This Issue
Current Issue
Next Issue
Back Issues
Marxist Theory
Socialist History
Left Politics
Left Groups
New Interventions
Islamophobia Watch

Introduction to Trotsky on the "United States of Europe"

Jack Bernard

The following discussion article ("Is the Time Ripe for the Slogan: ’The United States of Europe’?"), first published in Pravda, 30 June 1923, has significance today in the light of the growing centrality of the European question within British politics, and as a guide to the character of programme that revolutionary Marxists need to develop and establish.

The present beginnings of discussion on the European question within the working-class movement in Britain have revealed a division into "maximalism" and "minimalism". Some feel happy merely to counterpose to the plans of Maastricht a call for a socialist Europe of the indefinite future, others simply proclaim their preference for a European bourgeois state as opposed to the present British bourgeois state. Of these two choices, the latter is preferable because merely opposing Maastricht on an abstract basis means to effectively endorse the status quo: it means defending the present wretched British state through failure to pose a feasible alternative.

In the following article, Trotsky transcends the maximalist/minimalist dilemma by filling his slogan of a United States of Europe with a transitional content. Arguing that "’The United States of Europe’ is a slogan in every respect corresponding with the slogan ’A Workers’ (or Workers’ and Peasants’) Government’", he, for instance, says that "The Europe of Workers and Peasants will have its ... budget ... based upon a graduated income tax, upon levies on capital". Clearly, if capital still exists in this Europe then this is not the socialist Europe of the far distant future but a revolutionary Europe where the economy still conflicts with the state. In other words, though it signifies a workers’ state and not merely a self-professed "workers’ government" that has been elected under the bourgeois political order and begrudgingly allowed to "govern" within constraints set by the dominant power, i.e. not really a workers’ government, Trotsky’s United States of Europe is a Europe that is in transition from the social dictatorship of the bourgeoisie to that of the proletariat. The key point is that the programme for this United States of Europe is neither the programme of socialism nor a reformist programme.

As Trotsky explained in the Transitional Programme, as long as revolutionary Marxists do not have the ear of the masses they must adopt a definite stance to those who do, to those "parties and organizations which base themselves on the workers and peasants and speak in their name". This does not mean simply calling, at a European level, for a vote for Social Democracy and kindred parties. Instead it means demanding that these parties "break politically from the bourgeoisie and enter upon the road of struggle for the workers’ and peasants’ government". Trotsky continued: "On this road, we promise them full support against capitalist reaction. At the same time, we indefatigably develop agitation around those transitional demands which should in our opinion form the programme of the ’workers’ and peasants’ government’." Such demands are not limited to what is achievable or feasible under the bourgeois order but neither are they fantastic demands that can only be realised under a future, planned economy.

The value of this article by Trotsky is that it is a particularly important illustration of the method of Marxism applied to formulating political slogans. The latter are based in an analysis of the world economic whole, i.e. in this case the particular plight of European economy within this economic whole, but they also relate to the subjective factor, how they "stem ... from today’s conditions and from today’s consciousness of wide layers of the working class" but nevertheless "unalterably lead ... to one final conclusion: the conquest of power by the proletariat."

Of course the wording of a slogan cannot contain the entire content to be given to the slogan. By "United States of Europe" Trotsky signified a single-state federation of nations, i.e. the destruction of the national state in Europe. Those who vehemently oppose Maastricht by effectively defending the national state of their "own" bourgeoisie, often combine this with defence of the Utopia of "one nation, one state" by, for example, supporting the re-Balkanisation of Yugoslavia under the guise of defending the principle of national self-determination. This pan-nationalism – that often attempts to pass itself off as Trotskyism – has its roots in the privileges enjoyed by much of the working class of the imperialist metropolii. At best it attempts to explain Trotsky’s slogan in terms of a confederation of national states rather than a single-state federation of nations. This is truly the antithesis of internationalism, and an unfortunate indicator that apparently all the organizations that claim, a heritage of the Fourth International or claim to be the Fourth International, have, like the Second and Third Internationals before them, degenerated to forms of national socialism.