The Slogan of the Soviet United States of Europe
By Leon Trotsky
There is no justifying the omission of the slogan of the Soviet United States of Europe from the new draft program, a slogan, which was accepted by the Comintern back in 1923, after a rather protracted internal struggle. Or is it, perhaps, that the authors want to “return” to Lenin’s position of 1915 precisely on this question? If that is the case, they must first understand it correctly.
Lenin, as is well known, was hesitant at the beginning of the war in regard to the slogan of the United States of Europe. The slogan was originally included in the theses of the Sotsial Demokrat (the central organ of the party at the time) and then rejected by Lenin. This in itself indicates that the question involved here was not that of the general acceptability of the slogan on principle, but merely a tactical appraisal of it, a question of weighing its positive and negative aspects from the standpoint of the given situation. Needless to say, Lenin rejected the possibility that a capitalist United States of Europe could be realized. That was also my approach to the question when I advanced the slogan of the United States of Europe exclusively as a prospective state form of the proletarian dictatorship in Europe.
I wrote at that time: “A more or less complete economic unification of Europe accomplished from above through an agreement between capitalist governments is a utopia. Along this road matters cannot proceed beyond partial compromises and half measures. But this alone, an economic unification of Europe, such as would entail colossal advantages both to the producer and consumer and to the development of culture in general, is becoming a revolutionary task of the European proletariat in its struggle against imperialist protectionism and its instrument—militarism.” (Trotsky, “The Peace Program,” Works, Vol. III, part 1, p. 85, Russian ed.)
Further: “The United States of Europe represents first of all a form—the only conceivable form—of the dictatorship of the proletariat in Europe.” (Ibid., p. 92.)
But even in this formulation of the question Lenin saw at that time a certain danger. In the absence of any experience of a proletarian dictatorship in a single country and of theoretical clarity on this question even in the Left wing of the social democracy of that period, the slogan of the United States of Europe might have given rise to the idea that the proletarian revolution must begin simultaneously, at least on the whole European continent. It was against this very danger that Lenin issued a warning, but on this point there was not a shade of difference between Lenin and myself. I wrote at the time: “Not a single country must ‘wait’ for the other countries in its struggle. It will be useful and necessary to repeat this elementary idea so that temporizing international inaction may not be substituted for parallel international action. Without waiting for the others, we must begin and continue the struggle on national grounds with the full conviction that our initiative will provide an impulse to the struggle in other countries.” (Ibid., pp. 89-90.)
Then follow those words of mine which Stalin presented at the Seventh Plenum of the E.C.C.I. as the most vicious expression of “Trotskyism,” i.e., as “lack of faith” in the inner forces of the revolution and the hope for aid from without. “And if this [the development of the revolution in other countries—LT.] were not to occur, it would be hopeless to think (this is borne out both by historical experience and by theoretical considerations) that a revolutionary Russia, for instance, could hold out in face of conservative Europe, or that a socialist Germany could remain isolated in a capitalist world.” (Ibid., p. 90.)
On the basis of this and two or three similar quotations is founded the condemnation pronounced against “Trotskyism” by the Seventh Plenum as having allegedly held on this “fundamental question” a position “which has nothing in common with Leninism.” Let us, therefore, pause for a moment and listen to Lenin himself.
On March 7, 1918, he said a propos of the Brest-Litovsk peace: “This is a lesson to us because the absolute truth is that without a revolution in Germany, we shall perish.” (Lenin, Works, Vol. XV, p. 132, Russian [old] ed.)
A week later he said: “World imperialism cannot live side by side with a victorious advancing social revolution.” (Ibid., p. 175.)
A few weeks later, on April 23, Lenin said: “Our backwardness has thrust us forward and we will perish if we are unable to hold out until we meet with the mighty support of the insurrectionary workers of other countries.” (Ibid., p. 187.)
But perhaps this was all said under the special influence of the Brest-Litovsk crisis? No ! In March 1919, Lenin again repeated: “We do not live merely in a state but in a system of states and the existence of the Soviet Republic side by side with imperialist states for any length of time is inconceivable. In the end one or the other must triumph.”(Works, Vol. XVI, p. 102.)
A year later, on April 7, 1920, Lenin reiterates: “Capitalism, if taken on an international scale, is even now, not only in a military but also in an economic sense, stronger than the Soviet power. We must proceed from this fundamental consideration and never forget it.” (Works, Vol. XVII, p. 102.)
On November 27, 1920, Lenin, in dealing with the question of concessions, said: “We have now passed from the arena of war to the arena of peace and we have not forgotten that war will come again. As long as capitalism and socialism remain side by side we cannot live peacefully—the one or the other will be the victor in the end. An obituary will be sung either over the death of world capitalism or the death of the Soviet Republic. At present we have only a respite in the war.” (Ibid., p. 398.)
But perhaps the continued existence of the Soviet Republic impelled Lenin to “recognize his mistake” and renounce his “lack of faith in the inner force” of the October Revolution?
At the Third Congress of the Comintern in July 1921, Lenin declared in the theses on the tactics of the Communist Party of Russia: “An equilibrium has been created, which though extremely precarious and unstable, nevertheless enables the socialist republic to maintain its existence within capitalist surroundings, although of course not for any great length of time.”
Again, on July 5, 1921, Lenin stated point-blank at one of the sessions of the Congress: ‘It was clear to us that without aid from the international world revolution, a victory of the proletarian revolution is impossible. Even prior to the revolution, as well as after it, we thought that the revolution would also occur either immediately or at least very soon in other backward countries and in the more highly developed capitalist countries, otherwise we would perish. Notwithstanding this conviction, we did our utmost to preserve the Soviet system under any circumstances and at all costs, because we know that we are working not only for ourselves but also for the international revolution.” (Works, Vol. XVIII, part 1, p. 321.)
How infinitely removed are these words, so superb in their simplicity and permeated with the spirit of internationalism, from the present smug fabrications of the epigones!
In any case, we have the right to ask: wherein do all these statements of Lenin differ from my conviction in the year 1915 that the coming revolution in Russia or the coming socialist Germany could not hold out alone if “isolated in a capitalist world”? The time factor proved to be different from that posited not only by myself but also in Lenin’s forecasts; but the underlying idea retains its full force even today—at the given moment perhaps more so than ever before. Instead of condemning this idea, as the Seventh Plenum of the Executive Committee of the Communist International has done on the basis of an incompetent and unscrupulous speech, it should be included in the program of the Communist International.
Defending the slogan of the Soviet United States of Europe, we pointed out in 1915, that the law of uneven development is in itself no argument against this slogan, because the unevenness of historical development of different countries and continents is in itself uneven. European countries develop unevenly in relation to one another. Nevertheless it can be maintained with absolute historical certainty that not a single one of these countries is fated, at least in the historical epoch under review, to run so far ahead in relation to other countries as America has run ahead of Europe. For America there is one scale of unevenness, for Europe there is another. Geographically and historically, conditions have predetermined such a close organic bond between the countries of Europe that there is no way for them to tear themselves out of it. The modern bourgeois governments of Europe are like murderers chained to a single cart. The revolution in Europe, as has already been said, will in the final analysis be of decisive importance for America as well. But directly, in the immediate course of history, a revolution in Germany will have an immeasurably greater significance for France than for the United States of America. It is precisely from this historically developed relationship that there flows the political vitality of the slogan of the European Soviet Federation. We speak of its relative vitality because it stands to reason that this Federation will extend, across the great bridge of the Soviet Union, to Asia, and will then effect a union of the World Socialist Republics. But this will constitute a second epoch or a subsequent great chapter of the imperialist epoch, and when we approach it more closely, we will also find the corresponding formulas for it.
It can be proven without any difficulty by further quotations that our difference with Lenin in 1915 over the question of the United States of Europe was of a restricted, tactical, and, by its very essence, temporary character; but it is best proven by the subsequent course of events. In 1923 the Communist International adopted the controversial slogan. Were it true that the slogan of the United States of Europe was unacceptable in 1915 on grounds of principle, as the authors of the draft program now seek to maintain, then the Communist International could not possibly have adopted it. The law of uneven development, one would think, had not lost its effectiveness during these years.
The entire formulation of the questions as outlined above flows from the dynamics of the revolutionary process taken as a whole. The international revolution is regarded as an interconnected process which cannot be predicted in all its concreteness, and, so to speak, its order of occurrence, but which is absolutely clearcut in its general historical outline. Unless the latter is understood, a correct political orientation is entirely out of the question.
However, matters appear quite differently if we proceed from the idea of a socialist development which is occurring and is even being completed in one country. We have today a “theory” which teaches that it is possible to build socialism completely in one country and that the correlations of that country with the capitalist world can be established on the basis of “neutralizing” the world bourgeoisie (Stalin). The necessity for the slogan of a United States of Europe falls away, or is at least diminished, if this essentially national-reformist and not revolutionary-internationalist point of view is adopted. But this slogan is, from our viewpoint, important and vitally necessary because there is lodged in it the condemnation of the idea of an isolated socialist development. For the proletariat of every European country, even to a larger measure than for the U.S.S.R.—the difference, however, is one of degree only—it will be most vitally necessary to spread the revolution to the neighboring countries and to support insurrections there with arms in hand, not out of any abstract considerations of international solidarity, which in themselves cannot set the classes in motion, but because of those vital considerations which Lenin formulated hundreds of times—namely, that without timely aid from the international revolution, we will be unable to hold out. The slogan of the Soviet United States corresponds to the dynamics of the proletarian revolution, which does not break out simultaneously in all countries, but which passes from country to country and requires the closest bond between them, especially on the European arena, both with a view to defense against the most powerful external enemies, and with a view to economic construction.
One may, to be sure, try to raise an objection by asserting that following the period of the Ruhr crisis, which provided the latest impulse for the adoption of that slogan, the latter has not played a major role in the agitation for the communist parties of Europe and has, so to speak, not taken root. But this is equally true of such slogans as the workers’ state, Soviets, and so forth, i.e., all the slogans of the directly pre-revolutionary period. The explanation for this lies in the fact that since the end of 1923, notwithstanding the erroneous political appraisals of the Fifth Congress, the revolutionary movement on the European continent has been on the decline. But that is just why it is fatal to base a program, in whole or in part, upon impressions received only during that period. It was no mere accident that, despite all prejudices, the slogan of a Soviet United States of Europe was adopted precisely in 1923, at a time when a revolutionary explosion was expected in Germany, and when the question of the state interrelationships in Europe assumed an extremely burning character. Every new aggravation, of the European and indeed of the world crisis is sufficiently sharp to bring to the fore the main political problems and to invest the slogan of the United States of Europe with attractive power. It is therefore fundamentally wrong to pass over this slogan in silence in the program without rejecting it, that is, to keep it somewhere in reserve, for use “in case of emergency.” When questions of principle are involved, the policy of making reservations is futile.
From The Draft Program of the Communist International, 1936