Main WIN Index | Main Newspaper Index

Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive

Workers’ International News, May 1943


Andrew Scott

Imperialist Perspectives in Europe


From Workers’ International News, Vol.5 No.11, May 1943, p.11-14.
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Europe stands today at the political, economic and military crossroads of the world. And the crossroads are busy. It is not merely a matter of the interrelationships, struggles and manoeuvres of the two dozen countries of the Continent itself; it is a matter also of the interests, rivalries and contradictions of the great Powers of the entire world.

America and Britain on the one side, and the Soviet Union on the other, have perforce had to take an interest in Europe’s affairs. And today they surround the Continent, waiting for the moment when they can attempt to impose their regimes upon it; and meantime discussing the character of that regime, the method of imposing it, the timing of their blows, the role of the various elements in the ‘‘Alliance’’. German imperialism, for its part, has left little doubt as to its interest in Europe. It has occupied almost the entire continent, and now crouches ready to defend its plunder from “allied” attack. A gigantic clash over the body of Europe is imminent. And with this clash as the basis; with the United Nations “Alliance” as superstructure; with the activities of all the quislings and “Free Governments” as ornamentation, we have a by no means simple picture. But when we add to this the real essence of Europe’s position – the class struggle, and finally take into account not what the Grand Alliance has in common but that in which it differs, then we are faced with a state of affairs which it would be the grossest understatement to describe as complex.

It is principally with the clash of the great powers in Europe that we intend to deal here. For the small, and even the medium sized, powers of the Continent are now merely in the position of Yes-men to one or other of the great aggregations of industrial and military power whose paths cross in Europe. Europe’s immediate destiny is being forged by the hammer blows of Germany on the one side and of America, Britain and Russia on the other. Its ultimate destiny will be fashioned by millions of workers and peasants. The capitalists and landlords of the small countries of the Continent stand between these forces, inept, fearful, incapable of decision, scurrying to the side of whatever power looks best able to protect them from the revolution. As for Hitler’s “New Order” no one any longer believes that this will last a thousand days – let alone a thousand years. What is the main point at issue is not the New Order but the alternative to it. It is from this point of view that the plans and actions of the “Allies” take on importance – for they are planning to be about to liberate Europe from Hitler and establish a genuine New Order.

For the American and British capitalists the chief topic of discussion at the moment is not primarily how to invade Europe. It is, how to prevent Europe making a nuisance of itself again in the future. And that means how to prevent Germany making another bid for supremacy in the world market. The old instrument for keeping Germany in order – the balance of power- has been shattered. France was the principal factor in that balance. With the fall of France has fallen also the old balance of power in Europe. It managed by dint of colossal efforts to survive the first world war; but it has gone thundering to destruction in the second. British imperialism is now seeking around for an alternative.

The search is not easy. For no matter in which direction they look they only find contradictions and complications. One section is seriously looking to Russia to take the place of France in off-setting Germany’s gigantic industrial and military power. Another section sees the only solution in the smashing of Germany’s industry. Still another section would combine this with a direct and permanent occupation of Germany – if not of all Europe.

Britain tried to guard against a too powerful Germany by building up an alliance with France. That did not succeed preventing the last war but it did just manage to prevent a German victory. In the meantime, however, Germany has grown both in industrial and military strength, and France has become a completely third rate factor in the whole balance. This process did not take place merely by simple addition and subtraction; for the dialectics of the whole process forced Britain to help build up a strong Germany against Russia; France not having the industrial power to be capable of this task. This meant, in effect, helping Germany to become, by a greater margin than ever before, the strongest Power on the Continent.

The results of this policy, as manifested in the present war, only indicate the hopelessness of the contradictions of capitalism. Any Power that is supported may (and almost inevitably will) reveal itself as a Frankenstein later on. British imperialism was afraid to make France too strong, in case it achieved too great a measure of independence; and in the crisis France proved completely valueless as an ally. They were afraid to leave Germany too weak, for fear of Russia; and in the crisis Germany proved so much the more formidable a foe.

But now, with plans being discussed for the future of Europe, the contradictions are showing themselves to be sharper than ever, the alternatives more difficult to choose, and the dangers more acute. For now it is clear that if a balance is to be maintained in Europe against Germany it will have to be operated through some Power that has the industrial and military capacity to put up a serious opposition to German expansionism. And yet such a Power may rise to be an even greater threat than German imperialism. Particularly when the only Power that can possibly qualify for the position is the Soviet Union.

This dilemma itself is already causing dissensions hind splits among the Anglo-American imperialists and their theoreticians. A powerful section of British capitalism is ready to accept the Soviet Union as a peace-time ally, and as the balancing factor in Europe. But there is little support for this scheme in America, where the capitalists show much more enthusiasm for a direct occupation of Germany, and a semi-direct role over the rest of Europe by means of the most open and cynical quislingism.

The differences have their roots in the opposing interests of British and American imperialism in Europe and in the difference in strength between the two powers. British imperialism is desperately anxious to retain its European market. Before the war between 30 and 35 per cent of Britain’s exports went to Europe. But at the same time it knows that it is too weak to keep order in Europe alone. If however, American strength is invited to collaborate for the purpose of occupying the Continent, that same American strength will see that its efforts do not go unrewarded. That is, Europe will become mainly an American and not a British market. It is for this reason that the Times has come out for a sort of Continental “Monroe Doctrine”, an arrangement whereby Europe will be a British preserve and the Western Hemisphere sphere an America preserve. The writer of the Times Editorials expresses the general idea delicately “that in any future world organisation of security reasonable account will have to be taken of geographical proximity.”

This still leaves Britain with the necessity to, find partner in Europe to balance against Germany. The Times makes it clear that this partner is to be Russia and so also does Professor Carr, the Editorial writer of the Times in his book Conditions of Peace. In regard to Eastern Europe the Times says:

“The nucleus of military and economic power, which is the only effective instrument of security, must in that region, within the general framework, be provided primarily by Russia – the sole country east of Germany possessing industrial resources and development on a scale in any way equal to the task. This is a hard fact which cannot be overcome by wishful thinking or overlooked without dire peril. It is a fact of which the British and American peoples have been increasingly aware in recent months. Recognition of its implications and consequences is a condition of the establishment of relations of lasting confidence with Russia.”

But the implications of this policy have not been welcomed in Wall Street. For it means a strengthening of Britain in Western Europe, a strengthening of Russia in Eastern Europe and a. shutting out of America from both. A. few days after the Times’ outstanding Editorial on the subject had been published, the American Correspondent of the Economist reported:

“Some exception has been taken (in the USA) to the proposal for joint Anglo-Russian guardianship of European security and what is interpreted as a demand for advance approval of Russian frontier demands; and a disclaimer from Mr. Eden was necessary to allay the fear that Britain was relying on a post-war Auglo-Soviet bloc rather than on a concert of the United Nations.”

But Eden’s disclaimer was not very strong, and it did not alter the fact that the most powerful section of British capitalism are afraid of an American domination of the Continent. To be sure, the American capitalists attempt to disguise their policy as a defence of the rights of all the small nations of Europe, and recoil in “horror”, at the thought of frontier being extended at the expense of Poland, the Baltic States, Rumania, etc. The New York Times, in a highly critical Editorial said:

“American opinion will not look favourably on any proposal to put the small nations of Europe on the auction block in order to purchase Russian confidence and co-operation ... Appeasement of Russia is no more likely to succeed than appeasement of Hitler.”

The general scheme of the international manoeuvres begins to emerge. Stalin has assured the British imperialists that he is a safe ally by his struggle against the revolution throughout the world, and not least by his massacre of the entire revolutionary leadership in Russia. It is the turn of British – and American – imperialism to assure Stalin of their sincerity by guaranteeing the sacredness of Russia’s extended frontiers. British imperialism, for its own reasons, is ready to do this, American imperialism is not. To accept these frontiers could only be part of a general acceptance of Anglo-Russian domination of Europe. So Washington comes out against this scheme with a defence of the principles of the Atlantic Charter! This only means that Washington is determined to impose its own regime on Europe.

From assuring Russia, British imperialism has now to turn to assuring America. The Times tries to smooth things over by pointing out that its policy does not involve a balancing of Britain’s friendship with Russia against Britain’s friendship with the United States. Carr amplifies the matter in his book. He indicates that, after all, Russia is not so very dangerously strong.

“Just as there was a tendency before June 1941 to underestimate her (Russia’s) military capacity, so there be a danger of exaggerating it in the closing stages of the war. Fifty years hence Russia may have become a great industrial power. But at present, Russian industrial development, judged by Western standards is still limited; Russia is relatively weak in skilled industrial man-power in the Western sense of the term; her capacity for sustained military action beyond the limits of Russian or former Russian territory remains to be proved.”

But although this may reassure British imperialism, it has little effect on the other side of the Atlantic, for it still leaves Wall Street out in the cold so far as the European sphere of influence is concerned.

Further warnings are conveyed by Carr. He enlarges on the dangers of a policy of smashing up Germany’s industrial machine, as American imperialism has so often threatened to do.

“Europe,” he says, “cannot maintain much less increase – her present standard of living without German productive power ... It is not possible to weaken Germany economically without producing a serious setback to the prosperity of Europe as a whole.”

This by no means an example of any heartfelt concern on the part of Professor Carr, or British imperialism for the poverty-stricken masses of Europe. It is an appreciation of the fact that the destruction of Germany’s industry would carry with it a triple menace for British imperialism. First, by lowering Europe’s standard of living, still further it would bring about the anger of Continent-wide revolution, Secondly, it would have Russia relatively too powerful on the Continent. Thirdly it would in large measure destroy Europe’s value as a market. For an agricultural or semi-agricultural Europe could not absorb a fraction of what an industrial Europe can absorb in the way of imports from Britain.

And in any case such a destruction would imply a permanent occupation of both Germany and Europe by allied forces. If these were American they certainly might succeed for a limited time, owing to America’s strength, in keeping Europe in subjection – but it would be American imperialism that would derive what benefit there was, not British imperialism. And if the troops were British, then the occupation would just not be possible. Carr states the matter mildly when he says that “nothing is more certain than that the British people would be unwilling if indeed they were able, to undertake responsibilities involving a permanent British military occupation of Germany and permanent British control of the German administration.” After the last war the British troops of occupation in the Rhineland gave so much of their own food allowance to the starving women and children or Germany that their health began to suffer and the Army chiefs had to demand that the Government should raise the blockade.

But if it is fatal for British imperialism to have Germany’s industry destroyed, it is equally fatal to leave it intact. For that swiftly growing giant can only find a place in the World by elbowing its way into the positions already occupied by Britain. And it can only carry out its “elbowing” by means of a third world war. The Professor’s new balance of power, with Russia taking the place of France could no more prevent this than did the old balance of power. Indeed the working out of the contradictions of the new balance would be a thousand times stormier than that of the old. For, assuming that some stability were possible after the war, Russia’s industrial development would race ahead at a pace that would shock the imperialists of Britain and force them not only to refrain from destroying German industry but to help to build it up. And between these two swiftly revolving millstones British interests in Europe would be ground exceeding small.

Meantime, desperate efforts are being made to find a common denominator of Allied policy in Europe. Eden has paid a special visit to the United States end come back empty handed. Stalin has called Litvinov back to Moscow, and has re-emphasised his demand for the extended frontiers. The diplomatic break has taken place between Russia and the Sikorski Government. It is clear that Litvinov’s departure is not unrelated to Eden’s failure to secure America’s agreement to Anglo-Soviet plans. Stalin is making efforts to force a decision in his favour.

The only common denominator that can be found is the fact that all the “Allies” are opposed to the Revolution in Europe. Nothing more positive can be achieved. All of then are interested in Europe only for the satisfaction of their own interests, and these interests are mutually antagonistic. They cannot afford to help on each other’s interests in Europe; hence no Second Front to enable Russia to march into the disputed border regions; hence no promise by America to agree to those regions being incorporated in the USSR. A joint Anglo-Soviet domination of Europe might work for a limited period. But an Anglo-Soviet-American domination is beyond the bounds of possibility. America will impose her own terms if she comes in. And this will apply no matter what temporary promises or pacts the US may make with the Soviet Union. And the American plan for Europe not only clashes with those of Britain and Russia but also clashes with the very possibility of putting it into action. If it were only question of occupying and holding down Europe the task would be grandiose and difficult enough. But the rest of the world will present to America in one degree or another precisely the problems with which Europe is presenting her. And American imperialism will be forced to attempt the same sort of action against the rest of the world as against Europe. Not even mighty America can hold down the millions of Europe, Asia, Africa – and, America. What are these problems? Some of them have been stated so clearly and so dramatically by Walter Elliot in an article in The Times that an apology is needed for quoting him at length:

“The problem is this. The non-industrialised world is about to embark upon the industrial revolution, though whether it is wise to do this is another matter ... The industrial revolution is going to spread over the world, like it or not. It is impossible for one portion of the planet to take a mortgage on the rest for showing it the way how. The forces are too big. We are about to witness, for instance, the greatest exodus from the country to the town that has ever been seen – for this is Asia moving; This will be Africa moving. A far higher percentage of the world’s population is engaged upon agriculture than is necessary to sustain it; and the world is beginning to find this out. Imagine 60 per cent of India in cities. Or, if that is too distant and unlikely, not to say appalling. Imagine 60 per cent. of China in cities – industrial cities. Or if even that seems too unlikely, though it is out the march now, imagine 60 per cent. of Russia in cities. It is not a very great demand upon one’s powers of thought; though its implications are.

“The tap of all this power, to turn on and off, to control and direct, is for the moment in the hands of the Western democracies, which, for practical purposes, means Britain and America. It is a responsibility and a strain quite large enough to engross the attention of all who will have the time for it. Let the Keynes and the Morgenthau plans have due time and attention but no more. For there are other problems, urgent and roaring, and their proportionate demand upon our power of work and thought is many times as great.”

Walter Elliot, like the whole breed of capitalist statesmen is uneasy before the gigantic stirrings that are taking place throughout the world. They are afraid not just of the industrialisation of the backward continents but of the implications of that process. For who will carry it out? Against whom will it be carried out? By what methods will it be carried out? Imperialism knows well that the only force in these great areas capable of beating out a path to a modern industrial civilisation is the industrial proletariat; that their method will be the method of the October Revolution; that their allies will be the millions of poor peasants; that their struggle will be aimed against foreign imperialism and native capitalism. The British capitalists know this. They know how India will move, how China will move, how Africa will move. But many of them are mad enough to imagine that they can prevent Asia moving, prevent Africa moving – and at the same time plunge Europe back to a state resembling that of the backward continents and hold its masses of workers and peasants in subjection.

Europe’s problem differs from that of the backward continents. In most of its countries the “industrial revolution” has already been accomplished – even if incompletely. What is at issue is not so much the building up of industrial power as the releasing of it from the shackles of the nation states and of capitalist control. Millions of people have to find a way of using that industry to drag themselves out of the dark pits of penury and backwardness.

Pre-Hitler European capitalism built up and maintained national boundaries which succeeded, not in building up economy, but in strangling it, Post-Hitler European capitalism has smashed most of these boundaries down – but the result has been, not that economic progress has overflowed them, but only the black tide of economic backwardness and political reaction. If Europe is to march forward, the next step must be the smashing of these national boundaries, and the unification Europe in a way that will release economy from all artificial restrictions.

Not only Hitler, but also the British and American capitalists know that a Europe made up of a series of independent or even semi-independent national states is no longer possible. Hitler’s “unification” has been seen in action. An indication of the British attitude given by The Times when it said that many nations may want to paddle their own canoes, but henceforth they will have to do so in convoy.” What is at issue in Europe among the squabbling bands of capitalists is who is to control the convoy. But no matter which band wins in the long run, the direction in which the convoy sails will be constant – toward increasing poverty, slavery and degradation for the mass of the people.

The only alternative to this is a Europe whose economy is planned as a single whole; and planned on the basis of socialised property freed from national boundaries. And the task of bringing this about is the task of both the European and the international proletariat.

The squalid details of present-day capitalist and Stalinist manoeuvres are working themselves out in accordance with their own laws and the relationship of forces between the “Allies”. In the future all sorts of permutations and combinations are possible on the road. American imperialism may dominate Europe with open force; the Anglo-Soviet balance may have its brief hour; Stalin, in desperation, may engage in furtive flirtations with Hitler. But not one of all the possibilities of “Allied” intrigue can solve either Europe’s “internal” problem – that is, the achievement of an planned economy; or its “external” problem – that of the co-ordination of that planned economy with the world economy as a whole. Only the European workers in conjunction with the world proletariat can accomplish these tasks.

Top of page

Main WIN Index | Main Newspaper Index

Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive

Last updated on 13.10.2005