Prussia scored immediate victories: August 4th at Wissenburg, August 6th at Worth. On October 27, at Metz, 175,000 troops under Marshal Bazaine were surrounded. The main army under Marshal MacMahon and the Emperor Napoleon III himself surrendered at Sedan on September 2. Paris fell after a four month seige: September 19 to January 28th 1871. By the Peace of Frankfurt (10th May 1871) France lost Alsace-Lorraine, Moselle, Haut Rhine, Bas Rhine and had to pay an indemnity of five thousand million francs. The victory of Prussia brought about the union of Germany under Prussian hegemony. Wilhelm I was crowned Emperor of Germany at Versailles on January 18, 1871. The defeat of France led to the Paris Commune and the end of the French monarchy. (p. vii)

6. the United States of Europe: This slogan was put forward by the Russian Social Democrats in 1914 and 1915 and was later withdrawn for tactical reasons. It became an official Comintern slogan in 1923 during the Ruhr Crisis. See: Lenin: The Tasks of the Revolutionary Social Democracy in the European War (August 1914), The War & the Russian Social Democracy (September 1914), The Defeat of Russia ... (October 1915), A Few Theses (October 1915) and Two Lines of Revolution (Nov.-Dec. 1915). Trotsky: The First Five Years of the Comintern, Vol. II, p. 341. (p. x)

7. The concept of “national truce” (Burgfriede) was based on an old medieval custom that private quarrels should cease when the castle was beseiged. in Germany in 1914 it meant the complete cessation of opposition and the class struggle. On August 3. the Kaiser declared: “I no longer know parties, I know only Germans ...” The truce between classes was shortlived and on May 1, 1916, with the arrest of Karl Liebknecht, civil peace broke down completely. In France, they had the Union Sacrée. M. Deschanel in eulogising Jaurès, said: “There are no more adversaries here, there are only Frenchmen ...”

8. The impact of the 1905 Revolution: see page 59. (p. xi)

9. On August 4th, 1914 (a few hours after the German armies had violated the neutrality of Belgium and Luxembourg) the vote for war credits came up in the Reichstag, and the entire Social Democratic fraction voted br the credits. The date markes the collapse of the German Social Democracy and the Second International. (p. xi)

10. The phrase is from Marx: Introduction to a Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right (1844) (See: Marx & Engels: On Religion, Moscow 1957, p. 50)