From Fourth International, Vol.6 No.2, February 1945, pp.61-63.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).
(Continued from Last Issue)
The party that during present weeks would untiringly diffuse these slogans among the large masses would infallibly draw their attention and thus prepare their ears to receive more advanced slogans. At a further stage it would enjoy the authority of having foreseen the march of the development and of having been with the masses in their most elementary struggles. The benefit would be tremendous.
The slogan of the republic is imposed all the more by the present situation, since the official workers parties have rallied to the monarchy. The slogan is not only directed against the present regime and the Allies, but is also a sharp weapon against the coalitionists, the Stalinist and Socialist parties.
To throw some light on this problem we have to try to determine at which stage of the Italian revolution we are now. For this purpose historical parallels and examples are useful, even indispensable. Provided we are cautious enough not to forget the differences, they may furnish us with convenient landmarks.
During twenty years Fascism had gradually lost its petty-bourgeois “mass” following, and had become a dried up Bonapartist regime, resting mainly on the police apparatus. Thus Mussolini’s removal was to be almost as painless as the dismissal of another Bonapartist ruler, Primo de Rivera of Spain, in January 1930. Rivera was succeeded by General Berenguer. The first result of the shift was the breaking up of the censorship, political discussions sprang up, and the problem around which they centered was the existence of the monarchy. A year passed, during which the students demonstrated and the workers fought against the police. In February 1931 Berenguer resigned, two months later Alfonso had to flee and the republic was proclaimed. The Spanish revolution was going toward new heights.
If we are to follow the Spanish revolutionary calendar, we must say that the present regime of the Lieutenant General corresponds to the Berenguer interlude.
The differences between the two situations are important and obvious. There is now a world war, in which Italy is participating, being occupied by both camps. Foreign troops will be on Italian soil for quite some time. On the other hand, a general European revolution is coming, to which the fate of the Italian revolution will be most closely connected. However, at the present stage, the historical parallel clearly shows the correctness of the slogan of the republic.
For months the problem of democratic demands for Italy was as good as forgotten by our press. There were journalistic comments on political moves taking place there, such as the formation of the Bonomi government, etc. There was a constant reaffirmation of our Socialist program. But there was no indication of how to call the masses to action. A semi-turn occurred on July 22nd, when The Militant came to write about a series of democratic slogans, although in the most unclear and confusing way. The slogan of the “overthrow of the monarchy” was raised. Why in that negative form and not as the immediate proclamation of the republic?
Since then, our press has come to speak a few times of a “workers’ and peasants’ republic.” It must be clear that this is not a democratic, not even a transition, demand. It is merely a more popular expression for the dictatorship of the proletariat, and, as such, has at the present time a purely propagandistic character. There is no objection to its use, of course, but it must be clear that it does not eliminate the present need for the democratic demand of the immediate proclamation of the republic.
This discussion should not, of course, tend to give to the slogan of the republic in Italy a disproportionate importance. It is at the present time a very useful agitational slogan, the specific weight of which in our daily activities should be left, however, to be determined by comrades who are directly on the stage. If we have insisted upon it particularly, it is because the slogan is extremely important as a test case. It is always very easy to write or adopt general formulations about democratic demands. They have been in our documents for years. But all that has little value if concrete applications are indefinitely postponed. On the other hand, many signs point out that we may soon enter a new stage in Italy. It may happen that the question of the republic will be quickly solved. A slogan which may soon gain great importance is: For a Togliatti-Nenni government!
Some comrades may raise against the present use of democratic slogans the following argument: such use would be all right if the Fourth International now had in Italy a big party capable of setting in motion large masses, but unfortunately this is not yet the case. Therefore the problem is quite different; it is at the present time the building of a strong revolutionary party, and for that purpose any program of democratic demands is useless. The premises of this reasoning are correct, but the conclusion – false. It is true indeed that the building of a revolutionary party in Italy is still ahead of us, and that victory is inconceivable without forging such a party. But this task cannot be fulfilled outside of the daily struggle of the masses – in a hothouse, as it were.
This problem has been discussed in Europe quite often, especially in France and Belgium in 1934-36, at the time when the political situation there was already in a state of pre-revolutionary fluency and the organizations of the Fourth International still very weak. Trotsky and the executive body of the Fourth International always resolutely opposed the tendencies that wanted to restrict our groups to strictly propagandistic programs and slogans until the day when we would have assembled a large party and come like Minerva out of the head of Jupiter. We cannot thwart a possible opportunist danger in a young party by a “little dose” of ultra-leftism, but only by outlining the correct Bolshevik policy.
I think the resolution should contain a short but sharp warning against ultra-leftism. The war has stirred up a tremendous wave of reaction. The official workers parties have not been the last to follow or even to propel this wave. The Stalinists have been, in words and in deeds, at the point of reaction. The remnants of the Second International, slightly shocked by such brazenness, follow them as best they can.
In such conditions one may well say: “The main danger is opportunism. Why bother now about ultra-leftism?” Such a way of putting the question would be utterly wrong. The danger of opportunism is tremendous, indeed, but it is precisely why the danger of sectarianism should not be ignored; on the contrary, it should be carefully watched. Opportunism does not eliminate ultra-leftism, but engenders it. Ultra-leftism is only the other face of opportunism, its shadow, an infantile reaction to it and, in a sense, the punishment the working class has to pay for it.
The putrefaction of the Second International during the last war brought about many an ultra-left tendency. The German organization of Luxemburg and Liebknecht was impregnated with ultra-leftism and broke its head precisely because of that ailment; in France opportunism blended with ultra-leftism in grandiloquent phrases, etc., etc. Lenin had to write a special pamphlet against the infantile sickness of ultra-leftism.
At the end of the present war and in the coming revolutionary upheaval we may expect the same occurrence, probably with much greater intensity. At the last plenum I spoke about this coming danger of ultra-leftism. Since then events in one country at least have arrived, on schedule, as it were, to show the reality of the danger. In England the “breakaways” are becoming a serious problem. Disgusted with the treacherous policy of the union leaders and the Stalinist party, workers quit the unions and ask: why a union? Anarchists are taking advantage of this mood. This is only the first sign of things to come.
A new generation of young revolutionaries is now appearing, which has not accumulated much experience. In many countries they have grown up under illegality, without much opportunity to study the lessons of the past. The crimes of the bourgeois order have been so atrocious, the servility of the official workers parties is so repulsive that many impatient reactions may be expected. Moreover, Europe has known for four years sabotage and terrorism, and these cannot fail to leave traces of adventurism in the policy of many a good revolutionary workers party.
Under the blows of experience ultra-leftism had been forced during the twenty years between the two wars to abandon many of its original positions. But the point to which it clung most obstinately was its opposition to the use of democratic and transition slogans. Our movement had to conduct a long fight precisely on that problem.
We are now entering an historical epoch in which general propaganda is not enough. Liberals, reformists and all the admirers of bourgeois progress always hoped that Czarist Russia would gradually rise to the level of cultured and democratic Western Europe. Quite the contrary occurred. With the disintegration of capitalist civilization, Western Europe has catastrophically sunk to the level of despotic Russia and even far below. Reformists and centrists used to view Bolshevism as a product of backward Russia, not good enough for enlightened Western Socialism. But now all Europe has been made “good enough” for Bolshevism. History puts all the teachings of Bolshevism on the order of the day more imperatively than ever. And one of these lessons is Bolshevism’s contempt for mere enlightening propaganda about the virtues of Socialism, its ability to feel the aspirations of the masses, to seize upon the progressive side of these aspirations and on that point to drive a wedge that would detach the masses from their conservative parties and leaders.
The draft resolution states in point 32 on the slogan of the Socialist United States of Europe:
It corresponds to the needs and experiences of the European masses who are learning that only by the destruction of the outlived and reactionary national state and through the economic unification and socialist collaboration of the free peoples of Europe can the menace of recurrent devastating wars be abolished and freedom and economic well-being assured.
A few lines before, the draft resolution had indicated that the proletariat of a European country will give military help to the workers of another
by boldly disregarding the outlived and reactionary national boundaries.
These formulae are not lacking in ambiguity and they can cover a correct as well as a false position. Without knowing the exact interpretation given to them by the writers of the draft resolution, I deem it necessary to state here my own position, as a contribution toward a more precise formulation of the subject in the final resolution.
No doubt, in the military struggle against imperialism and its agents, the proletariat will not hesitate to “boldly disregard” national boundaries. But does that mean that state borders will disappear from one day to the next? I do not think so. The European national problems cannot be erased by the signing of a decree abolishing state borders. It will take a whole historical epoch to solve them.
“United States” implies the existence of different states, that is to say, borders. It means that each nation of the federation has the right to say or no, the right of self-determination, up to and including the right of secession. Socialist United States can only rest upon the conviction of each people that only by a federative organization Europe can live. Violence cannot speed up the acquiring of this conviction, but on the contrary can only delay it.
After the overthrow of the bourgeoisie, we do not wish to march to Socialism by violence, but by patiently convincing the peoples of the superiority of centralization. Just as, in the agrarian problem, we are not partisans of “forced collectivization,” but we want to demonstrate to the peasant, by his own experience, the advantages of large collective enterprise over small property, so in the national question we are against any “forced unification” and the only real, not fictitious, guarantee is the right of secession.
The slogan of the Socialist United States of Europe is an attempt to solve the conflict between the centripetal necessities of a planned economy and the centrifugal tendencies inherited from past centuries. It is a dynamic formula, the content of which will continuously change. It will probably start with military collaboration, then a coordination of economic plans will come, and so far, up to a complete economic, political, social and cultural unification of the continent. This will not be reached in a day, not even in a few years, and will largely depend, moreover, on what happens in the rest of the world.
At a certain stage, the process of political centralization will be accompanied by the process of the withering away of the state. Will the various European states blend into one state, which will subsequently wither away, or will they begin to wither away before reaching complete amalgamation? We cannot tell now, but we may never have a single state.
The best examples we have until now of federative unification are those of two bourgeois nations: Switzerland and the United States of America. In both cases the driving force toward unification came from an external threat. In Switzerland the urban and rural cantons had widely diverging interests, but upon both the danger of Austrian domination was threatening. In America the thirteen colonies were far from seeing eye to eye with one another on all questions, but they had to unite their forces in order to resist England. Similarly, in Europe the driving power toward unification will be the necessity to fight the domination of the Yankee overlord and it will lead to military, economic and political cooperation.
At what tempo? We cannot tell. The example of America shows also how the building of the federal power was a long process, extending over more than a century and necessitating a civil war of four years. The European nations today are certainly more separated than the thirteen colonies were. Socialism will have, undoubtedly, other methods than capitalism for reaching unification. It would be childish and dangerous, however, to expect the erasing of national boundaries and the sudden disappearance of all national problems some fine morning by the signing of a decree.
Putrifying capitalism will bequeath to the victorious proletariat a continent torn by wars and national hatreds. Suspicions will have to be quieted. Any precipitated step can only revive them again and delay real, Socialist unification. Anyway, whatever may be the tempo, the first big step will not be the establishment of a single European state, but the formation of a federation of states, which implies borders, borders of a new type indeed, borders between workers’ states, but borders nevertheless for some time.
The theoretical errors of the draft resolution about the “naked military dictatorship” or the two kinds of bourgeois democracy have to be unequivocally corrected. That would straighten up the axis of the resolution. The attention has to be focused on the specific problems of the period we are now entering. The question of the democratic demands should not be dealt with in five lines, but all its aspects have to be carefully examined. The slogan of the immediate proclamation of the republic in Italy has to be incorporated. Although many parts of the draft resolution can be used, a great deal of rewriting should be done.
We are now entering a period of transition which will go from the collapse of German domination over Europe to the dictatorship of the proletariat. The question of the character and length of this period is directly tied to the problem of the formation of the revolutionary party. Whoever does not pay enough attention to that period, assumes that we will go through it automatically, tries to jump over it theoretically, ignores its peculiar problems, etc. – whoever does that (and I believe the writers of the draft resolution do it to a great extent) obscures the problems, and therefore increases the difficulties, of the building of the party. The greatest help that the members of the SWP can now give to their European comrades is to carefully correct the draft resolution and present an impeccable document.
Last updated: 15.6.2005