Hal Draper

About the United World Federalist Movement and Its Program –

World Government: Road to Lasting Peace?

(6 June 1949)

From Labor Action, Vol. 13 No. 23, 6 June 1949, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

The organized movement for the idea of world government is represented in the United States by about eight groups, the most important of which are: the United World Federalists, headed by Cord Meyer, Jr., author of Peace or Anarchy; Federal Union, founded by Clarence Streit, author of Union Now; and the Citizens Committee for UN Reform, established by Ely Culbertson.

Of these the largest and most important is the UWF, and it is this organization and its ideas which are the subject of the accompanying article. Founded in February 1947 through a merger of five groups, it claims about 30,000 or 40,000 members today, organized in chapters based on congressional districts (assembly districts in New York City) and on college campuses.

One difficulty in discussing the ideas of UWF is the fact that Its official declaration of principles is “phrased in general terms” (as one of its pamphlets, by Vernon Nash, says), skirting a host of questions upon which there are varying points of view within the World Federalist movement. But the pamphlets, folders, and other literature which it publishes and distributes go beyond these general terms and present a system of ideas which is more susceptible to discussion. The article Is based upon this official literature of the UWF.


Is World Government Achievable Through the Present Governments?

The period between the two world wars saw a flowering of peace societies of all kinds in great profusion. It was a natural development. Even the First World War – which was less savage than the Second, and may in the future appear to be positively idyllic in comparison to the horrors of a third world war – aroused the loathing and revulsion of everybody to whom civilized values were dear. The atomic bomb was still only a Buck Rogers-like fantasy, but it was freely predicted even then that another war could mean the end of civilization as we know it in untold destruction and degradation.

The Second World War did not quite live up to the direst of these fears, but it came close enough to justify them in triple measure to a generation which lives in dread of the Bomb, of germ warfare, and of supersonic robot missiles. It takes only a minimum of imagination and a widely possessed degree of sensitivity for any man or woman today to become, if not panicky, at least appalled by the fate which looms before a world apparently passively drifting toward Armageddon.

What can we do? What can we do? What Can We Do? WHAT CAN WE DO? The question beats insistently in the brain as soon as the full horror of this post-war world is grasped.

And for the same reason, the question becomes: What can we do right now? Something must be done right now ... There must be something we can do right now ...

A Powerful Idea

The political psychology of the “peace society” is based on the kind of thinking which refuses to go more than one step beyond this impressive question. It would be unfair to say that it is based on panic. It would be fairer to say that it is based on the yearning for a short cut to peace, driven by legitimate and even laudable anxiety.

The multifarious peace societies of yesterday were often simply imbued with the idea that if enough people talked Peace Peace Peace, there would be peace. This empty silliness is not with us today, at least in organized form. The crop of peace movements which have followed the recent war are in comparison grown up and sophisticated.

They are founded on an idea. If is a powerful idea, it is a programmatic idea, it is a great and idealistic vision, and it is a perfectly correct one.

It is the idea of World Government, the aim of a supra-national power superseding the clash of national sovereignties, a United States of the World.

We socialists are for the goal of a world government, which would eliminate the obsolete national boundaries into which the earth is divided. We enthusiastically agree that only under a world government, or under its adequate beginnings, can world peace be achieved.

This understates it. The fact is that this conception has been part and parcel of the socialist program and socialist thinking for over a century. The World Federalist movement today, as it should, likes to refer to the great men of the past who pioneered the conception – to Voltaire, to Tennyson’s “parliament of man,” etc. We have absolutely no objections. But they do not find it necessary to mention that it is the socialist movement and socialist education over the past hundred years which is responsible for making the conception familiar to millions, especially in Europe – and not Voltaire and Tennyson. ... In fact, it is no exaggeration at all to say that the world-government movement of today is living off the fruits of one of the seeds planted by socialist education.

Persuade the Rulers?

But it is, and always was, only one of the facets of the socialist program, for good reason. The World Federalists have ripped it out of the context of ideas which gave it flesh and blood, and have converted it, and it alone, into the be-all and end-all of their program.

Socialism explained how the young capitalist class, struggling against the old feudal regimes, needed national centralization for the full flowering of its new economic system. How the national states developed apace with the development of capitalism itself. How both capitalism and its attendant nationalism at first played a distinctly progressive role in making possible the modern development of technology, prerequisite of plenty for all. How, having outlived this task, -the expansion of capitalism turns into the expansion of imperialism, and how the legitimate nationalist yearnings of peoples are turned into the present-day Juggernauts of the national sovereign capitalist states, arrayed against other developed and rapacious capitalist states, each seeking to bolster a senile social system by the exploitation of other lands. How it is necessary to change this economic system in order to make possible the achievement of a unified world in which the once-useful national idea is raised to the higher level of real internationalism.

But the World Federalists have ripped the conception of world government out of this historic context, indeed out of any historic context. And it becomes something a bit different. It becomes the basis of a movement devoted to persuading the present, existing governments to give up their sovereignty and form a world government.

This is the crux of the matter, and we shall see what it leads to. The present governments are the historic outcome of one-two-three centuries of struggle by rival capitalist classes against each other, by fully crystallized and hardened national sovereignties developed for national advantage – and it is these present governments that are to be persuaded.

Unity by Conquest

Can a world government be achieved under the present governments?

This is certainly possible in one way, unfortunately. That is through the conquest of the world by one power and its imposition of world government from above, whether the top dog be the United States or Russia. It is, in fact, the road advocated by one eminent world-government exponent, Bertrand Russell. But this is specifically and completely rejected by the movement organized in the United World Federalists (UWF), and we could not improve much on their characterization of this “idealistically” motivated modest proposal for super-imperialism and a world-wide Iron Heel in the name of democracy.

Bertrand Russell’s program has one virtue: if is conceivably realizable. This is, in fact, its decisive virtue in Russell’s own eyes (he has a personal distaste for world conquest). The UWF, having rejected it with praiseworthy vigor, is left with the program of persuading the rulers of the world to ... abdicate.

The World Federalists, have, we said, ripped the world-government concept out of: its historical context, but they are not backward about appealing to “the lessons of history.” This consists roughly in pointing out that, for example, there was constant warfare between England and Scotland until both were united under a single government; that there was warfare between the Italian states until all were unified under one government; that if the thirteen colonies could stop their scrapping and voluntarily federate under a single government, why can’t the nations today? etc.

Russell, in spite of his monstrous viewpoint, could give this bit of historical naiveté a proper working-out. Does it really never occur to the World Federalist. historians that peace came to Britain only when England conquered the Scots, that peace came to the Italian peninsula only when one Italian state conquered the others, that Bismarck unified the German states by “blood and iron,” etc.?

Wherever rival power groups have been opposed to each other, where there are interests of collapse-or-survival involved for the power group, unification has been achieved only by conquest.

It is even more tempting to pursue the analogy of the U.S. colonies; but it may be sufficient to point out this much: The secret convention of representatives of the colonial ruling class who drew up the Constitution had internal scraps but they were able to iron them out by compromises. But with the later rise of a quite different ruling class in the South, one based on a different economic system (slavery), no compromise was able to avoid, the “irrepressible conflict,” the Civil War. Because what was involved was not bargaining for advantage, but the life-and-death of a ruling class as such.

Or perhaps the World Federalist school of history tells us that the Civil War was merely a misunderstanding? This brings us to the first of the three most important fallacies of the UWF.

Fallacy No. 1: Wars Are Simply Unfortunate Misunderstandings

Surely one can hardly propose a cure for war, as the World Federalists do, without holding a notion about their cause. The UWF has such a notion.

It is: War results from mutual fear. Only that? Well, primarily that.

“As the diplomatic representatives of both countries [U.S. and Russia] publicly fire insults at each other ... fear feeds on fear until both governments may awake to discover that the docile instrument of propaganda has become their master ...

It is as if one told two men that they were sworn to kill each other. They might first be unwilling to believe it, but the precautions both would take could only convince each of the murderous intentions of the other and serve to provoke a final tragedy of errors.” (Cord Meyer Jr., Peace or Anarchy, pp. 83, 85)

“The present drift ... is less the product of any clash of rival interests than of mutual fear. There is actually no real clash of vital interest between the Soviet Union and the United States.” (James P. Warburg, How to Achieve One World)

The gigantic world slaughters of our days result primarily, decisively from regrettable and avoidable misunderstandings. This is the rock-bottom theory of World Federalism, and a moment’s thought shows why this otherwise disconcertingly naive theory is necessary for a movement which banks its all on persuading the present masters of the world.

Tragedy of Errors?

Was the Second World War between the Allies and the Nazi power also simply a “tragedy of errors” – or was it irrepressible because both sets of rulers wanted the same things (markets, colonial slaves, control of backward countries for capital investment, etc.) and because they could not maintain their national power without them? I do not know that the World Federalists extend their tailored theory backward in time, but why not?

In fact, the statesmen of the world must be blithering idiots. Two world wars devastating the earth, destruction accomplished and threatened on a scale hard for the mind to grasp: – a misunderstanding, a complex of blunders! We see this so clearly, explain the World Federalists (as did a thousand others before the Second World War), but the statesmen go right ahead. Twice already – worse to come! Aren’t we justified in concluding that they must be stupid, witless, clodpated, brainless imbeciles, dolts, boobies and nincompoops – in short, idiots?

Now we socialists also have our unflattering opinions about the present rulers of the national states, but we do not regard idiocy as the common denominator of their imperfections.

It is certainly true that neither the U.S. nor Russia wants war (and neither did Hitler, we may add in the same sense with no charity toward that tyrant) – they want something else which means survival-or-collapse for their respective power groups, their ruling classes. They both have to expand their economic and political power or else suffocate within their national borders.

The World Federalists have gotten a whiff of a germinal idea and do not half realize the import of what they are broaching. One World is not merely a necessity to prevent war – it is an economic necessity for the fullest flowering of economy in a world where economy is worldwide, a world economy.

The national boundaries are obsolete not only because they breed fear; they are obsolete because they choke and distort the inevitable need for political integration in a world where economic integration is already a fact in various ways. No nation can live within its borders alone. Each rival ruling class seeks to integrate the world for itself, for the economic necessities we have mentioned.

They do not want war any more than two dogs want to fight over a bone; they merely want the bone.

War is a tremendous risk, especially in the atomic age? We venture the opinion that even President Truman knows this as well as Cord Meyer Jr. This aspect of the World Federalists’ emphasis harks back to the yesterday of the peace societies. Everybody nods his head. But the statesmen go on doing what they have to do, because they have to do it, and they go on sincerely hoping that it does not lead to war, as it must.

Fallacy No. 2: Persuade Stalin to Abandon Totalitarian System

This is the meaning of the very strange attitude of the UWF toward Russia.

It is strange because there is no question of pro-Russian or pro-Stalinist sympathies involved here, not even of the Wallaceite kind. (In fact, the UWF has an “anti-subversive” clause in its rules which should make the FBI very happy.)

The first item of their approach toward the Russian question in relation to world government is undoubtedly correct, on the basis of their premises. Russia must be in it. (This is the main difference between the UWF and Clarence Streit’s group Federal Union.)

Russia must be in it – otherwise it is not a world government at all. Worse: otherwise it will not mean peace. What would be the meaning of a federation without Russia? The danger of war is between the U.S. and its satellites and Russia and its satellites. A federation of the first camp would merely be a tighter alliance of one of the war camps in the world. It would have its benefits and advantages, certainly, but it would not bring peace nearer. As Grenville Clark says in a pamphlet published by UWF, it would be as likely to precipitate war as to forestall it.

So Russia must be in it; else it is not a peace scheme but something else. But (as a UWF pamphlet says with restraint): “Has Russia given any indication of being favorably interested in world government? – None.” None indeed; the Kremlin merely denounces the movement as a “dirty imperialist plot.”

A Modest Proposal

So? The whole thing seems to go up in smoke, does it? A good idea perhaps, but Stalin isn’t persuaded ...?

No. The UWF people, without being in the slightest sense pro-Russian, are literally driven and hogtied in a position where they present, as the key objective of their movement, the effort to find out ... whether the Russian regime is really the brutal, bloody totalitarianism that it’s cracked up to be. It goes this way:

Is it? Who knows? Some claim this, some claim that. We’re not Russia-haters. “They have as much to lose as we do in a mutually destructive war.” We’re not pessimistic. Until the U.S. itself declares for world government, “we cannot tell whether the purpose of their present policy is aggression or defense.” It is possible to have “an effective system of security protecting them and us alike.” (The quotes are from Cord Meyer.)

Would world government protect “them”? Who is “them”? The Russian people? In that case, of course. But the totalitarian oligarchy of the Kremlin?

With almost unique naiveté in this day and age, the UWF proposes in its optimistic way to make a modest proposal to the Moscow butchers (we use this restrained and moderate epithet in order not to offend too many people). We paraphrase:

“Mr. Stalin & Co.: We propose that you give up only some of your power. We do not wish to be unreasonable, so we limit these concessions to the following few. Give up any control over armed forces [this to a regime which is based on naked terror]. Give up sole control over tariffs and currency [this to a regime which won’t even give out economic statistics]. Give up the armed forces of the MVD (GPU, or secret police) [this to a regime which keeps millions in slave camps]. Give a bunch of foreigners (world-government inspectors) the right to inspect and patrol your economic setup from top to bottom [this to a regime which is apt to arrest a man for visiting a foreigner’s home]. Give foreigners (world government) the right to ARREST YOUR CITIZENS [to UWF, this right is a necessity for world government].”

It can be shortened: “Messrs. Totalitarians: We propose that you give up your totalitarianism. In the interests of humanity.”

Slight Difficulty

Now it is a sad fact that while various forms of government can be and have been federated under one roof, there is at least one form of government which cannot be federated. That is a totalitarian government.

Totalitarianism means that every facet of every department of life, every organization, every source of power, every potential source of power, every institution which might become a potential source of power – all must be under the undivided sway of the bureaucratic state.

Now if the devoted and self-sacrificing activists of the World Federalist movement wish to consecrate their energies to the task of persuading Stalin that his totalitarianism was a lamentable blunder in the first place, that its steady development into forms that continue to amaze and startle by their extremeness is merely the outcome of the idiocy congenital to statesmen, and should be voluntarily cast off by a resolute act (of the selfsame idiots) ... then we can only suggest that they are presuming too much on Stalin’s idiocy.

The strangeness of all this can be highlighted from another angle. The World Federalists do not propose the enforcement of a world Bill of Rights. They argue, with justice on the basis of their premises, that this would exclude Russia, and Russia must be in. Very well. But they are democrats. And so they follow up this hard-headed self-restraint with another (also perfectly correct) argument to appease the sentiments of anyone outraged by the lack of world Bill of Rights enforcement.

They argue: the very existence of a world government will mean more and more “free exchange of ideas,” intercourse, breaking down of barriers, the spread of democratic beliefs, the demonstration of the superiority of our ideas over the Russians’, etc.

Yes indeed.

That’s WHY the Russian rulers are not going to be persuaded that world government will protect “them.” They will not last an historic minute after that. And while they notoriously have no insuperable prejudices against cutting throats, they draw the line against cutting their own. Not even in the best interests of humanity.

And the whole existence of the UWF is founded on the premise: Let’s find out if they will.

Suppose they do find out, what then? Suppose the U.S. makes some kind of world-government proposal and Stalin rejects it? At this point, the UWF people sadly add: In that case, we will be forced to accept a federation of only those countries willing to enter, without Russia. But haven’t they demonstrated cogently that such a federation would not be an instrument of peace? Yes, they have; but this demonstration is never repeated at the point mentioned. Still: doesn’t every idea have its slightest difficulties?

Fallacy No. 3: World Government Will Benefit U.S. Capitalism Too

This too is perfectly true if the people of the U.S. are meant. But that is not the question. It is a question of the life-and-death needs of the U.S. capitalist system; and the question does not change if this system is referred to euphemistically as the free-enterprise system.

We have pointed out that the U.S. (like the rest) does not want war – it wants something else. The capitalist economy of the U.S. also must expand into the world, or die. The meaning of the second alternative is clear enough before our own statesmen in the form of the capitalist systems of Europe today, shattered and weakened by the war, incapable in their extreme senility of expansion, and which are literally dying before our eyes.

U.S. capitalism is the only capitalism which is alive and kicking today, the only one that is a going concern. It is top dog. It can remain so only if its expansionist drives have free play In the world. The U.S. does not want war (because its statesmen are not idiots) but its official economists, such as the president’s Committee of Economic Advisers, proclaim that the American dollar (that is, American investment) has to penetrate into every corner of the globe if its economy is to remain healthy. This is the well-known Point 4 of Truman.

The same committee’s latest report to the president indicated clearly enough the extent to which the post-war pseudo-prosperity has been shored up (and a bust avoided so far) by the growth of the war economy in this country.

Spartan Attitude

The spread of the American dollar comes smack up against the Russian ruble (and the Russian bayonet) in its penetration of the world economy. The billions being poured but directly and indirectly in war preparation constitute the safety valve which stands between capitalism and its crisis. In the face of this, Chester Bowles (a leading UWF luminary) writes in Harpers:

“Deprived of the economic hypodermic of war or armaments races or military-aid programs [as the result of world government and peace] American economy will have to prove itself capable – as I am confident that it can – of avoiding the bust that follows the boom; it will have to prove there is nothing inconsistent between a comprehensive program of social welfare and the preservation and indeed enlargement of political and economic liberties. Similarly, Russian communism ... will have to prove its ability to raise the living standards of its people.”

This is an admirably fair-minded attitude, designed to appeal to every sportsmanlike instinct. Or perhaps it is more like the attitude of the ancient Spartans, who exposed a newborn baby on a mountain top for a while – considering that if the baby did not survive, it was obviously no loss anyway. One need not pretend that there is nothing to be said for it. But still less than parents are the rulers of a social system prepared to strike the Spartan note.

Considering the long record of capitalist economy and its busts, Bowles’ confidence in the ability of the profit system to get along with peace and plenty shows a determined will, always a creditable thing in a statesmen. But – suppose it can’t? Is Bowles perhaps able to tell us why the country could not emerge from the devastating crisis of the ‘30s until the war came along to float it out on blood? Depression or war, fear of depression or fear of war – the profit system has been shuttling between the two for over a century.

U.S. Won’t Abdicate

Furthermore, as we have pointed out, the U.S. is the proud possessor of the only capitalist system that is still a going concern in the world. In Europe, all kinds of disturbing operations are being performed on the capitalist structure, in England, France, Italy, the rest. In Asia, there is precious little love for either the U.S. or its free enterprise.

Surely, the U.S. will not have a majority in a world government, not by itself, even with the weighted votes of various kinds proposed by the World Federalists. Is U.S. capitalism going to put its fate in the hands of a world-government majority which will not have the standards of the NAM nor even of Truman? It is not here a question of a socialist majority or an anti-capitalist majority in a world-government setup. Even with the present governments, and on the basis of even the minimum economic powers proposed for a world government, it is inevitable that all kinds of holes be, shot in the economic structure of U.S. capitalism.

We would go further if it were necessary: we would add that the very existence of a world government would require and lead toward a greater and greater assumption of economic control over the national states, and would in fact tend to undermine the whole capitalist structure of the United States. But it is not even necessary to try to demonstrate this here. It would certainly undermine the power of U.S. capitalism vis-à-vis the other countries, even in the short run.

This Is an argument for world government In our eyes; it may be an argument for world government in the eyes of World Federalists – but it is NOT an argument for world government in the eyes of the Powers That Be in Washington and Wall Street.

The U.S. capitalist class will not abdicate any more readily than Stalin.

We socialists are entirely for a supra-national government which will set its face against any and all imperialism, which will integrate the economies of its world, its currencies, etc., regardless of the effect of this indispensable course on the private-profit system and the well- known sacred rights of property.

No Short Cut

If we have a quarrel with World Federalism at this point, it is only because there is no point in wasting energy trying to persuade the capitalist class of the U.S. that this program is in its interests, any more than there is a point in futilely trying to persuade totalitarians to be philanthropic. We believe in building a labor and socialist political movement to take the government out of the hands of this capitalist class and its two parties, in order that the great aims of both peace and security shall be achieved.

It is especially in Western Europe today that there exists the very greatest need for political and economic integration across national boundaries. Precisely because the capitalist systems of these countries are in such shattered, prostrate condition, even the top leaders of these countries proclaim the need.

But it is not only as an economic entity that a unified Western Europe is needed. It is needed also for peace. A “Western Union” which tore itself free from domination from Washington as well as from Moscow, independent of either power, would be a tremendous force for peace.

Where the UWF is justly afraid of a Western federation which includes and is headed by the U.S. as being merely the organization of the anti-Russian war bloc, a genuinely Independent Western Union, though not a world government, could be an independent power standing between the two colossi. Our independent socialist co-thinkers in Europe proclaim the need of such a federation.

But because the weakened capitalist powers of Europe are dependent on U.S. capitalism for their lifeblood, the statesmen of the West who talk about world federation are not at all willing to federate independently of both Washington and Moscow, the only kind of federation that can make for peace.

World government – yes! An Independent Western Union in Europe – yes! But the road to it does not lie through the persuasion of the same kind of governments that have already dragged us through two world wars and are feverishly preparing for the third. The road lies through changing these governments, through building a labor and socialist movement that can challenge the power of capital and reorganize society in the interests of the masses of people.

The fight for socialism is no short cut, and it does not appeal to the psychology of the “peace society,” but it sets itself the aim which alone can make world peace possible.

Last updated on 1 August 2019