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William Simmons

Trotsky on America’s Role in Europe

(August 1944)

From Fourth International, Vol.5 No.8, August 1944, pp.237-239.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

At the time of the United States intervention in European affairs following the defeat of the German proletariat in 1923, Trotsky raised within the Comintern the important issue of the American imperialist struggle for world hegemony. Trotsky proceeded in his analysis from the idea that “world economy is a mighty reality which holds sway over the economy of individual countries and continents”: a genuinely internationalist approach. From then on that question became one of the major issues of conflict between Trotsky and the Left Opposition on the one side, and the Stalin bureaucracy on the other.

Trotsky did not raise the issue of American imperialist expansion merely for theoretical discussion. He sounded a warning to the proletariat, and particularly to its leadership at that time, the Comintern, to prepare itself for the revolutionary situations that were bound to ensue from this unbridled expansion.

European Capitalism’s Blind Alley

The development of the United States, said Trotsky, has driven European capitalism into a blind alley. It has placed Europe on more limited rations in world economy. For Europe this is

“a situation ten times worse than before: the same capitalist social forms, but more reactionary; the same tariff walls, but more rigid; the same frontiers but narrower; the same armies but more numerous; an increased indebtedness; a more restricted market ... If today England rises a little, it is at the expense of Germany; tomorrow it will be Germany’s turn to rise at the expense of England. If you find a surplus of the trade balance of one country, you must seek for a corresponding deficit in the trade balance of another country ... European capitalism has become reactionary in the absolute sense of the term, that is, not only is it unable to lead the nations forward, but it is even incapable of maintaining for them living standards long ago attained. Precisely this constitutes the economic basis of our revolutionary epoch. Political ebbs and flows unfold on this basis without in any way altering it.”

Later on, when he submitted his criticism of the draft program of the Comintern to the sixth congress, Trotsky formulated the question still more concisely:

“Furthermore,” he declared (referring to the draft program), “it has not been made clear that the inevitable further development of American expansion, the contraction of the markets of European capitalism, including the European market itself, entails the greatest military, economic and revolutionary disturbances such as will leave all disturbances of the past in the shade.

“It has not been made clear that the inevitable further onslaught of the United States will place capitalist Europe on a constantly more limited ration in world economy which, of course, does not involve a mitigation, but on the contrary, a monstrous sharpening of the inter-State relations in Europe with furious paroxysms of military conflicts, because States as well as classes, are even more frantically fighting for a hunger ration, nay, a diminishing ration, than for a lavish and growing ration.

“In the draft it has not been made clear that the internal chaos of the State antagonisms of Europe render hopeless a more or less serious and successful resistance to the constantly more centralized North American republic and that the overcoming of the European chaos in the form of the Soviet United States of Europe is one of the first tasks of the proletarian revolution, which, in not the least degree as a result precisely of State barriers, is much closer in Europe than in America and which will therefore most likely have to be defended from the North American bourgeoisie.”

Revolutionary Solution of Problem

To those who tried to minimize the issue raised by Trotsky, by referring to the imminent economic and industrial crisis in the United States, he replied:

“In a critical epoch the hegemony of the United States will prove even more complete, more open, more ruthless, than in the period of boom.”

Needless to say, Trotsky’s warning was not heeded by the Comintern and his prognosis was, from the outset, met with a hail of abuse by the Stalin bureaucracy. The most diversified accusations were leveled against him. He was accused of a pacifist denial of the existence of European contradictions. He was accused of acceptance of Kautsky’s theory of ultra imperialism, and of many other sins. The simple truth of the matter was that Trotsky’s international approach, his prognosis as well as the conclusions he drew therefrom, ran exactly counter to the reactionary Stalinist theory of “socialism in one country.” These basic differences have, of course, been vastly accentuated since then. In fact they are in the very crucible of world politics today.

Trotsky’s Analysis Verified

History brought its own verification of Trotsky’s analysis. The dialectic interplay of world relations created by the United States advance has, indeed, erupted in violent outbursts. The monstrous sharpening of inter-State relations in Europe has actually brought furious paroxysms of military conflicts. The advent of Hitler only accelerated the pace, and the fury. Events are now moving in more rapid strides toward the climax of our revolutionary epoch.

But history has also added a new chapter. It is as yet unfinished, but nevertheless destined to command major attention in the days ahead. Trotsky indicated the main outlines of this new chapter before his assassination; but he did not live to see it unfold in all its fearsome consequences.

While the might of American imperialism is pervading the entire planet, the red star of the Soviet Union grows more luminous. The great achievements of the Red Army have thrust the Soviet Union forward to a position to be reckoned with seriously even by the dominant American imperialists. To them this question is indeed paradoxical. On the one hand they see the enormous proletarian power embodied in the nationalized economy. On the other, Stalin, heading it, reveals himself as their friend and ally. They know that there can be no lasting peace between nationalized economy and capitalist economy. That is not their aim. Which will prevail? That is the question plaguing the rampaging imperialists. And so, history is already raising the curtain for the most gigantic conflict still to come.

But the Stalin bureaucracy has turned the lessons of October entirely upside down. It attempts to transform the Soviet Union, created as a bridge to the world revolution, into a barrier against it. In the advancing revolution it sees its own doom. Consequently, Lenin’s struggle against imperialism has been perverted by Stalin into collaboration and political agreement with imperialism. Stalin has only now, twenty years after Trotsky’s warning, recognized the expansion and the power of the North American republic. Moreover, he has accepted its world hegemony as an already established fact. Now he is endeavoring to subordinate the Soviet Union to the economic, political and military might of the capitalist United States for the defeat of the European revolution. For the European revolution is the specter haunting them both.

American Imperialism at the Soviet Frontier

With the doom of Hitler – and this is a foregone conclusion – the power of the United States will virtually touch the borders of the Soviet Union. Will this then mean that it has thereby settled the problem of Europe? No! On the contrary. That problem will then really arise in all its complexity.

An unofficial spokesman for the Roosevelt administration, Forest Davis, has made this quite clear by his statement that “when Germany falls, there will be no military power, no barrier, between the Soviet Union and the English Channel.” In the strict sense of his terminology this is perfectly true. Whatever border lines the imperialist chess-players may draw; whatever interim bourgeois democratic regimes they may be forced to support, with or without the connivance of Stalin; and even backed by a “united nations” police force, these can furnish no more stable equilibrium than when European capitalism was originally driven into its blind alley. In the world of reality, however, there will be a power between the Soviet Union and the English Channel – and it will have supporters across the Channel. When Hitler falls, the revolutionary proletariat will be the decisive power in Europe. And that is the power destined to begin the end of the capitalist system.

This is the reason why the United States is again primarily preoccupied in European affairs, economically, politically and militarily. Its overwhelming preponderance in world economy, and its struggle for complete hegemony, makes this mandatory. The more it advances, the more it becomes interested in maintaining “order” in every corner of the globe. Obviously this means the maintenance of the capitalist order.

Soviet Economy and the European Revolution

Then what about the mighty power represented by the nationalized economy of the USSR? In many ways, and in spite of the Kremlin oligarchy, this power is inextricably bound up with the dawning of the new day in Europe. It is bound up as well with the present threat to the capitalist economic system. Even now the victories of the Red Army and those of the allied armies do not have the same meaning in the minds of the European masses. Nor are the results the same.

Inadvertently the unofficial spokesman for the Roosevelt administration submits the evidence when he says:

“The administration’s Russian policy becomes the cornerstone of its approach to the whole complex of post-war Europe ... Central and Eastern Europe is in our war diplomacy of planning for the future the important point where the Western powers meet the dynamics of the Soviet Union.”

And the unofficial spokesman hastens to make it really clear that the concept he is defending is that of a world policy and of world conquests. He hastens to make it clear that at the present conjuncture this embraces the whole of Europe, including the Soviet Union, when he adds,

“the focal point of the United States diplomacy is Moscow ... Why? Because political activity radiating from Moscow concentrates attention upon the lands into which the Red Army is likely to march.”

The lands are named: Poland, Finland, the Danube Basin, the Balkans, and Germany.

But the relations of Washington and Moscow to the postwar problems of Europe are completely contradictory. On the threshold of the great revolutionary events in Europe, Roosevelt placates Stalin and plays upon his fears of these events. He seeks to enlist the Kremlin oligarchy for a joint partnership to strangle the European revolution.

Foreseeing Stalin making such a choice, Trotsky wrote in an article in Liberty, January 1940, in which he discussed the Stalin-Hitler pact:

“Stalin is completely ready to repeat his Spanish performance on a world wide scale, with the hope of better success this time in buying the friendly attitude of the future victors through having proved that no one better than he can curb the Red specter, which for terminological convenience will again be labeled ‘Trotskyism’.”

Yet, Stalin’s fear of, and hostility toward, the proletarian revolution are entirely matched by the American imperialist fears of and hostility toward the Soviet state and its nationalized economy. So long as its means of production remain national property, backed up by the state monopoly of foreign trade, it will constitute an insurmountable barrier in the way of complete American world hegemony. And, to the same degree, it will remain an inspiration and an example for the proletarian revolution to follow in other countries. Therefore, if expressed forthrightly and bluntly, the statement by the unofficial spokesman, quoted above, would read: Control of Europe and the maintenance of its capitalist system presupposes the annihilation, or at least the complete neutralization, of the Soviet Union.

Contradictions of the Kremlin Oligarchy

However, the contradictions in this situation beset the Kremlin oligarchy itself. A partnership to strangle the European revolution, if successful, would destroy the only real support of the Soviet Union. Simultaneously, and antagonistically, it would leave the field open for inundation by American economic and political control. On very good grounds the Kremlin oligarchy fears any attempt by the United States to consolidate its power and hegemony over Europe. That would bring to the Soviet borders a foe much more formidable than Hitler’s Germany.

Of course, the Stalinist bureaucracy is committed to the defense of the Soviet border. Motivated by sheer self-preservation, it will be compelled, in order to forestall a bigger and more deadly assault, to strive for the extension of these borders further westward, in one form or another. In fact, plans are already being hatched within the Kremlin walls for the building of its own cordon sanitaire. Poland and Yugoslavia are now being drawn into its orbit. Simultaneously the Kremlin masters no doubt nourish the vague hope that they will be able to subordinate the European revolution to their own bureaucratic interests by extending the specific sphere of Stalinist influence. That much is indicated by Stalin’s decree of a federation of “autonomous” republics. In other words – a Stalinized federation of Europe as against a Socialist United States of Europe.

Trotsky, in his Liberty article mentioned above, already gave the undeniable answer to such “hopes.” Referring specifically to Germany, he said:

“The totalitarian regime can be crushed only by a tremendous attack on the part of the German workers. They will carry out their revolution, surely, not in order to replace Hitler by a Hohenzollern or Stalin.”

Trotsky added:

“The victory of the popular masses over the Nazi tyranny will be one of the greatest explosions in world history and will immediately change the face of Europe. The wave of awakening hope, enthusiasm, will not stop at the hermetic borders of the USSR. The popular masses of the Soviet Union hate the greedy and cruel ruling caste. Their hate is only dampened by the idea; imperialism is watching us. Revolution in the West will deprive the Kremlin oligarchy of its sole right to political existence.”

Trotsky’s Prediction

In the relations between Roosevelt and Stalin, each personifying in his own way a mighty power, insurmountable contradictions remain the outstanding characteristic of their respective political positions. At the same time these individual positions furnish a classic example of the interpenetration of opposites.

Stalin and his bureaucracy at the head of the Soviet republic, which was created originally as a bridge to the world revolution, have become Great Russian nationalists. This is an inevitable outcome of the reactionary theory of “socialism in one country.” At the same time the “nationalism” of this bureaucracy is also its exact opposite. It is that of a usurping clique having attained its power against the Soviet nation, for the Kremlin oligarchy is motivated in all its political acts solely by the idea of the preservation of its own power and privilege. Essentially, this is what spells its inevitable doom.

Roosevelt, on the other hand, heading the most powerful national capitalist aggregation, which was able in past decades to expand on its own national territory, has now made “internationalism” his basic political thesis. This is dictated, of course, by the struggle of American imperialism for world hegemony. Yet, simultaneously this “internationalism” represents the exact opposite of extreme nationalism. It is even more the latter than the former, for in its onslaught in every corner of the globe. American imperialism is attempting to subordinate the rest of the world to its specific national aims. Precisely this, however, will also prove its fatal weakness.

On this particular point Trotsky also drew the unassailable conclusion, as valid today as when it was submitted in his criticism of the Comintern draft program:

“On the other hand it has been left entirely unmentioned – and this is not the least important phase of the same world problem – that it is precisely the international strength of the United States and the unbridled expansion resulting from it, that compels it to include powder magazines throughout the world among the foundations of its structure – the antagonisms between the east and west, the class struggle in old Europe, uprisings of the colonial masses, wars and revolutions. This on the one hand transforms United States capitalism into the basic counter-revolutionary force in the present epoch, becoming constantly more interested in the maintenance of order in every corner of the globe, and on the other hand prepares the ground for a gigantic revolutionary explosion of this already dominant and still increasing world imperialist power. The logic of world relations leads to the idea that the time of this explosion cannot be very far apart from that of the proletarian revolution in Europe.”

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