Leon Trotsky
War and the International


Russian Czarism undoubtedly represents a cruder and more barbarian form of state organization than does the feebler absolutism of Austria-Hungary, which has been mitigated by the weakness of old age. But Russian Czarism and the Russian state are by no means identical. The destruction of Czarism does not mean the disintegration of the state. On the contrary, it means its liberation and its strengthening. All such assertions, as that it is necessary to push Russia back into Asia, which found an echo even in certain Social Democratic organs, are based on a poor knowledge of geography and ethnography. Whatever may be the fate of various parts of present Russia—Russian Poland, Finland, the Ukraine or Bessarabia—European Russia will not cease to exist as the national territory of a many-millioned race that has made notable conquests along the line of cultural development during the last quarter century.

Quite different is the case of Austria-Hungary. As a state organization it is identical with the Habsburg Monarchy. It stands or falls with the Habsburgs, just as European Turkey was identical with the feudal-military Ottoman caste and fell when that caste fell. [14] A conglomerate of racial fragments centrifugal in tendency, yet forced by a dynasty to stick together, Austria-Hungary presents the most reactionary picture in the very heart of Europe. Its continuation after the present European catastrophe would not only delay the development of the Danube and Balkan peoples for more decades to come and make a repetition of the present War a practical certainty, but it would also strengthen Czarism politically by preserving its main source of spiritual nourishment.

If the German Social Democracy reconciles itself to the ruin of France by regarding it as punishment for France’s alliance with Czarism, then we must ask that the same criterion be applied to the German-Austrian alliance. And if the alliance of the two Western democracies with a despotic Czarism gives the lie to the French and English press when they represent the war as one of liberation, then is it not equally arrogant, if not more so, for the German Social Democracy to spread the banner of liberty over the Hohenzollern army, the army that is fighting not only against Czarism and its allies, but also for the entrenchment of the Habsburg Monarchy?

Autria-Hungary is indispensable to Germany, to the ruling class in Germany as we know it. When the ruling Junker class [15] threw France into the arms of Czarism by the forceful annexation of Alsace-Lorraine, [16] and systematically embittered the relations with England by rapidly increasing naval armaments; when it repulsed all attempts at an understanding with the Western democracies because such an understanding would have implied the democratization of Germany – then this ruling class saw itself compelled to seek support from the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy as a reserve source of military strength against the enemies in the East and the West.

According to the German point of view the mission of the Dual Monarchy [17] was to place Hungarian, Polish, Rumanian, Czech, Ruthenian, Serbian and Italian auxiliaries in the service of the German military and Junker policy. The ruling class in Germany had easily reconciled itself to the expatriation of ten to twelve millions of Germans, for these twelve millions formed the kernel around which the Habsburgs united a non-German population of more than forty million. A democratic federation of independent Danube nations would have made these peoples useless as allies of German militarism. Only a monarchy in Austria-Hungary, a monarchy enforced by militarism, would make that country of any value as an ally to Junker Germany. The indispensable condition for this alliance, sanctified by the Nibelungen troth [18] of dynasties, was the military preparedness of Austria-Hungary, a condition to be achieved in no other way than by the mechanical suppression of the centrifugal national tendencies.

Since Austria-Hungary is surrounded on all sides by states composed of the same races as are within its borders, its foreign policy is necessarily intimately connected with its internal policy. To keep seven million Serbs and South Slavs within the frame of its own military state, Austria-Hungary is compelled to extinguish the hearthfire that kindles their political leanings—the independent kingdom of Serbia.

Austria’s ultimatum to Serbia was the decisive step in this direction. “Austria-Hungary took this step under the pressure of necessity,” wrote Eduard Bernstein in Die Sozialistische Monatshefte (No.16). To be sure it did, if political events are considered from the viewpoint of dynastic necessity.

To defend the Habsburg policy on the ground of the low moral standard of the Belgrade rulers is to close one’s eyes to the fact that the Habsburgs did make friends with Serbia, but only when Serbia was under the most despicable government that the history of the unfortunate Balkan Peninsula has known, that is, when it had at its head an Austrian agent, Milan. The reckoning with Serbia came so late because the efforts made at self-preservation were too weak in the enfeebled organism of the Dual Monarchy. But after the death of the Archduke, the support and hope of the Austrian military party—and of Berlin—Austria’s ally gave her a sharp dig in the ribs, insisting upon a demonstration of firmness and strength. Not only was Austria’s ultimatum to Serbia approved of in advance by the rulers of Germany, but, according to all information, it was actually inspired from that quarter. The evidence is plainly set forth in the very same White Book which professional and amateur diplomats offer as a document of the Hohenzollern love of peace.

After defining the aims of Greater Serbian propaganda and the machinations of Czarism in the Balkans, the White Book states:

“Under such conditions Austria was forced to the realization that it was not compatible with the dignity or the self-preservation of the Monarchy to look on at the doings across the border and remain passive. The Imperial Government informed us of this view and asked for our opinion. We could sincerely tell our ally that we agreed with his estimate of the situation and could assure him that any action he might find necessary to put an end to the movement in Serbia against the Austrian Monarchy would meet with our approval. In doing so, we were well aware of the fact that eventual war operations on the part of Austria-Hungary might bring Russia into the field and might, according to the terms of our alliance, involve us in a war.

“But in view of the vital interests of Austria-Hungary that were at stake, we could not advise our ally to show a leniency incompatible with his dignity, or refuse him our support in a moment of such grave portent. We were the less able to do so because our own interests also were vitally threatened by the persistent agitation in Serbia. If the Serbs, aided by Russia and France, had been allowed to go on endangering the stability of our neighbouring Monarchy, this would have led to the gradual breakdown of Austria and to the subjection of all the Slavic races to the Russian rule. And this in turn would have made the position of the Germanic race in Central Europe quite precarious. An Austria morally weakened, breaking down before the advance of Russian Pan-Slavism, would not be an ally with whom we could reckon and on whom we could depend, as we are obliged to depend, in the face of the increasingly threatening attitude of our neighbours to the East and the West. We therefore left Austria a free hand in its action against Serbia.”

The relation of the ruling class in Germany to the Austro-Serbian conflict is here fully and clearly defined. It is not merely that Germany was informed by the Austrian Government of the latter’s intentions, not merely that she approved them, and not merely that she accepted the consequences of fidelity to an ally. No, Germany looked on Austria’s aggression as unavoidable, as a saving act for herself, and actually made it a condition of the continuance of the alliance. Otherwise, “Austria would not be an ally with whom we could reckon.”

The German Marxists were fully aware of this state of affairs and of the dangers lurking in it. On June 29th, a day after the murder of the Austrian Archduke, the Vorwärts wrote as follows:

“The fate of our nation has been all too closely knit with that of Austria as a result of a bungling foreign policy. Our rulers have made the alliance with Austria the basis of our entire foreign policy. Yet it becomes clearer every day that this alliance is a source of weakness rather than of strength. The problem of Austria threatens more and more to become a menace to the peace of Europe.”

A month later, when the menace was about to culminate in the dread actuality of war, on July 28th, the chief organ of the German Social Democracy wrote in equally definite terms. “How shall the German proletariat act in the face of such a senseless paroxysm?” it asked; and then gave the answer: “ The German proletariat is not in the least interested in the preservation of the Austrian national chaos.”

Quite the contrary. Democratic Germany is far more interested in the disruption than in the preservation of Austria-Hungary. A disrupted Austria-Hungary would mean a gain to Germany of an educated population of twelve million and a capital city of the first rank, Vienna. Italy would achieve national completion, and would cease to play the role of the incalculable factor that she always has been in the Triple Alliance. An independent Poland, Hungary, Bohemia, and a Balkan Federation including a Rumania of ten million inhabitants on the Russian frontier, would be a mighty bulwark against Czarism. And most important of all, a democratic Germany with a population of 75,000,000 Germans could easily, without the Hohenzollerns and the ruling Junkers, come to an agreement with France and England and could isolate Czarism and condemn its foreign and internal policies to complete impotence. A policy directed towards this goal would indeed be a policy of liberation for the people of Russia as well as of Austria-Hungary. But such a policy requires an essential preliminary condition, namely, that the German people, instead of entrusting the Hohenzollerns with the liberation of other nations, should set about liberating themselves from the Hohenzollerns.

The attitude of the German and Austro-Hungarian Social Democracy in this war is in blatant contradiction to such aims. At the present moment it seems convinced of the necessity of preserving and strengthening the Habsburg Monarchy in the interests of Germany or of the German nation. And it is absolutely from this anti-democratic viewpoint—which drives the blush of shame to the cheek of every internationally minded Socialist that the Wiener Arbeiter-Zeitung formulates the historical meaning of the present War, when it declares “it is primarily a war (of the Allies) against the German spirit.”

“Whether diplomacy has acted wisely, whether this has had to come, time alone can decide. Now the fate of the German nation is at stake! And there can be no hesitation, no wavering! The German people are one in the inflexible iron determination not to bend to the yoke, and neither death nor devil can succeed” – and so forth and so on (Wiener Arbeiter-Zeitung, August 5th). We will not offend the political and literary taste of the reader by continuing this quotation. Nothing is said here about the mission of liberating other nations. Here the object of the war is to preserve and secure “German humanity.”

The defence of German culture, German soil, German humanity seems to be the mission not only of the German army but of the Austro-Hungarian army as well. Serb must fight against Serb, Pole against Pole, Ukrainian against Ukrainian, for the sake of “ German humanity”. The forty million non-German nationalities of Austria-Hungary are considered as simply historical manure for the field of German culture. That this is not the standpoint of international Socialism, it is not necessary to point out. It is not even pure national democracy in its most elementary form. The Austro-Hungarian General Staff explains this “humanity” in its communiqué of September 18th: “All peoples of our revered monarchy, as our military oath says, ‘against any enemy no matter whom’, must stand together as one, vying with one another in courage.”

The Wiener Arbeiter-Zeitung accepts in its entirety this Habsburg-Hohenzollern viewpoint of the Austro-Hungarian problem as an unnational military reservoir. It is the same attitude as the mlitarists of France have toward the Senegalese and the Moroccans, and the English have toward the Hindus. And when we consider that such opinions are not a new phenomenon among the German Socialists of Austria, we have found the main reason why the Austrian Social Democracy broke up so miserably into national groups, and thus reduced its political importance to a minimum.

The disintegration of the Austrian Social Democracy into national parts fighting among themselves, is one expression of the inadequacy of Austria as a state organization. At the same time the attitude of the German-Austrian Social Democracy proved that it was itself the sorry victim of this inadequacy, to which it capitulated spiritually. When it proved itself impotent to unite the many-raced Austrian proletariat under the principles of Internationalism, and finally gave up this task altogether, the Austro-German Social Democracy subordinated all Austria-Hungary and even its own policies to the “Idea” of Prussian Junker Nationalism. This utter denial of principles speaks to us in an unprecedented manner from the pages of the Wiener Arbeiter-Zeitung. But if we listen more carefully to the tones of this hysterical nationalism we cannot fail to hear a graver voice, the voice of history telling us that the path of political progress for Central and South-Eastern Europe leads over the ruins of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy.


Trotsky’s prediction of the disintegration of the Austro-Hungarian Empire proved correct. In her Junius Pamphlet, also written in 1915, Rosa Luxemburg wrote: “Historically, the liquidation of Austria-Hungary is the logical sequence of Turkish disintegration, and both are in direct line with the process of historical development.” (Chapter 4).


Junkers (from “Jungherr”: young aristocrat or military cadet) were Prussian landlords with large estates East of the Elbe. They were the dominant conservatives of Germany, retaining their medieval rights until the end of the 1st World War and their estates until the end of the 2nd.


Alsace-Lorraine: See note 1.


The Austro-Hungarian Dual Monarchy was established by the “Ausgleich” (Compromise) between the Austrian government and the Hungarian opposition in 1867. It was ruled by the Habsburgs till the revolution of 1918.


Nibelungen troth: From the German classical poem Nibelungenlied (c. 1200 AD), a troth between the hero and his betrayer.