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William Simmons

European Perspectives

(April 1945)

From Fourth International, Vol.6 No.4, April 1945, pp.102-105.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

During the decades between the two world wars it was possible and necessary, at different intervals, to pose the questions: Whither England? Whither the Soviet Union? Whither France? etc. Now the question appearing immediately before mankind, and rising in ascending magnitude, is: Whither Europe?

No longer can any fundamental social question be decided for any one nation alone. The whole world is now much more integrated, more interrelated and more interdependent, not only economically, in terms of the world market, production and living; but also socially and politically. Redrawing of national state boundaries and division of spheres of influence among the stronger powers become complex social and political problems loaded with explosive possibilities. For Europe this holds true even in a more acute form and in a more immediate sense. Above all the European nations are now much more thoroughly integrated in regards to the question: Which system shall prevail?

This question includes the USSR. Whither Europe also decides whither the Soviet Union.

Outwardly the decision for Europe appears to be in the hands of the so-called “Big Three.” Through the complexities of interrelations now existing this has become true to a certain extent. But only to a certain extent. There can be no denying the fact that immediate events will be, if not shaped, then at least strongly influenced by their attitude and actions.

Moreover, any serious consideration of European perspectives must take into account several important problems flowing from the above. First, the American imperialist preponderance in world affairs; its specific role in Europe as well as the contradictions arising therefrom. Secondly, we must take into account the role of the Stalin bureaucracy as ally of this world imperialist power, and its contradictions arising in face of the coming European revolutionary upheavals. Finally, connected directly with this is the question of which way the USSR: Forward to socialism or backward to capitalist restoration?

All are dialectically integrated. But so far as the outcome is concerned we must never forget that fundamentally the decisions remains in the hands of the European proletariat.

Allied imperialist policy in Europe pursues two basic objectives. The first and most important objective is to prevent the proletarian revolution and to preserve the capitalist system. The Kremlin has left no doubts that it is fully and completely committed to this. That much is borne out, if not clearly by its proclamations, then certainly by its actions. At the same time the imperialist policy also includes the objective of eliminating an adversary and crushing a capitalist competitor. In concrete terms it means the dismantling of Europe’s workshop and the partitioning of Germany. For the European masses, however, this could not possibly have any other implications than that of being condemned to virtual starvation.

Kremlin’s Role

Apparently the Kremlin supports also this second objective, even though its support may flow from its own particular set of motivations. But these two objectives are utterly contradictory. They present an inextricable dilemma. For every step taken toward the destruction of European capitalist competition will inevitably lead toward the strengthening of its revolutionary forces.

This may not be entirely unknown to the “Big Three,” hence their determination to avoid issues of friction and their greater unity of purpose. No doubt this will be reflected likewise in increasing ruthlessness.

Despite irreconcilable antagonisms flowing from different property relations the main fears of the Allied imperialists of what they always considered as Kremlin duplicity have been allayed. They now feel assured that Stalin will not proceed to nationalize property in territories occupied by the Red Army.

They see that capitalist property relations have remained by and large undisturbed in Rumania, Bulgaria and Poland. But the boss of the Kremlin also understands the logic of class relations. He knows that any serious steps toward nationalization would immediately raise the dreaded specter of revolution. Committed as he is to the imperialist objectives, he could not possibly pursue such a double policy. He has now made it perfectly clear that he fears the European revolution more than he fears the Allied imperialists. Consequently any double policy on this score was equally precluded. Stalin had to choose between the one or the other because the issue now is – which system is to prevail. There is no middle ground. Stalin having said A must likewise say B. When he made his choice to oppose the revolution he had to accept also the imperialist partnership.

But this is not a partnership on equal terms. Nor does it have the relation of forces that appears to exist on the surface. For example, the credulous observer may get the impression that, owing to the Red Army victories, the Kremlin has moved into the commanding position and has become the most potent force on the European continent. This may be the way things appear to be. However, in the world of reality the United States is and remains the one dominant power. It remains such in relation to Europe as well.

Stalin once proclaimed the possibility of building socialism in one country, utterly disregarding the economic interdependence of nations and their dependence upon the world market. But contrary to the Bolshevik Party under the leadership of Lenin and Trotsky, which because of this relationship sought its allies from the world proletariat, Stalin has made his alliance with the masters of world economy; first with Hitler, when the latter appeared the stronger, and now with the Allied imperialists. By making his choice against the revolution, against socialism in Europe, Stalin becomes their captive, committed to carry out their policy, subservient to them. Any action taken in this direction by the Kremlin oligarchy can only increase further its political dependency upon the world imperialists.

Growing Degeneracy

This increasing political dependency has developed in close material and ideological connection with the increasing weight of United States intervention in world affairs, and particularly in European affairs. It has developed also in close material and ideological connection with the growing degeneracy of the workers state. And, it is hardly necessary to add, that the progressive degeneration of the latter received its real impetus from the rise of reaction on a world scale as expressed by fascism and war. Such is the logic of this present day interrelation between the United States and Europe.

But as the interest of the Stalin bureaucracy approaches the interests of the imperialist masters, as summed up in the problem of crushing the revolution, we can be sure that to the same degree and at the same tempo the interests of this bureaucracy diverge increasingly from those of the Russian masses. Such is the dialectic interplay of class forces in motion.

.This is what we mean when we say that Stalin’s foreign policy springs from his internal policy; it is motivated by internal needs – the need of preserving the privileges and power of the bureaucracy. The Kremlin is concerned above all with the defense of these privileges. And the European revolution becomes a threat to these privileges just as much as it is a threat to the capitalist system. These privileges cannot be maintained in face of the European revolution. Conversely the delay or a serious setback of the revolution would mean a devastating

increase of bureaucratic degeneration in the USSR. It would elevate these privileges to a new and monstrous plane. What else could follow but a revival of class distinctions and of class antagonisms, the liquidation of planned economy and the restoration of capitalist property? It would mean the counterrevolution triumphant and carried out, as Trotsky once said, by a Russian type of fascism, far more savage than anything hitherto witnessed. And for the European masses such a defeat could imply only a return to virtual conditions of barbarism.

Victory of the European revolution, on the other hand, will give a gigantic impulse to regeneration of socialism in the USSR and will establish the Socialist United States of Europe. The conditioning factors of both are dialectically integrated. Both are socially and politically interdependent. Whither Europe also decides whither the Soviet Union.

Ancient empires have been torn apart by their own inner contradictions. Their cultures succumbed to so-called barbaric invasions and perished. But these empires existed in conditions of isolation within a backward world. Today no such isolation exists. At the present historically decisive turn, society cannot go backward to start all over again from the bottom up. It must proceed from and continue further on the basis already prepared by preceding developments.

Capitalist Bankruptcy

Capitalism, however, is utterly bankrupt and offers no way out at all. World War I signalized the beginning of its absolute decline and decay as a system. In Europe this was only the more accentuated. Simultaneously World War I also signalized the beginning of our revolutionary epoch. On this score enough has already been said in the columns of Fourth International, and the facts are so conclusive, that there is no need of repeating. Only it would be well to recall Trotsky’s comment, during the early ‘twenties, concerning the blind alley of European capitalism resulting from the developing economic preponderance of the United States.

“European capitalism,” said Trotsky, “has become reactionary in the absolute sense of the term, that is, not only is it unable to lead the nations forward; but it is even incapable of maintaining for them living standards long ago attained. Precisely this constitutes the economic basis of our revolutionary epoch. Political ebbs and flows unfold on this basis without in any way altering it.”

Political ebbs and flows have unfolded since then. And meanwhile Europe has gone through the experience of fascism, which came into being as a last desperate resort of capitalism to preserve its tottering structure and to prolong its system and its rule. At that stage already it could no longer live and operate under any kind of working class pressure exerted by workers’ organizations. Capitalism could live only under a type of government which would destroy these organizations and wipe out utterly and completely all their past gains. It is needless to deny that under fascism and the conditions of World War II the greater part of Europe, with Germany as its nucleus, has experienced a further concentration and centralization of industry and finance. This has also brought about a higher intensity of mechanized mass production, more labor saving machinery and a higher productivity of labor. But there has been no further actual capitalist expansion; there has been no increase of Europe’s wealth. On the contrary, the absolute decline, decay and destruction of capitalism has reached hitherto unprecedented proportions. The standard of living of the European masses has sunk frightfully. For capitalism itself this further process of concentration and centralization together with the war has produced new contradictions speeding it onward from decline to complete doom.

In the first place, the restoration, or the redrawing, of national boundaries and the further dismemberments can prove only a greater obstacle than were the ancient and much narrower feudal boundaries. For in a world market ruled by mechanized mass production the multitude of small nations cannot survive as separate entities. Moreover, survival at all for the whole continent under victorious Allied imperialism could be only on a semi-colonial existence.

New Contradictions

In the second place, the situation which has prevailed in Europe during the last few years has altered considerably the relations of class forces in favor of the grave diggers of capitalism. Hitler has further proletarianized the whole of Europe. New and large segments of the middle class have been reduced to the ranks of the proletariat. Numerous farmers, peasants, artisans, tradesmen, white collar workers and professionals have been herded into mass production industries. With this the social weight of the proletarian class forces has increased enormously. That is the weight which will be felt in the course of events to come and it will make itself felt more powerfully than anything the imperialist masters can put forward.

All of this in the words of one celebrated newspaper reporter presents a picture in which 360,000,000 Europeans and 900,000,000 Asiatics are “compelled to think of what they do not have, of what they have never or rarely touched or tested – and why.”

Historically capitalist production and its quantitative changes have already brought forth a qualitative difference. Production has steadily extended and expanded to satisfy the demands and necessities of so-called civilization from handicraft to manufacture and through the factory system to mechanized mass production. But production has now also become socialized organization of production despite the existing anarchy of production. A new and higher quality has appeared. The foundation has already been laid for socialization of ownership of the means of production and distribution. The foundation of the new society has evolved within the shell of the old.

This is the economic basis upon which the political superstructure rests. And in the final accounting the economic basis is of course decisive. Therefore the following question arises concerning the European perspectives: After the collapse of the fascist governmental system is it possible for capitalism to take up again where it left off before and continue its rule by democratic means, i.e., to re-establish a reign of bourgeois democracy? The answer must be – decidedly no! For it is important to remember that bourgeois democracy does not exist and thrive only on the illusions of the masses. It must be able also to offer and actually deliver something that is concrete and for the material benefit of the masses. In other words, it requires a stable economic basis.

Bourgeois democracy depends for its sustenance principally upon the ability of capitalism to live and operate while giving a minimum of material concessions to the class it holds in subjection. Only then can it grant the limited liberties necessary to hold the subjected class in check. Because of this very fact bourgeois democracy has reached its highest stage in the United States, whereas since world War I such remnants of it as did exist on the European continent, with the possible exception of the small Scandinavian nations, were unstable and lived constantly in the throes of crises and upheavals.

The Weimar Republic, for example, which in its time became the pattern for Europe, existed by and large only as an aftermath of the long reign of bourgeois democracy which had preceded it. It became a combination of equally unstable interim stages existing in variously changing forms, from a Social Democratic government to an outright Bonapartist police regime, and remaining in power only because the basically antagonistic class forces were still preparing and sparring for a decision. And remaining in power, it must be added, because of the failure and betrayals of the worker-parties’ leaderships. It became a grotesque imitation of what had preceded before the first World War. It could solve none of the problems of the masses, or for that matter, of the capitalist system. It could only postpone them and finally succumb to fascism.

Is this to be repeated after World War II? Is it to be repeated when the problems of the European masses can no longer be postponed? Even to this extent society cannot now go backward to start all over again, nor do the workers begin history all over again each time that they face a crisis. They always learn some lessons from preceding events.

Imperialist Impasse

Or is this to be repeated on a lower level and in a more contracted form of a bourgeois democratic stage propped up by Allied imperialist bayonets? On what would this be sustained economically? Perhaps on relief from the United States? But remember the fact that American imperialism can maintain and fortify its world hegemony only by constantly limiting the rations of European capitalism in the world market, which will include the contraction of the European market itself. And besides, any relief from the United States, either in shipments of food or of certain machinery of production, will be purely incidental to its objective of destroying the European competitor.

That competitor is primarily Germany. And thus Germany becomes the key to the future European developments. This does not mean to say that events in other parts of the continent will await the outcome in Germany. Not at all. Upheavals start wherever economic and political necessity set masses into motion.

What happens in Germany, however, will not only reveal the final grand imperialist pattern for Europe but the developments ensuing from this pattern will be decisive for the whole continent. Germany is Europe’s workshop. The period of fascism and war brought her to the very horns of the capitalist dilemma. Germany’s bourgeoisie is in the deepest crisis. Her social forces are the most dynamic and the most convulsive. Her proletariat is the strongest and carries the decisive social weight.

What are the prospects in Germany for a bourgeois democratic stage? Not only are apparently all the bourgeois elements there completely identified with the Nazis, whose aggressive world policy made Germany such a dangerous Allied adversary; but it is now clear that the Allied imperialist policy, with the connivance of the Kremlin, contemplates a rule of Germany by naked military force. This policy implies also the dismantling of Germany’s basic industries with control of others, including, of course, the appropriation of surplus values produced: a new and extended form of slave labor.

It seems possible therefore to conclude that in Europe, issuing from World War II, a bourgeois democratic system, even if more shortlived than the Weimar Republic, is precluded by objective conditions. Such regimes can, however, come into being here and there, at different intervals between Allied military regimes, as interim stages, as a by-product of a whole series of

revolutionary struggles, and on a level advancing ever closer to the revolutionary decision. The early beginnings of these are already in evidence in France, Italy, Yugoslavia and Poland, but they are bound to change again tomorrow or to pass away. Most likely some of these interim stages will exist only as puppets of, and enjoying actual support only from the Allied imperialist overlords. In and by themselves none of them can have any stability whatever, not even when flanked and buttressed by social reformist leaders.

And, of course, these interim stages will be possible only until the proletariat attains its stature of political maturity and its revolutionary vanguard gains the necessary mass influence.

The various liberation movements which have been carried over into the present stage, in one form or another, are themselves an expression of the lack of political maturity of the working class forces. In essence these movements were of similar make-up and had similar objectives. They constituted an alliance of antagonistic classes, united only in the struggle against the Nazi oppressor, not, however, against the capitalist system as such. For that would have been impossible within a movement embracing also those elements of the bourgeoisie who did not share in the profits of Nazi collaboration. In fact, if not entirely in methods, the “liberation” movements became replicas of the People’s Fronts which had existed prior to the war. There is this essential difference, however, that the conditions under which the People’s Fronts then came into power and succeeded in beheading the working class movement, are now definitely behind them.

“Liberation” Movements

For example, even at the early stage of the “liberation” movements class antagonisms developed within them and alongside of the struggle for liberation. And as the latter reached toward its culmination these antagonisms came more and more to the fore. With it the role of the working class forces became more pronounced. But the “liberation” movements could fulfill only a limited role, primarily with respect to the expulsion of the Nazis. That completed, and upon emerging from the underground, these movements must begin to dissolve into their component parts. Coming into the open, however, not only gave to these movements a far broader basis but it also produced a difference in quality.

The issue of the Nazi oppression having disappeared – -and we do not in the least attempt to minimize its frightfully devastating toll in human lives and sufferings – brings forward the far more burning and far more fundamental issue of which system shall prevail – an issue which is made more acute by Allied imperialist intervention. The largely negative aspect of the struggle for national liberation, under the auspices of the Allied imperialists, gives way to the positive struggle for a new system under which the masses of the people can live – the struggle for a socialist system.

And with this the reformist parties, Stalinist and Social Democratic, which have gained steady influence, both in the underground and since, come face to face with their dilemma. Both parties being in the service of world imperialism are, of course, committed to the defense of the capitalist system which the masses by the logic of events must attempt to tear asunder. In defense of the capitalist system the leadership of both parties are compelled to use all their efforts, including open betrayal, toward continued collaboration with their national bourgeoisie, and with the victorious imperialists, regardless of the interests of the masses, and against these interests. Concrete evidence to this effect has been furnished already by Greece. Additional evidence is gathering in Italy and in France where the reformist leaders encounter mounting difficulties in bridging the cleavage between the rank and file followers and the imperialist puppet regimes. As the cleavage inevitably deepens mass disillusionment and mass defection from the reformist leaders is bound to gather speed. And so, the qualitative difference arising out of the “liberation” movements acquiring a broader mass basis, will be expressed also in the rapid denouement of the reformist leaders.

Role of Stalinism

In no sense do the reformist parties reappear now in Europe with their past prestige intact, but rather with the onus of past defeats. In reality both parties declined and decayed with the capitalist system. Especially is this the case with the Stalinist party which must now become a partner in all of the Kremlin’s counter-revolutionary plotting and conniving. Stalinism now begins where Social Democracy left off before the advent of fascism by being the “rottenest part of putrifying capitalist Europe.”

From this putrifying corpse what can the social reformist leaders extract that can be for the material benefit of the masses? Are they not bound to fail at the very first really serious test?

If it is agreed that Germany is the key to the coming developments in Europe then this prognosis will appear only so much more conclusive.

Thirteen years ago we said that Germany was the key to the international situation. The question then posed was: victory of the proletariat or victory of fascism? But the curve of the proletarian revolutionary struggle inaugurated by October 1917 went downward, with the consummation of Social Democratic and Stalinist treachery, to its lowest depth to be engulfed by the fascist victory. Today these conditions are turning in the opposite direction. The European proletariat has begun the upward climb. The essential task is now the forging in the fires of the struggles already inaugurated a principled and determined revolutionary leadership – a task which can be undertaken only by the Fourth International.

Trotsky never tired of repeating that in spite of fascism the German workers will rise again; but they will not return to that policy which led them into the noose of Hitler.

“They will carry out their revolution, surely, not to replace Hitler with a Hohenzollern or Stalin ... The wave of awakening hope, enthusiasm, will not stop at the hermetic borders of the USSR ... Revolution in the West will deprive the Kremlin oligarchy of its sole right to political existence.”

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