Shepherd, CDWG News

The Politics of World Federation

by Joseph Baratta

United World: CDWG [Coalition for Democratic World Government] News,
20, 1 (Jan.–Feb. 2007): 11–15.
Gary K. Shepherd

For many years, this reviewer has been haunted by a question that must bother nearly every member of the movement under the age of 65.  What happened back in the 1940s?  As most everyone knows, the 1940s were the heyday of the world federalist movement.  Politicians, judges, and journalists openly advocated it, and Garry Davis drew rock–concert–sized audiences when he spoke.

Then, within a relatively short time, this promising new movement collapsed into political irrelevancy.  Why?  Now, at last, there is a book that makes a stab at answering that question.  The Politics of World Federation, written by Joseph P. Baratta, explores exactly what happened to the movement in the brief period of flux between the end of World War II and the beginning of the Korean War.  Baratta has given us such a detailed study, accompanied by such extensive footnotes, that he was forced to break it into two volumes.  The first of these is subtitled, The United Nations, UN Reform, Atomic Control, while the second is subtitled, From World federalism to Global Governance.

Baratta wisely concentrates on a relatively limited time period.  He devotes only a single chapter to precursors to the world federalist movement that predate Clarence Streit’s Union Now, and even less time to developments in the movement during the past half century.

Baratta points out that since its inception there have been three main approaches to the establishment of world federation.  The first is the UN reform strand, which is official, legalistic and “realistic” in nature, and works through lobbying and appealing to national interests.  The second is the peoples’ convention model, which is unofficial, revolutionary and “utopian,” and attempts to use grassroots pressure on officials to move them toward world federation.   The third and smallest branch is the one which seeks to create a transnational political party that will attempt to run pro–federalist candidates in national elections.  Having said this, however, Baratta admits that “all approaches are revolutionary” because the idea of transferring sovereign powers from nations to a higher governing authority is itself a revolutionary one.

Over the years there have developed three alternative perceptions of transnational governing, according to Baratta.  The first is a state–based system that use the UN only when bilateral diplomacy fails.  The second is a non–hierarchical system of organizations operating in tandem with a more effective United Nations.  The third is a world federal government.  At this point in time, most people seem to prefer the second option.

It is impossible for any book review to do justice to a work of this depth.  There is simply too much information crammed into its relatively few pages.  He describes the development of the two competing strands of federalists:  the union of democracies branch largely begun by Streit, and the universalist branch, represented early on by the Campaign for World Government.  Baratta relates how the famous Dublin conference, organized by elder statesman Grenville Clark at the end of WWII, was almost derailed by the split between these groups.  He also speaks of another theoretical schism, between the minimalists, who believe world government should have only power to prevent wars, and the maximalists, who believe that word government should also address issues of social justice and economic inequality.

Baratta discusses the more radical movements, such as the Crusade for World Government, launched by British MP (and UNITED WORLD contributor) Henry Usborne, who raised eyebrows with his provocative slogan, “If They Won’t, We Will!”  There was also the Students for Federal World Government, sometimes referred to by mainstream federalists as the “World Republic boys.”  It was the creation of WWII vets who had returned to college on the GI Bill, and had a very personal perspective on war and why it should be abolished.  This group concentrated on the peoples’ convention approach, and called public rallies like the one in Chicago in May of 1946 that drew 5,000 people.

The climax of the first volume was the historic meeting at Asheville, North Carolina, where the largest factions of the world federalist movement (with a combined membership of 18,000 people, came together in 1947 to merge into one over–arching organization.  The representatives of Word Republic eventually refused to merge, because the statement issued by the conference mentioned only UN Reform and not the Peoples’ Convention route.  But the Asheville convention did succeed in creating the United World Federalists, later the World Federalist Association, and now Citizens for Global Solutions.

In his second volume, Baratta outlines events in the late 1940s and early 1950s.  He devotes a chapter to the Committee to Frame a World Constitution, which operated under the auspices of Robert Hutchins at the University of Chicago.  This group of experts produced the Preliminary Draft of a World Constitution in 1948.  He devotes a chapter to Garry Davis, le petit homme, who launched a popular movement in France when he revoked his U.S. citizenship and tried to address the UN General Assembly demanding they create a world federation.  Baratta also discusses the drive to pass pro–federalist resolutions in state legislatures, and even the U.S. Congress.

In an attempt to be complete, Baratta includes events and activities that would not normally be thought of as falling within the borders of word federalism.  These include Churchill’s 1940 offer to federate with France during WWII;  the Baruch Plan to create veto–free international control of atomic energy; and the third party presidential campaign of Henry Wallace, the only candidate [other than Usborne in Britain] ever to make world federalism a campaign plank.

Baratta shines an unpleasant spotlight on the many missed opportunities of the movement, like the fiasco that resulted from the Foundation for World Government.  The foundation was created when Anita McCormick Blaine, heiress to the McCormick reaper fortune, donated a million dollars to help promote world government.  But the foundation fell apart on the issue of whether Wallace (who was regarded as a fellow traveller by many) should have a place on the foundation’s board, as Mrs. Blaine insisted.  The result was that very little of the money actually went to promote world government, and much of it was taken  by the U.S. government for taxes.

He also describes what he calls the “understandable but disastrous decision” by the United World Federalist leadership to abandon their field program in 1951 for a top–down approach to U.S. leaders.  This resulted in a rapid drop of support.  UWF membership, which had peaked in 1949 at 47,000, fell to 15,000 by 1953, declined to 5,000 by 1976, and has never been above 10,000 since.  Similar crises affected the movement outside the United States, where the World Movement changed names, shifted leadership and lost members.  Sub–groups that were successful, such as Parliamentarians for Global Action, Transnational Perspectives, Planetary Citizens, and the International Peace Academy, severed their roots with their parent organization.

In the end, the movement failed for two reasons, says Baratta — the strength of nationalism and the lack of effective federalist leadership.  In the 1990s, the Commission on global Governance specifically used the term “global governance” in its report, Our Global Neighborhood, in order to avoid association with the 1940s groups, which, he says, “had no practical program for the transition short of a revolutionary act by the united peoples of the world.”  However, says Baratta, governance is what governments do.  “Not to talk of government, is not to face squarely the issue of willing the means to the end.”

Although one may not agree with all of Baratta’s opinions (and he has strong ones, for instance his conviction that the peoples’ convention route has proved itself totally impractical), this is still an important book to read.  It is important for two reasons:  first, so that we will know the historical roots of our movement and recognize its depth.  And second, so that we will know what has been tried before, why it failed, and thus avoid repeating the same mistakes over and over.  The movement has far too little in the way of resources and manpower to wast it endlessly spinning our wheels.