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James Burnham

Their Government

(17 November 1939)


From Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 88, 17 November 1939, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The dead end which imperialism has reached is shown with striking clarity by the inability of any of the warring powers to state its “war aims.” All the rhetoric of all the propagandists is unable to hide the fact that they cannot tell the people of the world, in simple and concrete terms, what they are fighting

Germany, in line with its “peace offensive,” declared that there was nothing to fight about. What this meant, of course, was that Germany wanted to preserve its conquests while it got ready for new ones. The older Nazi talk about “re-uniting the German race” no longer makes sense, with Czechs and Poles and Slovaks now under Nazi rule.

Chamberlain has been trying to get by with the expressed goal of “wiping out Hitlerism.” This was good for a speech or two, but it wears thin with repetition. Everyone is compelled to ask: what will take the place of Hitlerism? What will guarantee against worse than Hitlerism? Who will do the wiping out and how?

The moral weakness in this inability to state war aims is already being widely felt in the belligerent countries. A clamor is arising – especially, it seems, in England – for something more definite in the way of a perspective and goal. A modest enough request, surely: if we are to die, we should at least be told what we are dying for.

Here and there, publicists, journalists and even statesmen are trying to put some sort of goal into words.

The Federal States of Europe

It is of very great interest to observe that, in almost every case, when imaginations get going they reach out toward the notion of a “federated Europe.” Even before the war began, Clarence Streit’s essay along these lines (Union Now) gained considerable popularity and a society has been formed to propagate his plan. In recent weeks, several British writers have presented their varieties of similar schemes.

In his Armistice Day address at Swarthmore College, no less a figure than the Marquess of Lothian, new British Ambassador to Washington, came out for the same slogan. True enough, Lord Lothian is hardly yet a fiery crusader. Nobody, he remarked, had offered any practical scheme of Federation” and a “large-scale European federation” was not yet in sight; but, according to the Times, the Ambassador foresaw the eventual application to Europe of the federal principle tried first on the American Continent a century and a half ago.

True enough, also, Lord Lothian found that “one necessary preliminary is the defeat of totalitarian imperialism.” The British are always careful not to clutter up their wars with ideals; ideals are always a matter for an indefinite future.

But we cannot dismiss this spreading talk about a federated Europe as mere casual daydreaming. There is more to it than that, and we shall find it cropping up more and more prominently. We must be sure to understand what is at issue.

The Paralysis of Nationalism

It is a fact that the political organization of Europe into its madhouse of “sovereign” nations makes impossible a free secure and expanding life for the peoples of Europe. And, when today we listen to the Lord Lothians, let us remember that it was the victors of Versailles who fastened on Europe these political lines, without regard to the economic, social or cultural needs of the peoples.

National states, the political form under which a young and vigorous capitalism pushed through the structure of feudalism, have become a most terrible obstacle to mankind. What an overpowering burden it is to Europe: these thousands of customs houses; the blood-sucking tariffs; the dozens of swarming bureaucracies; the border lines of billions of dollars worth of forts, with all the national armies and guns and planes to accompany them; the passports and identity cards and work cards. No rational organization of economic and human resources as a whole is even conceivable under such circumstances. And immeasurable human energies are squandered daily, even in peace-time, to sustain this mad national structure.

And, though these things are most conspicuously true of Europe, they hold for the entire world. Under the conditions of modern science, technique and production, the national state everywhere paralyzes the progress of mankind.

But Whose Federation?

This is why we, as socialists, agree a thousand times with the perspective of a federated Europe – we go much further, and call for a federated world.

But the question does not end with the bare concept of a federation. We must ask: who will do the federating?

It is not at all improbable that, whoever wins the war, some sort of federal plan for Europe will be set up. Too many persons have come to realize the impossibility of the nationalist structure; that structure has been proved too dangerously unstable.

But: whose federation?

Hitler, in his own way, has proved himself something of a federalist. If he has the chance, he will, undoubtedly show great talents along federal lines. He has already constructed a federation out of Germany, the Saar, Austria, Czechoslovakia, western Poland. It was, among other things, precisely the insane Versailles-born national structure that permitted him to do so.

And Hitler’s federation of Europe would mean, exactly, the reduction of the national states of Europe to Nazi provinces.

Lord Lothian is now looking forward to a federation. It would differ from Hitler’s only in having it’s capital at London (or possibly Paris) instead of Berlin, and in the reduction of the national states to provinces of Anglo-British instead of German imperialism.

For Lord Lothian and for Hitler, a federated Europe means merely a new name for an advanced type of imperialist tyranny.

If federation is to mean freedom and peace and progress for the peoples of Europe, there is only one basis on which it can be constructed: on the basis of socialism. And there is only one force that can set up such a federation: the workers and peasants of Europe struggling against their imperialist governments and against their war. In that struggle German workers fight not against but alongside of the workers of France and England.

A federated Europe? Yes: this is what we call for as the solution to the war. And we sum up that goal in our great slogan: For a Socialist United States of Europe!

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