Leon Trotsky

On Conscription

(July 1940)

Written: 9 July 1940.
First Published: The Fourth International, Vol.1 No.5, October 1940, p.125.
Transcription/HTML Markup: David Walters.
Copyleft: Leon Trotsky Internet Archive (www.marxists.org) 2002. Permission is granted to copy and/or distribute this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License.

Transcriber’s Comments
This letter is a part of a series of letters published in this issue of Fourth International
under the heading of Trotsky’s Last Letters,
D.W., 2002.

July 9, 1940

Dear Comrade Al,

I believe that we agree with you on all the points of a principled character as they are formulated in your letter of July 6.

It is very important to understand that the war does not nullify or diminish the importance of our Transitional Program. Just the contrary is true. The Transitional Program is a bridge between the present situation and the proletarian revolution. War is a continuation of politics by other means. The characteristic of war is that it accelerates the development. It signifies that our transitional revolutionary slogans will become more and more actual, effective, important with every new month of the war. We have only of course to concretize and adapt them to the conditions. That is why in your first paragraph I would eliminate the word “to modify” because it can produce the impression that we must modify something of a principled character.

We are absolutely in favor of compulsory military training and in the same way for conscription. Conscription? Yes. By the bourgeois state? No. We cannot entrust this work, as any other, to the state of the exploiters. In our propaganda and agitation we must very strongly differentiate these two questions. That is, not to fight against the necessity of the workers being good soldiers and of building up an army based on discipline, science, strong bodies and so on, including conscription, but against the capitalist state which abuses the army for the advantage of the exploiting class. In your paragraph four you say: “Once conscription is made into law, we cease to struggle against it but continue our struggle for military training under workers’ control, etc.” I would prefer to say: “Once conscription is made into law we, without ceasing to struggle against the capitalist state, concentrate our struggle for military training and so on.”

We can’t oppose compulsory military training by the bourgeois state just as we can’t oppose compulsory education by the bourgeois state. Military training in our eyes is a part of education. We must struggle against the bourgeois state; its abuses in this field as in others.

We must of course fight against the war not only “until the very last moment” but during the war itself when it begins. We must however give to our fight against the war its fully revolutionary sense, opposing and pitilessly denouncing pacifism. The very simple and very great idea of our fight against the war is: we are against the war but we will have the war if we are incapable of overthrowing the capitalists.

I don’t see any reason why we should renounce the slogan of a people’s referendum on the war. It is a very good slogan to unmask the futility of their democracy in such a vital question as the war.

I don’t believe that the demand for workers’ defense guards will be eliminated by the demand for universal military training. The approach of the war and the war itself with the rise of chauvinistic moods will inevitably provoke pogroms against the trade unions, revolutionary organizations and papers. We can’t give up defending ourselves. Universal training can only facilitate for us the creation of workers’ defense guards.

“Government ownership ... of all war industries” should be replaced by “national” or by “state ownership.”

Such are the remarks I can make in relation to your letter.


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Last updated on: 22.4.2007