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Labor Action, 3 January 1949


Leon Trotsky

Material for the Discussion on “Western Union”

Trotsky on: “United States of Europe”

(October 1923)


From Labor Action, Vol. 13 No. 1, 3 January 1949, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Two weeks ago, we published in Labor Action a resolution, drafted by the Political Committee of the Workers Party for presentation to the party’s coming national convention, which put forward the slogan for an Independent Western Union. We then invited (and do again) discussion articles on this and other political issues that are to come before the WP convention. In last week’s issue, we reprinted an article from the British Socialist Leader by R. Sherman which argued for Independent Western Union. Below, we publish an article written by Leon Trotsky in 1923 (and reprinted from the October 1923 issue of the Communist Review) [1] as a contribution to the discussion. Trotsky’s article – which was originally sub-titled, IS THE TIME RIPE FOR SUCH A SLOGAN? – is, in our opinion, especially interesting in the light of the discussion initiated by the PC resolution on Western Union. Readers will, of course, note that the article was written in 1923 when the Communist International was what its name said it was. and not the Stalintern that it is now, when the Soviet Union was a workers’ republic and not the fearsome totalitarian prison it is now. We have emphasized several paragraphs, not so much to distinguish them from the others, as to increase the facility of reading. – The Editors

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I think that in conjunction with the slogan “A Government of Workers and Peasants” the time is appropriate for issuing the slogan “The United States of Europe.” Only by uniting these two slogans shall we get a definite, systematic and progressive response to the most urgent problems of European development.

The last imperialist war was essentially a European war. The incidental participation of America and Japan did not alter its character. Having secured what she required, America withdrew her hand from the flames and returned home.

The motive power of the war consisted in the fact that the capitalist forces of production had outgrown the boundaries of the 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. The aim of France was to break up Germany. The small population of France, her predominant agricultural character, and her economic conservatism, make it impossible for the French bourgeoisie even to consider the problem of organizing Europe, which, indeed, proved to be beyond the powers of German capital, backed as it was by the military machine of the Hohenzollerns. Victorious France is now maintaining her mastery only by Balkanizing Europe. Great Britain is inciting and protecting the French policy of dismembering and exhausting Europe, all the time concealing her work under her traditional mask of hypocrisy. As a result, our unfortunate continent is disintegrated and dismembered, exhausted, disorganized and bankrupt – transformed into a madhouse. The invasion of the Ruhr is a piece of violent insanity accompanied by far-sighted calculation (the final disruption of Germany) – a combination which is not unfamiliar to the psychiatrist.

Behind the war lay the need of the forces of production for a wider field of development, unhampered by customs barriers. 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 with the State customs frontiers created at Versailles. She is compelled either to remove these frontiers, or to face the prospect of complete economic decay. But the methods adopted by the ruling bourgeoisie to overcome the frontiers it itself created, are only increasing the existing chaos and accelerating the process of ruin.

To the toiling masses of Europe it is becoming ever clearer that the bourgeoisie is incapable of solving the basic problems of European restoration. The slogan “A Workers’ and Peasants’ Government” is designed to meet the attempts of the workers to find an issue by their own efforts. It has now become necessary to indicate this issue more concretely, namely, to assert that only in the closest economic co-operation of the peoples of Europe lies the path to the salvation of our continent from economic destruction and enslavement to American capitalism.

Economic Unity of Europe

America is standing aloof from Europe, patiently waiting until her economic agony has reached such a pitch that it will be easy to step in and buy up Europe – as Austria was bought up – for a mere song. 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. We asserted long before the imperialist war 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 Czarist Russia now living outside the Soviet Union.

The Appenines, the Pyrenees and Scandinavia are limbs of the European body stretched 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 unity – not a close-locked unit, of course, but one possessing profound internal ties – as was proved in the terrible catastrophe of the world war, and again revealed in the mad adventure of the Ruhr occupation. Europe is not a geographical term; it 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 recognized as essential for the Balkan Peninsula, so now the time has arrived for stating definitely and clearly that federation is essential for Balkanized Europe.

There remains to be considered the question of the Soviet Union, on the one hand, and of Great Britain on the other. It is obvious that the Soviet Union will not be opposed either to the federative union of Europe, nor to its own adhesion to such a federation. Thereby, too, a bridge will be created between Europe and Asia.

A Transitional Slogan

The question of Great Britain is much more uncertain; it depends on the pace 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 extremely probable – then the European Federation of Workers and Peasants will of necessity be directed against British capital. And, of course, the moment the latter is overthrown the British Isles will enter as a desirable member into the European Federation.

It might be asked: why a European Federation and not a World Federation? Of course, as the world develops economically and politically, it will tend to become more and more centralized, depending upon the level of technical development reached. 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 lay a solution before the gulled and ruined workers and peasants of Europe, quite independently of how the revolution develops in America, Australia, Asia or Africa. Looked at from this point of view, the slogan “The United States of Europe” has its place in the same historical plan 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 toiling masses.

It would be a mistake to measure the whole 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 very considerable. It 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 proceed step by step with the American revolution? Certainly not. If backward Russia did not, and could not, await the revolution in Europe, all the more Europe will not, and must not, await the revolution in America. Workers’ and Peasants’ Europe, blockaded by capitalist America (and at first, perhaps, by Great Britain) will be able to maintain herself 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 assisting the destruction of Europe and is ready to step in subsequently as its master) furnishes a very substantial bond for uniting the mutually destructive peoples of Europe into a “European United States of Workers and Peasants.” This orientation, of course, proceeds from the difference in the objective situations in the European countries and in the mighty Transatlantic Republic, and is not directed against the international solidarity of the proletariat, nor against the interests of the revolution in America. On the contrary, one of the obstacles to the development of the revolution throughout the world lies in the vain European confidence in the American uncle (Wilsonism, the charitable feeding of the worst famine districts of Europe, American “loans,” etc., etc.). The sooner the masses of the nations of Europe recover the confidence in their own powers which was destroyed by the war, and the more closely they are rallied around the slogan of a “Union of the 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 furnished a mighty impulse 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 furnish an impulse to the revolution in America and throughout the whole world. Although, when we abstract ourselves from Europe, we are obliged to peer into the mists of years 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.

Away With the Customs Barriers

Not merely the question of the Ruhr, that is, of European fuel and iron, but also the question of reparations is envisaged in the scheme of “The United States of Europe.” The question of reparations is purely a European question, and can be solved in the near future only by European means. The Europe of Workers and Peasants will have its reparations budget – as it will have its war budget – as 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 the wartime, etc. Its incidence will be regulated by the appropriate bodies of the European Federation of Workers and Peasants.

We shall not here indulge in prophecies as to the speed at which the union of the European republic will proceed, in what economic and constitutional forms it will express itself, and what degree of centralization 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 Czarist 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 united, and increasingly schematic, economic life.

Federate to Fight

It might be argued that we are in reality speaking of a European Socialist Federation as part of World Federation, and that such a regime can be brought about only by the dictatorship of the proletariat. We will not stop to answer this argument, since it was 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 realization 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 the slogan. But the slogan, “The United States of Europe,” has an exactly similar parallel significance. Without this supplementary slogan, the fundamental problems of Europe must remain in suspense.

But will not this slogan play into the hands of the pacifists? I do not believe that there exist such “lefts” nowadays as would consider this danger sufficient grounds for rejecting the slogan. 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-social revolutionary interpretation of the slogan, “A Workers’ and Peasants’ Government.” Of course, if we advance “The United States of Europe” as an independent program, as a panacea for achieving pacification and reconstruction, and isolated from the slogans “A Workers Government,” the “United Front,” and the “Class Struggle,” we shall certainly end in democratized Wilsonism, that is, Kautskyism, or something baser (if there is anything baser 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 struggles associated with our slogans. Our method of posing the problem is in direct contrast to the Kautsky method. Pacifism is an academic program, the object of which is to avoid the necessity of revolutionary action. Our formulation is an impulse to fight.

To the workers of Germany, not the Communists (if 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 are still obsessed by the questions of reparations and the state debts; to the workers of Germany, France and of all Europe, who fear that the establishment of the workers’ regime will lead to the isolation and economic ruin of their countries, we will say: Europe, even if temporarily isolated (and with such a powerful bridge to the East as the Soviet Union she will not be easily isolated), will be able not only to maintain herself, but to consolidate and build herself up, once she has broken down the customs barriers, and has 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 general revolutionary perspective. It arises from the profound differences in the situations of Europe and America. Whoever overlooks these differences, which are of such a vital significance at the present time, will, willy-nilly, reduce a true revolutionary perspective to a mere historical abstraction. Naturally, the Workers’ and Peasants’ Federation will not stop in its European phase. As we have said, by our Soviet Union an outlet has been obtained 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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Footnote by ETOL

1. Another translation of this text can be found in the Trotsky Internet Archive. According to the publication credits there, the Articoe was first published in Pravda on 30 June 1923.

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