In a 1922 Report on the Communist International, Trotsky famously described war as a locomotive of history, brilliantly implying that history is molded and changed by war.
Is this true? The answer is both yes and no.
It is evident that the many wars that humanity has fought in its course have both been causes and consequences of many processes. But to imply that they are the sole locomotive of history would be a rather terse overstatement.
The course of history cannot exclude the stories of individuals and groups of individuals who played a role in the course of war. Although we all know that wars such as both world wars were important mediums and reasons why technological advancement happened, and they did change history. How about people?
The individuals who changed the course of history, or the groups of people, nations that together molded the way history turned out? Isn’t it better to say that humans are the locomotive of history?
Trotsky was very well referring to the Russian Civil War, after the 1917 Revolution, in his attempt to defend the idea of socialist revolution on a global scale. He blamed the civil war for being a great setback to the socialist revolution in Russia itself, which we know led to ideals of permanent revolution.
The important thing is that Trotsky was implying that the Civil War had played a significant role in the Russian Revolution of 1917. But can’t one say that it was inevitable when the Revolution was forced upon a feudal nation that was not ready -economically-for Marxism?
It is obvious that Trotsky implied that war is the locomotive of history in order to be bold and concrete. Considering he said this in a speech it is without a doubt he was agitating( as agitators do) in order to get his ideas rolling.
This is in no way different from the way Adolf Hitler began is second book, Zweites Buch, with “Politics is history in the making”. I am by no means comparing these two men, but I am merely suggesting that in order to agitate you have to say bold and extreme things.
Perhaps history has over-inflated this quote from a mere rash statement into a historical truth?
When one studies history, and what other people have said it is important to understand why they said what they did( even if you can’t get inside their head) and try to understand the context in which they said it.
Maybe when your country just went through a fierce Revolution and a couples of years of civil war,the term “war is a locomotive of history” makes a lot more sense.
Trotsky’s Speech: http://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1922/12/comintern.htm