James P. Cannon

For a Socialist United States of Europe

(October 1938)

Published: Socialist Appeal, Vol. II No. 45, 15 October 1938, p. 3.
Source: PDF supplied by the Riazanov Library Project.
Transcription/Mark-up: Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.
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Following is a partial text of the speech delivered by Comrade James P. Cannon at the Hotel Center, New York, last Sunday, on The war crisis in Europe and the meaning of the Munich pact.

We’ve always known and we’ve always said that the capitalist system, sinking ever deeper in decline and decay, is moving steadily by its own inner logic to a new world war. During the recent crisis of European diplomacy we saw this conception come perilously close to concrete realization. During those days the world stood in the very shadow of catastrophe. If the masses of the world recoiled in horror and grasped at a postponement at any price, if the hands of the imperialists at the last moment trembled – nevertheless, everybody knows the Munich pact was not a solution; everybody realizes now that it was not salvation, but only reprieve.

The diplomatic crisis around the war that was for the moment averted was only a rehearsal – and so the world understands it – of another crisis soon to come which will herald the inevitable outbreak of war. The horrifying experience of the past days is fraught with menace and warning for all the people of our planet. The spectacle of the doomed millions, waiting in agonizing fear for the decision of four diplomats at Munich – waiting to hear their fate – is symbolic of their helplessness in the face of unprecedented deception and betrayal.

A Lesson in Realism

The capitalist statesmen met in a closed room. They, the realists of imperialist politics, were not in the least concerned with senseless abstractions about peace, honor, justice, democracy, etc. They discussed the re-division of the world from a point of view that was exclusively materialistic. They weighed and measured the prospect of spilling oceans of blood with as much concern for the victims as four matter-of-fact butchers in a slaughter-house. The only friend of the masses in that room, the only warning voice that spoke for peace, was that of a uninvited and invisible guest – the specter of revolution which could not be exorcised. That is the only real force for peace, for delay, for postponement of war that is left in this mad capitalist world.

The inevitable war that may be postponed but not avoided is the price humanity must pay for the failure of the workers, the progressive class in society, to fulfill their historic mission, for their failure to overthrow the decayed and outworn social system and replace it by socialism. If the coming war is, by all signs, to begin as a new senseless imperialist slaughter, with reactionary fascism on the offensive, it is the result in the first place – and let us never forget it – it is the result of the betrayal of the proletariat by the Social Democracy in the last war and in the revolutionary struggles which followed it. In the second place it is the result of the capitulation and betrayal of the German proletariat by the two partners in historic crime, the Social Democrats and the Stalinists.

Masses Are Against War

It is important for us, I think, to take note of the main features of the war-shaking crisis which culminated in the Munich pact. The main outlines are clear enough. The most positive feature of the whole experience was the indubitable opposition of the masses to a new war. This sentiment, as all observers testify, was virtually universal. It manifested itself everywhere in every way that was open to the bewildered masses to express themselves. Even in Germany, where we have been falsely told so often that the fascist war lord rules with the enthusiastic consent of the masses, the newspaper correspondents testify to the profound dread of war which seized the people and their unrestrained joy when it seemed to have been averted.

The spontaneous rejoicing of the masses in all countries was only superficially expressed in homage to the statesmen who had condescended to postpone the conflict. At bottom it was an expression of the profound opposition of the masses of all countries to another war. The terrible experience of the holocaust of 1914–18 with its more than ten million dead and more than twenty million wounded and crippled and maimed, with its hunger and starvation, its innumerable infant victims of malnutrition, its epidemics – the whole horrifying mess of bloody death and destruction – all this still lives in the memory of the present generation of humans.

How many lives will a new war cost, now that the instruments of death have been tremendously increased with multiplied efficiency? – that is the fearful question which was uppermost in the minds of all the inhabitants of our planet as they swayed on the brink of another war. No! It is impossible to arouse any popular enthusiasm for another military adventure. And in the face of this universal sentiment the imperialist masters dread the social consequences of a plunge into the dark unknown.

The Real Face of Democracy

The second feature of the crisis which came to a point at Munich, which ought to enlighten millions who have been duped and doped by false prophets, was the attitude displayed throughout the entire affair, consistently, up to the very end, by the authentic spokesmen of the capitalist democracies. With their own hands they stripped away the veil of illusion and deceit and showed their real class face at Munich. They demonstrated clearly and with brutal cynicism the fact that there is no fundamental difference between democratic and fascist capitalism. The agreements they signed at Munich, and especially the amiable protocol of amity and good will signed by Chamberlain and Hitler gave a crushing refutation to the liars and deceivers who have taught the masses to stake their heads on British democracy in their struggle against fascism.

The two imperialist camps represented at Munich – the democratic and the fascist – showed a common antagonism to the Soviet Union, antagonism to the state that was raised up by the October Revolution; with a gesture of contempt they thrust aside the Stalinist traitors who have served them so well. Years long now, Stalin has courted the favor of the imperialist masters assembled at Munich, but this could not win for him at the decisive moment a nod of recognition or an invitation to the conference. The miserable propaganda of Stalin and his prostituted hirelings in those days amounted to nothing but a whining protest at this ingratitude.

Not Enough Yet!

“Look,” – they said in effect – “Look, what we’ve done for you. We killed a whole generation of revolutionists in Russia; we destroyed the Comintern; we butchered the red generals and demoralized the Bed Army.”

And the cold-blooded imperialist masters, answered by their actions: “you haven’t done enough yet. You haven’t restored the system of private property. That is our real objects ive. You, by killing the Bolsheviks, by assassinating the red generals, by disorganizing Soviet economy and demoralizing the Bed Army – by all this you have only made it easier for us to attack the Soviet Union together with Hitler.”

The third feature of the diplomatic crisis was the diplomats’ fear of the masses, that unknown quantity, that algebraic “X” which cast its menacing shadow over their conference.

The profound anti-war sentiment was known to them. They also have memories of the past war and its unforseen consequences. They recall that it began with England as the dominant world power, buttressed on the east by the empire of the Czar, that historic “mainstay of European reaction.” Within two and a half years after the war began, the whole structure of Czarism was in the dust and the mighty upsurge of the Russian Revolution had upset the world balance. In the west the United States, profiting by the dislocation and exhaustion of the European nations, emerged from the war as the first power of the world, relegating England to second place and starting the world-wide empire on the road to dissolution.

What will be the consequences of the next war? – that is the question which paralyzed the hands of the diplomats and disturbed their dreams. Will we lose the war if we win it as before? Will the multiplied efficiency of the war weapons bring crisis and revolution in six months instead of two and a half years? Will the American colossus extend and strengthen its hegemony still more? The ineluctable contradictions of all the capitalist nations and of the world-system as a whole push them relentlessly to war and yet the statesmen falter and tremble in fear of the unknown. “But Chamberlain and Daladier are betrayers,” whine the Stalinists, who taught the masses to trust the capitalist democracies and their authentic leaders. What a puerile explanation of the collapse of their own policy! Chamberlain and Daladier never promised to defend anything except the imperialist interest of their class. They remained faithful to their class. It is the snivelling Stalinists, the Social-Democrats, and labor fakers of all stripes, who betrayed their class by chloroforming it with the illusion of the Peoples’ Front – that is the partnership of labor with its mortal class enemy.

Stalin’s Next Step

What, in the post-Munich world situation, can be the next steps of Stalin? Some naive people – including some superficial newspaper correspondents and columnists – predict a new turn to revolutionary policy on the world arena. Some Stalinist workers, I have no doubt some of them are sitting in this hall tonight, cherish this hope of a return to revolutionary activity. They see what they want to see. Many of them are so sick of waving the American flag, and are so hoarse from singing the Star Spangled Banner, that they want to believe it was all a super-clever revolutionary maneuver to deceive the capitalists. Now that the policy has failed so miserably, so catastrophically, they want to believe that there will be a return to revolutionary activity on the part of Stalin and his clique.

Illusion! These people have long since passed over to the other side of the barricades, their hands are red with the blood of innumerable revolutionists. In Russia, in Spain, in Prance, in Switzerland, in China, in the United States – on a world-wide scale, they have established themselves irrevocably as the hangmen of the revolution.

Stalin’s next move will be a diplomatic approach to Hitler, and Hitler, in turn, will talk business. But not on the basis of abstractions, shibboleths, or “principles” – Hitler’s principles are as false and phoney as Stalin’s. Hitler will demand, and Stalin will offer concessions, concrete and tangible. A breach in the foreign trade monopoly, which will immediately undermine Russian industry and prepare its collapse? A slice of the Ukraine, as a beginning of the dismemberment of the Soviet Union? To show good faith on the part of Stalin, a new trial, perhaps, new killings? Litvinov’s head, as the scapegoat for the discredited policy of alliances with the capitalist democracies? Another purge of the Red Army on which the “disappearance” of Marshal Bluecher will be recorded as an advance payment? Or, proceeding to a drastic solution of the real conflict between the Soviet Union and all the imperialist countries, will Stalin move to a direct attempt to restore private property and open up the Russian market to foreign exploitation?

Stalin Will Fall

These are the questions which can constitute the only possible basis for rapprochement between Hitler and Stalin. Phantastic, you say. No, the whole course of Stalin has been leading straight to this end. If you read, in the near future, some radical blustering in the Stalinist press, some hints and threats of a new appeal to the working masses of the world, you can understand it as the signal for the preparation of a new drastic turn to the right. Stalin and his clique, long ago, turned their backs on every hope and prospect of world revolution. The bureaucratic caste is concerned only with self-preservation, at any cost.

Stalin, like dictators of the imperialist countries, both democratic and fascist, fears one thing above all – the masses. And well he may. A deal with Hitler involving a breach of the foreign trade monopoly, a cession of Soviet territory, or an attempt to restore the system of private property, may very well be the spark that will set off the revolutionary explosion in Russia, and bring Stalin to his downfall.

If Hitler, now fully armed and backed by Britain and France, is ready to train the great guns against the Soviet Union, that is the fruit of the betrayal of the German proletariat and the shameful capitulation to Hitler in 1933. In 1932 – before Hitler came to power – Trotsky sounded a prophetic warning. He said that Hitler, once he crushed the German labor movement, and consolidated his internal position on the blood and bones of the workers, would reach an agreement with France and England and become the spearhead of a new imperialist attack against the Soviet Union. This warning, ignored and derided, like all of the wise words of Trotsky, is now approaching a horrible realization. The responsibility rests exclusively with the betrayers and capitulators, the Stalinists and the leaders of the German Social-Democracy, those swine who even went to the length of presenting themselves in Hitler’s Reichstag and offering to collaborate as a loyal opposition.

Whose the Responsibility?

It is the fashion now to blame the German masses for the consolidation of fascism in Germany and the monstrous military aggression of Hitler. Every scribbler, these days, writes about the war spirit of the German masses, their love of obedience, their stupidity, etc. Base calumny! the German proletariat was the most advanced, the strongest, and best organized in Europe. They did not embrace fascism. They were not defeated by it in battle. They were abandoned and betrayed. The jingo nationalist policy of Stalinism in France, in England and the other countries of democratic capitalism, left the German workers speechless and helpless to combat the nationalistic spirit propagated by Hitler.

Only Internationalist Voice

The only voice raised for a proletarian policy in the European war crisis was the voice of the Fourth International and its sections. Our comrades in Czechoslovakia – including the Sudeten areas – with unexampled courage, raised the one slogan of reason in the mad welter of capitalist nationalism. In the midst of the crisis, confronted on one side by the Nazi offensive, and on the other by the brutal persecution of the Czechoslovakian police state, they raised the slogan: “Neither German nor Czech capitalist nationalism, but the Soviet United States of Europe.”

The French section of the Fourth International, the Internationalist Workers Party, reacted to the crisis with terrific energy under the same slogan.

In England, the paper of the Revolutionary Socialist League – the British section of the Fourth International – came out during the week of the acutest crisis with the inspiring slogan of Liebknecht, blazoned across the first page: “The Main Enemy Is in Your Own Country.”

On the very eve of the war crisis, with the prospect of a military explosion at any hour, delegates from all the most important countries, gathered in Switzerland and held the Foundation Congress of the Fourth International. This event, the historic significance of which is beyond exaggeration, testifies to the boundless revolutionary vitality of the world-wide movement of resurgent Bolshevism.

Here, at home, we saw the same thing. The Stalinists showed themselves, once again, more glaringly shameful than ever, as nothing but the disappointed office boys of the democratic capitalist masters. The “Keep America Out of War Committee,” that preposterous fraud, with papier-mache fences around nothing at all – the “Keep America Out of War Committee” couldn’t think of anything to do during the war crisis but to keep as mum as oysters, and to show about the same intellectual expression. Norman Thomas’ Socialist Party, crawling back on its hands and knees, to fusion with the social-patriots of the old guard, saluted the war crisis by missing three consecutive issues of their paper, the Socialist Call.

How Our Party Reacted

The Socialist Workers Party, the American Section of the Fourth International, alone reacted to the crisis in a manner worthy of revolutionists. It gave a correct line, it gave information, and Marxist interpretation of the events. Its membership mobilized for action and sacrifice, and in spite of all difficulties, brought out the Socialist Appeal three times a week. The thrice-a-week Appeal is the symbol of a party that is geared for crisis. That is the real test of the quality and morale of revolutionary organization, for revolution, itself, is the greatest crisis.

In a preliminary test our party responded worthily – that gives us a certain confidence for its future. It also gives us the right to address a brief message to those militants outside its ranks, who are sincerely seeking to work and struggle in an organized manner for socialism. Especially to Stalinist workers, we say: You must study and reflect on the experience, you must regain your proletarian health and sanity. Rid your system of the poison that has been pumped into your veins. And most important of all, get out of that pest-house of deceit and treachery. Leave the traitor party of Stalinism and join with us in building an honest party of revolution.

Everything comes back to the problem of the party, that is the great and outstanding lesson of the past twenty years. Without the revolutionary party, there can be no victory, but if the proletarian vanguard is organized, if it is armed with a correct program, disciplined and trained for struggle and sacrifice, all things are possible. Once the small wheel of such a party is geared into the great wheel of the historic process, the victory of the workers and the regeneration of humanity is assured.

Last updated on 11 September 2015