Leon Trotsky

Is The Time Ripe For The Slogan:

‘The United States Of Europe’?

(A Discussion Article)

(June 1923)

Written: 1923.
First Published: Pravda, June 30, 1923; this version from the Revolutionary History Website.
Translated: What Next?
Transcription/HTML Markup: What Next? and David Walters.
Copyleft: Leon Trotsky Internet Archive (www.marxists.org) 2003. Permission is granted to copy and/or distribute this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License.

Introduction by What’s Next?

In the following article, Trotsky transcends the maximalist minimalist dilemma by filling his slogan of a United States of Europe with a transitional content. Arguing that “The United States of Europe is a slogan in every respect corresponding with the slogan ‘A Workers’ (or Workers’ and Peasants’) Government’”. He, for instance, says that “The Europe of Workers and Peasants will have its ... budget ..., based upon a graduated income tax, upon levies capital.” Clearly, if capital still exists in this Europe then this is not the socialist Europe of the far distant future but a revolutionary Europe where the economy still conflicts with the state. In other words, though, it signifies a workers’ state and not merely a self-professed workers’ government that has been elected under the bourgeois political order and begrudgingly allowed to “govern” within constraints set by the dominant power, i.e., not really a workers’ government. Trotsky’s United States of Europe is a Europe that is in transition from the social dictatorship of the bourgeoisie to that of the proletariat. The key point is that the programme for this United States of Europe is neither the programme of socialism nor a reformist programme.

As Trotsky explained elsewhere, as long as revolutionary Marxists do not have the ear of the masses they must adopt a definite stance to those who do, to those “Parties and organisations which base themselves on the workers and peasants and speak in their name”. This does not mean simply calling, at a European level, for a vote for Social Democracy and kindred parties. Instead it means demanding that these parties “break politically from the bourgeoisie and enter upon the road of struggle for the workers’ and peasants’ government” Trotsky continued: “On this road we promise them full support against capitalist reaction. At the same time, we indefatigably develop agitation around those transitional demands which should in our opinion form the programme of the ‘workers’ and peasants’ government’.” Such demands are not limited to what’s achievable or feasible under the bourgeois order but neither are they fantastic demands that can only be realised under a future, planned economy.

The value of this article by Trotsky, is that it is a particularly, important illustration of the method of Marxisim, applied to formulating political slogans. The latter are based in an analysis of the world economic whole, i.e., in this case the particular plight of European economy within this economic whole, but they also relate to the subjective factor, how they “Stem ... from today’s conditions and from today’s consciousness of wide layers of the working class” but nevertheless “unalterably lead ... to one final conclusion: the conquest of power by the proletariat.”

Of course the wording of a slogan cannot contain the entire content to be given, to the slogan by, ‘United States of Europe’ Trotsky signified a single-state federation of nations, i.e., the destruction of the national state in Europe. Those who vehemently oppose Maastricht by effectively defending the national state of their own bourgeoisie, often combine this defence of the utopia of ‘One nation, one state’ by, for example, supporting the re-Balkanisation of Yugoslavia under the guise of defending the principle of national self-determination. This pan-nationalism – that often attempts to pass itself off as Trotskyism, – has its roots in the privileges enjoyed by much of the working class of the imperialist metropolis. At best it attempts to explain Trotsky’s slogan in terms of a confederation of national states rather than a single-state federation of nations. This is the antithesis of internationalism, and an unfortunate indicator that apparently all the organisations that claim a heritage of the Fourth International or claim to be the Fourth International, have, like the Second and Third Internationals before them, degenerated to forms of national socialism.

‘The United States Of Europe’

The motor force driving to war was this, that the capitalist forces of production had outgrown the framework of European national states. Germany had set herself the task of “organizing” Europe, i.e., of uniting economically the European continent under her own control, in order then seriously to set about contending with Britain for world power. France’s aim was to dismember Germany. The small population of France, her predominantly agricultural character and her economic conservatism, make it impossible for the French bourgeoisie even to consider the problem of organising Europe, which indeed proved to be beyond the powers of German capitalism, backed though it was by the military machine of the Hohenzollerns. Victorious France is now maintaining her mastery only by Balkanising Europe. Great Britain is inciting and backing the French policy of dismembering and exhausting Europe, all the time concealing her work. In connection with the slogan of “A Workers’, and Peasants’ Government”, the time is appropriate, in my opinion, for issuing the slogan of “The United States of Europe”. Only by coupling these two slogans shall we get a definite systematic and progressive response to the most burning problems of European development.

The last imperialist war was at bottom a European war. The episodic participation of America and Japan did not alter its European character.

Having secured what she required, America withdrew her hands from the European bonfire and returned home.

Britain’s traditional mask of hypocrisy. As a result, our unfortunate continent is cut up, divided, exhausted, disorganised and Balkanised – transformed into a madhouse. The invasion of the Ruhr is a piece of violent insanity accompanied by far-sighted calculation (the final ruination of Germany), a combination not unfamiliar to psychiatrists.

At bottom of the war lay the need of the productive forces for a broader arena of development, unhampered by tariff walls. Similarly, in the occupation of the Ruhr so fatal to Europe and to mankind, we find a distorted expression of the need for uniting the coal of the Ruhr with the iron of Lorraine. Europe cannot develop economically within the state and customs frontiers imposed at Versailles. Europe is compelled either to remove these frontiers, or to face the threat of complete economic decay. But the methods adopted by the ruling bourgeoisie to overcome the frontiers it itself had created are only increasing the existing chaos and accelerating the disintegration.

To the toiling masses of Europe it is becoming ever clearer that the bourgeoisie is incapable of solving the basic problems of restoring Europe’s economic life. The slogan: “A Workers’, and Peasants’, Government” is designed to meet the growing attempts of the workers to find a way out by, their own efforts. It has now become necessary to point out this avenue of salvation more concretely, namely, to assert that only in the closest economic co-operation of the peoples of Europe lies the avenue of salvation for our continent from economic decay and from enslavement to mighty American capitalism.

America’s standing aloof from Europe, tranquilly biding her time until Europe’s economic agony has reached such a pitch as will make it easy to step in and buy up Europe – as Austria was bought up for a mere pittance. But France cannot stand aloof from Germany, nor can Germany stand aloof from France. Therein lies the crux, and therein lies the solution, of the European problem. Everything else is incidental. Long before the imperialist war we recognised that the Balkan states are incapable of existing and of developing except within a federation. The same is true of the various fragments of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and of the western portions of tsarist Russia now living outside the Soviet Union. The Apennines, the Pyrenees and Scandinavia are limbs of the European body stretching out toward the seas. They are incapable of an independent existence. The European continent in the present state of development of its productive forces is an economic unit – not a shut-in unit, of course, but one possessing profound internal ties – as was proved in the terrible catastrophe of the world war, and again revealed by the mad paroxysm of the Ruhr occupation. Europe is not a geographical term; Europe is an economic term, something incomparably more concrete especially in the present post-war conditions – than the world market. Just as federation was long ago recognised as essential for the Balkan peninsula, so now the time has arrived for stating definitely and clearly that federation is essential for Balkanised Europe.

There remain to be considered the question of the Soviet Union, on the one hand, and that of Great Britain, on the other. It goes without saying that the Soviet Union will not be opposed either to the federative union of Europe, or to its own adhesion to such a federation. Thereby, too, a reliable bridge will be secured between Europe and Asia.

The question of Great Britain is far more conditional; it depends on the tempo at which her revolutionary development proceeds. Should the “Government of Workers and Peasants” triumph on the European mainland before British imperialism is overthrown – which is quite probable – then the European Federation of Workers and Peasants will of necessity be directed against British capitalism. And, naturally, the moment British capitalism is overthrown the British Isles will enter as a welcome member into the European Federation.

It might be asked: Why a European Federation and not a World Federation? But this manner of posing the question is much too abstract. Of course, the world economic and political development tends to gravitate toward a unified world economy, with its degree of centralisation dependent upon the existing technological level. But we are now concerned not with the future socialist economy of the world, but with finding a way out of the present European impasse. We have to offer a solution to the workers and peasants of torn and ruined Europe, quite independently of how the revolution develops in America, Australia, Asia or Africa. Looked at from this point of view, the slogan of “The United States of Europe” has its place on the same historical plane with the slogan “A Workers’, and Peasants’ Government”; it is a transitional slogan, indicating a way out, a prospect of salvation, and furnishing at the same time a revolutionary impulse for the future.

It would be a mistake to measure the entire process of the world revolution with the same footrule. America came out of the war not enfeebled, but strengthened. The internal stability of the American bourgeoisie is still quite considerable. The American bourgeoisie is reducing its dependence upon the European market to a minimum. The revolution in America – considered apart from Europe – may thus be a matter of decades. Does that mean that the European revolution must align itself with the American revolutions? Certainly not. If backward Russia did not (and could not) await the revolution in Europe, all the less can and will Europe await the revolution in America. Workers’, and Peasants’ Europe, blockaded by capitalist America (and at first, perhaps even by Great Britain), will be able to maintain itself and develop as a closely consolidated military and economic union.

It must not be overlooked that the very danger arising from the United States of America (which is spurring the destruction of Europe, and is ready to step in subsequently as Europe’s master) furnishes a very substantial bond for uniting the peoples of Europe who are ruining one another into a “European United States of Workers and Peasants”. This opposition between Europe and the United States stems organically from the differences in the objective situations of the European countries and of the mighty transatlantic republic, and is not in any way directed against the international solidarity of the proletariat, or against the interests of the revolution in America. One of the reasons for the retarded development of the revolution throughout the world is the degrading European dependence on the rich American uncle (Wilsonism, the charitable feeding of the worst famine districts of Europe, American “loans”, etc., etc.). The sooner the popular masses of Europe regain the confidence in their own strength which was sapped by the war, and the more closely they rally around the slogan of “United Workers’, and Peasants’, Republics of Europe”, the more rapidly will the revolution develop on both sides of the Atlantic. For just as the triumph of the proletariat in Russia gave a mighty impetus to the development of the Communist parties of Europe so, and even to an incomparably greater degree, will the triumph of the revolution in Europe give an impetus to the revolution in America and in all parts of the world. Although, when we abstract ourselves from Europe, we are obliged to peer into the mists of decades to perceive the American revolution, yet we may safely assert that by the natural sequence of historical events the triumphant revolution in Europe will serve in a very few years to shatter the power of the American bourgeoisie.

Not merely the question of the Ruhr, i.e., of European fuel and iron, but also the question of reparations fits into the pattern of “The United States of Europe”. The question of reparations is a purely European question, and it can and will be solved in the period immediately ahead only by European means. The Europe of Workers and Peasants will have its own reparations budget – as it will have its own war budget – so long as it is menaced by dangers from without. This budget will be based upon a graduated income tax, upon levies on capital, upon the confiscation of wealth plundered during wartime, etc. Its allotments will be regulated by the appropriate bodies of the European Federation of Workers and Peasants.

We shall not here indulge in speculations as to the speed at which the unification of the European republics will proceed, in what economic and constitutional forms it will express itself, and what degree of centralisation will be obtained in the first period of the workers’, and peasants’, regime. All these considerations we may safely leave to the future, remembering the experience already gained by the Soviet Union, constructed on the soil of former Tsarist Russia. What is perfectly obvious is that the customs barriers must be thrown down. The peoples of Europe must regard Europe as a field for a unified and increasingly planned economic life.

It might be argued that we are in reality speaking of a European Socialist Federation as an integral part of the future World Federation, and that such a regime can be brought about only by the dictatorship of the proletariat. We shall not, however, pause to answer this argument, since it has been refuted by the international analysis made during the consideration of the question of a “Workers’, Government”. “The United States of Europe”, is a slogan in every respect corresponding with the slogan “A Workers’, (or Workers’, and Peasants’, Government”. Is the realisation of a “Workers’, Government”, possible without the dictatorship of the proletariat? Only a conditional reply can be given to this question. In any case, we regard the “Workers’, Government”, as a stage toward the dictatorship of the proletariat. Therein lies the great value of this slogan for us. But the slogan “The United States of Europe”, has an exactly similar and parallel significance. Without this supplementary slogan the fundamental problems of Europe must remain suspended in mid-air.

But will not this slogan play into the hands of the pacifists? I do not believe that there exists such “lefts” nowadays as would consider this danger sufficient grounds for rejecting the slogan. After all, we are living in 1923, and have learned a little from the past. There are the same reasons, or absence of reasons, for fearing a pacifist interpretation of “The United States of Europe” as there are for fearing a democratic-SR-ist interpretation of the slogan “A Workers’, and Peasants’, Government”. Of course, if we advance “The United States of Europe”, as an independent programme, as a panacea for achieving pacification and reconstruction, and if we isolate this slogan from slogans of “A Workers’, Government”, of the united front, and from the class struggle, we shall certainly end in democratised Wilsonism, i.e., in Kautskyism, and even in something more degrading (assuming there is anything more degrading than Kautskyism). But I repeat, we live in the year 1923 and have learned a little from the past. The Communist International is now a reality, and it will not be Kautsky, who will initiate and control the struggle associated with our slogans. Our method of posing the problem is diametrically opposed to Kautsky’,s method. Pacifism is an academic programme, whose object is to avoid the necessity of revolutionary action. Our formulation, on the contrary, is an incentive to struggle. To the workers of Germany, not the Communists (it is not necessary to convince them), but to the workers in general, and in the first place to the Social-Democratic workers, who fear the economic consequences of a fight for a workers’, government; to the workers of France, whose minds ire still obsessed by the questions of reparations and of the national debt; to the workers of Germany, France and of all Europe, who fear lest the establishment of the workers’, regime lead to the isolation and economic ruin of their countries, we say: Even if temporarily isolated (and with such a great bridge to the East as the Soviet Union, Europe will not be easily isolated), Europe will be able not only to maintain herself, but to consolidate and build herself up, once she has broken down the customs barriers and his united herself economically to the inexhaustible natural riches of Russia. “The United States of Europe” – a purely revolutionary perspective – is the next stage in our generally revolutionary perspective. It arises from the profound difference in the situations of Europe and America. Whoever ignores this difference, will willy-nilly, drown the true revolutionary perspective in mere historical abstractions. Naturally, the Workers’, and Peasants’, Federation will not stop in its European phase. As we have said, our Soviet Union affords Europe an outlet into Asia, and from Asia into Europe. We are therefore, here envisaging only a stage, but a stage of great historical importance, through which we must first pass.

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Last updated on: 6.1.2007