Learn to think
A friendly suggestion to certain ultra-leftists
By Leon Trotsky
May 22, 1938
Certain professional ultra-left phraseologists try at all costs to "correct" the theses of the secretariat of the Fourth International on the war, according to their own ossified prejudices. They especially attack that part of the theses which asserts that, in all imperialist countries, the revolutionary party, while remaining in irreconcilable opposition to its own government in time of war, must nonetheless shape its practical policy in each country according to the internal situation and the international groups, clearly differentiating a workers' state from a bourgeois one, a colonial country from an imperialist one.
"The proletariat of a capitalist country that is in alliance with the USSR [affirm the theses] must fully maintain its irreconcilable hostility against the government of its own country . In this sense its policy does not differ from that of the proletariat of a country fighting against the USSR. But in the nature of practical actions, considerable differences may arise depending on the concrete situation of the war." [ War and the Fourth International , in Writings 1933-34]
Ultra-leftists consider this postulate, the accuracy of which has been confirmed by the entire course of events, as the starting point... of social-patriotism. Since the attitude towards imperialist governments must be "the same" in all countries, these strategists erase any distinction beyond the borders of their own imperialist country. Theoretically his mistake stems from trying to build fundamentally different bases for wartime and peacetime policies.
Suppose that tomorrow a rebellion breaks out in the French colony of Algeria under the banner of national independence and that the Italian government, motivated by its own imperialist interests, prepares to send arms to the rebels. What should be the attitude of the Italian workers in this case?
I have intentionally taken an example of a rebellion against a democratic imperialism with the intervention in favor of the rebels of a fascist imperialism . Should the Italian workers avoid sending arms to the Algerians? Let the ultra-leftists dare to answer this question in the affirmative. Any revolutionary, together with the Italian workers and the Algerian rebels, would repudiate such a response with indignation.
Even if at the same time a general maritime strike broke out in Fascist Italy, the strikers should make an exception in favor of those ships carrying aid to rebellious colonial slaves; otherwise they would be nothing more than vile syndicalists, not proletarian revolutionaries.
At the same time, the French maritime workers, even if they do not face any strike, will be obliged to make any effort to block the shipment of munitions intended to be used against the rebels. Only such a policy, on the part of the Italian and French workers, constitutes the policy of revolutionary internationalism.
However, does this not mean that the Italian workers moderate their struggle, in this case, against the fascist regime? Not at all. Fascism lends "aid" to the Algerians only to weaken their enemy, France, and to extend its rapacious hand over its colonies.
The Italian revolutionary workers never forget this. They call on the Algerians not to trust their treacherous "ally" and, at the same time, continue their own irreconcilable fight against fascism, "the main enemy in their own country." Only in this way can they gain the confidence of the rebels, help the rebellion and strengthen their own revolutionary position.
If the above is correct in times of peace, why should it be false in times of war? Everyone knows the postulate of the famous German military theorist Clausewitz that war is the continuation of politics by other means. This profound thought naturally leads to the conclusion that the struggle against war is nothing but the continuation of the general struggle of the proletariat during peacetime.
During times of peace, does the proletariat reject and sabotage all the acts and measures of the bourgeois government?
Even during a city-wide strike, workers take steps to ensure food is sent to their own districts, they make sure they have water, hospitals don't suffer, and so on. Such measures are not dictated by opportunism in relation to the bourgeoisie but concern the interests of the strike itself, the sympathy of the submerged masses of the city, and so on. These elementary rules of proletarian strategy in times of peace also retain all their rigor in times of war.
An irreconcilable attitude against bourgeois militarism never means that the proletariat in all cases enters into struggle against its own "national" army. At least the workers would not interfere with soldiers who were putting out a fire or rescuing drowned people during a flood; on the contrary, they would help shoulder to shoulder with the soldiers and fraternize with them. And the problem is not exclusively for cases of natural calamities.
If the French fascists attempted a coup today and the Daladier government found itself forced to mobilize its troops against the fascists, the revolutionary workers, while maintaining their complete political independence, would fight the fascists alongside these troops.
Thus, in numerous cases, the workers are forced not only to allow and tolerate, but to actively support the practical measures of the bourgeois government.
In ninety percent of cases, the workers really put a minus where the bourgeoisie puts a plus. However, in the ten percent, they are forced to put the same sign as the bourgeoisie but with their own seal, thus expressing their distrust in it.
The policy of the proletariat is by no means automatically derived from the policy of the bourgeoisie, putting only the opposite sign (this would make each sectarian a master strategist). No, the revolutionary party must, each time, independently orient itself both in the internal and external situation, reaching those conclusions that best correspond to the interests of the proletariat. This rule applies to both war and peace periods.
Let us imagine that in the next European war the Belgian proletariat conquers power before the French proletariat. Undoubtedly Hitler will try to crush the Belgian proletariat. In order to cover its own flank, the French bourgeois government may be forced to help the Belgian workers' government with arms. Of course the Belgian Soviets will pick up these weapons with both hands. But, acting on the principle of defeatism, should the French workers block the shipment of arms from their own government to the Belgian proletariat? Only outright traitors or complete idiots can reason like this.
The French bourgeoisie would send arms to the Belgian proletariat only out of fear of further military danger and in the hope of later crushing the proletarian revolution with its own weapons. For the French workers, on the contrary, the Belgian proletariat is the greatest support in the fight against its own bourgeoisie. The outcome of the struggle will decide, in the last analysis, the correlation of forces within which the correct policies enter as a very important factor. The first task of the revolutionary party is to use the contradiction between two imperialist countries, France and Germany, in order to save the Belgian proletariat.
The ultra-left scholastics do not think in concrete terms but in empty abstractions. They have transformed the idea of defeatism into a similar void. They cannot clearly see either the process of the war or the process of the revolution. They are looking for a hermetically sealed formula that excludes fresh air. But such a formula cannot offer any orientation to the vanguard of the proletariat.
Bringing the class struggle to its highest form - civil war - is the task of defeatism. But this task can only be solved by means of the revolutionary mobilization of the masses, that is, by broadening, deepening and sharpening those revolutionary methods that constitute the content of the class struggle in "peacetime".
The party of the proletariat does not resort to artificial methods such as burning warehouses, planting bombs, destroying trains, etc., with the aim of achieving the defeat of its own government. Even if it were successful on this path, military defeat would in no way lead to revolutionary success, a success that can only be guaranteed by the independent movement of the proletariat.
Revolutionary defeatism only means that in the class struggle the proletarian party does not stop at any "patriotic" consideration, because the defeat of its own imperialist government, provoked or accelerated by the revolutionary mass movement, is an incomparably lesser evil than the victory achieved at the price of national unity, that is, by the political prostration of the proletariat. Therein lies the whole meaning of defeatism, and this meaning is entirely sufficient.
Of course, the methods of struggle change when it openly enters the revolutionary phase. The civil war is a war and in this aspect it has its particular laws. In a civil war, bombing warehouses, destroying trains, and all forms of military "sabotage" are inevitable. Its suitability is decided exclusively by military considerations; the civil war continues the revolutionary policy but by other means, precisely the military.
However, during an imperialist war, there may be cases where the revolutionary party is forced to resort to military-technical methods, even if they are not yet a direct continuation of the revolutionary movement in their own country.
Whether it is the sending of arms or troops against a workers' government or a colonial rebellion, not only the methods of boycott and strike but direct military sabotage may become practical and obligatory. Whether or not to resort to such measures will depend on practical possibilities.
If the Belgian workers, having seized power in wartime, have their own military agents on German soil, the duty of these agents will be not to hesitate before any technical means to stop Hitler's troops.
It is absolutely clear that also the German revolutionary workers are obliged (if they can) to carry out tasks in favor of the Belgian revolution, regardless of the general course of the revolutionary movement in Germany itself.
The defeatist policy, that is, the policy of irreconcilable class struggle during times of war, cannot consequently be the "same" in all countries, just as the policy of the proletariat cannot be the same in times of peace.
Only the Comintern of the epigones has established a regime in which the parties of all countries start the march simultaneously with the wrong foot. In the fight against this bureaucratic cretinism I have tried more than once to prove that the general principles and tasks must be carried out in each country according to internal and external conditions. This principle also retains all its force for times of war.
Those ultra-leftists who don't want to think like Marxists - that's what it's all about - will be surprised by the war. His wartime policy will be the fatal consummation of his peacetime policy.
The first artillery shot will send the ultra-leftists into political non-existence or into the camp of social-patriotism, exactly like the Spanish anarchists, those absolute "deniers" of the state, who for the same reasons became bourgeois ministers when it arrived. war.
In order to carry out a correct policy in times of war, we must learn to think correctly in times of peace.
 Learn to think. New International , July 1938.
 We can leave aside here the question of the class character of the USSR. We are interested in the question of a policy in relation to workers states in general or to a colonial country fighting for its independence. As far as the class nature of the USSR is concerned, we incidentally recommend ultra-leftists to look in the mirror of A. Ciliga's book, In the Country of the Big Lie . [In the country of the great lie.] The ultra-leftist author, without the slightest Marxist school, develops his idea to the end, that is, to the anarcho-liberal abstraction [Note by Leon Trotsky].
 Mrs. Simone Weil even writes that our position is the same as that of Plekhanov in 1914-1918. Of course, Simone Weil has the right not to understand anything. Although it is not necessary for her to abuse this right. [Leon Trotsky's note] Simone Weil (1909-1943): French radical intellectual who converted to mysticism and Catholicism before voluntarily starving to death during World War II in England. Georgi Plekhanov (1856-1918): founder of Russian Marxism, he was a leader of the Menshevik faction in 1903. When World War I broke out in 1914, he supported the Tsarist government and later opposed the October Revolution.