Trotsky and the United States of Europe slogan

Comintern's draft programme - published in 1928 over the signatures of Nikolai Bukharin and Joseph Stalin - deleted all mention of the United States of Europe slogan. This was an integral part of the headlong retreat by the Communist International away from the goal of world revolution. Not surprisingly, given the closure put on serious debate - Comintern's 6th Congress met over July-September 1928 - the draft was adopted without any substantial alterations. From now on the ruinous 'theory' of socialism in one country served as official doctrine. Leon Trotsky - hero of the October Revolution but 10 years after an outcast - subjected the whole draft to a detailed and devastating critique (punishment soon followed - internal exile became exile abroad). The United States of Europe slogan featured prominently: "There is no justifying the omission," he protested (L Trotsky The Third International after Lenin New York 1982, p10). His trenchant defence of the slogan - not only in 1928, but as far back as 1915 - deserves serious study by revolutionary socialists and communists. Trotsky now has a secure reputation as one of the 20th century's foremost Marxists - he stands alongside Lenin and Luxemburg as a theorist and practical revolutionist. Anyone who fails to properly engage with Trotsky's programmatic and strategic thoughts, including on the United States of Europe slogan, deliberately disarms themselves intellectually. The result is not mere benign ignorance, but the unconscious acceptance of bourgeois ideology. When it comes to an issue like the forthcoming euro referendum, such a socialist is therefore likely to succumb to cynical popularity-chasing and the fallacies of leftwing nationalism. Equally worthless for the class struggle are those sects who specialise in repeating parrot-fashion various passages and formulations plucked from Trotsky and treating them as timeless verities. The results owe more to theology than science (ie, rational debate and testable investigation). Truth that is frozen perishes. Such sects might once have found a certain justification by guarding the flame of Trotsky's Marxism against the calumnies and quackery of Stalin and his successors. But if we are to avoid the trap they have inevitably fallen into of unintentionally turning Trotsky's Marxism into its opposite - fought over by warring sects using calumnies and quackery - there must be critical engagement. Hence, despite the essentially descriptive limitations of this article, the reader will find sympathy and respect for the revolutionary and thinker, Trotsky, combined with an attempt to point out ambiguities and shortcomings in his writings. Our aim at the end of the day is to separate out what is mistaken or transient from what is enduring. Back to 1915 In 1928 Trotsky felt compelled to refer back to Lenin and his rejection of the United States of Europe slogan in 1915 - Stalin and Bukharin were wielding the dead Lenin as an ideological club in order to bludgeon the living Trotsky. We have already had occasion to discuss Lenin elsewhere and came to the conclusion that he wrongly "gave away" the slogan because of its close association with Karl Kautsky - the intellectual leader of the Second International who turned traitor with the outbreak of World War I in August 1914. Lenin, in this particular case, "overcompensated" in what was overall his "undeniably correct" campaign to draw clear lines of demarcation against the Kautskyite centrists (Weekly Worker May 9). There is no need to repeat our potted discussion of Lenin's political evolution between 1914, when the Bolsheviks employed the United States of Europe slogan, and 1915, when they decided that "economically" the slogan was either "impossible" to realise under capitalism or "reactionary" (VI Lenin CW Vol 21, Moscow 1977, pp339-43). Suffice to say, Kautsky was not Lenin's sole target in the 1915 article, 'On the United States of Europe slogan'. Though he did not say it openly, Lenin also had his sights on Trotsky - during this period Trotsky can best be described as a leftwing centrist. Lenin attacked the unnamed Trotsky with cutting remarks about the United States of Europe slogan being used as a cover to excuse revolutionary inaction. Trotsky, as the readers of the Bolshevik press knew, had appeared to suggest that there must be a simultaneous revolution across the whole European continent. That or nothing. On the contrary, replied Lenin, no country should wait for a revolutionary United States of Europe before acting. The capitalist state could be overthrown first in a few or even in one country, he argued. How did Trotsky respond? In his 'The peace programme' - published in 1915 - Trotsky reveals that there existed a basic affinity between the two men. "A more or less complete economic unification of Europe accomplished from above through an agreement between capitalist governments is a utopia," he writes. Remember this was in the middle of World War I and at a time when Germany, Russia and Austria-Hungry were still ruled over by autocratic monarchs. "Along this road" of unity from above "matters cannot proceed beyond partial compromises and half measures" - again that sentence shows that both Trotsky and Lenin shared a similar outlook. However, Trotsky continues: the "economic unification" of Europe - which would bring colossal advantages to both consumers and producers, and advance culture in general - "is becoming a revolutionary task of the European proletariat in its struggle against imperialist protectionism and its instrument - militarism". Hence for Trotsky the "United States of Europe" represents "the only conceivable form" of the dictatorship of the proletariat in Europe (L Trotsky The Third International after Lenin New York 1982, p11). Trotsky intentionally blurs what is, I believe, the necessary distinction between minimum, immediate, demands - ie, demands which train, mobilise and empower the working class, but can technically be met under conditions of capitalism - and those of the maximum programme. Throughout his writings we find the terms 'United States of Europe', 'United Socialist States of Europe' and 'United Soviet Republics of Europe' used interchangeably. One slips and crosses over into the other. A methodological problem which cannot be explored here for obvious reasons of space. The Trotsky of 1928 concedes that there had been no example of working class rule in a single country, nor any theoretical clarity on this possibility amongst Marxists before the reality of Soviet Russia. So in 1915 the United States of Europe slogan "might" have given rise to the notion that proletarian revolution could only take place simultaneously across the whole of Europe. But he pleads not guilty to advocating any such thing. Indeed he quotes himself from 1915 insisting that, "Not a single country must 'wait' for the other countries in the struggle". Moreover he lambasted the idea of substituting temporising international inaction for "parallel revolutionary action". Trotsky unhesitatingly called for beginning and continuing the revolutionary struggle on "national grounds" in the conviction that all initiatives provide inspiration and will enhance the "struggle in other countries" (ibid p12). Trotsky considered that an isolated revolutionary Russia could not hold out against counterrevolutionary Europe. The same applied, he said, to an isolated Germany. Yet by 1928 any such hint at the necessity of world revolution had become a heresy: for Stalin such "Trotskyism" went hand in hand with "lack of faith" in the inner forces of the Russian Revolution. Trotskyism was officially deemed antithetical to the new party-state cult of Leninism. Of course, Trotsky could, and did, cite Lenin on any number of different occasions saying exactly the very same thing: "Without a revolution in Germany, we shall perish", etc, etc. Stalin wrested his case 'theoretically' on the undeniable fact that capitalism develops unevenly - supposedly a brilliant discovery made by Lenin. True, Lenin's writings are full of rich observation about uneven development. But the same can be said for those of Marx and Engels - especially in regard to their native Germany. Anyway, according to Stalin, uneven development - brought about by imperialism - virtually precluded simultaneous or parallel revolution. Furthermore, as revolution would typically break out in one discrete country at a time, the primary task of communists lay not so much in spreading the conflagration. Instead of international socialism he preached national socialist construction. His island socialism in the USSR would become a paradise on earth and henceforth the object of unalloyed admiration by the whole of humanity. The USSR's success would thereby stimulate the desire for emulation - the book Imagine by the Scottish Socialist Party's Tommy Sheridan and Alan McCombes is founded on exactly the same premise. Needless to say, Stalin was radically shifting the political-linguistic meaning of the term 'socialism'. Socialism, according to Stalin is post-capitalism and entailed little more than the nationalisation of industry and agriculture. He had at his command the full might of the Communist Party apparatus and the Soviet state to give a crushing authority to his every statement. The Soviet Union, he famously claimed in the second, 1924, edition of the pamphlet Foundations of Leninism, did not simply aspire towards socialism - previously understood as the self-liberating rule of the working class and a transitionary period between the global system of capital and fully fledged communism. Stalin now maintained that the Soviet Union possessed everything required by way of human material and natural resources to "build a socialist society" (JV Stalin Works Vol 6, Moscow 1953, pp110-11). In the mid-1930s Stalin triumphantly proclaimed that the Soviet Union had actually achieved socialism. The path to a national communism now stretched out before its happy peoples. Reality was very different. The triumph Stalin announced was of his counterrevolution within the revolution. The Soviet Union had expropriated the capitalists and landlords and set itself on a course of rapid accumulation. But after 1928 and the first five-year plan the working class had been forcibly driven back into the position of an exploited slave class. As to the peasants, they were effectively re-enserfed. The Soviet Union was post-capitalist, but had become anti-socialist. Trotsky continued to categorise the Soviet Union as a workers' state - albeit a "degenerate" one - till his murder by Stalin's agent in 1940. Indeed some of his epigones - eg, in the International Socialist Group and Workers Power - actually maintain that Vladimir Putin's Russian Federation is still some kind of workers' state because 50% of the means of production, or some such figure, remain in state hands. These supposed conquests of the October Revolution in actuality have as much to do with socialism as does Railtrack in Britain. But we must pick up the main thread of our argument. Trotsky concluded that Lenin's rejection of the United States of Europe slogan in 1915 was of a "restricted, tactical and, by its very essence, temporary character". That, says Trotsky, is best proven by the "subsequent course of events" (L Trotsky The Third International after Lenin New York 1982, p15). The fact of the matter is that in 1923 - at Trotsky's urging - the Communist International adopted the slogan. If, as Stalin maintained, the slogan of the United States of Europe was unacceptable on the basis of principle why did Comintern adopt it - and why did Lenin raise no objection? Indeed the slogan appeared in Comintern literature as late as 1926. Comintern's publishing house issued an official pamphlet - The United Socialist States of Europe, written under the name of John Pepper - which roundly polemicised against the "bourgeois-social democratic slogan" of a 'pan-Europe' to be brought about peacefully under capitalism. Communists, it instructed, must not only demolish the "fraudulent pacifist" content of the 'pan-Europe' slogan, but should set up against it a "positive slogan". For the "next period" the "slogan of the United States of Socialist Europe" is to serve as the "comprehensive slogan for the European communist parties" (quoted in L Trotsky The Third International after Lenin New York 1970, p309n). However, the United States of Europe slogan quickly fell from grace. Factional considerations meant it had to be expunged. Firstly, the slogan was too closely associated with the pariah, Trotsky. Secondly, it ran completely against the grain of the Stalin-Bukharin national socialist programme. Saving Europe Let us carefully examine Trotsky's case for the United States of Europe slogan in 1923. Responding to the French occupation of Germany's economically vital Ruhr region and the political crisis it engendered, Trotsky wrote a short discussion article, dated June 30, for Pravda - 'Is the slogan of the United States of Europe a timely one?' (L Trotsky The first five years of the Communist International Vol 2, London 1974, pp341-46). Here we find Trotsky's strategic application of the slogan to the immediate post-World War I conditions. Defeat reduced Germany from a rabid oppressor nation, bent on the reorganisation of Europe under its militaristic domination, to the status of abject victim. The country underwent involuntary surgery - the amputation of whole limbs of territory - by the terms of the Versailles treaty. West Prussia, Poznan, Upper Silesia, Alsace-Lorraine, the Hultschin and the Memel districts. France, Poland and Denmark benefited. Danzig (Gdansk) became a 'free city'. The Saar region was placed under League of Nations administration for 15 years and a plebiscite was ordered in Northern Schleswig. All colonies in Africa passed to Britain. Severe limits were also put on its armed forces. No more than 100,000 men. No tanks, no planes, no submarines. Fortifications along the Rhine were raised. Merchant ships, fishing boats, and railway wagons and locomotives were confiscated too. Furthermore the allies imposed onerous reparations upon Germany. In 1920 the Boulogne conference fixed the sum at 269 billion German gold marks, to be paid in 42 annual instalments. That proved impossible in January 1923. Unemployment, poverty and hunger plagued Germany. Compared with 1913, industrial production had slumped by nearly a half. France used this inability to pay up as a pretext to seize the Ruhr - the coal-producing heartland of German industry. An act of victor's aggression that triggered a massive wave of protest throughout Germany. Initially fascists bands and rightwing nationalists were to the fore. France is the traditional enemy dating back to Napoleon Bonaparte. Wilhelm Cuno's conservative government even called for defiance and passive resistance. Strikes in the Ruhr were financed through recourse to the hyper-inflationary printing press. Adolf Hitler dared to take what the US historian William Shirer calls an "unpopular line": "No - not down with France, but down with the traitors of the fatherland!" "That must be our slogan," insisted the National Socialist leader (quoted in W Shirer The rise and fall of the Third Reich London 1968, p88). Hitler admits he was "attacked no little" over this by men whose "national attitude" was nothing but an "outward sham" (A Hitler Mein Kampf London 1992, p625). The Communist Party of Germany - born amidst the tragic failure of the November 1918 revolution - managed to outflank such forces. Under the so-called 'Schlageter line' - a tactical reorientation promoted by Karl Radek taken from the name of a German nationalist gunned down by French occupation forces after he was spotted planting a bomb - there was even a brief "experiment" at cooperation between the CPG and the Nazis (EH Carr The interregnum Harmondsworth 1969, p191). A large CPG rally on August 10 1923 included an address by one of their top speakers. Actually that joint platform involved no softening of the struggle against fascism by the CPG - only a different angle of attack. CPG eyes were firmly on the National Socialist's plebeian rank and file. There was no let-up in "hostility to" or "denunciation" of fascist doctrines and actions, reports EH Carr (ibid p192). However, Germany's national humiliation was skilfully linked with the CPG's social programme and willingness to agitate for militant methods such as the political general strike throughout Germany. Minds in the Kremlin reawoke to the prospect of revolution in Germany. Trotsky - who was being eased from the topmost summit of power and was understandably disgruntled about the course of events - actually volunteered to put himself at the service of the German comrades "as a soldier of the revolution" (I Deutscher The profit unarmed Oxford 1982, p111). He did after all possess proven qualities when it came to organising an uprising. The emerging Stalin-Zinoviev-Kamenev triumvirate were, however, unwilling to allow Trotsky the chance he relished of leading the German Revolution - and thus securing himself either martyrdom or an unassailable position of world influence. Nevertheless, given the objective balance of forces, plans for an uprising spluttered out into something of a humiliating fiasco. Mutual recriminations followed in Moscow. For our purposes though what matters is Trotsky's analysis of Europe and the political solutions he offered. World War I was in essence, he said, a European war. US and Japanese participation did not alter this. Behind the outbreak of hostilities in August 1914 Trotsky saw the productive forces of capitalism - productive forces which had outgrown the narrow framework of the nations-states of Europe. Germany in particular - populous and economically dynamic - needed to reach out globally and expand its markets. However, Germany found itself blocked by Britain's vast official and semi-official empire on the one hand and the customs barriers that restricted and divided Europe on the other. World War I showed that the continent had to be radically reorganised - only labour could perform that task using civilised and humane methods. Germany's great rival, Britain, had little concern for Europe. Battered by the war, what was once the biggest creditor nation found itself in hock to the US. Assets around the world had been sold off in order to finance the titanic struggle against Germany. South America effectively changed hands. From being a British sphere of influence it became an American one. The Monroe doctrine of 1823 at last came to fruition. Britain licked its wounds and looked to its Asian and African empire and the Canadian, Australian, New Zealand and South African dominions as the source of recovery. France could aspire to nothing more than keeping Germany permanently bled white. In any armed conflict the much more numerous and industrially developed Germans would always win. France therefore demanded - and got - debilitating peace conditions. France also encouraged the national fragmentation of middle Europe. The Austro-Hungarian and Turkish empires - allied to Germany between 1914 and 1918 - were shattered into innumerable petty states. None of which were capable of anything like an independent role in world affairs or doing much militarily. The same applied to those national areas shorn from Russia - Finland, Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Poland, etc. The US now ranked as the world's leading economic power. Yet, rather than pressing for the dismemberment of the creaking British empire and risking another cataclysmic war so as to impose its will on Europe, the US proved quite content to let the old world slowly rot. Ruling circles in Washington were convinced that the 20th century was going to be the American century. The trick was to patiently bide one's time until chaos in Europe reached the point where the US would be welcomed in and could buy the whole continent for a mere pittance. Surveying this horrid mess, Trotsky said that "our unfortunate continent" had been cut up, exhausted, disorganised and "Balkanised" - unlike Chris Bambery, Alan Thornett, Tommy Sheridan and co, Trotsky did not welcome, or view with indifference, the 'break-up' of existing states. Quite the reverse. Europe had been transformed into a "madhouse" by capital (L Trotsky The first five years of the Communist International Vol 2, London 1974, p341). Nothing positive could develop from within the petty state and tariff walls created by Versailles. Europe must either remove these barriers or face the threat of complete decomposition. The methods used by the ruling class to overcome frontiers - total war and military conquest - had left millions dead and inadvertently exacerbated constricting fragmentation. Another bourgeois attempt to organise unity would result in either the destruction of European civilisation or US counterrevolutionary domination. On the basis of this exceptionally far-sighted assessment Trotsky had no hesitation in declaring that the proletariat alone could save Europe. He therefore proposed in his June 30 1923 Pravda article that the united front slogan of a "workers' and peasants' government" - put forward in a bold attempt to win over the majority still wedded to social democracy - be posed more "concretely". It should be coupled with the call for a United States of Europe, brought about by the efforts of the workers themselves. Such a route alone offers "salvation for our continent from economic decay and from enslavement to mighty American capitalism" (L Trotsky The first five years of the Communist International Vol 2, London 1974, p342). Could this slogan play into the hands of pacifists and bourgeois reformists? Trotsky mocked such silly leftist notions. Like the demand for a federal Britain and a united Ireland or a two-state solution between Israel and Palestine, the United States of Europe slogan could, yes, be taken up by any number of different political trends. That is undoubtedly true. However, the slogan was to be advanced not as a panacea, not by itself, but as an additional component, or plank, within the overall communist programme. Trotsky displays an admirable optimism. The Kautskyite centrists are no longer in sole charge of things. Communist parties are growing in size and experience. Where others may yearn for piecemeal reform from above, Trotsky wants the communists to combatively link the slogan to the tasks of furthering world revolution. His reasoning is straightforward. The revolutionary wave that exploded upon Europe in 1917 and 1918 had subsided by 1923. Communists must actively encourage a new upsurge by restoring the confidence of the European working class and overcoming their real fears that they too would share the fate of the workers and peasants in Russia - wars of intervention, misery, blockade, terrible famine and epidemics. Worries about the consequences that would follow after making revolution on diminutive national ground were to be assuaged by the perspective of the United States of Europe. This was extensive continental ground and would moreover be free to join together with the Soviet Union and form a mighty combination that could even withstand the USA. Did Trotsky distinguish between his United States of Europe and the rule of the working class? He supplies no clear answer. The United States of Europe slogan "corresponds" to the slogan for a workers' and peasants' state. The United States of Europe has an "exactly similar and parallel significance" as the demand for a workers' and peasants' government. The United States of Europe is regarded as a "stage" towards the dictatorship of the proletariat (L Trotsky The first five years of the Communist International Vol 2, London 1974, p345). Either way, without this supplementary slogan the communists could not hope to galvanise the workers of Europe, let alone storm the heavens. Europe, for Trotsky, is conceived of not as a mere geographical entity. Europe is thought of as an economic reality built upon layer upon layer of criss-crossing cultural commonalities and historical links that long predate capitalism. Hence the US could temporarily stand aloof from Europe. But Germany cannot stand aloof from France. And France cannot stand aloof from Germany: "Therein lies the crux, therein lies the solution to the European problem," Trotsky maintained. What of unevenness? The continent consists of many different state units, all displaying marked variations one with another. And yet Europe moves according to a rhythm different to the other side of the Atlantic. Compared to the US, the European countries taken together exhibit a definite evenness economically and politically, due to geography, culture and history. Put another way, European unevenness is relative. Europe exists on one scale of unevenness. The US on another. That is why a big strike or an unusual political event in France has a far bigger impact on Germany than it will on the US. Certainly a revolutionary situation in France will touch Germany, Italy, Spain and elsewhere in Europe in a profound sense - something than cannot be said about the US. In general Trotsky is of the opinion that, although no one could predict when exactly Europe would be united under the leadership of the revolutionary working class, the sequence of events would probably put Europe ahead of the US. That is why developments in Europe are in the final analysis of decisive importance for the US as well. Revolution in Europe will surely shatter the overarching confidence of the American capitalist class and accelerate the coming to power of the US proletariat no end. The United States of Europe is envisaged by Trotsky as an historically necessary stage that must be passed through. This transitionary stage of the world revolution arises from the real situation: ie, the profoundly different circumstances in Europe and the US - not only before, but after World War I. To deny this unevenness by pretending that everywhere is equally ripe, or unripe, for revolution obscures the actual path of development that must necessarily be followed and is to substitute empty phrase-mongering for hard analysis. Naturally the spread of working class power will not stop at a European phase. Trotsky believed that the Soviet Union afforded a bridge for the United Europe into Asia. The Soviet Union plus a United Europe would exercise a magnetic attraction for the oppressed peoples of Asia. The gigantic bloc of the nations of Europe and Asia would then be established and would face down any threats coming from the United States. A disunited Europe could never do that. Jack Conrad