An argument was made a long time ago by right wing ideologue Frederick Hayek that Europe could only be united on the basis of the free market. Generally speaking, unity by state power can be achieved by conquest, or diplomatic alliance and compromise which would be slow, messy and prone to threats of resort to the former method. The Left supporters of Brexit also pose the unity being attempted by the EU as one underpinned by, in fact essentially and intrinsically comprised of, neoliberalism and its child austerity. This approach is presented as a policy choice at the national level but essential to the EU, which doesn’t add up.
The imposition of austerity in the Eurozone for example is a policy choice determined by the conservative leadership of Germany and some other Northern European countries. In large part this is a reflection of the interests of their particular national capitalism, or its perceived interests, so not an inevitable feature of European capitalist integration.
The imposition of this particular national capitalist regime across Europe cannot work so it involves the subordination of weaker capitalisms such as the Greek etc. The ultimate subordination is expulsion from the Euro club, whereupon the Greek state is free to reflect its weakness through devaluation, have greater freedom to preserve or expand crony state ownership and decide which sections of its population it wants to throw to the wolves and which to protect. What it could not do on its own is reverse austerity and develop a strong capitalist economy. A separate Greek socialism is out of the question.
The refusal of the strongest national states within the EU to seek an alternative to austerity that addresses the needs of all member states is grounded on refusal to implement fiscal transfers between states, common and pooled debt and greater regulation. This would involve not less but more European integration but will not be accepted by the conservative led national states without their much greater control of the EU. The question then becomes one of democracy.
For the nationalist opponents of the EU, on the right and left, democracy can only be national. The Irish People’s Movement repeats this again and again:
“The EU is most accurately seen as a supranational anti-democratic system that deprives Europe’s diverse living peoples of their democracy while serving the interests of its big state members, as mediated through their ruling politico-economic elite, interacting with the Brussels bureaucracy. The project of EU and euro-zone integration is at bottom an attempt to overturn throughout much of Europe the democratic heritage of the French Revolution: the right of nations to self-determination, national independence, and national democracy.”
“. . . This right to national self-determination is the foundational value of all modern democracies and of democratic politics within them. But it is anathema to the EU elite. . . . The core illusion of the EU elite is that the peoples of the euro zone will consent to abandon their national independence and democracy, reversing centuries of European history . . .”
Today the increasing lack of democracy across Europe is sometimes put down to a lack of accountability of the governing elites in Brussels to the electorate, but it is notable that this complaint is widely expressed at national level as well. The Irish State for example has long had two major parties periodically alternating in office that have had no ideological differences and which have provided no meaningful political choice. In the last election the electorate voted against the incumbent main party and got it back in government. In some other counties there has been more appearance of choice but it has been obvious for years that even social democratic parties have embraced neoliberalism, so it is not an EU only phenomenon.
It is argued however that it is worse in the EU and, unlike at the level of the individual state, nothing can be done. It must be noted however that this malaise at the EU is partially a result of the processes at national level and made worse by being filtered here first. If pressure from below is stifled by the national political system there is much less to transmit upwards to the EU’s bureaucratic machinery. At this EU level there are no European political parties, the trade unions at a European level are a shell and there are no other vehicles for protest except protest itself and its campaigns that put pressure on institutions but fundamentally do not threaten them.
The organisation, or rather the lack of organisation, of workers at the European level is not something that can be rectified by more democratic arrangements at the EU, although this would obviously help. It is a task for workers themselves and seeking the nationalist way out is not a solution but rather running away from a problem that cannot be escaped.
The nationalist nonsense that posits democracy rising from the nation ignores the existence of nations that have had precious little democracy and ignores the process of struggle that imposed on ruling elites what democracy there is. The idea that centuries of European history were devoted to the development of national democracy is as fatuous as the idea that these nations were generally independent states. War and subjugation has been a feature of the history of European states as much, if not more, than any sort of mythical independence, which no longer exists even for large European states never mind the smaller ones.
What is true is that the development of capitalism took place at the national level and that this involved the creation of classes which had a material interest in forms of bourgeois democracy and which fought for them as a result. The state form within which this development took place has been elevated into the development itself but it is capitalist economic development and the political struggles that it generated that are the real foundations of bourgeois democracy.
That capitalist economic development has burst the bounds of nation states has created problems in relation to the forms of democracy that have taken root at the national level. At this level the machinery of the state has legitimised capitalism through nationalist ideology and the exercise of state power that has educated, subordinated and reformed the society in which everyone has grown up in; making nothing more natural than the idea of belonging to a nation. From this ideology and the state’s power to mould society has come the view that rights, freedoms and politics in general can only be framed at the national level with anything above this simply being political relations between the states and therefore not actually above them.
History is further perverted in this nationalist version by declaring that the ideals of the French revolution were purely national, ignoring the proclamations within it relating to the rights of individuals, the freedom of individuals and the equality of individuals. In the first part of these two posts it was noted that for some Irish nationalists these “are not unequivocal concepts. There is no Union-wide consensus on what constitutes a higher or lower standard of protection of rights; there is no consensus on the source of human rights, such as the theory of natural law, whether secularly or religiously based, that would permit a rational analysis and evaluation of conflicting positions.” But we are expected to believe such problems of unequivocal definition, consensus on source and application of rights, disappear within the nation, with all its minorities subservient to whatever the national ideal of these happens to be. Most important of all, the national definition of these non-unequivocal concepts is assumed to be superior to the different understandings of these concepts that arise from the class divisions within society. Instead these are assumed to be erased by unity behind a mythical ‘national interest’.
This understanding of the world as fundamentally structured by nations within which coherent, consistent and valid interests are formed and expressed reaches its height when we are told that:
“Although the EU has most of the formal features of a state, and Euro-federalists aspire to it becoming a United States of Europe, comparable to the United States of America, outsiders hesitate to regard it as a state in its own right. They think that if it were such it must surely have its own people, who would identify with it and insist on endowing it with some meaningful democratic life. But such a people does not exist.”
If this means anything it means that democracy can only exist for a relatively homogenous people, defined by nationality, which is the worst sort of ethnic-centred nonsense to which all nationalism is prone to fall into. It condemns those states that are multi-national in composition, which must presumably not expect to have any sort of democratic political arrangements. This also of course absolves the EU, because it too cannot be expected to be democratic. In fact no future unity of peoples can be expected to be democratic either. The more one reads this short paragraph the worse it gets.
But for a socialist it is precisely the identity of interests within the nation that must be exposed and rejected a false. In contrast it is the identity of the interests of working people regardless of nationality that is the essential socialist argument and historically the nation state that has been the last barrier to the creation of the new society that expresses these common interests. Workers of the world unite! is the clarion call of socialism. If capitalism seeks to unite Europe on its own terms it is not the job of socialists to seek to reverse its progress but to fight for creation of the socialist society on these foundations.
If the nationalist left does not know how democracy, workers unity and a socialist future can be fought for except within the realm of separated national states then it should step aside because whatever the problems posed to socialists by the EU they will continue to exist, in fact worsen, in the nationalist rat race that implementation of their policies would involve.
Back to part 1