IN THE RADICAL PRESS / MEMOIRE DES LUTTES
By Christophe Ventura
The worsening economic, monetary, political and democratic crisis facing the European Union (EU) and its member countries since 2008 (year of the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers and the adoption in Europe the Lisbon Treaty) led the forces of the left that seeks social transformation and European social movements to strengthen and deepen their political and policy debates on the future of the EU.
This debate was originally built in the French-born NGO ATTAC in the wake of the successful campaign against the European Constitutional Treaty (ECT) in 2005. Its “European Commission” consisted then, between 2004 and 2010, all players and sensitivities that continue to wage today, through various organizations of the social and global justice movement, unions, NGOs and French political parties – including those that constitute the Front de Gauche (Left Front) – the battle for hegemony on European issues in this plural political and social space.
In 2009, Attac Europe published a book entitled Double or Quits which were identified points of agreement and disagreement within the left and the anti-globalization movement. For some, the aim was to “radically reorient the EU” towards a more federalist, social and ecological model based on “a new founding European text.” In this scheme, it was stated that “the principles that must be written in the text that recasts the Union depend on (…) power relations that we succeed in building on a European scale.” And it concludes: “If it proves impossible to wrench the EU from its neoliberal straitjacket within a reasonable time because social movements are insufficiently strong, we should establish areas of reinforced cooperation between certain countries, instead of slamming the door.” Others, including the author of these lines, remarked that “in the name of solidarity and friendship among peoples, many wish to see the EU move towards more federalism, up to considering nation states as a relic of the past.” They pledged in favour of “a salutary crisis” based on the application of a strategy of “the policy of the empty chair” and unilateral, partial ruptures with European treaties without excluding as a last resort, withdrawal from the EU “in the context of drawing up a plan for another Europe built on resolutely different foundations.”
“The euro, exit or not?
Today, the essential terms of this debate have remained relatively the same, but they are crystallized around the crisis of the single European currency, around a new question: “The euro, exit or not? Building a ‘good euro’, a ‘people’s euro’? ” . During this latest 2010-2014 phase, the Left and the social movements have integrated the evolution of the overall situation in the parameters of their thinking*. This situation is characterized, at the social level, by accentuated general deterioration under the blows of austerity policies and the inappropriately named Stability and Growth Pact.
On the political front, our societies are affected by a disturbing and constant rise of new far-right formations in the context of increasing abstention European national elections. Finally, within our societies we see the growing rejection of German hegemony as the impact of a deep and deepening contradiction inherent in the European project – and the EU in its current form – fails to find a dialectic resolution. Indeed, this project was initially built, in part, to neutralize Germany after the Second World War by the development of economic interdependencies between other European powers – including France – and this has led to a framework that has permitted the construction of a peaceful relationship based on rules. Losing such a framework undeniably entails a risk of leaving Germany alone in a relationship of economic and financial hegemony with the rest of the European powers without rules. But at the same time, to keep this framework – this “punishment machine” – means all European countries submitting to the strongest among them.
Financial oligarchy not threatened
For their part, the forces of transformation have not influenced the policies of governments and the EU, nor threatened financial oligarchies despite their actions – sometimes crowned by sectoral victories – and the emergence of new and significant citizens’ movements from 2011 in several European countries in the periphery, from the mainland South to the Balkans. Gradually, reality has returned to all political and social movements. Now the option of a future of democratic federalism and solidarity is no longer seen as a realistic and feasible horizon. “Disobedience” to European treaties “to rebuild Europe” is the new consensus of the transformational left. It is to be welcomed. It is a collective step forward. Now, the idea of pursuing unilateral national ruptures is not, in principle, taboo – it is even acclaimed – provided that, as is the majority view currently within the transformational left, this takes place in a cooperative perspective, “in the sense [ that such unilateral measures are] not directed against any country, like competitive devaluations, but instead against the prevailing economic and political logic, and the greater the number of countries adopting them, the greater their effectiveness.”
But this leaves unanswered all the basic questions, and in particular this one: is it possible to radically reform in a progressive sense, the European Union? And if so, by what means and with what social and political forces can such transformations be imposed on states and European institutions? Within the transformational left and social movements, some suggest Euro-exit plans which would restore national sovereignty, but there is no reason to think European governments (whether social democrats, conservatives or both) would not continue with their austerity programmes that today asphyxiate European societies.
Others believe that the EU is impossible to overhaul. According to them, it is necessary to consider “clean Euro exit” scenarios, or indeed leaving the EU, one leading logically and quickly to another. Still others advocate a strategy of cooperative disobedience to the European treaties that underpin the EU and the euro as a means to rebuild Europe. In practice, such a project fails to deliver mild and selective disruptions that would save the architecture of the EU. Promoted by a section of the transformational left anxious to avoid the immediate political risks posed by a “clean exit” and to keep the unity of the European project, this strategy would however, as their political and economic proposals indicate, require those who lead it to bring the entire European architecture into play (treaties, regulations, institutions, fundamental freedoms, etc.).
In reality, all these options betray the same fragility. All these projects form the multiple aspects of the same problem: the impotence of the Left. If to be successful it is necessary to reduce to virtually nothing all that constitutes the EU, each of these programs and their complementary economic measures to tame financial forces require resolute action of a government of the Left, or numerous Governments coordinating at a European level, driven by strong popular insurgent civic movements pursuing a strategy borrowed from the principles of Che Guevara’s revolutionary foco theory, revisited for today’s conditions. Each of these strategies requires, in fact, the same assumption. Whether at a national or European level, their realization can only be based on the existence of powerful and available social forces mobilized around a social struggle and a political will with the aim to conquer state power. This last point implies, moreover, overtaking, in social movements, an apolitical approach – “good pupil” in the words of the British historian Perry Anderson – in the challenge to capitalism.
These conditions are not impossible to meet. And they even sometimes emerge. But historically, they are always the result of extraordinary situations in which extreme violence, often caused by foreign wars, or on the domestic front by the explosion of insurrectionary or advanced revolutionary situations, grips society and brings about the brutal collapse of political and social systems. There’s been no Bolshevik Revolution without the First World War, no Vietnam without military intervention of the United States, no Hugo Chavez without the “Caracazo” in 1989, no Rafael Correa in Ecuador and Evo Morales in Bolivia without the implosion of an internal institutional and political system in an advanced state of decay and also external and abuse (strangulation from debt and structural adjustment imposed by the IMF and the World Bank).
A slow-burn crisis
It is clear that we are not in currently in this situation. The European crisis and beyond, the world-system, is deep and is leading to much social and democratic violence that is becoming more dramatic each day. However, it takes a different form from previous crises in that it is not inducing, in Europe, a widespread collapse. It is spreading slowly, slicing away at the structures of welfare states over an extended period and with different intensity depending on the country and their social and political histories. “Peripheral” southern and eastern European countries are being severely attacked, those at the centre of European power system are too, but to a lesser extent. And when the financial turmoil is too strong for the entire structure, the ruling classes do not hesitate to use all measures – even “unconventional” actions – to avoid the worst. They too have learned some lessons from history … of their own struggle against the working class.
Faced with this situation, the Left and social movements do not have capital (powerful and available social forces to embody their ideas and offer an inspiring alternative narrative for society) or a framework – that national or European – to draw upon to drive a wedge into the system. In addition, they must fight against a far-right that captures a significant part of popular protest against the system that still accepts to find expression through elections. Under these conditions, exit strategies from the euro or progressive, cooperative disobedience must be assessed in the light of what they really represent. They are levers of internal political mobilization for the transformational left, but do not form mobilizing political perspectives – a progressive point of view – to solve the practical problems of the European peoples.
The following hypothesis should be considered: the Left and the social movements are not currently able to resolve this historical situation of the crisis in Europe. They can contribute to defensive struggles, on a case by case basis and seal sectoral and temporary alliances with other movements and organizations of any country at moments when one or the other (or numerous countries at the same time) are affected by the same type of neoliberal attack. The construction of this solidarity then is for the long term in the absence of a rupture in the system’s structures, if and when this occurs. For a peculiarity of the current crisis could be it settles into a long time sequence, causing permanent damage and convulsions without creating unmanageable contradictions for the system. It is then incumbent on the transformational Left and the social movements to accentuate the depth of national democratic and social problems and organize the conditions of a war of positions instead of maneuver warfare. This approach would be the most favourable, in the absence of a European social movement that is present in all countries and unified.
This period is characterized by the fact that the transformational Left is not in control of its destiny. Part of it is yet to play in the European Parliament elections to be held from May 22 to 25 in Europe. It will submit its draft for “refounding of Europe” to a vote – and its credibility in a game of double or quits.
Translation/edit by Revolting Europe
*The author contributed to the conception of the strategic document of the Left Party on the Euro « Résolution du Parti de gauche sur l’euro » (http://www.jean-luc-melenchon.fr/arguments/resolution-du-parti-de-gauche-sur-l%E2%80%99euro).