Leon Trotsky
War and the International

The War Against Czarism

But how about Czarism? Would not Germany’s and Austria’s victory mean the defeat of Czarism? And would not the beneficent results of the defeat of Czarism greatly outbalance the beneficent results of a dismembered Austria-Hungary?

The German and Austrian Social Democrats lay much stress upon this question in the arguing they do about the War. The crushing of a small neutral country, the ruin of France—all this is justified by the need to fight Czarism. Haase gives as the reason for voting the war credits the necessity of “defence against the danger of Russian despotism”. Bernstein goes back to Marx and Engels and quotes old texts for his slogan, “Settling with Russia!”

Südekum, dissatisfied with the result of his Italian mission, says that what the Italians are to blame for is not understanding Czarism. And when the Social Democrats of Vienna and Budapest fall in line under the Habsburg banner in its “holy war” against the Serbians struggling for their national unity, they sacrifice their Socialistic honour to the necessity for fighting Czarism.

And the Social Democrats are not alone in this. The entire bourgeois German press has no other aims, for the moment, than the annihilation of the Russian autocracy, which oppresses the peoples of Russia and menaces the freedom of Europe.

The imperial Chancellor denounces France and England as vassals of Russian despotism. Even the German Major-General von Morgen, assuredly a true and tried “friend of liberty and independence”, calls on the Poles to rebel against the despotism of the Czar.

But for us who have gone through the school of historical materialism it would be a disgrace if we did not perceive the actual relations of the interests in spite of these phrases, these lines, this boasting, this foul vulgarity and stupidity.

No one can genuinely believe that the German reactionaries really do cherish such a hatred of Czarism, and are aiming their blows against it. On the contrary, after the War, Czarism will be the same to the rulers of Germany that it was before the War—the most closely related form of government. Czarism is indispensable to the Germany of the Hohenzollerns, for two reasons. In the first place, it weakens Russia economically, culturally and militaristically, and so prevents its development as an imperialistic rival. In the second place, the existence of Czarism strengthens the Hohenzollern Monarchy and the Junker oligarchy, since if there were no Czarism, German absolutism would face Europe as the last mainstay of feudal barbarism.

German absolutism never has concealed the interest of blood relationship that it has in the maintenance of Czarism, which represents the same social form though in more shameless ways. Interests, tradition, sympathies draw the German reactionary element to the side of Czarism. “Russia’s sorrow is Germany’s sorrow”. At the same time the Hohenzollerns, behind the back of Czarism, can make a show of being the bulwark of culture “against barbarism”, and can succeed in fooling their own people if not the rest of Western Europe.

“With sincere sorrow I see a friendship broken that Germany has kept faithfully,” said Wilhelm II in his speech upon the declaration of war, referring neither to France nor to England, but to Russia, or rather, to the Russian dynasty, in accordance with the Hohenzollern’s Russian religion, as Marx would have said.

We are told that Germany’s political plan is to create, on the one hand, a basis of rapprochement with France and England by a victory over those countries, and, on the other hand, to utilize a strategic victory over France in order to crush Russian despotism.

The German Social Democrats must either have inspired Wilhelm and his chancellor with this plan, or else must have ascribed this plan to Wilhelm and his chancellor.

As a matter of fact, however, the political plans of the German reactionaries are of exactly the opposite character, must necessarily be of the opposite character.

For the present we will leave open the question of whether the destructive blow at France was dictated by strategic considerations, and whether “strategy” sanctioned defensive tactics on the Western front. But one thing is certain, that not to see that the policy of the Junkers required the ruin of France, is to prove that one has a reason for keeping one’s eyes closed. France—France is the enemy!

Eduard Bernstein, who is sincerely trying to justify the political stand taken by the German Social Democracy, draws the following conclusions: Were Germany under a democratic rule, there would be no doubt as to how to settle accounts with Czarism. A democratic Germany would conduct a revolutionary war on the East. It would call on the nations oppressed by Russia to resist the tyrant and would give them the means wherewith to wage a powerful fight for freedom (Quite right!). However, Germany is not a democracy, and therefore it would be a utopian dream (Exactly!) to expect any such policy with all its consequences from Germany as she is (Vorwärts, August 28th). Very well then! But right here Bernstein suddenly breaks off his analysis of the actual German policy “with all its consequences”. After showing up the blatant contradiction in the position of the German Social Democracy, he closes with the unexpected hope that a reactionary Germany may accomplish what none but a revolutionary Germany could accomplish. Credo quia absurdum. [19]

Nevertheless, it might be said in opposition to this that while the ruling class in Germany has naturally no interest in fighting Czarism, still Russia is now Germany’s enemy, and, quite independently of the will of the Hohenzollerns, the victory of Germany over Russia might result in the great weakening, if not the complete overthrow of Czarism. Long live Hindenburg, the great unconscious instrument of the Russian Revolution, we might cry along with the Chemnitz Volksstimme. Long live the Prussian Crown Prince—also a quite unconscious instrument. Long live the Sultan of Turkey who is now serving in the cause of the Revolution by bombarding the Russian cities around the Black Sea. Happy Russian Revolution—how quickly the ranks of her army are growing!

However, let us see if there is not something really to be said on this side of the question. Is it not possible that the defeat of Czarism might actually aid the cause of the Revolution?

As to such a possibility, there is nothing to be said against it. The Mikado and his Samurai were not in the least interested in freeing Russia, yet the Russo-Japanese War gave a powerful impetus to the revolutionary events that followed. [20]

Consequently, similar results may be expected from the German-Russian War.

But to place the right political estimate upon these historical possibilities, we must take the following circumstances into consideration.

Those who believe that the Russo-Japanese War brought on the Revolution neither know nor understand historical events and their relations. The war merely hastened the outbreak of the Revolution; but for that very reason it also weakened it. For had the Revolution developed as a result of the organic growth of inner forces, it would have come later, but would have been far stronger and more systematic. Therefore, revolution has no real interest in war. This is the first consideration. And the second thing is, that while the Russo-Japanese War weakened Czarism, it strengthened Japanese militarism. The same considerations apply in a still higher degree to the present German-Russian War.

In the course of 1912-1914 Russia’s enormous industrial development once for all pulled the country out of its state of counter-revolutionary depression. [21]

The growth of the revolutionary movement on the foundation of the economic and political condition of the labouring masses, the growth of opposition in broad strata of the population, led to a new period of storm and stress. But in contrast to the years 1902-1905, this movement developed in a far more conscious, systematic manner, and, what is more, was based on a far broader social foundation. It needed time to mature, but it did not need the lances of the Prussian Samurai. On the contrary, the Prussian Samurai gave the Czar the opportunity of playing the role of defender of the Serbs, the Belgians and the French.

If we presuppose a catastrophal Russian defeat, the war may bring a quicker outbreak of the Revolution, but at the cost of its inner weakness. And if the Revolution should even gain the upper hand under such circumstances, then the bayonets of the Hohenzollern armies would be turned on the Revolution. Such a prospect can hardly fail to paralyze Russia’s revolutionary forces, for it is impossible to deny the fact that the party of the German proletariat stands behind the Hohenzolern bayonets. But this is only one side of the question. The defeat of Russia necessarily presupposes decisive victories by Germany and Austria on the other battlefields, and this would mean the enforced preservation of the national-political chaos in Central and South-Eastern Europe and the unlimited mastery of German militarism in all Europe.

An enforced disarmament for France, billions in indemnities, enforced tariff walls around the conquered nations, and an enforced commercial treaty with Russia, all this in conjunction would make German imperialism master of the situation for many decades.

Germany’s new policy, which began with the capitulation of the party of the proletariat to nationalistic militarism, would be strengthened for years to come. The German working class would feed itself, materially and spiritually, on the crumbs from the table of victorious imperialism, while the cause of the Social Revolution would have received a mortal blow.

That in such circumstances a Russian Revolution, even if temporarily successful, would be an historical miscarriage, needs no further proof.

Consequently, this present battling of the nations under the yoke of militarism laid upon them by the capitalist classes contains within itself monstrous contrasts which neither the War itself nor the governments directing it can solve in any way to the interest of future historical development. The Social Democrats could not, and can not now, combine their aims with any of the historical possibilities of this War, that is, with either the victory of the Triple Alliance or the victory of the Entente. [22]

The German Social Democracy was once well aware of this. The Vorwärts in its issue of July 28th, discussing the very question of the war against Czarism, said:

“But if it is not possible to localize the trouble, if Russia should step into the field? What should our attitude toward Czarism be then? Herein lies the great difliculty of the situation. Has not the moment come to strike a death blow at Czarism? If German troops cross the Russian frontier, will that not mean the victory of the Russian Revolution?”

And the Vorwärts comes to the following conclusion:

“Are we so sure that it will mean victory to the Russian Revolution if German troops cross the Russian frontier? It may readily bring the collapse of Czarism, but will not the German armies fight a revolutionary Russia with even greater energy, with a keener desire for victory, than they do the absolutistic Russia?”

More than this. On August 3rd, on the eve of the historical session of the Reichstag, the Vorwärts wrote in an article entitled The War Upon Czarism :

“While the conservative press is accusing the strongest party in the Empire of high treason, to the rejoicing of other countries, there are other elements endeavouring to prove to the Social Democracy that the impending war is really an old Social Democratic demand. War against Russia, war upon the blood-stained and faithless Czarism—this last is a recent phrase of the press which once kissed the knout—isn’t this what Social Democracy has been asking for from the beginning?…

“These are literally the arguments used by one portion of the bourgeois press, in fact the more intelligent portion, and it only goes to show what importance is attached to the opinion of that part of the German people which stands behind the Social Democracy. The slogan no longer is ‘Russia’s sorrow is Germany’s sorrow.’ Now it is ‘Down with Czarism!’ But since the days when the leaders of the Social Democracy referred to (Bebel, Lassalle, Engels, Marx) demanded a democratic war against Russia, Russia has quite ceased to be the mere palladium of reaction. Russia is also the seat of revolution. The overthrow of Czarism is now the task of all the Russian people, especially the Russian proletariat, and it is just the last weeks that have shown how vigorously this very working class in Russia is attacking the task that history has laid upon it... And all the nationalistic attempts of the ‘True Russians’ to turn the hatred of the masses away from Czarism and arouse a reactionary hatred against foreign countries, particularly Germany, have failed so far. The Russian proletariat knows too well that its enemy is not beyond the border but within its own land. Nothing was more distasteful to these nationalistic agitators, the True Russians and Pan-Slavists, than the news of the great peace demonstration of the German Social Democracy. Oh, how they would have rejoiced had the contrary been the case, had they been able to say to the Russian proletariat, ‘There, you see, the German Social Democrats stand at the head of those who are inciting the war against Russia!’ And the Little Father [23] in St. Petersburg would also have breathed a sigh of relief and said, ‘That is the news I wanted to hear. Now the backbone of my most dangerous enemy, the Russian Revolution, is broken. The international solidarity of the proletariat is torn. Now I can unchain the beast of nationalism. I am saved!’”

Thus wrote the Vorwärts after Germany had already declared war on Russia.

These words characterize the honest manly stand of the prolelariat against a belligerent jingoism. The Vorwärts clearly understood and cleverly stigmatized the base hypocrisy of the knout-loving ruling class of Germany, which suddenly became conscious of its mission to free Russia from Czarism. The Vorwärts warned the German working class of the political extortion that the bourgeois press would practise on their revolutionary conscience. “Do not believe these friends of the knout,” the Vorwärts said to the German proletariat. “They are hungry for your souls, and hide their imperialistic designs behind liberal-sounding phrases. They are deceiving you – you, the cannon-fodder with souls that they need. If they succeed in winning you over, they will only be helping Czarism by dealing the Russian Revolution a fearful moral blow. And, if in spite of this, the Russian Revolution should raise its head, these very people will help Czarism to crush it.”

That is the sense of what the Vorwärts preached to the working class up to the 4th of August.

And exactly three weeks later the same Vorwärts wrote: “Liberation from Muscovitism, (?) freedom and independence for Poland and Finland, free development for the great Russian people themselves, dissolution of the unnatural alliance between the two cultural nations and Czarist barbarism – these were the aims that inspired the German people and made them ready for any sacrifice,” – and inspired also the German Social Democracy and its chief organ.

What happened in those three weeks to cause the Vorwärts to repudiate its original standpoint?

What happened? Nothing of importance. The German armies strangled neutral Belgium, burned down a number of Belgian towns, destroyed Louvain, [24] the inhabitants of which had been so criminally audacious as to fire at the armed invaders when they themselves wore no helmets and waving feathers. [“How characteristically Prussian,” wrote Marx to Engels, “to declare that no man may defend his ‘fatherland’ except in uniform!”—L.T.]

In those three weeks the German armies carried death and destruction into French territory, and the troops of their ally, Austria-Hungary, pounded the love of the Habsburg Monarchy into the Serbs on the Save and the Drina. These are facts that apparently convinced the Vorwärts that the Hohenzollerns were waging the war of liberation of the nations.

Neutral Belgium was crushed, and the Social Democrats remained silent. And Richard Fischer was sent to Switzerland as special envoy of the Party to explain to the people of a neutral country that the violation of Belgian neutrality and the ruin of a small nation were a perfectly natural phenomenon. Why so much excitement? Any other European government, in Germany’s place, would have acted in the same way. It was just at this time that the German Social Democracy not only reconciled itself to the War as a work of real or supposed national defence, but even surrounded the Hohenzollern-Habsburg armies with the halo of an offensive campaign for freedom. What an unprecendented fall for a party that for fifty years had taught the German working class to look upon the German Government as the foe of liberty and democracy!

In the meantime every day of the War discloses the danger to Europe that the Marxists should have foreseen at once. The chief blows of the German Government were not aimed at the East, but at the West, at Belgium, France and England. Even if we accept the improbable premise that nothing but strategic necessity determined this plan of campaign, the logical political outcome of this strategy remains with all its consequences, that is, the necessity for a full and definite defeat of Belgium, France and the English land forces, so that Germany’s hands might be free to deal with Russia. Wasn’t it perfectly clear that what was at first represented as a temporary measure of strategic necessity in order to soothe the German Social Democracy, would become an end in itself through the force of events? The more stubborn the resistance made by France, whose duty it has actually become to defend its territory and its independence against the German attack, the more certainly will the German armies be held on the Western front; and the more exhausted Germany is on the Western front, the less strength and inclination will remain for her supposedly main task, the task with which the Social Democracy credited her, the “settling with Russia”. And then history will witness an “honourable” peace between the two most reactionary powers of Europe, between Nicholas, to whom fate granted cheap victories over the Habsburg Monarchy, rotten to its core, and Wilhelm, who had his “settling”, but with Belgium, not with Russia [“Russian diplomacy is interested only in such wars,” wrote Engels in 1890, “as force her allies to bear the chief burden of raising troops and suffering invasion, and leave to the Russian troops only the work of reserves. Czarism makes war on its own account only on decidedly weaker nations, such as Sweden, Turkey and Persia. Austria-Hungary must now be placed in the same class as Turkey and Persia.”—L.T.]

The alliance between Hohenzollern and Romanov—after the exhaustion and degradation of the Western nations—will mean a period of the darkest reaction in Europe and the whole world.

The German Social Democracy by its present policy smoothes the way for this awful danger. And the danger will become an actuality unless the European proletariat interferes and enters as a revolutionary factor into the plans of the dynasties and the capitalist governments.


Credo quia absurdum: (Latin) I believe that which is absurd.


The Russo-Japanese War over rival claims to Manchuria and Korea began with an attack on Port Arthur by the Japanese on February 8, 1904. The Russians lost on land, and in May 1905, at the Battle of Tsushima lost all of its navy. Peace was signed at Portsmouth (New Hampshire, USA) in September 1905. The Russian defeat contributed to the Revolution of 1905.


Between 1909 and 1913, Russian industry grew enormously: iron production increased by 60%, steel by 20%, rails by 20%, and sleepers by 87%.


The Triple Alliance: The Dual Alliance of 1879 between Germany and Austro-Hungary was joined by Italy in 1883. Italy broke away in 1906 at the Algeciras Conference and joined the “Entente” nations — Britain, France and Russia — in 1915.


Little Father: The Czar of Russia. (p.22)


Louvain, the seat of the Belgian Military Headquarters in 1914 was burnt by the German Army beginning August 25th 1914. The medieval University and Town Hall, and the Library (established 1426) were lost to posterity. Civilians were summarily executed. The sacking lasted six days.