Referendum: The Future of Europe. Part 4. The republican United States of Europe

The republican United States of Europe

The Communist Manifesto was written as an appeal to the workers of the world, but the politics was rooted in European experience and the prospects of European revolution. It was published in early 1848 as democratic revolutions burst onto the streets of Paris, Berlin, Budapest, Vienna and Prague. These highlighted two distinct and interconnected aspects of the European revolution.

First there were democratic struggles for independent states for example in Ireland, Poland, and Hungary etc. Second there were democratic struggles aimed at unifying small states into new larger nations such as Germany and Italy. Mass movements drove both kinds national democracy forward.

The communists did not restrict themselves to democratic demands for unification and self determination. They had a vision of a wider European democracy. Marx and Engels referred to a “European federative republic”, and “European fraternal union of peoples”. (Marx and Engels Collected Works 8: 363-4). “A careful reading of Marx and Engels’ writings over six decades” says Paul Hampton “reveals a pan-European perspective, of European workers fighting for Europe-wide democracy and for European revolution”. (Paul Hampton 8 August, 2015 excellent survey of the Marxist tradition in Workers Liberty).

Democratic revolution

The 1848 democratic revolutions failed to achieve their goals. But the lessons informed the politics of the First International set up in 1864. A European perspective was included in the ‘Provisional Rules of the Association’. The founding congress would “proclaim before Europe the common aspirations of the working classes”. (MECW 20: 15). Later Marx proposed the international adopt the slogan of “a free Europe based upon a free and independent Poland” (MECW 20: 97)

In the 1880s the centre of gravity in the international working class shifted towards Germany and Russia. Karl Kautsky, one of the leaders of German Social Democracy, recognised the real danger of another European war. In 1891 he argued there were only “two ways out of this intolerable state of things: either a gigantic war that shall destroy some of the existing European states, or the union of them all in a federation” (The Class Struggle, 1910: 104). Between 1870 and 1945 there would be three major Franco-German wars.

In 1900 Alexander Parvus, on the left wing of German Social Democracy, developed an economic analysis of European unity. He argued that the dynamics of the world market, would lead small nation states to be replaced by whole continents. The United States of America had become a continental economic power. Capitalist competition would “create great groups of nations, it will lead to a United States of Europe.” (Zeman and Scharlau, The Merchant of Revolution, 1965: 41-42).

Imperialist war

With the outbreak of the First World War most European socialist parties abandoned the idea of a United States of Europe and backed their own government’s imperialist war effort. Anti-war socialists continued to advocate a United States. However this would soon change.

At the London peace conference in early 1915 socialist ‘imperialists’ used the slogan to support France, Britain and Russia. They argued that “the victory of the Allied Powers must be a victory for popular liberty, for unity, independence, and autonomy of nations in the peaceful federation of the United States of Europe and the world” (Gankin and Fisher, 1940: 279).

At first Lenin called for “a republican United States of Europe” but when he saw it was taken up by socialist imperialists he changed his mind. In August 1915, he wrote a critical article ‘On the Slogan for a United States of Europe’. He agreed a “republican United States of Europe” was “quite invulnerable as a political slogan” provided it meant “the revolutionary overthrow of the German, the Austrian and the Russian monarchies.” Now he came to see it as “either impossible or reactionary” (Lenin CW 21: 339-340).

United States

Trotsky saw European unity as an integral part of a proletarian peace programme. (‘The Programme for Peace’, 1944: 283). He called for “The right of every nation to self-determination. The United States of Europe – without monarchies, without standing armies, without ruling feudal castes, without secret diplomacy” (Riddell, Lenin’s Struggle for a Revolutionary International, 1986: 151, 155). He believed “The democratic republican unification of Europe, a union really capable of guaranteeing the freedom of national development” (‘The Programme for Peace’, 1944: 283).

Trotsky located the slogan of a United States as part of the ongoing development of imperialism. He says “Imperialism represents the capitalist-predatory expression of a progressive tendency of economic development: to construct the human economy on a world scale, having emancipated it from the constraining fetters of the nation and the state”. (‘Imperialism and the National Idea’ (1915) Trotsky).

Socialism would go further and free “the world economy from national fetters, thus emancipating national culture from the grip of economic competition between nations. (Riddell 1986: 369-70). He believed that “only socialism provides a way out of the contradictions that have broken out before us as a terrible threat to the whole of human culture” (Riddell 1986: 369-70). Consequently “the economy will be organised in the broad arena of a European United States as the core of a worldwide organisation”. (Day and Gaido 2012: 883-84).

Federative Republic

Trotsky argued that “The political form can only be a republican federation” and hence “for us, recognition of every nation’s right to self-determination must be supplemented by the slogan of a democratic federation of all the leading nations, by the slogan of a United States of Europe” (Day and Gaido 2012: 883-84).

European unity, federal republicanism and self determination were connected. He says “The state unification of Europe is clearly a prerequisite of self-determination of great and small nations of Europe. A national-cultural existence, free of national economic antagonisms and based on real self-determination, is possible only under the roof of a democratically united Europe freed from state and tariff barriers…….the principle of the ‘right’ to self-determination can be invested with flesh and blood only under the conditions of a European Federative Republic”. (‘The Programme for Peace’, 1944: 282).

Working class

Trotsky saw his programme would meet strong opposition. He says “the urge toward unifying the European market which……. is caused by the development of capitalism, runs up against the powerful opposition of the landed and capitalist classes, in whose hands the tariff apparatus joined with that of militarism (without which the former means nothing) constitutes an indispensable weapon for exploitation and enrichment” (‘The Programme for Peace’, 1944: 283).

The ruling classes divided by their special interests were unable to carry out their mission. “To bourgeois politics” Trotsky says “ the destruction of ‘internal’ European customs houses is an insurmountable difficulty; but without this the inter-state courts of arbitration and international law codes will have no firmer duration than, for instance, Belgian neutrality”. (‘The Programme for Peace’, 1944: 283). The conclusion is that popular revolution is necessary.

The working class was the only class that could unite Europe because it was not restricted by ownership of property. He explains “the economic unification of Europe, which offers colossal advantages to producer and consumer alike, and in general to the whole cultural development, becomes the revolutionary task of the European proletariat in its struggle against imperialist protectionism and its instrument – militarism”. (‘The Programme for Peace’, 1944: 283).

This was possible “only on the road of a revolutionary struggle against militarist, imperialist, dynastic centralism”. (‘The Programme for Peace’, 1944: 285-86). This would come “by means of uprisings in individual countries, with the subsequent merger of these upheavals into a general European revolution… Consequently the United States of Europe represents the form – the only conceivable form – of the dictatorship of the European proletariat” (‘The Programme for Peace’, 1944: 285-86).

Three roads

How might a united European come about? Trotsky considered three ways. First Germany might win the war and unite Europe by force, as Napoleon did before and Hitler after. In seeking to overthrow forced unification from above, would the working class restore petty states with ‘autonomous’ tariffs, ‘national’ currencies, ‘national’ social legislation, and so forth? Trotsky said no. The working class would maintain “the complete annihilation of tariff barriers, the unification of legislation, above all of labour laws, etc”. (‘The Programme for Peace’, 1944: 283-84).

Second the war might result in a stalemate. The imperialist powers would then negotiate – “an imperialist trust of European States, a predatory share-holding association”. But even this “would be a step forward as compared with the existing situation, for it would first of all create a unified, all-European material base for the working class movement. The proletariat would in this case have to fight not for the return to ‘autonomous’ national states, but for the conversion of the imperialist state trust into a European Republican Federation.” (‘The Programme for Peace’, 1944: 283-84).

The third case was democratic revolution in which the working class came to power in one or more of the European states. In 1915 Trotsky saw every reason to hope “that during the course of this present war a powerful revolutionary movement will be launched all over Europe”. (‘The Programme for Peace’, 1944: 283-84). This was prescient, for within a year the Easter uprising in Dublin was followed by the 1917 Russian and 1918 German democratic revolutions.

Permanent revolution

After 1917 revolution Trotsky believed this would continue and spread immediately into a European and ultimately world process. He argued that “the salvation of the Russian revolution lies in its propagation all over Europe”. The creation of a stable democratic workers republic “would be conceivable only if it extended throughout Europe, and consequently in the form of a European Republican Federation” (‘The Programme for Peace’, 1944: 283-84).

This would become the foreign policy of the new Soviet republic. He explained this to American journalist, John Reed. “Our first act will be to call for an immediate armistice on all fronts, and a conference of peoples to discuss democratic peace terms… At the moment of the conclusion of peace the pressure of the Russian Revolution will be in the direction of ‘no annexations, no indemnities, the right of self-determination of peoples,’ and a Federated Republic of Europe”. (Rosenstone, The Collected Works of John Reed, 1995: 633-4).

Trotsky said “I see Europe recreated, not by the diplomats, but by the proletariat. The Federated Republic of Europe – the United States of Europe – that is what must be. National autonomy no longer suffices. Economic evolution demands the abolition of national frontiers. If Europe is to remain split into national groups, then imperialism will recommence its work. Only a Federated Republic of Europe can give peace to the world.” (Rosenstone, The Collected Works of John Reed, 1995: 633-4).

European Unity

The unification of Europe has been an important part of the communist tradition from 1848 to 1920. This was rooted in an understanding of the development of Capital and the working class. Capital accumulates across national borders as it integrates on a regional, international and global basis. This is turn was connected to the struggle against European imperialism and for republican democracy and national self determination. This is not just for the history books. It has to be resurrected and made relevant to the European working class movement today.

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