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Henry Judd

World Politics

Council of Europe

(7 February 1949)

From Labor Action, Vol. 13 No. 6, 7 February 1949, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The unification of Western Europe is bound to come, in some form or manner. The entire European crisis, still growing in intensity, is forcing the still relatively independent nations of Western Europe to unify. So the question no longer is shall there be a United Western Europe, but HOW shall Europe be united, by WHOM shall it be unified and WHAT shall be the objectives and purposes of this unification?

With the announced formation of a “Council of Europe” by the five powers who have signed the Brussels military defense pact, the problem is again presented to us, but now with a force and acuteness as never before. Cautious as the first steps have been, the ice has been broken, a principle of “unity” has been laid down and additional steps are now inevitable. The above questions, then, are now living realities and any revolutionary movement must plunge into this stream and try to chart its own course.

First, precisely what steps have been taken as of now? Britain, France, Belgium, Holland and Luxemburg have declared their intention of forming a council, composed of two bodies. A “ministerial committee” composed of government ministers will meet in secret to take decisions. A public “consultative committee,” elected by participating countries as they choose, will have only advisory powers. Other Western European nations will be invited to join, and the seat of the Council of Europe will be in the famous Alsace-Rhine city of Strasbourg.

Not an Isolated Development

Even by the most conservative standards, these proposals are cautious and limited. In reality, a consultative and advisory body is proposed and, in terms of bourgeois law and formalism, no surrender of sovereign rights and powers by the individual nations is implied. The precise functions and powers of the council have not even been clarified and remain to be worked out. Thus, still passing judgment purely in terms of accepted formalities and so-called international law, we are presented with a cautious step forward on the road to a European unification of the type dreamed of by such liberals as Count Sforza and other parliamentarians. But it is too easy to be deceived by such formalities. The proposal is far different in its real content.

To begin with, it takes place at a moment when European economic recovery has advanced to a point where a bloc of the nations involved would have a specific meaning in terms of power, both economic and military. The worst of the economic collapse has been overcome and Western Europe is again a going concern, by comparison with the end of the war, capable of some independent action as a power bloc. The fact that unity has not advanced any further than outlined above is primarily due to differences between France and the British Labor government as to how unity shall take place and who shall be its leader and spokesman.

Furthermore, one must understand the situation in which the Council concept is put forward. It is far from an isolated development. It is an intimate part of the forthcoming North Atlantic military security pact and cannot be separated from this proposed American alliance for a common military front against Russia. In another sense, the Council of Europe is a development of the Marshall Plan, which foresaw first the economic restoration of Western Europe, then its remilitarization with American help, and finally its actual transformation into a solid and powerful bulwark against Russian advance and for war with Russia. Step by step, this American strategy has been advancing, with many overlapping parts to it, of course.

We must thus see this new move as a part of the entire international picture. In Europe, at any rate, Stalinism is on the defensive and in considerable retreat. Russia forms its Eastern European economic alliance, as America (by remote control) advances its Western European alliance. Stalin proposes new peace talks and Truman proposes a “world fair deal.” But the real direction is toward a deepening of both the world and European split between the two power camps. In this sense, we cannot be deceived by the formal appearance of this new step toward European unity, a result much desired by socialists, since this appearance is far overshadowed by its content in terms of power and imperialist politics.

Socialist View of European Unity

But this judgment does not cover anything. Slogans and formations for the unity of Europe have long been familiar. Equally familiar has been the socialist analysis of these slogans (particularly when advanced by Churchill and, recently, the Pope) and their counter-proposal for the socialist unification of Europe, under revolutionary governments. Till now, both conceptions – bourgeois and socialist – have been abstractions. Now the bourgeois concept of unity begins to take on reality! The question is not before every socialist in Europe: how shall he respond? Shall he limit himself to analysing and condemning, more or less in the same terms that we have, the Council of Europe? Shall he continue in the tradition of an unconditional rejection, based on long hostility, of the unity slogan when advanced by his enemies? Shall he, likewise, maintain his traditional silence before this slogan because the Stalinist movements of Western Europe, directed by Moscow, have directed with considerable success a campaign of constant abuse against the unity idea? And, finally, shall he continue his abstract answer of a “Socialist Europe” even when confronted by what will be the undoubtedly growing reality of a bourgeois united Western Europe?

It is clear that we would consider such an approach as wrong, limited and fatal, from the viewpoint of attempting to win influence. Worst of all, it would give the bourgeois leaders of the Western unity idea the ideologic leadership over what is undoubtedly a widespread and popular demand in Europe; it would permit them to run off with the ball almost at will. Now is the moment for Europe’s revolutionary socialists to consider, concretely and specifically, the idea advanced to them by the Workers Party – namely, that they shall become the popular champions of the idea that Western Europe must form a democratic federation, popularly fleeted, and brought about by labor and social democratic governments.

In a word, socialists must counterpose – in specific and realistic terms – THEIR conception of a “Council of Europe” to the bureaucratic, manufactured-from-above, power and military-dominated Council of Europe which the reactionary politicians wish to impose upon the people. This cannot be the empty abstraction of a “Socialist Europe,” any more than it can be the reactionary bloc proposed by the Big Five of Western Europe. It must be something new, worked out by the anti-Stalinist socialists of Western Europe who are by far best equipped to give this conception both scope and realism.

For example, it is proposed that the new “Council” shall consist of government-appointed representatives who shall meet in secret, etc. To condemn this is not only easy, but not enough. Let us propose a democratically-elected Western European Constituent Assembly, composed of representatives from all participating nations on a population basis, who shall publicly draw up a constitution for the new Western European Federation. This same thing must be worked out for all political, social and economic aspects of the new unity. The real question is: shall the coming European Union be a power instrument in the hands of reactionary forces who, by transmission, shall force it to operate for America; or shall it be a people’s union, in the interests of peace and social progress?

There must be a struggle organized around this, and only Europe’s socialists can do it. Stalinism cannot, because it desires the disunion and disintegration of Western Europe; its campaign can be purely negative and thus reactionary. Again, circumstances have arisen to give the real socialists of Europe a splendid opportunity for political propaganda and activity. They cannot complain of a lack of opportunities. We hope they shall take advantage of this newest chance and use it to their own interests. They can again establish contact with progressive masses who are going in their direction. But they must begin now, today, in their press and propaganda.

(The above column is contributed as part of the discussion on Western Union, opened in Labor Action several weeks ago with the publication of a resolution on Western Union drafted by the Political Committee of the WP.)

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