Leon Trotsky

Results and Prospects

IX. Europe and Revolution

Transcribed and HTML markup for the Trotsky Internet Archive, a subarchive of the Marxists’ Internet Archive, by Sally Ryan in 1996.

In June 1905 we wrote:

‘More than half a century has passed since 1848, half a century of unceasing conquests by capitalism throughout the whole world; half a century of mutual adaptation between the forces of bourgeois reaction and of feudal reaction; half a century during which the bourgeoisie has revealed its mad lust for domination and its readiness to fight savagely for this.

‘Just as a seeker after perpetual motion comes up against ever fresh obstacles, and piles up machine after machine for the purpose of overcoming them, so the bourgeoisie has changed and reconstructed its state apparatus while avoiding “extra-legal” conflict with the forces hostile to it. But just as our seeker after perpetual motion eventually comes up against the final insurmountable obstacle of the law of the conservation of energy, so the bourgeoisie must eventually come up against the final insurmountable obstacle in its path: the class antagonism, which will inevitably be settled by conflict.

‘Binding all countries together with its mode of production and its commerce, capitalism has converted the whole world into a single economic and political organism. Just as modern credit binds thousands of undertakings by invisible ties and gives to capital an incredible mobility which prevents many small bankruptcies but at the same time is the cause of the unprecedented sweep of general economic crises, so the whole economic and political effort of capitalism, its world trade, its system of monstrous state debts, and the political groupings of nations which draw all the forces of reaction into a kind of world-wide joint-stock company, has not only resisted all individual political crises, but also prepared the basis for a social crisis of unheard-of dimensions. Driving all the processes of disease beneath the surface, avoiding all difficulties, putting off all the profound questions of internal and international politics, and glossing over all contradictions, the bourgeoisie has managed to postpone the denouement, but thereby has prepared a radical liquidation of its rule on a world-wide scale. The bourgeoisie has greedily clutched at every reactionary force without inquiring as to its origin. The Pope and the Sultan were not the least of its friends. The only reason why it did not establish bonds of “friendship” with the Emperor of China was because he did not represent any force. It was much more advantageous for the bourgeoisie to plunder his dominions than to maintain him in its service as its gendarme, paying him out of its own coffers. We thus see that the world bourgeoisie has made the stability of its State system profoundly dependent on the unstable pre-bourgeois bulwarks of reaction.

‘This immediately gives the events now unfolding an international character, and opens up a wide horizon. The political emancipation of Russia led by the working class will raise that class to a height as yet unknown in history, will transfer to it colossal power and resources, and will make it the initiator of the liquidation of world capitalism, for which history has created all the objective conditions.’ [1]

If the Russian proletariat, having temporarily obtained power, does not on its own initiative carry the revolution on to European soil, it will be compelled to do so by the forces of European feudal-bourgeois reaction. Of course it would be idle at this moment to determine the methods by which the Russian revolution will throw itself against old capitalist Europe. These methods may reveal themselves quite unexpectedly. Let us take the example of Poland as a link between the revolutionary East and the revolutionary West, although we take this as an illustration of our idea rather than as an actual prediction.

The triumph of the revolution in Russia will mean the inevitable victory of the revolution in Poland. It is not difficult to imagine that the existence of a revolutionary regime in the ten provinces of Russian Poland must lead to the revolt of Galicia and Poznan. The Hohenzollern and Habsburg Governments will reply to this by sending military forces to the Polish frontier in order then to cross it for the purpose of crushing their enemy at his very centre – Warsaw. It is quite clear that the Russian revolution cannot leave its Western advance-guard in the hands of the Prusso-Austrian soldiery. War against the governments of Wilhelm II and Franz Josef under such circumstances would become an act of self-defence on the part of the revolutionary government of Russia. What attitude would the Austrian and German proletariat take up then? It is evident that they could not remain calm while the armies of their countries were conducting a counterrevolutionary crusade. A war between feudal-bourgeois Germany and revolutionary Russia would lead inevitably to a proletarian revolution in Germany. We would tell those to whom this assertion seems too categorical to try and think of any other historical event which would be more likely to compel the German workers and the German reactionaries to make an open trial of strength.

When our October ministry unexpectedly placed Poland under martial law, a highly plausible rumour went round to the effect that this was done on direct instructions from Berlin. On the eve of the dispersal of the Duma the government newspapers published, presenting them as threats, communications concerning negotiations between the governments of Berlin and Vienna with a view to armed intervention in the internal affairs of Russia, for the purpose of suppressing sedition. No ministerial denial of any sort could wipe out the effect of the shock which this communication gave. It was clear that in the palaces of three neighbouring countries a bloody counter-revolutionary revenge was being prepared. How could things be otherwise? Could the neighbouring semi-feudal monarchies stand passively by while the flames of revolution licked the frontiers of their realms?

The Russian revolution, while as yet far from being victorious, had already had its effect on Galicia through Poland. ‘Who could have foreseen a year ago’, cried Daszynski, at the conference of the Polish Social-Democratic Party in Lvov in May this year, ‘what is now taking place in Galicia? This great peasant movement has spread astonishment throughout the whole of Austria. Zbaraz elects a Social-Democrat as vice-marshal of the regional council. Peasants publish a socialist-revolutionary newspaper for peasants, entitled The Red Flag, great mass meetings of peasants, 30,000 strong, are held, processions with red flags and revolutionary songs parade through Galician villages, once so calm and apathetic ... What will happen when from Russia the cry of the nationalization of the land reaches these poverty-stricken peasants?’. In his argument with the Polish Socialist Lusnia, more than two years ago, Kautsky pointed out that Russia must no longer be regarded as a weighted ball on the feet of Poland, or Poland regarded as an Eastern detachment of revolutionary Europe thrust like a wedge into the steppes of Muscovite barbarism. In the event of the development and the victory of the Russian revolution, the Polish question, according to Kautsky, ‘will again become acute, but not in the sense that Lusnia thought. It will be directed not against Russia but against Austria and Germany, and in so far as Poland will serve the cause of revolution its task will be not to defend the revolution against Russia, but to carry it further into Austria and Germany’. This prophecy is much nearer realization than Kautsky may have thought.

But a revolutionary Poland is not at all the only starting-point for a revolution in Europe. We pointed out above that the bourgeoisie has systematically abstained from solving many complex and acute questions affecting both internal and foreign politics. Having placed huge masses of men under arms, the bourgeois governments are unable, however, to cut with the sword through the tangle of international politics. Only a government which has the backing of the nation whose vital interests are affected, or a government that has lost the ground from under its feet and is inspired by the courage of despair, can send hundreds and thousands of men into battle. Under modern conditions of political culture, military science, universal suffrage and universal military service, only profound confidence or crazy adventurism can thrust two nations into conflict. In the Franco-Prussian war of 1870 we had on the one side Bismarck struggling for the Prussianizing of Germany, which after all meant national unity, an elementary necessity recognized by every German, and on the other hand the government of Napoleon III, impudent, powerless, despised by the nation, ready for any adventure that promised to secure for it another 12 months’ lease of life. The same division of roles obtained in the Russo-Japanese war. On the one hand we had the government of the Mikado, as yet unopposed by a revolutionary proletariat, fighting for the domination of Japanese capital in the Far East, and on the other an autocratic government which had outlived its time striving to redeem its internal defeats by victories abroad.

In the old capitalist countries there are no ‘national’ demands, i.e., demands of bourgeois society as a whole, of which the ruling bourgeoisie could claim to be the champions. The governments of France, Britain, Germany and Austria are unable to conduct national wars. The vital interests of the masses, the interests of the oppressed nationalities, or the barbarous internal politics of a neighbouring country are not able to drive a single bourgeois government into a war which could have a liberating and therefore a national character. On the other hand, the interests of capitalist grabbing, which from time to time induce now one and now another government to clank its spurs and rattle its sabre in the face of the world, cannot arouse any response among the masses. For that reason the bourgeoisie either cannot or will not proclaim or conduct any national wars. What modern anti-national wars will lead to has been seen recently from two experiences – in South Africa and in the Far East.

The severe defeat of imperialist Conservatism in Britain is not in the last resort due to the lesson of the Boer war; a much more important and more menacing consequence of imperialist policy (menacing to the bourgeoisie) is the political self-determination of the British proletariat, which, once begun, will advance with seven-league strides. As for the consequences of the Russo-Japanese war for the Petrograd Government, these are so well known that it is not necessary to dwell on them. But even without these two experiences, European governments, from the moment the proletariat began to stand on its own feet, have always feared to place before it the choice of war or revolution. It is precisely this fear of the revolt of the proletariat that compels the bourgeois parties, even while voting monstrous sums for military expenditure, to make solemn declarations in favour of peace, to dream of International Arbitration Courts and even of the organization of a United States of Europe. These pitiful declarations can, of course, abolish neither antagonisms between states nor armed conflicts.

The armed peace which arose in Europe after the Franco-Prussian War was based on a European balance of power which presupposed not only the inviolability of Turkey, the partition of Poland and the preservation of Austria, that ethnographical harlequin’s cloak, but also the maintenance of Russian despotism, armed to the teeth, as the gendarme of European reaction. The Russo-Japanese war, however, delivered a severe blow to this artificially maintained system in which the autocracy occupied a foremost position. Russia for a time fell out of the so-called concert of powers. The balance of power was destroyed. On the other hand, Japan’s successes aroused the aggressive instincts of the capitalist bourgeoisie, especially the stock exchanges, which play a very big part in contemporary politics. The possibility of a war on European territory grew to a very high degree. Conflicts are ripening everywhere, and if up till now they have been allayed by diplomatic means, there is no guarantee, however, that these means can be successful for long. But a European war inevitably means a European revolution.

During the Russo-Japanese war the Socialist Party of France declared that if the French Government intervened in favour of the autocracy, it would call upon the proletariat to take most resolute measures, even to the extent of revolt. In March 1906, when the Franco-German conflict over Morocco was coming to a head, the International Socialist Bureau resolved, in the event of a danger of war, to ‘lay down the most advantageous methods of action for all international socialist parties and for the whole organized working class in order to prevent war or bring it to an end’. Of course this was only a resolution. It requires a war to test its real significance, but the bourgeoisie has every reason to avoid such a test. Unfortunately for the bourgeoisie, however, the logic of international relations is stronger than the logic of diplomacy.

The State bankruptcy of Russia, no matter whether it be the result of the continued management of affairs by the bureaucracy or whether it be declared by a revolutionary government which will refuse to pay for the sins of the old regime, will have a terrible effect upon France. The Radicals, who now have the political destiny of France in their hands, in taking power have also undertaken all the functions of protecting the interests of capital. For that reason there is every ground for assuming that the financial crisis arising from the bankruptcy of Russia will directly repeat itself in France in the form of an acute political crisis which can end only with the transference of power into the hands of the proletariat. In one way or another, either through a revolution in Poland, through the consequences of a European war, or as the result of the State bankruptcy of Russia, revolution will cross into the territories of old capitalist Europe.

But even without the outside pressure of events such as war or bankruptcy, revolution may arise in the near future in one of the European countries as a consequence of the extreme sharpening of the class struggle. We will not attempt to build assumptions now as to which of the European countries will be the first to take the path of revolution; of one thing there is no doubt, and that is that the class contradictions in all European countries during recent times have reached a high level of intensity.

The colossal growth of Social Democracy in Germany, within the framework of a semi-absolutist constitution, will with iron necessity lead the proletariat to an open clash with the feudal-bourgeois monarchy. The question of offering resistance to a political coup d’etat by means of a general strike has in the last year become one of the central questions in the political life of the German proletariat. In France, the transition of power to the Radicals decisively unties the hands of the proletariat, which were for a long time bound by co-operation with the bourgeois parties in the struggle against nationalism and clericalism. The Socialist Party, rich in the deathless traditions of four revolutions, and the conservative bourgeoisie, screening themselves behind the mask of Radicalism, stand face to face. In Britain, where for a century the two bourgeois parties have been regularly operating the see-saw of parliamentarism, the proletariat under the influence of a whole series of factors have just recently taken the path of political separation. While in Germany this process took four decades, the British working class, possessing powerful trade unions and being rich in experience of economic struggle, may in a few leaps overtake the army of continental socialism.

The influence of the Russian revolution upon the European proletariat is tremendous. Besides destroying Russian absolutism, the main force of European reaction, it will create the necessary prerequisites for revolution in the consciousness and temper of the European working class.

The function of the socialist parties was and is to revolutionize the consciousness of the working class, just as the development of capitalism revolutionized social relations. But the work of agitation and organization among the ranks of the proletariat has an internal inertia. The European Socialist Parties, particularly the largest of them, the German Social-Democratic Party, have developed their conservatism in proportion as the great masses have embraced socialism and the more these masses have become organized and disciplined. As a consequence of this, Social Democracy as an organization embodying the political experience of the proletariat may at a certain moment become a direct obstacle to open conflict between the workers and bourgeois reaction. In other words, the propagandist-socialist conservatism of the proletarian parties may at a certain moment hold back the direct struggle of the proletariat for power. The tremendous influence of the Russian revolution indicates that it will destroy party routine and conservatism, and place the question of an open trial of strength between the proletariat and capitalist reaction on the order of the day. The struggle for universal suffrage in Austria, Saxony and Prussia has become acute under the direct influence of the October strikes in Russia. The revolution in the East will infect the Western proletariat with a revolutionary idealism and rouse a desire to speak to their enemies ‘in Russian’. Should the Russian proletariat find itself in power, if only as the result of a temporary conjuncture of circumstances in our bourgeois revolution, it will encounter the organized hostility of world reaction, and on the other hand will find a readiness on the part of the world proletariat to give organized support.

Left to its own resources, the working class of Russia will inevitably be crushed by the counter-revolution the moment the peasantry turns its back on it. It will have no alternative but to link the fate of its political rule, and, hence, the fate of the whole Russian revolution, with the fate of the socialist revolution in Europe. That colossal state-political power given it by a temporary conjuncture of circumstances in the Russian bourgeois revolution it will cast into the scales of the class struggle of the entire capitalist world. With state power in its hands, with counter-revolution behind it and European reaction in front of it, it will send forth to its comrades the world over the old rallying cry, which this time will be a call for the last attack: Workers of all countries, unite!


1. See my foreword to F. Lassalle’s Address To the Jury, published by Molot. – L.T.

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