First published: July 1996
For more than a decade the most coherent support for the process of concentration and integration of capital in western Europe has been provided by social democracy. The rise, and recent decline, of this current – ‘Euro–socialism’ – provides an object lesson in the way in which the politics of the working class movement are shaped not merely by its own immediate situation, but by its relations with all classes in society.
As Lenin put it: ‘Only an objective consideration of the sum total of the relations between absolutely all the classes in a given society, and consequently a consideration of the objective stage of development reached by that society and of the relations between it and other societies, can serve as a basis for the correct tactics of an advanced class.’
Trotsky applied precisely this method to analyse the transfer of west European social democracy’s allegiance after the First World War from its own ‘national’ ruling class to the rising power of US imperialism.
Assimilating that analysis in turn throws light upon the transformation of European social democracy over the past two decades, from a voice of Atlanticism in Europe, into the main political support for European capitalist integration within the labour movement.
The article which follows is extracted from Trotsky’s 1923 speech Perspectives of the European Revolution.
I want to analyse the place that American capitalism assigns to European radicals and Mensheviks, the social democracy of Europe.
The social democracy has been issued an assignment – and I do not at all say this for polemical reasons – to render political aid to American capitalism in placing Europe on rations.
What is the social democracy of Germany, of France now actually doing? What are the socialists throughout Europe doing? Let us study this closely and ponder over it.
They are now educating themselves and they are trying to instil in the working masses the religion of Americanism.
They are teaching, or trying to teach, the toiling masses that Europe cannot maintain herself without the pacifying role of American capitalism and its loans. They are leading the opposition to their own bourgeoisie, as, for example, do the German social patriots – an opposition not from the standpoint of the proletarian revolution, nor from the standpoint of some sort of reforms, but from the standpoint of exposing the German bourgeoisie as intemperate, greedy, chauvinistic and incapable of reaching an agreement with the humane, democratic, pacifist capitalism of America.
This is now the central question of political life of Europe, and especially Germany. In other words, the European social democracy is becoming, before our very eyes, the political agency of American capitalism.
Is this development expected or unexpected? If we recall – and it is hardly a case that calls for recollection – that the social democracy is the agency of the bourgeoisie, it will become clear that the social democracy, by the logic of its political degeneration, is bound to become the agency of the strongest and most powerful bourgeoisie, the bourgeoisie of the bourgeoisies. This is the American bourgeoisie.
To the extent that American capitalism undertakes the task of ‘unifying’ Europe, ‘pacifying’ Europe and ‘educating’ Europe how to cope with the questions of reparations, and so on, and to that extent the entire dependence of the German social democracy upon the German bourgeoisie, and of the French social democracy upon their own bourgeoisie in France is gradually transferred to the chief master.
Yes, a great master has come to Europe, American capitalism. And it is only natural that the social democracy should assume a position politically dependent on the master of its masters. This is the basic fact for understanding the present condition and the present policy of the Second International. Those who do not grasp this early will fail to understand the events of today and of tomorrow and will keep sliding on the surface, subsisting on generalities.
More than that: one service deserves another! The social democracy prepares the soil for American capitalism; it runs ahead of the chariot, talks of the salutary role of American capitalism, sweeps away the rubbish, bestows blessings. This is not unimportant work!
Imperialism is accustomed to sending missionaries ahead. The savages in the colonies usually shot the priest, and occasionally ate him. Then the warrior was saint to avenge the saintly one, and hard on the heels of the warrior came the merchant and the administrator.
In order to colonise Europe, to transform the latter into an American domination of a new type, American capitalism has no need of sending priest-missionaries to Europe. On the spot, on the European continent, there is a political army whose entire task consists in proclaiming to the people the gospel according to Woodrow Wilson, the evangel according to Calvin Coolidge, the holy writings of the New York and Chicago stock markets. This is precisely the mission of present-day Menshevism.
But, I repeat, one service deserves another! The Mensheviks gain not a little thereby. As a matter of fact, the German social democracy not so long ago had to assume the direct armed defence of its own bourgeoisie, the same bourgeoisie that marched shoulder to shoulder with the fascists. Noske is, after all, the figure that symbolises the post-war policy of the German social democracy.
And today? Today it has a different role. Today the German social democracy permits itself the luxury of being in an opposition. It criticises its own bourgeoisie and thereby keeps a certain distance between itself and the parties of capitalism.
How does it criticise its own bourgeoisie? It says: ‘You are self-seeking, dull-witted, cunning, but here is a bourgeoisie on the other side of the Atlantic which is, first of all, rich and powerful; secondly, it is humane, reformist and pacifist, and it has again come to us and wants to give 800 million marks of cash in order to restore the currency.’
And this sounds very well in Germany – the gold mark! – ’But you, the German bourgeoisie, are obstreperous. After you have pulled our dear fatherland up to its ears in the swamp of poverty, how dare you be so stubborn before the American bourgeoisie? Why, we shall expose you mercilessly in the eyes of the popular masses in Germany!’
This is spoken almost in tones of a revolutionary tribune… in defence of the American bourgeoisie. This is the paradox of the German Social Democratic Party.
The same thing applies to France. Of course, in consonance with the political situation in France, and in consonance with the more respectable reputation of the French franc, everything in this country takes place on the sly and in modulated tones. But essentially the same thing is being done there too. The party of Leon Blum, Renaudel and Jean Longuet bears a full responsibility for the Versailles Treaty and for the occupation of the Ruhr territory.
After all, as we know, it is already incontestable today that the Herriot government, supported by the Socialists, stands for the occupation of the Ruhr. But now the French Socialists are enabled to say to their ally Herriot: ‘The Americans are demanding that you clear the Ruhr under such and such conditions; do it… We, too, demand it now.’
They are demanding this not through the will and strength of the French proletariat, but in the name of subjecting the French bourgeoisie to the will of the American bourgeoisie. It ought not to be forgotten that the French bourgeoisie owes 3,700 million dollars to the American bourgeoisie. This means something!
America can topple the French franc any time it pleases. Of course, the American bourgeoisie will not encroach on the franc. Oh no! After all, the American bourgeoisie has come to Europe to restore order and not to bring ruin. It will not encroach… but it can encroach, if it so wishes. Everything is in its hands.
For this reason, against the background of this debt of almost four billion dollars, the arguments of Renaudel, Blum and others have a rather convincing ring in the ears of the French bourgeoisie. At the same time, the social democracy in Germany, France and the other countries is enabled to oppose its own bourgeoisie, to carry on ‘oppositionist’ policies on some concrete questions, and thereby regain the confidence of a certain section of the working class.
Nor is this all. Certain possibilities of joint ‘actions’ are opened up for the Menshevik parties of the various countries of Europe. The social democracy of Europe already represents a rather harmonious chorus. In some respects this is a new fact. For ten years – since the beginning of the imperialist war – it has had no opportunity for presenting a common front. Now this possibility exists and the Mensheviks have now come forward as a solid chorus, supporting America, supporting her programme, her demands, her pacifism, her great mission. And here we come to the question of the Second International in Europe.
Here is the key and the explanation for certain signs of life in this semi-corpse. The Second International, like the Amsterdam Trade Union International, is being re-established. Of course, not in the same form as before the war. The past cannot be resurrected; old strength is gone beyond return. The Communist International cannot be obliterated.
Nonetheless, with this damaged spine, they are seeking to rise on American crutches, straightening themselves up as best they can. The change that is taking place must be appraised to its fullest extent, comrades.
During the imperialist war, the German social democracy remained most closely and quite openly tied to its own bourgeoisie, its own military machine. The French social democracy, to its own. What kind of International could there be so long as they savagely fought over each other? There was no possibility whatever for maintaining a mask of internationalism, or even a shadow of it.
In the epoch of the drafting of the peace, the same situation existed. The Versailles Peace represented simply the seal set upon the results of the imperialist war on diplomatic paper. Where was there room for solidarity? The situation remained essentially the same in the period of the Ruhr occupation. But now great American capitalism comes to Europe and it says: Here is a plan of reparations for you, Messrs. Mensheviks!
And the social democracy accepts this programme as the basis for its entire activity. This new programme united the social democracy of France, Germany, England, Holland and Switzerland.
Once again we see here the same paradox: when American capitalism launches into outright brigandage, it is fully enabled to step to the fore in the guise of an organiser and pacifier, as some sort of humanistic, historical principle.
And in passing, it creates a platform for the social democracy far superior to the latter’s nationalistic platform of yesterday.