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Introduction to Trotsky’s Programme of Peace

Jack Bernard

TROTSKY REVISED these articles in May 1917 and they were reprinted in the form of a programmatic pamphlet in the Bolshevik press in Russia in June 1917. An abridged version was first made available in English in the volume The Proletarian Revolution in Russia, by Lenin and Trotsky, published in 1919 under the editorship of Louis C. Fraina. A revised but likewise abridged version appeared in the May 1942 issue of Fourth International. This translation by John G. Wright is an unexpurgated text based on the Russian text as given in the 1923 edition of Trotsky’s Collected Works, Vol.II, pp.462-82, issued by State Publishers in Moscow. It appeared in Fourth International, September 1944, pp.279-86 from where the above facts have been lifted but not verified.

This text, together with his 1923 discussion article "Is the Time Ripe for the Slogan: ’The United States of Europe’?",1 constitute an elaboration of Trotsky’s conception of The United States of Europe as a transitional slogan.

In its September 1944 publication, the title of "The Peace Programme" bears the flyer: "The Socialist United States of Europe." This flyer may have been added by the editors of Fourth International since the text of the article does not contain this slogan but simply "The United States of Europe". The content given to the latter slogan by Trotsky was not that of a "Socialist Europe" but merely "a democratically united Europe freed from state and tariff barriers".

The question of Europe has dominated the 20th century because it most pointedly expresses the second basic contradiction of capitalism: the conflict between the international character of the productive forces and the bourgeois national state framework within which these productive forces are obliged to operate.2 Europe is not a geographical, but an economic entity which today extends far beyond the Bosporus to include, as the Eurovision Song Contest suggests, even Israel. Far from demonstrating an ability to unite this Europe, the bourgeoisie continues to Balkanise it. The latest example is the Balkanisation of Bosnia under the auspices of the Dayton agreement.

"The United States of Europe" is a transitional slogan because, although technically achievable under bourgeois rule, its realisation will require state power to have passed to the hands of the workers and peasants. The first task of this European revolution will be to resolve the national question. Only within a single-state federation of nations will the small nations of today’s Europe realise their right to national self-determination. And, having also replaced bourgeois parliamentary institutions with those of soviet democracy, the European revolution will then "grow over" into a socialist revolution involving the expropriation of the bourgeoisie.

But to counterpose, today, the wholesale expropriation of the bourgeoisie to the Maastricht Treaty is the height of sectarian "maximalism". Expressed in the slogan "No to a Capitalist Europe, Yes to a Socialist Europe", this "maximalism" forgets that once the workers and peasants have seized state power, the economy will remain capitalist for a period even of several years. The strategical task today is not the immediate and complete expropriation of the bourgeoisie but the seizure of state power. It is this latter task that transitional slogans and demands address, not the former. They are not fantastic slogans and demands but neither do they represent reforms realisable under bourgeois rule.

The bourgeoisie continues to demonstrate that it is incapable of uniting Europe. This task – the creation of "a democratically united Europe freed from state and tariff barriers" – can only be achieved by the working class and the poor peasantry under the leadership of the proletariat.


1. The First Five Years of the Communist International, Vol.2.

2. See thesis 9 of "War and the Fourth International", Writings of Leon Trotsky 1933-4, p.304.