– but it can’t solve the problems of world capitalism
Ray Nunes January 1999
For well over a century there has been talk among various circles of a United States of Europe which supposedly would involve a customs union and a single European currency. It was claimed that such a political-economic development would bring about a permanent peace between the European powers.
A year after the outbreak of World War I in 1914, the Central Committee of the Bolshevik Party, the foremost party of socialist revolution in the world, adopted a slogan for ‘A United States of Europe’. The Central Organ of the Party outside Russia, under the leadership of V.I.Lenin, opposed the slogan on economic rather than political grounds. He pointed out that newly-developed monopoly capitalism, imperialism, which had led to the export of capital and the division of the world by the ‘advanced’ colonial powers, meant that a United States of Europe would be either impossible or reactionary.
Conflicting interests remain
Of course, said Lenin, temporary agreements are possible between capitalists and between the states. But a United States of Europe under capitalism is tantamount to an agreement on the partition of colonies. What would be the object of a United States of Europe? It would be aimed at the suppression of socialism in Europe, and of jointly protecting colonial booty against Japan and America who have been badly done out of their share by the existing division of colonies.
In the course of rebutting the United States of Europe slogan Lenin also considered the slogan of a United States of the World which, he said, would be wrong; firstly, because it merges with socialism; second, because it may be wrongly interpreted to mean that the victory of socialism is impossible in a single country.
The law of uneven development
The idea that such a victory could be achieved was a major advance in Marxist revolutionary theory. It arose out of Lenin’s profound analysis of the major features of imperialism. ‘Uneven economic and political development is an absolute law of capitalism’, wrote Lenin in his article On the United States of Europe Slogan. Hence, the victory of socialism is possible first in several or even in one capitalist country’. This thesis determined the success of the November (October, old calendar) socialist revolution in Russia. It said to the Russian working class: we can achieve a socialist revolution in Russia without waiting for Western Europe to lead the way. And this they did.
The stumbling block
It is timely to look over the arguments of the period. For decades afterwards the imperialist states of Western Europe promoted the idea of a European United States. Always they found enormous difficulty in reconciling the conflicting stands of the different European powers on what each considered to be in their own national interests. They came up with a variety of schemes for uniting most of Europe. First the Common Market; next the European Economic Community (EEC) and then the European Union (EU). The arguments were sharp over the question of a common currency. ‘What, you don’t think we will give up the pound sterling’, cried Mrs Thatcher. ‘What’ cried her counterparts in France and Germany, ‘you don’t think we will give up the franc or the Deutschmark!’
So the clashes went on for years. Currencies and exchange rates were agreed on, and then they tumbled in disarray. Finally, we see the Euro apparently conjured out of thin air. A common currency at last! Surely this must be followed by a customs unions and the emergence of a general, supranational authority both economic and political out of which all would benefit.
That, anyway, is the theory. It is not yet an accomplished fact, although there is agreement between eleven states on the value and convertibility of the Euro between themselves and in regard to international exchange rates.
The clash of imperialist interests remains
This is precisely the sort of agreement between capitalist states that Lenin considered possible. But it is not a political union with a common government, nor will it be while capitalism remains. The struggle between the different European powers for economic dominance has not disappeared, nor has their appetite for control and exploitation of economic territory. One has only to look at the dismemberment of Yugoslavia to be assured of that.
The world struggle between the major imperialist powers, the United States, Japan, Germany, France and Great Britain has not disappeared, it has merely changed its form. The division of colonies has given way to the division of neo-colonies. Crude colonial rule has given way to a less obvious system of exploitation of backward territories, neo-colonialism. Imperialists still carry on their ruthless exploitation of weak countries, still draw billions in superprofits from third-world states, but they allow them to have a nominal independence – but with this proviso, that the great powers maintain their ability to extract billions from the exploitation of cheap labour, from control of natural resources, from unequal agreements on marketing their products, and from agreements as to their subordination to one or other of the great powers as to which gets the lion’s share.
The three main blocs
This contest is still far from resolved. In order to achieve greater economic clout, the imperialists have now divided the world into three main trading blocs: NAFTA (the North American Trade Agreement), the European Union and the Asian bloc under Japanese control. Thus, we see these blocs jockeying for position, entering into fierce monopolistic competition with each other.
Thus, despite the changed circumstances since Lenin wrote his article on the United States of Europe Slogan, and despite the emergence of a common currency, the fundamental features of imperialism remain. The Euro is set to challenge the dollar as the ruling world currency, expressing the growing contradiction between Europe and the USA.
The only way out of exploitation
In this situation, a United States of Europe (or its equivalent) could only be a reactionary slogan, tantamount to seeking a new division of the world between the imperialists, with all the warlike undertones that this implies.
No, the international working class and the peoples oppressed by imperialism will never achieve their liberation by relying on capitalist schemes cooked up for the benefit of the world’s ruling classes. They can only achieve it via the road of socialist revolution, via the October Road. That future is the thing worth fighting for, not the primacy of the dollar, the Euro or the Yen.