Karl Radek

Our Problems

Not Backwards, but Forwards

The Right of Self-determination of the Peoples, and the United States of Europe

(11 October 1923)

From International Press Correspondence, Vol. 3 No. 66 [32], 11 October 1923, pp. 744–745.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2023). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.


The Versailles peace is cracking in all directions. That which is proceeding in Germany is the dissolution of the Versailles Peace. It means the end of the Versailles Peace in any event; whether the masses of the German people rise and take their emancipation into their own hands, or if they do not find the strength to fight, and leave the matter in the hands of the bourgeoisie. The Versailles peace has torn portions of the old German empire from its body; the Versailles peace has forced the people to pay heavy tribute. But it at least left the outward semblance of an independent Germany. By forming at the same time the League of Nations and leaving Germany the possibility of admission to the League later on, the Versailles treaty left a loophole for correcting itself later. Today, the League of Nations is a screen behind which France and England are fighting between themselves; it possesses not the slightest power of opposing these two trading powers and of putting a stop to the piratical raid in the Ruhr valley, it does not even possess sufficient power to enable it to call a halt when a third rate power like Italy cynically brushes the League of Nations treaty on one side with the brutal statement: “This is what I will – this is my command!” "What hopes can the prospect of being permitted one day to enter the League of Nations now awaken in the German people when they see what a sorry protection the League can afford its original members? And does France content herself with the rights which the Versailles treaty grants to French imperialism? No! In direct violation of the clear wording of the Versailles treaty. France occupies the Ruhr area, the most important part of Germany and declares: “Here I am, and here I intend to remain until you pay!" The Versailles treaty provided for periodical examination into the economic possibilities of payment, but it did not foresee that the examination into Germany’s solvency was to be carried out by means of the bayonets of the French army of occupation the government of the German republic approaches Poincaré with the proposal that the Ruhr pledges be released, and substituted by Germany herself being placed in pawn, by France participating in German industry. M. Poincaré is not inclined to agree to this; he prefers the bird in the hand to the two in the bush. But if Poincaré were to agree to the proposal made by the Stresemann government, the result would be that Germany would be dominated by France. The financial and economic independence of Germany, already so narrowed, would be reduced to a mere shadow.

The German people tugs at the chains of Versailles. If it succeeds in breaking these chains, there is still no going back to the conditions obtaining before the war. That which we call the peace of Versailles is not merely the treaty with Germany, but all the treaties regulating the relations among the states of Central and South Eastern Europe. The conditions obtaining in the East have been .greatly altered by the issue of the war. And the German and the international working class alike must endeavor to obtain a clear conception of the essential character of the change wrought by the war. In their struggle against the chains of Versailles, they must form a clear idea of what is merely temporary in the decisions of the war, if what they themselves want to change, and what is the revolutionary fact which they must take as their starting point. It is not our intention there to unfold the map of the globe, and to discuss all the conditions which have arisen; we need only deal with those to be reckoned with by the European working class in the course of the next few years. The workers – including the communists – look down with a certain contempt on the newly formed states of Czecho-Slovakia, Poland, Latvia, Esthonia, Finland, Lithuania and Yugoslavia. This contempt as mixed in the case of some states – Poland for instance – with the profoundest hate. The policy pursued by these states, which have made themselves vassals of the Enitente and treal their workers like slaves, tends to further nourish this hate. But it would be a very shoru-sighted policy to encourage this feeling of hate among the workers. The workers – before all the German workers – and also the Russian, must free themselves of this feeling. They must ask themselves how it comes about that broad masses of the Polish workers are today, not only on the side of the Polish socialist party, a party belonging to the 2. International, but are still under the banner of the national labor union; they must ask themselves how it is that broad masses of peasants and workers in Czecho-Slovakia cling to their state? The fact expressed by these phenomena is that the masses of the people see in these new state structures the expression of their emancipation from ithe national yoke. The Polish proletariat has not only suffered because it is a working class, it has also suffered beneath the yoke and pressure of German and Russian bureaueruuy, simply for being Pollish. The great majority of the working class in Upper Silesia was in favor of the affiliation of Upper Silesia to Poland, because the economic suppression in Upper Silesia was at the same time a national one. The Czecho-Slovakian people has been subjugated first under the oppression of the German landowners, and then of the German capitalists and bureaucrats, for 300 long years. Is it any wonder that it clings so determinedly to its independence? The proletarian parties must not only accept the fact of the emancipation of the masses of the people from the foreign national yoke in the South and East, but they must recognize it as a revolutionary fact, the secure establishment of which is a special task of the proletarian revolution. The international working class, when fighting against the chains forged at Versailles, must mot furget that the chains of Versailles have, in many countries, taken the place of the chains of ancient dependence. lt must not take part in any attempt at restoration of dominion over the Eastern peoples, at division of their national entities; on the contrary, it will seek to emancipate, by revolutionary means, those peoples who are still wholly or partially under a national yoke. Only when it has learnt to do this will its victorious forward march cease to encounter the resistance of the masses of the peoples.


But does not this signify an increase of chaos, the Balkanization of Europe, her dismemberment into small states incapable of independent existence? No, the contrary is the case. Emancipation from the yoke of national suppression will render the masses of the people in these countries capable of overcoming their national narrow-mindedness, their national distrust, their national separatism. When these peoples are once musters in their own houses, when they have established their national administration, and freed their own culture from foreign subjugation, then they will approach the question as to how their economy endeavors can be best united for the purpose of reconstruction. And then they will see the folly of shutting themselves off from one another, of splitting up their economic forces. Even before the war, Europe was suffocating within her own boundaries. Today, these boundaries exist in Europe more than even before, and when the peoples are nationally free, they will be felt more and more as a noose around the neck of the masses of the people. When Wilson brought out the idea of the League of Nations, he had grasped, from a capitalist standpoint, a necessity of economic evolution. The bourgeoisie, whose fundamental idea is the struggle for profits, that is, competition, was incapable of carrying out the idea. The Fordney tariff now forms a higher barrier than ever before between England and America. Free-trade England is carrying on a protectionist policy in the form of “laws against unfair competition”, and by means of a number of technical measures relating to the customs regulations. The small states imitate the larger ones. Germany alone, denied the most favored nation clause, is fair game for political customs impositions, just as she is to stand alone in first setting the example of disarmament. It will be the working class which – in order to clear away the ruins and begin economic reconstruction – will be able and obliged to convert Europe into an economic unity. It was a piece of bourgeois Utopianism when Kautsky, Renaudel, etc., attempted to harness the proletariat before the car of Wilson’s ideas, and agitated for the idea of the United States of Europe under the rule of the bourgeoisie. The five years lying between us and the war have shown that this is a Utopia. Now, in the period of revolution, in the period when the greater part of the territory of the Czarist empire is now a free Union of Soviet republics, and great revolutionary struggles are in preparation in Central Europe and in the South, it is a realistic revolutionary act on Trotsky’s part to raise the question of the United States of Europe. Every state in which the proletariat seizes power, whether in the form of a dictatorship, or in the transitional form of a workers’ and peasants’ government, is confronted by the question of finding economic and military support in the already existing proletarian states; and the proletariat of that territory which is emancipated from the yoke of the bourgeoisie, will be compelled to unchain the national forces of even the smallest nation living on this territory, which can only be accomplished by first letting this nation the independently constituted, by emancipating it from even the slightest remnants of national suppression; and by then securing its affiliation to the union of the other workers’ and peasants’ states.

When a section of the Polish, German, and Dutch communists held a theoretical discussion with Lenin during the war, on the question of the rigid of self-determination of the peoples, we asked: “Will not socialism erase all frontiers and create one field of economics?” At that time we differed from Lenin in imagining the course of the world revolution, as proceeding on much less concrete lines. We did not sufficiently comprehend the multiplicity of the conditions under which the proletariat is carrying on the fight for socialism. Perhaps the political frontiers between the peoples will disappear a hundred years after capitalism has been overcome, perhaps after a century of socialism. not only Europe, but the whole world, will be divided solely into economic areas. – But so long as the struggle for power continues – and internationally this will last until at least the leading, industrial countries have introduced the socialist organization of economics – the proletariat will have to organize the nations as independent unities, and to organize them at the same time for economic and political aims. Otherwise, it will find itself opposed not only by the class interests off the bourgeoisie, but also by the national needs, the mistrust, and the inertia of the peoples.


These questions play an important part in countries in which the proletariat belongs or belonged to the ruling states which have oppressed other peoples. It required Lenin’s genius to accentuate with such passionate emphasis the necessity of the Russian proletariat’s taking up action as the national emancipator of oppressed nations. The Russian workers, who had never been nationally suppressed, had but slight comprehension for this. Many years of educational work on the part of Lenin and the Communist Party were required to render the Communist Party fully conscious that the proletariat is strengthened not weakened, when it overcomes the inheritance of the policy of national suppression; pursued by Czarism and the Russian bourgeoisie. It has been solely by doing this that the Russian proletariat; as emancipator of the nations hitherto suppressed, has been able to induce these nations voluntarily to join forces with the Russian proletariat for the struggle against international capital. This great educational work has not yet been completed in Russia. The German proletariat, the German CP, must take up this same line of educational work in Germany, with the greatest energy and determination. The German people is today the object of suppression on the part of the Entente and its vassals. But before the war, Germany and Austria were countries which carried on national suppression, and the hate which this suppression has aroused in the Polish and Czechoslovakian peoples is profound. Before the war the German workers felt little sympathy for the Poles in their struggle against national suppression. German nationalism frequently even concealed itself behind a mask of internationalism with respect to the Poles and Czechs. Today, the workers in the Rhineland, in the Saar district, in the Ruhr, in parts of Poland, are feeling the knout of national suppression. And yet they have not been awakened to an understanding of the national mentality of the peoples formerly suppressed by the German bourgeoisie and the German junkers. They have not yet found the language in which they must speak to the Polish and Czech peasants and workers. And this language they must find if they themselves wish to be free. When the decisive hour strikes, the Polish bourgeoisie will unchain the dogs of nationalism, at the behest of French capitalism, it will prepare for the onslaught on the fighting German people by endeavouring to persuade the Polish people that the German workers are acting as executors of the wills of Frederick II and Bismarck, and are threatening Polish independence; and it may easily succeed with this artifice. It must be the aim of the daily work of the German and Russian Communist Parties to exercise an opposite influence on the masses of the peoples, to prove that they not only do not threaten the independence of the Polish, Czech, Latvian, Esthonian, and Lithuanian peoples, but that they rather see in this independence the foundation stone of the house to be built by the European proletariat after its victory. When Soviet Russia was in the midst of the severest struggle against the Polish bourgeoisie and nobility, a struggle commenced by the latter at a time when Soviet Russia appealed even to the national feelings of the non-communist elements, and said to these: ‘‘We, who recognize the right of self-determination of all peoples, shall not permit the right of self-determination of the Russian people to be destroyed” – at this same time Trotzky, as head of the Red Army, suppressed a military-technical newspaper because a former officer of the Czarist army, who is today still a highly esteemed, and devoted officer of the Soviet Army, had published in this paper an article of a chauvinist anti-Polish tendency. The German worker, the German C.P. is the sole party, which cam lead the German proletariat forward in its struggle to shake off the yoke of Versailles. It calls not only upon the proletariat to take part in this struggle, but all those elements or the petty bourgeoisie who are sincerely anxious to strive for the future of the German people. The circle of non-communists, and even of one-time nationalists, who see in the working people the sole saviour of the German nation and in the C.P., the leader of these people, is widening every day. We stretch out our hand to them willingly if they will, join us in the common struggle; but we must say to them: the question before us is not one of restoring the old German empire; nor one of a return to old times, but of the constitution of a new German state, which will free the German people from slavery; but Iay no other nation in fetters.

The right of self-determination of the German People; and of all other suppressed peoples, is the fighting goal of the C.P. of Germany. The first step is to shake off the chains; the second is the union of the masses of the peoples at the emancipated nations for the common struggle. Agitation, for the United Workers’ and Peasants’ States of the whole of Europe, this is the agitation, which will not only win fur us the hearts of the proletarians of every country, but will at the same time enable us to solve one of the most difficult problems ever set by history. We have been told by the social democrats that, if we raise the question of the right of self-determination of the peoples, we merely reflect the conditions obtaining in Eastern Europe and in Asia, where there are still national struggles. Well, in the midst of Europe there are 70 million Germans fighting for their right of self-determination. That which was held to be impossible is now an actual fact: the attempt is being made to establish brutal foreign rule over a great industrial people. The mere fact of this attempt compels the people to raise the banner of the right of self-determination. And it makes of this fighting people the friend of all who are oppressed, teaches it to understand the fear and mistrust of those who have been nationally suppressed by the German bourgeoisie and the German junkers. The fighting German people must not flourish the old Hohenzollern whip over the other nations, but stretch out a hand for fraternal attitude.

Last updated on 30 April 2023