2. How the Stalinists shaped the debate on Europe

Submitted by PaulHampton on Sun, 27/09/2015 - 15:40

The hostile attitude towards European unity on the ostensibly revolutionary left derived ultimately from the poisoned well of Stalinism. Internationally, the USSR under Stalin embraced the nationalistic ‘socialism in one country’ doctrine in the mid-1920s, as it sidelined the perspective of international socialist revolution and workers’ democracy. After the bureaucratic ruling class had established itself as the sole master of the surplus product by 1928 and expelled the Trotskyist opposition, Russian foreign policy dictated visceral opposition both to bourgeois efforts to unify Europe (whether by consent or by force) and hostility to pan-European labour movement unity.

This was well summed up on the cusp of World War Two in April 1940, when the Stalinist Comintern issued a May Day manifesto. It stated: “Under the flag of ‘Federated Europe’ and ‘A new organisation of the world’, the imperialists are preparing to dismember big states and annex small countries, still further to intensify colonial oppression and to enslave the peoples of Europe.” (Jane Degras, The Communist International 1919-1943, Volume III, 1964: 468). Months earlier, the Stalinist functionary Georgi Dimitrov recorded noted in his private journal: “On 7 November 1939 Stalin said: The slogan of ‘the United States of Europe’ was mistaken. Lenin caught himself in time and struck that slogan” (The Diary of Georgi Dimitrov, 1933-1949, 2003: 121).

This attitude persisted even as Russian foreign policy turned from the defeat of Nazi Germany towards the shape of post-war Europe. Moscow wanted to re-establish weak states so Russia would be the single dominating power on the continent. A memorandum by the Stalinist functionaries Maisky and Litvinov in January 1944 argued that “it is not in the interests of the USSR, at least in the first period after the war, to foster the creation of various kinds of federations – a Danubian, Balkan, Central-European, Scandinavian, etc” (Vladislav Zubok, ‘The Soviet Union and European Integration from Stalin to Gorbachev’, Journal of European Integration History, 1996: 85).

It was Stalin’s opposition to the US’s Marshall Plan from June 1947 that fully crystallised Russian hostility to European integration. The USSR set out to prosecute and “purge” any trace of the all-European idea, calling it a “manifestation of bourgeois cosmopolitism”, as well as to denounce West European integrationists as “lackeys of US colonialism”. Soviet Cold-War propaganda denounced West European integration as imperialistic, reactionary, doomed to failure, and a harbinger of the final crisis of capitalism (Wolfgang Mueller, ‘The Soviet Union and Early West European Integration, 1947-1957: From the Brussels Treaty to the ECSC and the EEC’, Journal of European Integration History, 2009: 68-70).

Three common elements - “US control over Western Europe”, “remilitarisation of West Germany” and “preparation of a new war” – remained the leitmotivs of the Stalinist assessment of the early integration process. The birth of the Council of Europe in 1949 was greeted by Pravda as “an auxiliary tool of the aggressive North Atlantic Pact” [i.e. NATO] and its pan-European agenda regarded as “demagogy”. The true aim of the Council of Europe was “camouflaging the imperialist colonisation of Western Europe by the United States and the destruction of national sovereignty among independent European states in order to implement their plans of global domination”.

The Schuman and Pleven plans (1950) were perceived by the Soviet Foreign ministry as ploys to legalise, “under the cloak of ‘European integration’, the creation of a US-controlled military force and arsenal in Europe”. In 1951, the planned coal and steel community was denounced as a “hyper-monopolistic association”, created by US monopolies in order to “revive the military industry of West Germany, to exploit the economies of the participating countries for carrying out their aggressive plans for a third World War, and to create an economic basis for the aggressive North Atlantic Bloc in Western Europe under American hegemony” (Mueller 2009: 71, 73).

This attitude, laid down under Stalin’s tutelage, persisted after his death. The Russian assessment of the founding of the EEC in 1957 regarded the Treaty of Rome as a “temporary” alliance being used to temper the competition between capitalist states that had come under pressure as a consequence of the successes of socialism and the independence movements in the Third World. In view of “massive contradictions” between, on the one hand, “revisionist” West Germany and “protectionist” France, and, on the other, between the EEC, Britain, and the United States, the USSR government predicted the failure of the Economic Community. The USSR juxtaposed the Comecon bloc of Stalinist states as the alternative to the EEC. Pravda (11 March 1957) denounced the Common Market as a “ploy of US leading circles for deepening the division of Europe and Germany and for subjecting Western Europe to the rule of West German monopolies and militarists”. On 13 March 1957 the CPSU Presidium approved a note to all EEC member states condemning the Rome Treaties as a “threat” to all-European cooperation and peace (Mueller 2009: 83-84).

The overarching aim of Russian policy towards West European integration was to hamper the process or obstruct it altogether, through propagandistic demonisation and diplomatic pressure. As well as the considerable apparatus of the Russian state itself, the Stalinists also had at their disposal large and often mass western European Communist parties able to articulate this hostility towards bourgeois political and economic integration. From the early 1950s these Communist parties pumped out propaganda with the tropes originating in Moscow. European integration was:
• Imperialist – designed to strengthen US control over Western Europe
• Preparation for an aggressive war against the Soviet Union
• An instrument of capital
• Designed to curtail national sovereignty

Although under the impact of EEC membership, some leaders of the two largest Western European parties, the Partito Comunista Italiano (PCI) and Parti communiste français (PCF) began to soften their approach in the 1960s, these influences were barely discernible in Britain. The CPGB for its part put out a steady stream of propaganda opposing the EEC, every time the issue became prominent nationally.

Communist Party of Great Britain

The party published a series of pamphlets: The Alternative to the Common Market (1961) by Dave Bowman; Say 'No' to the Common Market (1962) by Ted Ainley; Common Market: The Truth (1962); The Common Market: Why Britain Should Not Join (1969) by John Gollan; Common Market: The Tory White Paper Exposed (1971) by Ron Bellamy; Common Market: For And Against (1971); The Common Market Fraud (1975) by Gerry Pocock and Out of the Common Market (1975). Other organisations influenced by the CPGB, such as the Trade Unions against the Common Market, the British Peace Committee and the Labour Research Department, also published prolifically.

Ted Ainley’s pamphlet Say 'No' to the Common Market (1962) sets out the Stalinist case in simple but well contrived terms. It is also of interest because it was published at the beginning of the UK government’s efforts to join, but at a time when much of the trade union militants had yet to come down on the side of chauvinism and the revolutionary left largely retained its internationalist position. He argued that “the people of Britain” should reject membership of the Common Market for the following reasons:
1. It would have a disastrous effect on our wage prospects and living standards by making British workers compete with lower paid continental workers both in the home and overseas markets.
2. It would undermine British independence. The British Government and Parliament would be bound by political and military decisions made by a European majority.
3. It would hit hard at Britain's trade with its biggest and oldest markets in the Commonwealth.
4. British agriculture would have to adapt itself to Common Market methods…
5. The Common Market has refused to accept full employment as one of its objectives.
6. Common Market rules would hamper a British Government in dealing with the balance of payments crises to which the economy is particularly prone.
7. The British Government and Parliament would be compelled to accept the decisions of the Common Market bodies as to how our social services should be "harmonised" with those of the continent.
(Ainley 1962: 2)

The first reason was explicitly chauvinist and hostile to migrant workers, while the second defended spurious British independence on nationalist grounds. The third championed post-Empire imperialism, while the remaining reasons repeat objections by the most backward bourgeois defenders of the British state. The whole narrative used the pronoun “our” to mean British people, not workers – either in Britain or across Europe. The chauvinism is most pronounced through its anti-Germanism, arguing that because “the Germany of Adenauer and Krupp” was at the centre of the Common Market, the scheme looked “very much like an attempt on the part of the German ruling class to achieve by subtlety what both the Kaiser and Hitler failed to achieve by their two world wars - German domination of Europe” (ibid 1962: 7).

However elsewhere in the text, Ainley spelt out the deeper reasons for the CPGB’s hostility, namely: the opposition of the USSR. The aim of the Common Market was “to bring about political unification of the member states”. This political union aimed to strengthen “the hold of the monopolists, to frustrate the advance of Socialism in Europe and to consolidate the military power of the so-called Western Alliance against the Socialist countries”. The US government was interested in Britain joining the Common Market because it aimed to lead “a solid bloc of capitalist states throughout the world in its war on communism, to prevent the rise of socialism anywhere and provide an even more profitable field for the investment of American dollars”. To the CPGB, the Common Market was “the political counterpart of NATO”. The “socialism” the Stalinists were taking about was the USSR and its bloc. They recognised that it was not enough to say "No" to the Common Market; an alternative had to be offered. And Ainley spelt out that the alternative was “the socialist countries, the newly independent nations and the old Dominions”. In particular, the “socialist countries will, for many years to come, want the products of British industries, if the political barriers to trade are lifted, in exchange for their own products” (ibid 1962: 7, 9, 11).

Ainley also articulated an argument, slightly circular given the prominence of the CPGB in the unions, which would be used again and again when the crunch came in the early 1970s – namely the attitude of others on the left. He noted that “many prominent Labour men and women trade union leaders are strongly opposed to Britain's entry into the Market; but the top right-wing leaders, though they continue to say they have not made up their minds, are clearly looking for an excuse to come out in favour and dragoon the Labour movement behind them”. The CPGB set itself the task in 1962 that it would largely fulfil a decade later, for “every trade union” to “record its opposition to Britain's entry into the Common Market”. They recognised that “the result of such action would be rejection of the Tory proposal by both the TUC and Labour Party conferences” (ibid 1962: 10, 12).


The Left's Debates On Europe in the 1970s

1. The left against Europe: redux

2. How the Stalinists shaped the debate on Europe

3. The attitude of the revolutionary left before 1970

4. The chauvinist summer of 1971

5. How the revolutionary left fell in behind the Stalinists in 1971

6. 1975 and all that

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