Leon Trotsky

Disarmament and
the United States of Europe

(October 1929)

Written: 4 October 1929.
First Published: Bulletin of the Russian Opposition, No.6, October 1929; an English translation was published the same year in The Militant, New York.
Source: Fourth International [New York], Vol.6 No.5, May 1945, pp.154-158.
Translated: John G. Wright.
Transcription/HTML Markup: David Walters.
Copyleft: Leon Trotsky Internet Archive (www.marxists.org) 2002. Permission is granted to copy and/or distribute this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License.

Original 1945 introduction by Fourth International

Among the most significant writings of Leon Trotsky are those of his articles which deal with the burning problem of Europe’s economic unification and the utter impotence of the bourgeoisie in coping with this problem. The entire course of Europe’s development necessitates its unification. The sole progressive solution is the unification of the continent through a system of federated Socialist republics, operating their nationalized economies under a unified plan.

Previous failure to resolve this task by the only progressive class in Europe – its working class – has not removed the economic unification of Europe from the agenda of history. As a matter of fact, in the space of a little more than three decades (1914-1945) we have witnessed several attempts by various reactionary capitalist forces to solve precisely this task. Thus the bourgeoisie of Germany has twice tried to unify Europe by force: the first time under the scepter of the Hohenzollerns in the world war of 1914-1918, and the second, under the aegis of Nazism in the present imperialist slaughter. The second attempt proved even more abortive than the first.

In the interval between these wars, a section of the French bourgeoisie likewise made an attempt – through a series of diplomatic maneuvers under the direction of Premier Briand. This almost forgotten episode occurred in 1929 and, needless to say, it was equally fruitless. On that occasion Trotsky wrote the important article which we reprint in this issue.

Trotsky’s approach to the “United States of Europe” is all the more instructive in view of the fact that in the period ahead, with the termination of the war in Europe, the task of the continent’s unification is once again imperiously posed, and the road is once again opening up for a progressive solution through the proletarian revolution.

The Russian text of this article appeared in the Bulletin of the Russian Opposition, No.6, October 1929; an English translation was published the same year in The Militant. This translation has been checked against the original and revised by John G. Wright. – Editor

1. How Can Europe Be United?

Briand senses the need of improving the historical lot of 350 million Europeans who are the hearers of highest civilization but who find it impossible to live through a single century without a dozen wars and revolutions. For the sake of pacifying our planet, MacDonald has crossed the Atlantic. On the agenda are the United States of Europe, disarmament, freedom of trade, peace. Capitalist diplomacy everywhere is cooking up a pacifist stew. Peoples of Europe, peoples of the world get out big spoons to swallow it with.

Why all this pother? After all, aren’t the Socialists in power in the most important countries in Europe, or else preparing to assume power? Yes, that is just why! It is already apparent that Briand’s plan and MacDonald’s plan pursue the “pacification” of mankind from diametrically opposite directions. Briand wants to unify Europe as a defensive measure against America. MacDonald wants to earn the gratitude of America by helping her oppress Europe. Two trains are rushing to meet one another in order to save the passengers from – trainwreck.

A frown by the United States sufficed to cancel the Anglo-French naval agreement of July 28. This fact amply demonstrates just what the relationship of forces is in the world today. “Are you by any chance entertaining notions,” America intimated, “that I propose to adjust myself to any negotiations you may conduct on either side of the Channel? If you want to discuss seriously then take the trouble to cross the Atlantic.” And MacDonald promptly reserved a stateroom. This proved to be the most realizable part of the pacifist program.

At Geneva the would-be “uniters” of the European continent felt scarcely more at ease than the bootleggers on the other side of the ocean. They kept their eyes warily cocked on the American police. Briand began and ended his speeches by vowing that the unification of Europe must in no case and under no circumstances be directed against America. God forbid. In reading these avowals the American politicians must have derived a twofold satisfaction: “Briand is rather scared of us. But he won’t put anything over on us, just the same.”

While repeating Briand’s words with respect to America, Streseman at the same time launched into a veiled polemic against him. Henderson polemicized against both of them, especially against the French Prime Minister. By and large the discussion at Geneva fell into the following pattern:

BRIAND: “In no case against the United States of America.”

STRESEMAN: “Absolutely so. But some people have hidden plans-America can rely only on Germany.”

MACDONALD: “I take my oath on the Bible that loyalty in friendship is exclusively the endowment of Britons, especially the Scotch.”

That is how the “new international atmosphere” was created at Geneva.

The weakness of present-day Europe flows first and foremost from its economic dismemberment. The strength of the United States, on the contrary, is derived from its economic unity. The question is: How to arrange matters so that the unification of Europe is not directed against America, i.e. without changing the relationship of forces to America’s disadvantage?

The Daily Herald, MacDonald’s semi-official organ, September 10, 1929, characterized the idea of the United States of Europe as “grotesque” and even as a provocation. Should, however, this fantasy be realized, then the United States of Europe would erect a monstrous tariff wall against the USA, so argued MacDonald’s semi-official organ, and as a result Great Britain would be caught between two continents as in a vise. And the Daily Herald then went on to add: How could one expect aid from America by steering a course toward the unification of Europe? “To act in this way would be insanity or worse.” One could not speak more plainly.

No one knows just what the United States of Europe is supposed to signify in practice. Streseman reduced the whole question to a common monetary unit and-postage stamps. That’s a bit thin. Briand proposes to “study” the problem whose content nobody knows.

The basic task of unification must be economic in character, not only in the commercial but also productive sense. It is necessary to have a regime that would eliminate the artificial barriers between European coal and European iron. It is necessary to enable the system of electrification to expand in consonance with natural and economic conditions, and not in accordance with the frontiers of Versailles. It is necessary to unite Europe’s railways into a single system, and so on and so forth ad infinitum. All this, in its turn, is inconceivable without the destruction of the ancient Chinese system of custom borders within Europe. This would, in its turn, mean a single, All-European customs union – against America.

2. Disarmament à la Americaine

There can be no doubt whatever that if the internal tariff barriers were swept away, capitalist Europe, after a certain period of crises of regroupment and readjustment, would attain a high level on the basis of the new distribution of productive forces. This is just as incontestable as the fact that, given the necessary economic conditions, large-scale enterprises are decisively superior to small ones. But we have yet to hear of small entrepreneurs voluntarily renouncing their businesses for this reason. To conquer the outlets the big capitalist must first ruin the small one. The situation with states is similar. Tariff barriers are erected precisely because they are profitable and indispensable to one national bourgeoisie to the detriment of another, regardless of the fact that they act to retard the development of economy as a whole.

Following the economic conference convened by the League of Nations in order to restore the reign of free trade in Europe, there has been an uninterrupted increase of tariffs. The English government has just proposed a two year “tariff vacation,” i.e. no increases in tariffs for the next two years. Such is the modest contribution toward the United States of Europe. But even that still remains on paper.

To defend the tariff walls, which have grown uninterruptedly since the (first world) war, there stand the national armies which have likewise increased above the prewar level. [1] This adequately shows how precious its own national tariff wall is to each national bourgeoisie of the thirty European countries. If a big capitalist must ruin a small capitalist, then a strong state must conquer weaker ones in order to batter down their tariff walls.

Comparing present-day Europe with old Germany where dozens of little German fatherlands had their own customs borders, Streseman tried to find in the economic unification of Germany the precursor of the economic federation of Europe and the world. The analogy is not a bad one. But Streseman omitted to point out that to achieve her unification – solely on a national basis – Germany had to pass through one revolution (1848) and three wars (1864, 1866 and 1870) – not to mention the wars of Reformation. Meanwhile to this very day, after the “republican” revolution (1918), German Austria still remains outside Germany. Under the existing conditions it is hard to believe that a few diplomatic luncheons will suffice for the economic unification of all European nations.

But after all isn’t the question of the reduction of Europe’s armaments placed on the agenda side by side with the problem of unifying Europe? MacDonald has declared that the road of gradual disarmament is the surest way of guaranteeing peace forevermore. A pacifist may raise this as an objection. Of course, if all the countries disarmed, it would constitute a serious guarantee of peace. But self-disarmament is just as excluded as the voluntary demolition of tariff walls. In Europe today there is only one major country which is seriously disarmed, to wit, Germany. But her disarmament was accomplished, as everybody knows, by crushing her in a war, in which Germany herself had sought to “unite Europe” under her domination.

In general it is not hard to show that the problem of “gradual disarmament,” if examined closely, assumes the aspect of a tragic farce. The question of disarmament has been replaced by the question of reducing armaments. And finally the latter problem has been reduced to establishing naval parity between the United States and Britain. Today this “achievement” is being acclaimed in advance as the greatest guarantee of peace. This amounts to saying that the surest way of suppressing duels is by regulating the size of pistols to be used by the duellists. Common sense would indicate that the situation itself points to just the contrary. If two of the strongest naval powers haggle so furiously over a few thousand tons, then this only goes to show that each of them is simply jockeying, through diplomacy, for the most advantageous position in the coming military conflict.

However, what does the establishment of “parity” between American and English navies signify from the standpoint of the international situation? It signifies the establishment of a colossal disparity between them – in favor of America. And this is of course perfectly understood by all the serious participants in this game, above all by the Admiralties of London and Wash ington. If they keep quiet about it, it is solely out of considerations of diplomatic shyness. We have no reasons for emulating them.

After the experience of the last war there is no one who does not understand that the next war between the world titans will not be brief but protracted. The issue will be determined by the relative productive power of the two camps. This means among other things that the combat fleets of the sea powers will be not only supplemented and renovated but also expanded and newly created in the very course of the war.

We have seen what an exceptional role the German submarines played in the military operations in the third year of the slaughter. We have seen how England and the United States created in the very course of the war powerful armies, heifer armed and equipped than the old armies on the European continent. This means that soldiers, sailors, ships, guns, tanks and planes available at the outbreak of war represent only the initial stake. The issue will be decided in dependence upon the extent to which a given country is able, while under fire, to produce ships, guns, soldiers and sailors. Even the Czarist government proved capable of preparing certain reserves for the outbreak of war. But what was beyond its strength was to renew and supplement these reserves under fire. In the event of war with America the one theoretically conceivable condition of success for England is to assure herself, before the outbreak of war, a very great military-technical preponderance which would in some measure compensate for the incomparable technical and economic preponderance of the United States. But the equalization of the two fleets prior to the war means that in the very first months of war America will possess an incontestable preponderance. Not for nothing did the Americans threaten several years ago to turn out cruisers in an emergency like so many pancakes.

In the negotiations between Hoover and MacDonald it is not a question of disarmament or even of limiting naval armaments, but solely that of rationalizing war preparations. Types of ships are rendered quickly obsolete. Today when the colossal experience of the war and the resulting flood of inventions and discoveries are just being elaborated for military needs, any and all instruments of military technology are rendered obsolete in a far briefer space of time than was the case before the war. This means that the main section of the fleet may prove outdated even before it has been placed in action. Under such conditions, what sense is there in accumulating ships in advance? A rational approach to the problem demands that the fleet be just large enough for the initial period of the war and of sufficient size in peacetime to serve as an adequate laboratory for testing and checking new inventions and discoveries with a view to placing them in standardized mass production in the course of the war. All the great powers are more or less interested in the “regulation” of armaments, especially such costly ones as naval armaments. But inexorably this regulation becomes transformed into the greatest advantage for the economically strongest country.

In recent years the US war and navy departments have applied themselves systematically to prepare the entire American industry for the needs of the next war. Schwab, one of the magnates of maritime-war industry, recently concluded his speech to the War College with the following words: “It must be made clear to you that war in the present period must be compared with a great big industrial enterprise.”

The French imperialist press has naturally done everything in its power to incite America against England. In an article devoted to the question of the naval agreement, le Temps writes that naval parity by no means signifies the equalization of sea power, inasmuch as America cannot even dream of securing such naval bases as England has acquired in the course of centuries. The superiorities of British naval bases are absolutely incontestable. But after all, the accord on naval parity, if it is concluded, will not represent America’s last word on the subject. Its slogan is “Freedom of the Seas,” that is a regime that must first of all place restrictions on Great Britain’s use of her naval bases. No less significant is another slogan of the United States: “The Open Door.” Under this banner America will act to counterpose not only China but also India and Egypt to Great Britain’s naval domination. America will conduct her offensive against British naval bases and points of support not by sea but by land, i.e. through the colonies and dominions of Britain. America will put her war fleet in action when the situation is ripe for it. Of course all this is the music of the future. But this future is not separated from us by centuries nor even decades. Le Temps need not worry. The US will take piecemeal everything that can be taken piecemeal, altering the relationship of forces in all fields-technical, commercial, financial, military -to the disadvantage of its chief rival, without for a moment losing sight of England’s naval bases.

The American press has referred with a contemptuous smile to England’s acclaim of Snowden when the latter gained at the Hague conference, with the aid of terrifying gestures, twenty million dollars to England’s profit, i.e. a sum of money that American tourists perhaps spend on cigars. Is Snowden the victor? asked the New York Times. No! The real victor is the Young Plan, i.e. American finance capital. Through the Bank of International Settlements, America is enabled by the Young Plan to keep her hand firmly on the golden pulse of Europe. From the financial shackles on Germany’s feet, there extend solid chains which encumber the hands of France, the feet of Italy and the neck of Britain. MacDonald, who nowadays fulfills the duties of keeper to the British lion, points with pride to this dog collar, calling it the best instrument of peace. And mind you, to attain such results all America had to do was exhibit her magnanimity by “aiding” Europe to liquidate the war and “agreeing” to naval parity with a weaker Great Britain.

3. The Imperialist Dictatorship of America

Since 1923 we have had to conduct a struggle to have the leadership of the Communist International deign, finally, to take notice of the United States, and to understand that the AngloAmerican antagonism constitutes the fundamental line along which world groupings and world conflicts occur. This was considered a heresy as far back as the era of the Fifth World Congress (middle of 1924). We were accused of “overestimating” the role of America. A special legend was invented to the effect that we had proclaimed an epoch of the disappearance of European capitalist contradictions in the face of the American peril. Ossinsky, Larin and others spoiled not a little paper in order to “dethrone” the might of America. Radek, in the wake of bourgeois journalists, demonstrated that ahead lies an epoch of Anglo-American collaboration. Temporary, conjunctural, episodic forms assumed by the reciprocal relations have been confused with the essence of the world process.

Gradually, however, America came to be “recognized” by the official leadership of the Comintern which began to repeat our formulas of yesterday, without forgetting, naturally, to add each time that the Left Opposition overestimates the role of America. The correct appraisal of America was at that time, as everybody knows, the exclusive prerogative of Pepper and Lovestone.

However, no sooner was the course “to the left” inaugurated, than all reservations were cast aside. Today the official theoreticians are obliged to proclaim that England and America are heading directly to war. In this connection I wrote in February last year to friends exiled in Siberia:

The antagonism between England and America has finally broken to the surface in a serious form. It seems that now even Stalin and Bukharin are beginning to understand what it is all about. But our newspapers oversimplify the problem by depicting matters as if the antagonism between England and America is being steadily aggravated and must lead directly to war. Undoubtedly several more breaking points will occur in this process. War would prove too dangerous an enterprise for both sides. They will still make more than one attempt to come to an agreement and to reach a peaceable solution. But on the whole the development is proceeding with giant strides toward a bloody culmination.

The present stage has once again assumed the form of military-naval “collaboration” between America and England, and some French newspapers have even expressed fears of an Anglo-Saxon world dictatorship. The United States of course can and probably will utilize the “collaboration” with England to tighten the reins on Japan and France. But all this will represent phases not toward Anglo-Saxon but American domination of the world, including Great Britain.

In connection with this perspective, the leaders of the Comintern may once again repeat that we are unable to see anything ahead except the triumph of American capitalism. In much the same way, the petty bourgeois theoreticians of Narodnikism (Russian Populism) used to accuse the pioneer Russian Marxists of failing to see anything ahead except the victory of capital. ism. These two accusations are on a par. When we say that America is moving toward world domination, it does not at all mean that this domination will be completely realized, nor, all the less so, that after it is realized to one degree or another, it will endure for centuries or even decades. We are discussing a historical tendency which, in actuality, will be criss-crossed and modified by other historical tendencies. If the capitalist world were able to endure several more decades without revolutionary paroxysms, then these decades would unquestionably witness the uninterrupted growth of American world dictatorship. But the whole point is that this process will inevitably develop its own contradictions which will become coupled with all the other contradictions of the capitalist system. America will force Europe to strive for an ever increasing rationalization and at the same time will leave Europe an ever decreasing share of the world market. This will entail a steady aggravation of the difficulties in Europe. The competition among European states for a share of the world market will inevitably become aggravated. At the same time under the pressure of America, the European states will endeavor to coordinate their forces. This is the main source of Briand’s program of the United States of Europe. But whatever the various stages of the development may he, one thing is clear: The constant disruption of the world equilibrium in America’s favor will become the main source of crises and revolutionary convulsions in Europe throughout the entire coming period. Those who hold that European stabilization is assured for decades understand nothing at all of the world situation and will inevitably sink head first in the swamp of reformism.

If this process is approached from across the Atlantic Ocean, i.e. from the standpoint of the fate of USA, then here too the perspectives opened up resemble least of all a blissful capitalist idyl. The prewar power of the United States grew on the basis of its internal market, i.e. the dynamic equilibrium between industry and agriculture. In this development the war has produced a sharp break. The United States exports capital and manufactured goods in ever greater volume. The growth of America’s world power means that the entire system of American industry and banking-that towering capitalist skyscrapers resting to an ever increasing measure on the foundations of world economy. But this foundation is mined, and the United States itself continues to add more mines to it day by day. By exporting commodities and capital, by building up its navy, by elbowing England aside, by buying up the key enterprises in Europe, by forcing its way into China, etc., American finance capital is digging with its own hands powder and dynamite cellars beneath its own foundation. Where will the fuse be lit? Whether it will be in Asia, Europe or Latin America – or what is most likely in various places at one and the same time that is a second-rate question.

The whole misfortune is that the incumbent leadership of the Comintern is totally incapable of following all the stages of this gigantic process. It shies away from facts by means of platitudes. Even the pacifist agitation in favor of the United States of Europe has taken it by surprise.

4. Soviet United States of Europe

The question of the United States of Europe regarded from the proletarian standpoint was raised by me in September 1914, i.e. at the very beginning of the (last) imperialist war. In the pamphlet, The War and the International, the author of these lines sought to demonstrate that the unification of Europe was irrefutably advanced to the forefront by Europe’s entire economic development, but that the United States of Europe was conceivable only as the political form of the dictatorship of the European proletariat.

In 1923 when the occupation of the Ruhr once again posed acutely the fundamental problems of European economy (primarily coal and iron ore) and coincident with them also the problems of the revolution, we succeeded in having the slogan of the United States of Europe officially adopted by the leadership of the Comintern. But the attitude toward this slogan remained hostile. Not being in a position to reject it, the Comintern leaders regarded it as an abandoned child of “Trotskyism.” After the collapse of the 1923 German revolution, Europe lived the life of stabilization. The basic revolutionary questions disappeared from the agenda. The slogan of the United States of Europe was forgotten. It was not included in the program of the Comintern. Stalin explained this new zigzag with remarkable profundity: Since we cannot tell the order in which the various countries will accomplish their revolutions, it follows that it is impossible to predict whether the United States of Europe will be necessary. In other words, this means that it is easier to make a prognosis after the event than before it. As a matter of fact, it is not at all a question of the order in which revolutions will be accomplished. On this score one can only speculate. But this does not relieve the European workers, nor the International as a whole from the necessity of giving a clear answer to the question: How can European economy be snatched from its present state of dispersion and how can the popular masses of Europe be saved from decay and enslavement?

The trouble, however, is that the economic ground for the slogan of the United States of Europe overthrows one of the basic ideas of the present Comintern program, namely: the idea of building socialism in one country.

The essence of our epoch lies in this, that the productive forces have definitely outgrown the framework of the national state and have assumed primarily in America and Europe partly continental, partly world proportions. The imperialist war grew out of the contradiction between the productive forces and national boundaries. And the Versailles peace which terminated the war has aggravated this contradiction still further. In other words: thanks to the development of the productive forces capitalism has long ago been unable to exist in a single country. Meanwhile, socialism can and will base itself on far more developed productive forces, otherwise socialism would represent not progress but regression with respect to capitalism. In 1914 I wrote: “If the problem of socialism were compatible with the framework of a national state, it would thereby become compatible with national defense.” The formula Soviet United States of Europe is precisely the political expression of the idea that socialism is impossible in one country. Socialism cannot of course attain its full development even in the limits of a single continent. The Socialist United States of Europe represents the historical slogan which is a stage on the road to the world socialist federation.

It has happened more than once in history that when the revolution is not strong enough to solve in time a task that is mature historically, its solution is undertaken by reaction. Thus Bismarck unified Germany in his own manner after the failure of the 1848 revolution. Thus Stolypin tried to solve the agrarian question after the defeat of the 1905 revolution. Thus the Versailles victors solved the national question in their own way, which all the previous bourgeois revolutions in Europe proved impotent to solve. The Germany of the Hohenzollerns tried to organize Europe in its own way, i.e. by uniting it under its helmet. It was then that victorious Clemenceau decided to utilize the victory in order to slice up Europe into the greatest possible number of pieces. Today Briand, armed with needle and thread, is preparing to sew these pieces together again, even if he doesn’t know where to begin.

The leadership of the Comintern, and particularly the leadership of the French Communist Party are exposing the hypocrisy of official pacifism. But this is not enough. To explain away the course toward the unification of Europe solely as a means of preparing war against the USSR is, to put it mildly, puerile and only compromises the task of defending the Soviet Republic. The slogan of the United States of Europe is not a cunning invention of diplomacy. It springs from the immutable economic needs of Europe which emerge all the more painfully and acutely the greater is the pressure of the USA. It is especially now that the Communist parties must counterpose the slogan of the Soviet United States of Europe to the pacifist concoctions of the European imperialists.

But the Communist parties have their hands tied. The living slogan, with a profound historical content, has been expunged from the program of the Comintern solely in the interests of the struggle against the Opposition. All the more decisively must the Opposition raise this slogan. In the person of the Opposition the vanguard of the European proletariat tells its present rulers: In order to unify Europe it is first of all necessary to wrest power out of your hands. We will do it. We will unite Europe. We will unite it against the hostile capitalist world. We will turn it into a mighty drill-ground of militant socialism. We will make it the cornerstone of the World Socialist Federation.

October 4, 1929


1. Before the war (of 1914-1918) Great Britain spent $237 million on her navy; today, she spends $270 million annually. The US fleet cost $130 million in 1913. The cost for the current year (1929) is $364 million. Finally, Japan’s naval expenditures have increased in the same period from $48 million to $127 million, i.e. have almost trebled. It is hardly surprising that the Ministers of Finance are beginning to suffer from attacks of seasickness.

The combined expenditures for militarism (land, sea, air) by the five greatest capitalist powers have grown in the last three years alone from $2,170,000,000 to $2,292,000,000 – Leon Trotsky

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