Year XXX, 1988, Number 3, Page 163

 

 

 

The Bolshevik Revolution and Federalism
 
GUIDO MONTANI
 
 
Socialism, Democracy and the National State.
 
The renewal process started in the USSR by Gorbachev, the object of which is to achieve “a step forward in the development of socialism”, has been termed by Gorbachev himself as a “new revolution” with respect to the October Revolution, in which it has its roots. The continuity between the two events is quite obvious. It is not a matter of breaking all ties with the past, but rather of assessing the errors and causes lying behind the stagnation of the revolutionary process to resume the interrupted forward march. Revolution does not only mean building something new, it also means “demolishing all that is obsolete and stagnant and that hinders rapid progress”.[1]
Thus perestroika will have to be combined with a process of historiographical revision. In order to advance towards democracy it is absolutely necessary to think over the past, so as to free it from the noxious leftovers of mystification. In this respect, one of the ideas that will have to be accounted for is that of “socialism in one country”. It has marked a decisive turning point in the course of the revolution, allowing the Soviet Union to achieve a massive effort in industrialisation and then to successfully reject the Nazi attack. However, at the same time, the turning point of establishing socialism in one country has also marked the end of socialist internationalism, which aimed at spreading the revolutionary process, through the III International, all over the world. Since then the Soviet Union has become the “fatherland of socialism”, but at the cost of denying equal dignity to the socialist experiences started off in other countries. Soviet Russia is obliged to confront China on the basis of power for hegemony in Asia. Breshnev’s doctrine of “limited sovereignty” is still valid vis-à-vis the eastern European countries.
The discussion on the development of democracy within the USSR must therefore be linked to the search for those causes which have prevented the foundation of the relations between socialist countries and between these and the other countries of the world on a democratic basis. The issue is of vital importance. Perestroika will be able to advance within the USSR to the extent that détente and disarmament advance all over the world. It is enough to consider the enormous amount of resources the two superpowers are forced to spend in the armaments race. The perils encountered on the future path of perestroika will be more easily overcome if we are aware of the need to establish the old doctrine of internationalism on a new basis, in other words the relationship between socialism, democracy and nationalism. This is important not only within the context of international politics, where the nation states, including the superpowers, must recognize the need to face some decisive problems involving the whole planet together with all the other countries in the world, but also in the domestic politics of the USSR, which is rightly considered by Gorbachev as a “multinational state”, where the relationship between “great Russian” nationalism and minor nationalities has still not found a satisfactory constitutional arrangement.
Gorbachev’s “new thinking” on these aspects has both light and dark areas. On a worldwide level, brave proposals are made to progressively and completely eliminate all armaments, reinforcement of the UN is called for, both for security policies and for Third World and ecological safeguarding policies, but the principle of absolute sovereignty of nation states is not questioned at all. Among the socialist countries, the need for CMEA countries to progress towards a higher economic integration is recognised, but then no democratic institutions which could allow effective control of economic development are indicated. An integration process, as EEC experience shows, is impossible without bringing into existence disequilibria between member countries. The need for “harmonizing initiatives” between fellow countries is affirmed. But through what procedures will decisions finally be taken within CMEA? Lastly, the danger of arrogant claims being advanced among the various nationalities within the USSR is acknowledged, but then no institutional mechanisms are pointed out through which these disputes can be solved democratically, thus maintaining “the unity and brotherhood of the free nations”.
These uncertainties and gaps in the “new thinking” actually have roots which go back to the very foundation of the Soviet state. The elaboration of the strategy which allowed the Bolshevik party first to seize power and then keep it is tightly linked to the issue of the United States of Europe, a slogan which at that time had wide popularity within the International. This issue deserves to be reconsidered not only because of its present importance, but also because of the unjust oblivion to which it has been condemned by, on the one hand, the historians of the Bolshevik revolution and, on the other hand, the historians of the idea of European unification.[2] In little more than a decade of exceptional intellectual fervour, the major leaders of the Bolshevik revolution managed to give socialist ideas worldwide importance. Those events left a permanent mark on the history of mankind. But since then the issue has faded away and the history of the world and that of socialism seem to have gone in totally different directions. If the USSR wishes to take up once again the interrupted course of human emancipation, it cannot avoid re-examining the fundamental issue of the relationship between socialism, democracy and federalism.
 
The first reactions to the failure of the II International.
 
The slogan of the “United States of Europe” played a decisive role in the discussion opened within the Russian Social-Democratic Labor Party just after the downfall of the II International: a new strategy had to be drawn up which would allow the proletariat to escape the hegemony of the national bourgeoisies to which it was condemned by the imperative of “defence of the fatherland” supinely accepted by all the European socialist parties on that fateful August 4th 1914. It is in this perspective that Trotzky and Lenin, who are a fundamental reference point for the doctrine of internationalism, lay down, in the first months of the war, a theoretical platform, which was bound to be the premiss and the foundation for the action which should make it possible for the Bolshevik party to overthrow the Tzarist autocracy and establish the first socialist government in history.
In October 1914, Trotzky published in Zurich War and the International, in which for the first time in Marxist literature appeared the recognition of the need to historically go beyond the nation state, by then an obstacle to the development of productive forces. “The present war — this is how Trotzky begins — is essentially a revolt of the productive forces developed by capitalism against the nation state form of their exploitation. Today the whole globe… has become the arena of worldwide economy, the single parts of which are indissolubly interdependent… The old nation states… have became intolerable obstacles to the further development of the productive forces. The 1914 war is, above all, the downfall of the nation state as an independent economic arena”.[3] Imperialism is generated by the contradiction between the national dimension of the state and world dimension of the productive process. The European states are now obliged to find a world basis for their development. The consequence is a conflict between the great powers for supremacy in the world market. The 1914 war marks the end of the old European system and the change over to a worldwide system of power. This process is particularly evident in the conflict between Germany and England. “A full and unlimited rule over the European continent seems to Germany an indisputable necessity for the destruction of its world enemy. Therefore imperialist Germany puts first of all in its programme the creation of a league of central European states. …This programme… is the most eloquent proof and the most striking manifestation of the fact that the limits of the nation state have become unbearably narrow for capitalism. The great national power must give way to the great world power”. Socialists must find the courage to oppose to the imperialist programme of ruling and exploiting peoples a programme of peace and development of productive forces, in other words the organization of the world economy on a rational basis. For the proletariat, under these historical conditions, it cannot be a matter of defending an anachronistic national ‘fatherland’, by now the main obstacle to economic development, but of defending a new, more powerful and more lasting fatherland, the republican United States of Europe, as a first step towards the United States of the World”.[4]
To be able to fight effectively in this direction, the first task of the socialist parties is that of understanding the reasons for the collapse of the II International, in other words for the failure to oppose war on the part of the socialists. “If the socialists had merely expressed their opinions on the present war, declining all responsibility and denying their governments’ confidence and credit, there would have been nothing to find fault with… If this did not happen, if the signal for mobilization was also the signal for the defeat of the International, if the national working parties, without a protest, joined their governments and armies, there really must be deep causes common to the whole International”.[5] For Trotzky the explanation should be sought for in the objective conditions which allowed the European socialist parties to develop. The nineteenth century nation state constitutes the basis of every development of productive forces and of capitalism. “The proletariat — claims Trotzky — had therefore to go through the school of self-teaching”. Thus we come to the era of possibilism or political opportunism, “that is of conscious and systematic adjustment to the economic, legal and state forms of national capitalism”.[6] Over the years the spirit of adjustment of the parties completely prevails over the revolutionary spirit. In some countries, such as Germany, “the party has made the cult of organization an end in itself”. Therefore what happened close to the breakout of war is not surprising. “There can be absolutely no doubt that the question of keeping up organization, banks, people’s houses, printing-houses played a very important role in the attitude towards war of the Reichstag parliamentary group. The first motive I heard one of the leaders of the German comrades give was: ‘If we had acted differently we would have destroyed our organizations and our press’”.[7]
Socialism will be able to take up its revolutionary path again only if it takes on once more an authentically internationalist dimension. “The 1914 war finishes off the breaking up of the nation states. The socialist parties of that time which no longer exist were national parties. …The nation states drag with them in their historical collapse the national socialist parties”.[8] But the war also marks the beginning of a new revolutionary era, in which it will be possible to start fighting again and free oneself of the residues of the past. By siding with their own nation state the workers have also sided with world imperialism. However, it is on the very basis of this involvement that “the political fortune of the state comes to depend” on the working parties. “The proletariat, which has passed through the school of war, at the first serious obstacle it encounters in its country, will start using the language of violence…”[9] The European proletariat must therefore muster its forces around a “new International” and this will be possible if it becomes aware that “the real national self-defence consists in fighting for peace”. The slogans of revolutionary fighting will thus be: “Immediate end to war! No annexations! No reparations! Right of self-determination for all nations! United States of Europe, without monarchies, without standing armies, without ruling feudal castes, without secret diplomacy!”[10]
Lenin soon made clear his position too. Only one month after the war broke out, on September 6th 1914 a group of exiled Bolsheviks met in Berne to draw up a few theses to submit to the Central Committee of the Social-Democratic Party. In these theses, drawn up by Lenin, after denouncing the betrayal of the European socialist parties which had voted for war credits, the following lines of action are proposed: a) the development of propaganda and a fight “not against their brothers, the wage slaves in other countries, but against the reactionary and bourgeois governments and parties of all countries”; b) “as an immediate slogan, propaganda for republics in Germany, Poland, Russia and other countries and for the transforming of all separate states of Europe into a Republican United States of Europe”; c) the fight against the Tzarist monarchy “…for the liberation and self-determination for nationalities oppressed by Russia, coupled with the immediate slogans of a democratic republic, the confiscation of the landed estates and an eight-hour working day”.[11] This position in its essence was adopted by the Central Committee of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party and published on the Sotsial-Demokrat on November 1st 1914. This text emphasizes the criticism of the leaders of the II International who tried to “replace socialism with nationalism” and it points out that it must be the primary task of every Social-Democratic Party to combat “chauvinism in its own country”. For this reason — it is claimed — “to us Russian Social-Democrats there cannot be the slightest doubt that… the defeat of the Tzarist monarchy would be the lesser evil”. It is also reaffirmed that “the formation of a republican United States of Europe should be the immediate political slogan of Europe’s Social-Democrats” and finally it is acknowledged that the present war gives workers the chance to turn their arms “against the government and the bourgeoisie of each country”. Therefore, “the conversion of the present imperialist war into civil war is the only correct proletarian slogan, one that follows from the experience of the Commune, and outlined in the Basle resolution (1912); it has been dictated by all the conditions of an imperialist war between highly developed bourgeois countries”.[12]
The positions of Lenin and Trotzky, as can be seen, converge on many points. There remains however a fundamental difference over the best strategy to be used to direct forces towards the target of revolution. Trotzky, who was in Paris at the beginning of 1915, through the publishing group Nashe Slovo (Our Word) was trying to realize a policy of unity between the Mensheviks and Bolsheviks in view also of some action for the “New International”. In February 1915 Nashe Slovo launched the proposal of a conference between the two Social Democratic groups to reach a common position. Both organizations answered the invitation positively, but during the discussion were unable to find a common “internationalist” platform. The greatest contrast concerned the pacifist slogans, which Trotzky accepted in the attempt to get important sectors of German and French Social Democracy interested, whereas Lenin was against them so as to draw a clear and indisputable distinction between “social chauvinists” and “internationalists”. In a letter dated June 4th 1915 to Kommunist, a Bolshevik influenced newspaper which had invited him to collaborate, Trotzky writes: “I cannot reconcile myself to the vagueness and evasiveness of your position on the question of mobilizing the proletariat under the slogan of the struggle for peace. It is under this slogan that the working masses are now in fact coming back to their senses politically, and the forces of socialism are rallying in all countries. Under this slogan an attempt to restore the international ties of the Socialist proletariat is now being made. Furthermore, I cannot possibly agree with your view, now concretized in a resolution, that the defeat of Russia is the lesser evil. This uncalled for and unjustified position represents a concession in principle to the political methodology of social patriotism…”.[13] Lenin’s answer was published on the Sotsial-Demokrat of July 26th 1915 and marks an exacerbation both of tone and substance: the strategy of transforming the imperialist war into civil war is defined as an exclusive objective. “During a reactionary war — Lenin begins — a revolutionary class cannot but desire the defeat of its government”. In his conciliatory attempts Trotzky, according to Lenin, lost sight of the essence of revolutionary action. It is true that the defeat of Russia implies the victory of Germany and that this might appear to favour German militarism. But what is really decisive is only the outburst of the socialist revolution. “A revolution in wartime means civil war; the conversion of a war between governments into a civil war is, on the one hand, made easier by military reverses (‘defeats’) of governments; on the other, one cannot actually strive for such a conversion without thereby facilitating defeat”. Only on this basis is it possible, Lenin concludes, to start “revolutionary action even in one country”, but this will also be the beginning of a “European revolution, to the permanent peace of socialism”.[14]
Trotzky’s position, more flexible and possibilist than Lenin’s, had a few solid justifications over the short term. By now in the whole European socialist movement a renewal of the internationalist ideals was taking place — in Germany under the influence of Rosa Luxemburg — and the conditions for a new International were ripening. In fact, from the 5th to the 8th of September 1915 at Zimmerwald, in Switzerland, forty-two delegates — including Lenin and Trotzky — of the leading European socialist parties met to discuss the renewal of the socialist struggle on an international level. During the debates it soon became clear that a common position could be reached only on the basis of a strategy which did not clash with the demands of the most important parties on the Continent, the German and French ones. They presented a “Joint Declaration” in which they claimed that the respective parties would undertake to “hasten the ending of the war” and would act so that “…the peace movement may become strong enough to force our governments to stop this slaughter”. But no hint was made of the possibility of civil war. Lenin’s extremist positions were rejected and Trotzky, who was the effective architect of the conference, was entrusted to draw up the final resolution, in which however the betrayal of those socialists who voted in favour of war credits was condemned and the workers of every country were invited to renew the common struggle for peace among all peoples.[15]
 
The strategy to seize power and the nationality question.
 
During the months which preceded the Zimmerwald conference and while the controversy over the strategy was developing with Trotzky, Lenin also perfected a radical revision of the party’s position concerning the slogan of the United States of Europe. Between February 27th and March 4th 1915 a conference of all the Bolshevik groups abroad met in Berne to decide on a common position on the problems of the war. The conference was totally dominated by the discussion over the slogan of the United States of Europe. Bucharin and his group had presented a resolution in which a certain unilateral approach to the strategy of “civil war for the conquest of political power and the triumph of socialism” was questioned. This strategy, the resolution claimed, “does not exclude, but on the contrary includes, other revolutionary slogans, such as for example the slogan of peace and the slogan of a United States of Europe. Our group holds that these two slogans may be of great significance for agitation and the revolution”. Many of the participants to the conference objected to these theses, but they had to face Lenin, who strenuously defended the position and in the end managed to obtain unanimous favour for the party’s traditional position for the United States of Europe. However, the day after Lenin made the following declaration: “Although yesterday a definite stand was taken concerning the United States of Europe, if we consider that this issue has raised different points of view amongst us, and moreover that the discussion took place unilaterally, ignoring the economic side of the problem, which remains rather unclear, the matter cannot be considered settled”.[16]
In fact, on August 23rd 1915 in the Sotsial-Demokrat Lenin’s article “On the Slogan for a United States of Europe” appeared, in which the reasons for his refusal are explained. After claiming that “…if accompanied by the revolutionary overthrow of the three most reactionary monarchies in Europe, headed by the Russian, it is quite invulnerable as a political slogan, there still remains the highly important question of its economic content and significance”. By economic significance Lenin means “in a capitalistic regime”. It follows that “a United States of Europe, under capitalism, is either impossible or reactionary”. In fact the European capitalists would make an agreement only “…for the purpose of jointly suppressing socialism in Europe, of jointly protecting colonial booty against Japan and America …The time when the cause of democracy and socialism was associated only with Europe alone has gone for ever”. The arena in which one must fight for socialism has by now taken a worldwide dimension. It is therefore senseless to limit one’s sphere of action to Europe only. “The United States of the World (and not of Europe) represent the state form of unity and freedom of nations”, Lenin concludes. But immediately after he limits his statement with the observation — later very cleverly exploited by Stalin — that “…the slogan of a United States of the World would hardly be a correct one, first, because it merges with socialism; second, because it may be wrongly interpreted to mean that the victory of socialism in one country is impossible, and it may also create misconceptions as to the relations of such a country to the others. Uneven economic and political development is an absolute law of capitalism. Hence, the victory of socialism is possible first in several or even in one capitalist country alone”.[17]
The argument put forward by Lenin to reject the slogan of United States of Europe do not differ substantially from those of Rosa Luxemburg in her disagreement with Kautsky, and are not at all convincing in this case either. If we admit that the development of productive forces has by now created an interdependent market on a worldwide scale and that, in principle, it is right to speak of United States of the World, why should we not speak of United States of Europe (republican or socialist, it matters little) as an intermediate stage? Actually, it seems that the main reason for Lenin’s change of mind lies mainly in his attempt to create a clear-cut dividing line with the by now discredited European social democracy which considered the pacifist objective of the United States of Europe as a “postwar” task, while still supporting, even with government positions, the militarist policy of its country. Lenin’s indignation at these opportunistic positions is natural and his attempt to bring European socialism back to antinationalist positions is understandable: this is why he even goes so far as to propagandize the defeat of his own government. That this actually was Lenin’s main reason is indirectly confirmed by an episode which took place in preparation for the Zimmerwald conference. Lenin and Zinoviev had written a pamphlet entitled Socialism and war to be divulged at the international Conference, and to which was to be added the Central Committee’s resolution dated 1st November 1914 which was in favour of the United States of Europe. To this resolution Lenin added the following Post scriptum: “The demand for a United States of Europe as it is put forward in the manifesto of the Central Committee — accompanying it with an appeal for the overthrow of the Russian, Austrian, and German monarchies — differs from the pacifist interpretation of the slogan formulated by Kautsky and others”.[18] Any attempt at an international co-ordination of the socialist parties’ political action for an improbable peace could only be considered by Lenin as sabotage of the fundamental strategic action: seizing power, in other words the destruction of Tzarist autocracy.
However, these considerations on tactics and strategy would not be sufficient to justify the refusal of the United States of Europe objective on the part of Lenin if they did not go with an actual incomprehension of federalism and the federal state, as an institutional solution to the problem of peaceful relations between states, whether capitalist or socialist. Lenin would never have abandoned a theoretic milestone of socialism simply for tactical reasons. The truth is that Lenin never fully understood the value of federalism and this is particularly evident in his writings on the issue of nationalities, in which the solutions he suggests are no different from those of the “bourgeois” Wilson, promoter of the League of Nations. According to Lenin, a socialist state should guarantee the “right to secession” for all its nationalities, because this is the only way of acknowledging equality among all nations. But at this point Lenin realizes that this would mean favouring the political fragmentation of the world and this would clash with the demand for unity and development of the productive forces. The international task of the proletariat, in the smaller states, is thus to ask to be joined to the larger states and the task of the proletariat in the larger states is to guarantee autonomy to the smaller ones. However, according to Lenin, this solution too can only be considered as temporary. “The Marxists — he writes in 1913 — are against federation and decentralization for the simple reason that capitalism for its development requires states to be as large and centralized as possible… Until and to the extent that various nations are part of one single state, Marxists will never preach either the federal principle or decentralization. The great centralized state is an enormous historical progress…”[19] And in one of his writings dated March 1916 he specifies: “Acknowledging the right to self-determination is not equal to acknowledging federation as a principle… The aim of socialism does not consist only in abolishing the breaking up of nations into small states and every isolation of nations, not only in bringing nations closer but also in amalgamating them… As mankind will never achieve class abolition without going through a temporary period of dictatorship by the oppressed class, thus the inevitable fusion of nations cannot be achieved without a temporary period of total liberation of all the oppressed nations, in other words of freedom to secede’’.[20]
Lenin therefore does not see any value in the federalist solution because he thinks that the ideal of socialism consists in a centralized superstate on a worldwide level. In a temporary phase, various socialist states can even live together in view of a future unification. The problem of the relations between socialist states is not even considered and it is taken for granted that it can automatically be solved, on the basis of the goodwill to cooperate between socialist governments.
Trotzky does not let himself be trapped in the mesh of these unsatisfactory argumentations. At the beginning of 1916, in a letter to Henriette Roland-Host, who was trying to launch a new periodical (Vorbote) to debate the prospects of the Zimmerwald Left, Trotzky asks a crucial question. “You say” — claims Trotzky — that the right of nations to self-determination is unrealizable under capitalism and superfluous under socialism. Why it is superfluous under socialism I cannot understand. One would think that our politics now proceed from the conviction that we are entering an epoch of social revolution. Therefore we must have a program for social revolution, a program of proletarian state power in Europe. Is it really superfluous to tell the Poles, the Serbs, and the Alsatians what government the European proletariat will secure for them, once it is in power? Do you really think that national frictions and disputes will disappear from the face of the earth, once the proletariat has achieved power?”[21]
Trotzky tries to give an organic answer to this decisive query in a series of articles on Nashe Slovo.[22] Contrary to Lenin, Trotzky does not think that nations should give way to a gigantic centralized state. “A national community — he writes — is the living heart of culture, as the national language is its living organ, and these will still retain their significance through indefinitely long historical periods. The Social Democracy is desirous of safeguarding and is obliged to safeguard the freedom of development (or dissolution) of the national community…” But naturally it cannot be expected that the defence of national particularism should take on a privileged and absolute value with respect to the other political and social objectives. “From the standpoint of historical development as well as from the point of view of the tasks of the Social Democracy, the tendency of the modern economy is fundamental, and it must be guaranteed the fullest opportunity of executing its truly liberationist historical mission: to construct the united world economy, independent of national frames, state and tariff barriers, subject only to the peculiarities of the soil and natural resources, to climate and the requirements of division of labour”. Therefore a political solution must be sought which allows “an enlarging of the State as an organizer of the economy but not as nation”. Only in this way is authentic self-determination of nations possible. “The state unification of Europe — concludes Trotzky — 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 a real self-determination, is possible only under the roof of a democratically united Europe freed from state and tariff barriers”.[23]
At this stage Trotzky goes on to examine the objections of the opponents of the United States of Europe, with the intention of re-establishing this slogan as a revolutionary objective of the European proletariat. It is not true in fact, Trotzky maintains, that this objective must be considered reactionary if pursued under a capitalistic regime. One must distinguish between a European “half-unification” and an authentically democratic unification. The European capitalist governments will certainly be able to find the way to realize agreements (one might say a “confederation”) at the top, but they will never eliminate the deep and intrinsic causes of international conflicts. “Hence, it is that the economic unification of Europe, which offers colossal advantages to producer and consumer alike; 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 United States of Europe — without monarchies, standing armies and secret diplomacy — is therefore the most important integral part of the proletarian peace programme.” Moreover, Trotzky continues, even if the bourgeois and reactionary governments manage to form the United States of Europe, the proletariat must still not renounce its objective. It is certainly not a question of going back to the formation of small economies closed inside customs barriers and isolated from the world. In this case the “programme of a European revolutionary movement will be: the destruction of the oppressive and antidemocratic state form”, at the same time retaining the acquired political unity. It is a matter of “the conversion of the imperialist state trust into a European Republican Federation”.[24]
Finally, Trotzky, explicitly quoting Lenin’s positions, discusses the prospect of the “victory of socialism in one country”. Trotzky does not question the strategic choice of seizing the opportunity to carry out a socialist revolution in one country, if the chance occurs, “without waiting for the others”. The decisive point is another. “To view the perspectives of the social revolution within a national framework is to succumb to the same national narrowness that forms the content of social-patriotism”. Trotzky continues: “The revolution cannot begin otherwise than on the national basis, but cannot be completed on that basis in view of the present economic and military-political independence of the European states, which has never been so forcefully revealed as in this war. The slogan of the United States of Europe gives expression to this interdependence, which will directly and immediately set the conditions for the concerted action of the European proletariat in the revolution”.[25] If a successful revolution broke out in Russia “…we have every reason to hope that during the course of the present war a powerful revolutionary movement will be launched all over Europe. It is clear that such a movement can succeed and develop and gain victory only as a general European one… The salvation of the Russian Revolution lies in its propagation all over Europe… The state unification of Europe, to be achieved neither by force of arms nor by industrial and diplomatic agreements, would in such a case become the unpostponable task of the triumphant revolutionary proletariat. The United States of Europe is the slogan of the revolutionary epoch into which we have entered… The nation state has outlived itself — as a framework for the development of the productive forces, as a basis for the class struggle, and thereby also as a state form of dictatorship of the proletariat’’.[26]
The controversy between Lenin and Trotzky over the United States of Europe ends at this point. The respective positions are reaffirmed, but they do not represent an obstacle to the progressive approach of the two leaders at a time when it is necessary to join all efforts to deliver the decisive blow to the Tzarist state. For both of them it is indisputable that the Russian Revolution represents the beginning of the world socialist revolution. Lenin, after the outbreak of the February revolution, ended his “Farewell letter to the Swiss workers” with the words: “Long live the proletarian revolution which starts in Europe!” And on his arrival at Petrograd he greeted the crowds surrounding him with the cry: “Long live the world socialist revolution!”[27] It is however evident that there are many differences between Lenin’s strategy and Trotzky’s. By abandoning the prospect of the United States of Europe, Lenin has objectively opened the way to the construction of “socialism in one country” and to the consequent liquidation of the worldwide and revolutionary dimension of the socialist ideology. Through the October Revolution, Lenin and Trotzky managed to break the weakest link in the chain. But the dramatic problem of what would happen to the remaining part of the chain still lay open. What would be the fate of the Russian Revolution without a rising of the European proletariat in its support? The answers of Lenin and Trotzky to this question do not converge. As the historian of socialism Rosenberg rightly wrote: “Leninism has its way out in case the world revolution should not take place: Trotzkism has not”.[28]
 
The world revolutionary party and Europe.
 
The III International was founded in Moscow in March 1919. The initiative was taken by Lenin, when Soviet Russia was most isolated, both to oppose the attempts at re-establishing the Social-Democratic International, and with the hope of being able to count on the support of the European proletariat: in December 1918 the German Communist party was founded, as a result of the separation of the left wing of the SPD. This second event was decisive. The founding of the new International was in fact doubted up to the last minute by the attitude of the German delegate Eberlein, who had been instructed by his party to oppose the creation of a Third International, still considered premature. It was only during the debates, when the conviction that the revolution in Europe might break out within a few months spread among the delegates, that Eberlein’s consent was obtained (actually, Eberlein abstained from voting on the founding resolution).
The primary aim of the new International was to extend the proletarian revolution from Russia to Europe and the whole world. The weakest link in the chain had broken, but could Soviet Russia hold on for long without the support of the European proletariat? The highest Bolshevik leaders, particularly Lenin and Trotzky, were convinced that — in the short term — conditions were ripening in Europe for the seizing of power by the proletariat and that Bolshevism could become the model for the international revolution. A victory of the European proletariat would move the centre of gravity of the revolution westwards. Lenin was perfectly aware of this and for some time tried to create a Comintern (Communist International) office in Holland and to call a conference there. Zinoviev even went so far as to declare that “we shall be glad if we can succeed in transferring the place of residence of the III International and its executive committee as quickly as possible to another capital, for example, Paris”. The influence of the western European proletariat was still decisive. The working language of the III International, at least until Stalin’s power became overbearing, was German.
The conviction of a possible victorious revolution in Europe continued despite the bloody repression of the German insurrection, with the barbarous killing of Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht on January 16th 1919. Only 15 days after the closing down of the Congress for the foundation of the III International, on March 21st 1919, a Soviet republic was established in Budapest. At the beginning of April a Soviet republic was proclaimed in Munich. Strikes and insurrections were taking place everywhere, in France, in Holland and in Switzerland. Lenin then declared that “our victory on an international scale is completely secure”; on celebrating the First of May he ended his speech on the cry of “Long live the International Republic of Soviets!” and three months later he declared: “This July will be our last difficult July, and next July we shall greet the victory of the International Soviet Republic”.[29]
All the events concerning the slogan of the United States of Europe in the III International are closely linked to the strategy for the world revolution. In the early years the problem did not present itself directly. The prospect of a rapid spreading of the revolution in Europe was so deeply rooted that no significant contrasts could arise between supporters and opposers of European unification, as happened instead later. At the foundation congress Lenin presented some Theses “on bourgeois democracy and the dictatorship of the proletariat” with the explicit objective of directing the European proletariat towards the establishment of communist parties, abandoning the decrepit social-democratic organizations. Trotzky instead wrote the first “Manifesto of the Communist International to the workers of the world”, in which he reaffirmed that “the nation state, which gave a mighty impulse to capitalist development, has become too narrow for the further development of productive forces”. For this reason it is possible to overcome imperialism and guarantee real independence to all peoples, even the smallest, only through actual forms of political unity. “The small peoples — it is claimed in the Manifesto — can be assured the opportunity of free existence only by the proletarian revolution which will free the productive forces of all countries from the tentacles of the nation states, unifying the peoples in closest economic collaboration on the basis of a common economic plan, and offering the weakest and smallest people an opportunity of freely and independently directing their national cultural affairs without any detriment to the unified and centralized European and world economy”.[30] The formulation adopted here by Trotzky is only slightly more prudent than the one used in an article published by him in Pravda on January 26th 1919, in view of the convocation of the establishment Congress of the International, in which he wrote that “To turn Europe into a federation of Soviet republics is the only conceivable solution to the needs of the national development of large and small peoples without prejudicing the centralist requirements of economic union first of Europe then of the whole world”.[31]
A radical change took place in the policy of the International with the III world Congress which was held from June 22nd to July 12th 1921. In the previous month of March an awkward attempt at an insurrection had failed in Germany. The Bolshevik government in Hungary had only lasted for a short time. In Italy the occupation of factories had never given the impression that it could turn into a serious attempt at seizing power. The Kronstadt revolt (with its repression) and the launching of the New Economic Policy (NEP) were by now directing the Soviet society towards a period of stability. All these events had to be taken into consideration and Lenin and Trotzky fought, even against some of the Russian leaders of the International such as Zinoviev and Bucharin, to impose a change in the strategy and the tactics of the International. It was necessary to alienate and make inoffensive the fanciful behaviour of those who confused revolution with the riot and political adventurism, which Lenin had already condemned in his famous 1920 essay ‘Left Wing’ Communism: An Infantile Disorder. The prospect of a world revolution was going further away in time. “Now for the first time — Trotzky stated in his report — we see and hear that we are not so immediately close to our objective, to the conquest of power, to the world revolution. At that time, in 1919, we would tell ourselves: ‘It is only a matter of months’. Now we say: ‘Maybe it is a matter of years’”.[32] The main task of the international Communist party, in this new situation, became that of “directing the defensive struggles of the proletariat, spreading them and making them take root”. Essentially, it was necessary to achieve a “temporary retreat” strategy in which the organization had to be strengthened, mostly through convincing the proletariat, which still adhered massively to the socialist parties. The different national sections of the communist parties had to try to widen their basis and reinforce the cadres by means of the “united front” tactic, working in agreement with the Social-Democratic parties, to win the consensus of the majority of the working class, in view of future revolutionary occasions.
The reasons for this “temporary retreat” were ever adequately explained either by Lenin or Trotzky. Lenin affirmed that the Comintern had passed from the assault tactic to that of the siege, but this image did not make clear the future of the Bolshevik revolution and the prospects of the international one. Trotzky presented an ample report on the economic decline of Europe with respect to the emergent US power and the consequences for the strategy of the International. Trotzky diagnosed with precision and clear-sightedness some of the decisive tendencies of world economy and politics, such as the fact that “the Dollar has ‘already’ become the ‘Sovereign’ of the world financial market”[33] and that the European countries were driven by their respective difficulties to a policy of ever increasing contrasts which might even result in another war (although Trotzky wrongly thought that a war between the USA and Great Britain was more likely). But in the end the causes for the failure of the International were attributed to simple reasons of organization: the lack of preparation and the failures of the western communist parties in the struggle for national power. From the point of view of the revolution the situation remained favourable. On the contrary, the decline of Europe increased the possibilities of success for the communist parties. “Both the world situation and the future perspectives are profoundly revolutionary in character”.[34]
Both for Lenin and for Trotzky the responsibility for the failure of the revolution were essentially to be ascribed to a subjective factor, such as the inability of the western leaders to bring their party to success. The failure to diagnose the objective conditions — the historical and political world context — in which to set the action of the International was to leave room for different and opposing orientations, which fully appeared only in later years.
During a first phase, the prestige, authority and political ability of Trotzky managed to impose on the International a strategy favourable to the establishment of the European federation and to the struggle to extend the conquests of socialism to the whole world. The occasion was provided by the occupation of the Ruhr by the French and Belgian troops, because of the failure of the Germans to pay war reparations. The threat of a European and World war once more loomed on the horizon. The occupation took place on January 11th 1923. On 13th January the Comintern executive published an Appeal in which the French and German workers were invited to “promote strikes and demonstrations” to prevent the war and to demand “the European federation of the socialist republics”. The Appeal ended with the slogan “Long live the federation of socialist governments!”[35]
The international situation at that time seemed to Trotzky to be favourable to a renewal of the revolutionary process. Moreover, domestic political life was characterized by a moment of uncertainty over the prospects of power within the party: Lenin was by now absent from political activity and the fight for succession had already begun undercover. Trotzky made of the slogan of the United States of Europe a mainstay of his revolutionary political perspective. On June 30th 1923 he published an article in Pravda in which he affirmed the timeliness of taking this strategy into consideration once again. “…The occupation of the Ruhr so fatal to Europe and to mankind — wrote Trotzky — we find a distorted expression of the need for uniting the coal of the Ruhr with the iron of Lorraine. Europe cannot develop economically within the state and customs frontiers imposed at Versailles. Europe is compelled either to remove these frontiers, or to face the threat of complete economic decay”. The European federation would be the only alternative to “…the very danger arising from the United States of America (which is spurring the destruction of Europe, and is ready to step in subsequently as Europe’s master)”. The United States of Europe represent a revolutionary perspective, because through the Soviet Union the process can extend eastwards and “consequently will open an outlet for Asia towards Europe”.[36]
This position was kept up within the International up to 1926, when the dispute between Trotzky and Stalin had reached a point when it could no longer be settled. Trotzky was expelled from the Politburo of the party and Zinoviev removed from his appointment as president of the International, because of his internationalist positions in favour of Trotzky. The 5th World Congress, which was held in summer 1924, approved the idea of a Balkan federation and a Manifesto “on the occasion of the tenth anniversary from the outbreak of the war”, drawn up by Trotzky, in which it was claimed that the victory of the European proletariat will be even more certain if the European states join together in a “Soviet federation… The revolutionary movement in America would then receive an enormous impulse. The European Socialist federation will thus become the corner stone of the world socialist Republic”.[37] Finally, in December 1926, it was Bucharin himself, by now faithful ally of Stalin against Trotzky, who presented some Theses, approved by the seventh Plenum of the Comintern, in which once again, even though “against Pan-Europe”, the demand for “the United Socialist States of Europe” is reaffirmed and is supported “against the League of Nations, a Union of the Soviet Socialist Republics”.[38]
 
The establishment of socialism in one country and the decline of the revolutionary perspective.
 
The 5th Congress was the last occasion on which the International declares itself in favour of the European federation. The struggle to assert socialism in one country was inexorably overwhelming all the opposers and of course the International had to bow its head to this new course of events too. At the beginning it was not clear even to Stalin what a decisive role this point of view might play in the struggle for the seizing of power in the USSR: Lenin died on January 21st 1924, but the tension within the party had already become particularly acute two years before. The central issues concerned the freedom of criticism within the party — defended by Trotzky — and the problem of overcoming the NEP with an effective industrialization plan. These proposals from the left were then opposed by Bucharin who, leaning on the still wide rural Russian basis, defended the hypothesis of a “snail’s pace” industrialization. Stalin led the so-called Centre and his power was based on the bureaucratic structure of the state and the party. On the problem of the revolutionary prospects his point of view was so orthodox that in an article published in Pravda on April 30th 1924 he wrote: “To overthrow the power of the bourgeoisie and establish the power of the proletariat in one country does not yet mean the complete victory of socialism. The principal task of socialism — the organization of socialist production — has still to be fulfilled. Can this task be fulfilled, can the final victory of socialism be achieved in one country, without the joint efforts of the proletarians in several advanced countries? No, it cannot. To overthrow the bourgeoisie the efforts of one country are sufficient; this is proved by the history of our revolution. For the final victory of socialism, for the organization of socialist production, the efforts of one country, particularly a peasant country like Russia, are insufficient; for that, the efforts of the proletarians of several advanced countries are required”.[39]
However, before the end of 1924 Stalin’s point of view was completely overturned. In the autumn, on the occasion of the victorious revolution’s anniversary, Trotzky published the October Lessons, in which he openly attacked the old Bolshevik guard, which did not support Lenin at the decisive moment in his decision to seize power. The answer soon came and was orchestrated by Stalin with great ability. All the party press started a campaign against “trotzkism”, the new doctrine which was trying to supplant Leninism. In a speech given on December 13th “On the theory of permanent revolution” Bucharin condemned Trotzky’s Europeanism and his lack of faith in the Russian proletariat, which would not have succeeded in its revolutionary attempt without the help of its European comrades. It was Stalin, however, with an article published in Pravda on December 20th, who introduced the new political perspective into the debate, which was to prove itself over the years as a decisive turning point in the history not only of Russian communism, but of the whole international socialist movement.
Stalin starts off by establishing that “the essence of the October revolution” consists “in the fact that the dictatorship of the proletariat has asserted itself here as a result of the victory of socialism in one country, not very developed capitalistically, while capitalism has continued to exist in the other countries which are more developed capitalistically”. According to Trotzky the establishment of socialism cannot be completed in isolation and without the help of the proletariat of the more advanced European countries. For this reason it is necessary to pursue a strategy devoted to provoking the world revolution, wherever the chance occurs. “But what shall we do — Stalin wonders — if the world revolution is forced to arrive late? Will there be any hope left for our revolution? Trotzky does not leave us any”. Instead history teaches us that some countries have managed to make up for the delay with respect to the more advanced countries. Germany was a backward country compared to France and England. The same can be said of Japan compared to Russia. “Therefore — concludes Stalin — the victory of socialism in one country, even if this country is capitalistically less developed and capitalism continues to exist in other countries, although capitalistically more developed, is perfectly possible and probable”. Trotzky’s political programme is absolutely impracticable. The slogan of the United States of Europe would mean something if a simultaneous victory of the European proletariat in several countries were possible. But this prospect is extremely unrealistic. The establishment of socialism in one country does not at all mean abandoning the prospect of the world revolution. For Stalin: “The immense country of the Soviets… through its simple existence, stimulates the revolution in the whole world”. In conclusion, the task of all proletarians becomes that of defending the first conquests of their “socialist fatherland”. It is this meaning that must be seen in the search for the necessary support given by the European proletariat to the Russian. Trotzky, with his continuous search for external support for the Soviet revolution, actually contributes to “the lack of faith in the strength and ability of the Russian proletariat”.[40]
The struggle for power within the Soviet government paralysed the activity of the International. The 6th World Congress was called in Moscow only in the summer of 1928, when Trotzky was already in exile at Alma Ata and Bucharin felt that his alliance with Stalin was about to end. But perhaps for this very reason, Bucharin presented some theses and a programme which definitively sanctioned the subordination of the International to Soviet foreign policy. The “Europeanistic” strategy of Trotzky was immediately abandoned by reviving Lenin’s old ideas. “In a capitalistic regime — it is claimed — the United States of Europe or the United States of the World are utopia. But even if they were achieved, they would inevitably take on reactionary characteristics… All the tendencies in this direction (for example, the Paneuropean movement) are distinctly reactionary”.[41] This judgement is founded on the acknowledgement of a new international reality: “The world is divided into two irreducibly hostile spheres: the sphere of the imperialist states and that of the dictatorship of the proletariat in the Soviet Union… Two antagonistic systems now confront each other in what was once one world economy: capitalism and socialism”.[42] Here for the first time, although it is disguised in ideological form, the acknowledgement of the world bipolarism appears, in other words the tendential division of the world in opposing blocs. The process to bring this new reality to its maturation will be long and tormented. But the doctrine of the establishment of socialism in one country lets us clearly glimpse what the final outcome will be. The USSR will become from now on the reference point of the world proletariat. “The Soviet Union is the real fatherland of the proletariat… This entrusts to the international proletariat the duty of accelerating the successful establishment of socialism in the Soviet Union and of defending with every means the country of the dictatorship of the proletariat from the attacks of the capitalistic powers”.[43] The task of the communist parties of the world and of the International is thus strictly subordinated to the defence of the existing order. The world revolution is not of course repudiated, but the path which could make it possible passes through the Soviet supremacy. “The Soviet Union — it is claimed — is destined to become… the centre of the international revolution”. As gradually some revolutions are “successful outside the USSR, these new republics should join those already existing to finally create the World Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, that will unite the whole of mankind under the hegemony of the international proletariat organized as state”.[44]
From his faraway exile at Alma Ata, Trotzky sent the 6th World Congress a criticism of the “Programme project” which punctiliously reaffirmed all his previous positions on the absolute incompatibility between the national and autarchical theses contained in the Programme and the fundamental principles of marxism and socialism. “There now exists a theory — Trotzky wrote — according to which the complete establishment of socialism is possible in one country… If one adopts this point of view, which is fundamentally national-reformist and not revolutionary and internationalist, the need for the slogan of a United States of Europe disappears or at least diminishes. But this very slogan seems to us to be necessary and vital, because it contains the condemnation of the idea of a socialist development limited to one country”.[45] On the whole this statement of Trotzky is perfectly right. The delegates who were present, especially the Europeans, who managed to read any rare and mutilated copy of Trotzky’s criticisms found them in agreement with marxist orthodoxy. But by now everybody knew that the main issue was not so much to discuss and defend any principles of a doctrine, but rather to allow the Soviet government to deal successfully with the difficult task of forced industrialization. Thus, in the general silence, the slogan of a United States of Europe was definitively set aside from the political horizon of the communist International.
 
Federalism in the past and in the future of the USSR.
 
In the USSR, thanks to Gorbachev’s perestroika, a process of democratization of the Soviet institutions is now taking place which will inevitably re-open the debate on the relationship between socialism and democracy started in the Twenties, but halted by the hard conditions imposed by the Stalinist policy of the establishment of socialism in one country. Naturally, an essential part of this debate will concern exactly the meaning of the Stalin experience. Was the fierce totalitarian and repressive policy which accompanied the industrialization process really necessary? No simple and univocal answer exists to such a complex historical matter. However we think some observations can be made on the subject, also on the basis of the role played by the slogan of the United States of Europe.
First. All the Soviet leaders, from Bucharin on the right to Trotzky on the left, agreed that after the NEP experience it was necessary to advance towards complete industrialization of the USSR. What was under discussion was only the pace of this process and the means to achieve it. Second. Trotzky had deluded himself over the possibility that a revolution in Europe could really break out and that from that front some decisive help could come for Soviet industrialization. Kautsky had often observed, and with reason, that the German proletariat did not need a violent revolution to seize power, because by now it could reach it, within a reasonable period of time, through democratic methods. Therefore the defence of democratic rule was the best weapon of the SPD. But the time of the ascent to power of Social-Democracy did not coincide necessarily with the needs of the USSR. Third. The Treaties of Versailles left the main European states deeply discontented so-that very soon the rearmament process started again and the crisis of the democratic regimes became accentuated (take as an example the ascent of Fascism in Italy). The attempts to halt this crazy march of Europe towards the precipice were completely inadequate. The proposal by Briand and Paneuropa to create a European federation got caught up in the tight net of diplomacy, so that after 1930 the forces of nationalism set out again with renewed vigour. Certainly, if the prospect of a European federation had seriously appeared on the political horizon just after the war, Trotzky’s policy would have been more credible in the eyes of his party comrades. At this point, however, there would have been the question of the relationship between the European federation, which could only have arisen on a democratic basis, and the USSR, which (at least up to the moment of Stalin’s victory over Trotzky) had not yet chosen the one way street of totalitarianism. Fourth. In an international climate dominated by nationalism, by the rush to rearmament and protectionism, the choice of an industrialization policy could only be founded on the principle of the “socialism in one country”. Trotzky was right to denounce its inconsistency with the fundamental principles of marxism and internationalism. But Stalin was also right to affirm that industrialization in the USSR could take place even without outside help. And at this point socialism had to take on national colours. It would have been impossible to ask the Soviet people to make a tremendous collective effort without an adequate ideological justification. This ideology could only be the defence of the “fatherland of the proletariat”, which was considered, from then on, as the supreme value not only for the Soviet people, but for all the proletarians in the world. Fifth. From this has resulted an increasing distance between the universal values supported by the great 1917 Revolution and the objectives pursued by Soviet power. The interests of the workers’ movement outside the USSR were to be subordinated to the supreme value of the defence of the “fatherland of the proletariat”. In the long run, this was to cause the disruption of the International and the decline of the role of the “Soviet model” in the international socialist movement, both in the industrialized countries and in the Third World.
The analysis of the debate over the slogan of a United States of Europe has proved that federalism has never really been part of the ideology of the Bolshevik revolutionaries, including Trotzky, who, although he had understood the historical necessity of going beyond the nation state, considered federalism only as a form of state which was indispensable to the international organization of modern production, but without ascribing any strategic value to this choice. For Trotzky the decisive front of the struggle — that is the divide between progress and reaction — remained that between capitalism and socialism, not between nationalism and federalism. For this reason he could not offer a valid political alternative to the ascent of fascism and Nazism in Europe and did nothing to unite the forces of the working movement favourable to the United States of Europe to those, rather important, that in the Thirties were appearing in European bourgeois and government spheres in favour of the same objective. The fact remains that the Soviet Union often found itself facing choices which could have had a democratic course out only on a federalistic basis. As these issues — which concern the federalist aspects of the Soviet Constitution and the democratization process of international relations, including socialist countries — have not yet been solved and in fact are sure to reappear as the democratization process started by Gorbachev is consolidated, it is worthwhile to analyze them briefly.
The first concerns the nature of the very constitution of the USSR and in particular the coexistence in the country of different nationalities. Lenin, who in theory had rejected federalism, at the time of drawing up the first Constitution of 1918 had to face the need to accept it in practice. In fact he himself wrote a Declaration, then included in the Constitution, in which he states that: “The Russian Soviet Republic is founded on the basis of a free union of free nations, as a federation of national Soviet republics”. When a few years later the need arose to revise the constitutional text, Lenin apparently wanted to introduce further protection to safeguard the national minorities, partly because of the contrasts he had had with Stalin, who according to Lenin had exaggerated in his manifestation of “Great Russian chauvinism”. However, although Lenin seemed sincerely tormented by the problem of the relations to establish between central government and minor nationalities — and some commentators believe that if Lenin had lived longer, the 1924 Constitution, imposed by Stalin just after his death, would have been quite different[46] — there are no significant signs of him overcoming his concept of federalism as a temporary phase on the way towards a centralized state. Later this concept was, of course, not disputed any more by Stalin, who in 1917 had published in Pravda an article significantly entitled Against federalism, in which he rejected as forced “the analogy made between the United States of 1776 and modern Russia”.[47] Actually, Stalin was perfectly aware of the fact that it is practically impossible to guarantee real autonomy to the republics of a federation in a one-party regime. But, after so many decades of centralizing policy, the need for national autonomy of the various Soviet republics has revealed itself as no less tenacious than the aspiration of the Soviet people to a greater democracy and political pluralism. Federalism today can no longer be considered as a temporary fact. Rather the opposite is true. It is the administrative centralization which is in question, because it has become an obstacle to a more mature expression of the peoples of the Soviet nation, who are still not free and equal among themselves, as was written in the first 1918 Constitution.
Moreover, of decisive importance, not only for the USSR but for the whole world, will be the institutional solutions that will be proposed to guarantee to mankind a general and permanent disarmament. The tenacious and far-seeing peace policy of Gorbachev has started to give significant fruits. After the 1987 Washington agreement on the elimination of the Euromissiles, it seems reasonable to speak of a turning point in the political relations between the two superpowers compared to the years of the cold war and the rush to armaments. But the doubt still remains whether, in the contemporary world, a peace policy based on a series of agreements and international treaties between states is sufficient, or if it might not be necessary to pass on the results achieved each time to supernational institutions with the power to make the states involved respect them. For example, Gorbachev in the article[48] written on the occasion of the opening of the forty-second UN session (but the same positions are taken up again in his book Perestroika) claims that a collective security system is possible “in agreement with the existing institutions for maintaining peace” and confiding in the “ability of the sovereign states to take on their commitments within the sphere of international security”.
The decisive point here is the distinction between the process towards a situation of peace and the guarantee of a stable peace. While Gorbachev’s proposals seem adequate to promote a pacification process, especially between the two superpowers, they do not seem at all sufficient to guarantee its fulfilment. Concerning this, it is enough to think over the fact that even if the USA and USSR agree to a total reduction of their atomic armaments, these good intentions cannot be put into practice unless the other atomic powers agree too, including those which can become one within a short time, such as China, Japan, India, Pakistan, Israel, Iran, etc. These new emerging nuclear powers have interests which are exactly the opposite to those of the USA and USSR in terms of disarmament: they can assume a significant role in world politics only if they increase their war potential, not if they diminish it. It must be observed, as Gorbachev does, that by now the problems of collective security are tightly linked with those of Third World underdevelopment and the risk of ecological catastrophes on planetary scale. Handling these decisive problems for the future of mankind through simple cooperation between governments is becoming more and more problematic, not to say impossible. To conclude, reciprocal security guarantees and the handling of common world level policies require a real and true world government. This is the logical solution proposed by Einstein when he posed himself the problem of the future of mankind in the atomic era. The international socialist movement should not be unprepared to discuss prospects — the United States of the World — that Lenin, Trotzky and Bucharin already accepted as a point of arrival of the human emancipation process started off by the 1917 Revolution.
Finally, in the perspective of a policy which aims at progressively overcoming military blocs, the situation of Europe, where NATO and Warsaw Pact face each other, must be considered. The Iron Curtain between Eastern and Western Europe is a historical anachronism. But while Western Europe, after the election of the European Parliament with universal suffrage, is already on the road to transforming the European Community into a federation, with its own government, its own currency and its own defence, the CMEA countries cannot even find an effective formula of economic integration, thus seriously jeopardizing their growth prospects and their competitiveness with the ever more dynamic world market. For now, the CMEA represents nothing but the most evident proof of the limits of socialist internationalism. The future of the European countries of the East does not now depend only on their historical ties to the USSR, but also on economic and social relations with Western Europe. The recent cooperation treaties between European Community and CMEA are only the beginning of a process. The USSR would have important advantages in terms of security and economic development if she favoured a greater political and economic integration between the European members of CMEA, re-examining in the event the old proposal of a Danube or Balkan federation. The dissolving of NATO and the Warsaw Pact is only possible on the basis of the transformation of the present military ties into political alliances among equals. The path of a federation between the Eastern European countries is not of course the only one feasible. It is, however, certain that in Europe the absurd frontiers of the past must fall. Only then will the Europeans, both of East and West, be able to fully contribute to building a world in which at last international justice and peace are guaranteed.


[1] M. Gorbachev, Perestroika. New Thinking for Our Country and for the World, Harper & Row, New York, 1987.
[2] For example, Carl H. Pegg, in his extremely well documented volume, Evolution of the European Idea, 1914-1932, The University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill and London, 1983, does not go into this controversy. On the other hand, a precise examination of the question can be found in L. Levi, Il Federalismo, Franco Angeli, Milano, 1987, chapter 14: “La componente federalistica della Rivoluzione russa e il socialismo in un solo paese”.
[3] L.D. Trotzky, Der Krieg und die Internationale, Zurich, 1914 (consulted in the edition Julian Borchardt, Berlin, 1919, p. III).
[4] Ibidem, p. V. It must be remembered that these positions of Trotzky are but the natural development of the theses elaborated concerning the 1905 revolution and that they represent the core of the “permanent revolution” theory. In fact a double meaning — social and international — is to be given to the adjective “permanent” in Trotzky’s vision of the revolutionary process. The first consists of the socialist character the revolution against Tzarism could have assumed, going beyond the so called bourgeois revolution, that the classical doctrine of marxism considered preliminary to the actual proletarian revolution. In this, Trotzky was in agreement with Lenin, who considered the Russian bourgeoisie unable to guide the state without the decisive contribution of the workers’ parties (some of the differences between Lenin and Trotzky, particularly concerning the role of the peasants in the revolution, were later exaggerated by Stalin during the struggle for power). This is why in Russia, due to its relative economic backwardness compared to western European countries, the proletariat was able to seize power directly. But the revolutionary process started in a backward country could not have been completed, according to Trotzky, if the revolution had not spread to the industrialized countries. “Without the direct state support of the European proletariat — Trotzky writes — the working class of Russia will not be able to remain in power and transform its temporary rule into a stable and prolonged socialist dictatorship”. For these reasons, the Russian working class will be forced to develop an international action, to liquidate capitalism on a world scale, if it does not want to succumb to the reactionary forces of the bourgeoisie and aristocracy. The victory of the proletariat in one country will rouse the awareness of the European proletariat and will create a favourable situation for the world revolution. “It will be precisely the fear of the proletarian rising which will force the bourgeois parties, voting prodigious sums for military expenditure, solemnly to demonstrate for peace, to dream of international chambers of conciliation and even of organization of the United States of Europe — all miserable declamation, which can neither do away with the antagonism of the powers, nor with armed conflicts. …European war inevitably means European revolution”. (The quotation is taken from I. Deutscher, The Prophet Armed. Trotzky: 1879-1921, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1979, p. 158).
[5] L.D. Trotzky, op. cit., pp. 44-45.
[6] Ibidem, pp. 48-49.
[7] Ibidem, p. 153.
[8] Ibidem, p. VIII.
[9] Ibidem, pp. 60-61.
[10] Ibidem, p. 62.
[11] V.I. Lenin, “The Tasks of Revolutionary Social-Democracy in the European War” in J. Riddell ed., Lenin’s Struggle for a Revolutionary International. Documents: 1907-1916. The Preparatory Years, Monad Press, New York, 1984, pp. 135-8. (From now on this collection of documents will be quoted in abbreviated form with the initials: LSRI).
[12] “The War and Russian Social Democracy”, in LSRI, cit., pp. l56-162.
[13] “Open Letter to the Editorial Board of ‘Kommunist”’, in LSRI, cit., p. 235.
[14] V.I. Lenin, “The Defeat of One’s Own Government in the Imperialist War”, in LSRI, cit., pp. 166-170.
[15] The joint Declaration and the shorthand reports of the debate are related in LSRI, cit., pp. 286-322. To get a brief idea of the climate of the debate, it is worth remembering that the French delegate Merrheim won “enthusiastic applause” by speaking to Lenin in these terms: “You, comrade Lenin, are concerned with the desire to lay the foundation of a new International, not with the demand for peace. This is what divides us. We demand a manifesto that will advance the struggle for peace. We do not want to emphasize what divides us, but what unites us” (p. 312).
[16] The resolution presented by Bucharin’s group is in LSRl, cit., pp. 249-250. Lenin’s quotation is taken from the report of the delegate Shklovsky — who was against the slogan — at the Berne conference. The complete text (related on pp. 251-2 of LSRl, cit.) of the quoted report is the following: “Our objections to the slogan of a United States of Europe can be summarized as follows: (1) Under imperialism a true democracy is impossible. Therefore, a United States of Europe is also impossible. (2) Furthermore, it is impossible in view of the conflict of interests of European capitalist countries. (3) If it is constituted, it will be formed only for the purpose of attacking the more advanced United States of America. During the discussion, Ilych (Lenin) answered us that proceeding on the basis of our reasoning it would be necessary to discard a whole series of points from our minimum program as being impossible under imperialism. While it is true that genuine democracy can be realized only under socialism, we still do not discard these points, he said. Further, he criticized us for not dealing in any way with the economic side of the question. We answered him that the formation of a United States of Europe under imperialism would not be the highest form of democracy but a reactionary union of the belligerent countries — which were unable to conquer each other in the war — for the struggle against America… Ilych completely convinced the conference and it voted unanimously for the theses. But he did not succeed in convincing himself. That evening he saw comrade Radek, who was then living in Berne but did not belong to our group, and questioned him in detail about the opinion of different European comrades on this question. When the conference convened the next morning, Vladimir Ilych took the floor and made a statement. “Although yesterday a definite stand was taken concerning the United States of Europe” he said, “if we consider that this issue has raised different points of view amongst us, and moreover that the discussion took place unilaterally, ignoring the economic side of the problem, which remains rather unclear, the matter cannot be considered settled”. He also mentioned his meeting with Radek, who had told him that Rosa Luxemburg was also opposed to a United States of Europe. He therefore proposed to delete from the theses for the time being the point concerning a United States of Europe and to open a discussion on this question in the Central Organ (Sotsial-Demokrat), giving special attention to the economic side of the question”.
[17] LSRI, cit., pp. 257-260. The italics are mine.
[18] The quotation is taken from the article by C. Dale Fuller, “Lenin’s Attitude Toward an International Organisation for the Maintenance of Peace, 1914-1917”, in Political Science Quarterly, 1949, pp. 245-261.
[19] V.I. Lenin, “Critical Notes on the National Question”, in Collected Works, Russian ed., Vol. XVII.
[20] V.I. Lenin, “The Socialist Revolution and the Right of Nations to Self-determination. Thesis”, in Selected Words, Lawrence & Wishart, London, 1936, Vol. V, pp. 267-278.
[21] LSRI, cit., pp. 347-8.
[22] Now published in L.D. Trotzky, What is a Peace Programme?, A Lanka Samasamaja Publication, 1956.
[23] Ibidem, pp. 11-12.
[24] Ibidem, pp. 14-16.
[25] Ibidem, pp. 17-19.
[26] Ibidem, pp. 16-17.
[27] N. Krupskaia, La mia vita con Lenin, Editori Riuniti, Roma, 1956, p. 294 and p. 299.
[28] A. Rosenberg, Die Geshichte des Bolschewismus (1932), (consulted in the Italian edition, Storia del bolscevismo. Da Marx ai nostri giorni, Edizioni Leonardo, Roma, 1945, p. 81.
[29] All the previous quotations are taken from E.H.Carr, A History of Soviet Russia. The Bolshevik Revolution. 1917-1923 , Macmillan, London, 1953 and Pelican Books, 1966, Vol. I, 3, pp. 132 and 136. According to Piero Melograni Il mito della rivoluzione mondiale. Lenin tra ideologia e ragion di stato, 1917-1920, Laterza, Bari, 1985, Lenin, right from the foundation of the Soviet State, did not delude himself over the possibility of a world revolution; indeed, being a good realist politician, he did all he could to quench the revolutionary whims of the European proletariat and thus allow Soviet power to live in a not too hostile world. “The socialist parties of Germany and the other industrialized countries —Melograni claims — were very different from the Bolshevik party. They were more modern and democratic. If they had seized power, they might have founded their power on much more developed and powerful States than Soviet Russia, and this power of theirs would have irremediably compromised the hegemonic role played by the Bolsheviks with the European left” (p. VIII). The III International would have been set up “not to export the revolution, but exclusively to defend a State” (p. X).
Melograni’s thesis is not convincing. It is true that on the grounds of political realism Lenin acted from the very first moment to consolidate Soviet power and that this policy involved continuous compromises with the “bourgeois” governments. Melograni documents this aspect of Lenin’s policy convincingly. But it is only one aspect of a much vaster political programme. That the baricentre of the world revolution might move into western Europe was a fact that Lenin accepted: but this would not have implied a weakening of his leadership on the international socialist movement. Everything would have depended on the ability of the Bolshevik leaders to remain at the head of the process started off by the formation of the European communist parties. It is no chance that Lenin speaks of International Republic of the Soviets.
It is also true that Lenin realized very soon that the possibilities of a victorious revolution in Europe were not very well-grounded and that the International would have to fall back on a long term strategy. But Trotzky also agreed to these lines of action (cfr. I. Deutscher, The Prophet Unarmed. Trotzky 1921-1929, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1982, p. 59), although a few years later he started an implacable fight against Stalin’s doctrine of socialism in one country. Only at this moment did the International become a docile instrument of the Soviet State. Melograni forgets that the thoughts and action of Lenin, even before the seizing of power, were founded on the hypothesis of world revolution. The idea of a new International was conceived, both by Lenin and by Trotzky, as far back as 1914, when European social democracy ignobly betrayed the internationalist ideals of socialism. Even the strategy of seizing power in the country which was “the weakest ring of the chain” was conceived of as the shortest way to the world revolution. One should suppose therefore that Lenin has always — both before and after the seizing of power — defended the idea of a world revolution simply as an instrument to deceive his naive companions in the struggle. But at this point we would no longer be facing a realist or machiavellian politician, but a vulgar impostor, although very clever. The life and absolute dedication of Lenin to the cause of socialism instead seem to prove the contrary.
[30] J. Degras, The Communist International 1919-1943. Documents, Oxford University Press, London, 1956, vol. I.
[31] L.D. Trotzky, The First Five Years of the Communist International, New Park Publications, London, 1973, vol. I, p. 32.
[32] E.H. Carr, Op. cit., vol. I, 3, p. 383.
[33] L.D. Trotzky, Op. cit., p. 247.
[34] L.D. Trotzky, ibidem, p. 275.
[35] A. Agosti, La Terza Internazionale. Storia documentaria, Editori Riuniti, Roma, 1974, vol. II, p. 699.
[36] L.D. Trotzky, “Is the Slogan of ‘The United States of Europe’ a Timely One?”, in The First Five Years of the Communist International, cit., Vol. II, pp. 341-346. The political vision of Trotzky, in the years between 1923 and 1926, is more widely explained in the collection of essays Europa und Amerika, Neuer Deutscher Verlag, Berlin, 1926.
[37] J. Degras, Op. cit., Vol. II.
[38] J. Degras, ibidem.
[39] The quotation is taken from E.H. Carr, A History of Soviet Russia, The Interregnum, 1923-1924, Macmillan, London, 1954 and Pelican Books, 1969, p. 365.
[40] All the quotations are taken from the collection of essays contained in the volume La ‘rivoluzione permanente’ e il socialismo in un paese solo, (writings by Bucharin, Stalin, Trotzky, Zinoviev), Editori Riuniti, Roma, 1973, pp. 184, 188, 190-195, 208.
[41] A. Agosti, Op. cit., Vol. II, 2, p. 975.
[42] J. Degras, Op. cit., Vol. II.
[43] Ibidem, p. 549.
[44] Ibidem, p. 548 and pp. 528-9.
[45] L.D. Trotzky, The Third International after Lenin, Pioneer Publishers, New York, 1936.
[46] A.L. Unger, Constitutional Development in the USSR, Methuen, London, 1981, p. 49.
[47] Reissued in Stalin’s Anthology The October Revolution and the Tactics of the Russian Communists, Moscow, 1925.
[48] “Reality and Guarantees of a Secure World”, Pravda and Izvestija, September 17th, 1987.

 

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