THE LEFT AND EUROPE by Anthony Coughlan, September issue, Village Magazine, Dublin
The political Left, whether social democratic, communist or trotskyist, has always found the European Union problematic. This is because superanational EU “integration” poses the issue of national independence and national democracy so acutely, which many on the Left find embarrassing. They prefer to concentrate on economic issues, for on political ones like national independence they fear being found on the same side as the Right. Their political sectarianism makes that hard for them to cope with.
The EU shifts a myriad of government functions from the national level, where they have traditionally been under the control of democratically elected parliaments and governments, to the supranational, where the bureaucrats of the EU Commission have the monopoly of legislative initiative and where technocracy rules. Should the Left oppose or support this process?
The classical socialist position is clear. It is that Leftwingers should eschew “economism” and should seek to give a lead on democratic political questions as well as economic ones. They thereby put themselves in the best position to win political hegemony in their respective countries and to implement leftwing economic measures in due course when their peoples desire these.
Marx and Engels took it for granted that socialism could only be achieved in independent national States. In the Communist Manifesto of 1848 they wrote: “Though not in substance, yet in form, the struggle of the proletariat with the bourgeoisie is at first a national struggle. The proletariat of each country must, of course, first of all settle matters with its own bourgeoisie.” They supported Irish independence from Britain. Engels wrote to his friend Kugelman: “There are two oppressed peoples in Europe, the Irish and the Poles, who are never more international than when they are most national.”
Their Irish follower, James Connolly, showed by his political practice in allying himself with the radical democrats of the IRB in the 1916 Easter Rising that he regarded the establishment of a fully independent Irish State as the prerequisite of being able to achieve the socialist measures that he advocated. While awaiting execution he speculated on how the international socialist press would interpret the Dublin rebellion: “They will never understand why I am here. They will all forget I am an Irishman.”
Outside Europe the proposition that the Left should be the foremost advocates of national sovereignty would be taken as self-evident. The strength of communism in Asian countries like China and Vietnam rests on its identification with nationalism. The appeal of the Left in Latin America is largely based on its opposition to Yankee imperialism. Only in Europe do so many Leftwingers regard the defence of national independence in face of EU integration as “right-wing” and therefore by definition reactionary.
This is primarily due to the fact that the main countries of Western Europe – France, Germany, Britain, Spain, Italy etc. – were all imperial powers in their day and historically their mainstream Labour Movements identified with that imperialism and its colonial accompaniments. With honourable if marginal exceptions, the national Labour Movements in these countries supported their respective national bourgeoisies in going to war with one another in World Wars 1 and 2.
In the second half of the 20th century transnational capital became predominant over national capital in the advanced industrial world. In Europe continental social democrats now shifted to backing European-based transnational capital in supporting its main political project, the construction of a supranational power, the EU/Eurozone, in which the classical principles of capitalist laissez faire – free movement of goods, services, capital and labour – would for the first time in history have the force of constitutional law.
In Britain and Ireland Labour initially dissented. The political tradition in Britain is that all the main issues of national policy are decided inside the Tory Party, with the rest of society having bit parts. Joining the EEC became the central goal of Conservative policy from 1961. The Labour Left originally opposed this, as indeed in this country the Irish Labour Party opposed Irish membership of the EEC in our 1972 Accession referendum. Under Michael Foot’s leadership British Labour advocated the UK’s withdrawal from the EEC in the 1983 general election.
Then in 1988, with Margaret Thatcher in Downing Street, Commission President Jacques Delors, a French socialist, wooed the British TUC at Blackpool and Ireland’s ICTU at Malahide and promised them labour-friendly legislation from Brussels which they would never get at home. The Trade Union leaders embraced “social Europe” and much of the Labour Left followed them, in some cases becoming missionaries for the grand “project”. As the downside of the EU/Eurozone became clear in recent years, Euro-scepticism began to grow on the political Right. Now some on the Left are starting to follow the Right in that too, in Southern Europe and maybe in Britain.
In France and Italy the central role of communists in the war-time Resistance and their consequent appeal to national sentiment gave these countries mass communist parties for three decades after World War 2. A key factor in the subsequent decline of these parties was their embrace of the EC/EU in the 1970s and 1980s as one of the tenets of “Eurocommunism”.
In France this volte-face was necessary to allow Communist Ministers join Francois Mitterand’s socialist government in 1981. I recall the labour historian Desmond Greaves remarking at the time; “This will revive fascism in France.” That was before anyone had heard of Le Pen.The French CP, which had one-quarter of the seats in France’s National Assembly in 1956, has 2% there today. Many former French workingclass communist voters now vote for the National Front.
Leftwingers in the trotskyist tradition tend to be upholders of EU supranationalism as “objectively progressive”, while stigmatising concern for national independence as nationalism and “rightwing”. This goes back to Trotsky’s famous dispute with Stalin in the 1920s over whether it was possible to build socialism in one country – that being Stalin’s view – or whether it required a more general transformation, world revolution, as Trotsky thought. The EU is assumed to provide a more favourable field for socialism because it is at once bigger and it is trans-national, although it is hard to see how socialist-type restrictions on capital can come from a body one of whose constitutional principles is free movement of capital.
The EU institutions and their national extensions are populated with people who were on the trotskyist Left in their youth and who feel no qualms at the EU’s assaults on national democracy. Former German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin, Portuguese Commission President J.M. Barroso are among those with such a background who have advanced supranationalism. Left-sounding arguments for the EU go down well in circles where “socialism” is no way a realistic danger, but where “nationalism” very much is – that is, the nationalism which resists losing national independence and democracy.
Leftist rhetoric, radical-sounding, has helped grease many a lucrative EU career path.
Leftist Europhilia of this kind has been influential in the ideological collapse of Greece’s Syriza, which made its leadership adopt policies the opposite of what they were elected on. While loud against “austerity” Messrs Tsipris, Varoufakis and Tsakalotos continually proclaimed themselves believers in the EU, which they seemed to think could be transformed into a force for cross-national solidarity and Euro-Keynesianism by dint of rhetorical argument.
When it came to the crunch they lacked the courage to go for a “Grexit”, a repudiation of Greece’s mountainous debts and a devaluation of a restored drachma. Yet only such a policy can revive Greece’s lost competititiveness, stimulate its home demand and bring back economic growth, for Greece’s third bailout will not work.
The dissenters in Syriza are now advocating such a course, as are the Greek communists and others. The Syriza collapse is educational for Leftwingers everywhere. It illustrates the old truth that the establishment or re-establishment of national independence – which means a State having its own currency and with it control of either its interest rate or its exchange rate – must be central to any meaningful campaign against neoliberalism and banker-imposed austerity, not to mind “socialism”, however one might define that.
(Anthony Coughlan is Associate Professor Emeritus of Social Policy at Trinity College Dublin)
- EU Political Union: Be careful what you wish for. EuroIntelligence.com
- The Return of the Ugly German. Joschka Fischer, German Foreign Minister and Vice-Chancellor 1998-2005
- Moving on from the Euro. Kevin H O’Rourke, Professor of Economic History, All Souls College, University of Oxford; Programme Director at Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR).
- Blitzkrieg? Finian Cunningham
- Greece should prepare for Grexit – and then not do it. Economist Charles Wyplosz
- Greece and the European Union: First as Tragedy, Secondly as Farce, Thirdly as Vassal State. Prof. James Petras
At a time when the Government is advancing the ridiculous proposition that the Irish State is “regaining its economic sovereignty” by leaving the Eurozone bailout, sensible people will be more concerned at the possibility of a Cypriot-style “bail-in” for the Irish banks, entailing confiscation of customer deposits over €100,000, as the euro-currency crisis continues and the planned EU “banking union” makes provision for such steps.
The continuing Eurozone crisis was discussed at the EPAM conference in Athens, Greece, last weekend week.
At this event representatives of organisations from different EU countries agreed on the vital need for the Eurozone States to re-establish their national currencies and work towards the dissolution of the Eurozone, which is destroying the democracy of the peoples and States that use the euro and wreaking economic destruction and social misery on country after country.
Below for your information is a copy of the joint press statement that was issued after this conference on behalf of the participant organisations.
It was signed by Anthony Coughlan on behalf of the above organisation.
- Hollande calls for euro government to beat recession – EUobserver.com
COMMENT: Clearly the “logic” of the Eurozone is to move towards further economic integration in order to “save the euro”, even though most ordinary citizens across the Eurozone do not want this, for of course one cannot have a European or Eurozone democracy without a European “demos” , and the latter does not exist and cannot be created artificially.
If further Eurozone integration moves happen however, the UK is likely to get ever more disengaged from the EU, and it certainly will not join the Eurozone.
If we go along with further Eurozone integation moves, as most of our politicians will be inclined to do, it will surely mean that the political/economic division between North and South of Ireland will get deeper.
That would surely be an ironical way of commemorating the centenary of the Easter Rising in 1916, and the aspiration of the 1916 Proclamation for the establishment of an independent democratic State in “unfettered control of Irish destinies”.
And what will be left of our low-level Corporation Tax Rate in the more integrated Eurozone which M. Hollande envisages?
- National parliaments eclipsed by EU powers – EUobserver.com
- France’s triumphant ‘Joan of Arc’ vows to bring back franc and destroy euro – Telegraph
- Kohl confesses to euro’s undemocratic beginnings – EUobserver.com
From The Irish Times (World News on page 9), Monday 8 April 2013
KOHL CLAIMS HE STAYED ON AS CHANCELLOR TO ENSURE GERMANY JOINED EURO ZONE
Helmut Kohl has said he stayed on as chancellor until his political defeat in 1998 because he doubted anyone else had the political authority to guarantee Germany’s entry to the European single currency.
In an interview, Dr Kohl said he sensed considerable resistance in his Chrstian Democratic Union (CDU) both to the euro and to bis anointed successor, Wolfgang Schauble.
Rather than risk his political legacy by standing down and handing over responsibility to Dr Schauble, Dr Kohl stayed on despite falling popularity ratings to push through the euro “like a dictator”.
“Dr Schauble is a very talented man, that is beyond discussion, but this . . . was something someone with full authority had to tackle,” said Dr Kohl in an interview conducted in 2002 for a doctoral thesis and just published by its author, journalist Jens Peter Paul. The former chancellor said he did not dare hold a referendumon the single currency in Germany because “of course I would have lost”.
“We had lots of people in the CDU who spoke out” [against the euro] he said. “No one said ‘I reject this’ but. . .[they would say] ‘we will do this but we will postpone things again for a few years’.”
Dr Kohl added that he linked his “political existence to the project”, and that he wanted the introduction of the euro because “it was a question of the continuity, the irreversibility, of the European project”.
DOUBTS ABOUT SCHAUBLE
Adding to the uncertainty on the euro, he said, were doubts about Dr Schauble’s political authority because of his physical disability – the result of an assassination attempt in 1990.
“What most [CDU] people thought – though they never said in my presence – was that someone in a wee wheelchair couldn’t be chancellor,” said Dr Kohl. “I was always passionately of the opposite view, citing the example of Franklin D.Roosevelt, who won the second World War, but I was never in a majority with this view.”
Much of the resistance in Germany, Dr Kohl said, was to the idea of a currency union without the foundation of a fiscal and economic union. He admitted the euro’s introduction probably cost him the 1998 election. But on reflection he said it was worth it to secure the euro and end centuries of tensions in Europe that led to war.
“I am a power person. A chancellor has to be if he’s to get something through and, if he is smart, he knows that now is the time to push something through,” he said. “In one case I was like a dictator, and that was with the euro.”
I suppose that you would count me as one of “the usual suspects” whom you refer to in your Irish Times article of last Saturday (23 March): ”Cypriot crisis puts Irish experience into perspective”, as wishing “to make political capital out of the initial botched attempt to impose some losses on Cypriot depositors”.
While you make valid points in your article, its concluding thrust – that “the EU and its institutions have made Europe a far better place than at any time in its history” – sidesteps the question of whether adopting the Euro-currency and becoming a member of the Eurozone, which is currently a legal obligation on all EU members except the UK and Denmark, have really made Europe “a far better place”.
Do you really believe that Europe is a better place today than it was, say, twenty-five years ago?
As the Cypriots, Greeks, Portuguese, Spaniards, Italians – and we Irish – are discovering the hard way these days, the EU/EC of, say, 1988, before the euro-currency project was embarked on, was by any objective standard surely a better place than the EU of today, when tensions and even hatred are growing between creditor and debtor States INSIDE the Eurozone and when the peoples of the ten EU States which have decided to stay OUTSIDE the Eurozone and to retain their national currencies are thanking their lucky stars they did not join that crisis-racked entity.
This point is made strongly by Bernard Connolly in the introduction he has written to the recent new edition of his classic book, “The Rotten Heart of Europe:The dirty war for Europe’s money”, which I am putting a copy in the post for you today in case you have not read it.
Connolly knows what he is talking about when it comes to monetary matters and his book sets out clearly how the Euro-currency was envisaged by its progenitors from the start as a device for pushing the peoples of the EU towards a supranational fiscal and political union, a quasi-Federation which would be under Franco-German political hegemony and in which the Brussels-Frankfurt bureaucracy would have vast executive powers.
This development was meant to erode – as it has eroded – the democracy of the Eurozone’s Nation States without replacing this with any meaningful democracy at the supranational level.
The latter is indeed in principle impossible, for there is no EU/Eurozone “demos” or people who are willing to identify with and give allegiance to such a supranational entity as truly “theirs”, and such an EU/Eurozone “demos” cannot be artificially created.
In other words, contrary to what your article of last Saturday implies, there is a qualitative difference between the pre-Eurozone and post-Eurozone EU, just as there is inside the EU between the 17 countries which have adopted the Euro and the 10 EU Member States which decided to retain their own national currencies.
As former Commission President Romano Prodi exulted some years back: “The two pillars of the Nation State are the sword and the currency, and we have changed that.”
Maybe you would consider sometime addressing these differences between the countries INSIDE the Eurozone, which Ireland’s leading politicians were foolish and irresponsible enough to join in 1999 even though we do over two-thirds of our foreign trade outside it, and the ten countries OUTSIDE the Eurozone which are still members of the EU.
On a related point: as Germany uses the crisis of the Euro-currency in an ever more obvious attempt to impose its political-economic will on the 16 other Eurozone Member States, it may be worth reminding Irish Times readers that from next year, 2014, Germany’s relative voting weight under the new population-based EU-law-making system enshrined in the Treaty of Lisbon will increase from its present 8% of the total number of EU Council votes to 16%, the voting weights of France, Italy and Britain will increase from their present 8% each to 12% each, while Ireland’s relative voting weight in making EU laws will decline from its present 2% to less than 1%.
You will agree, I am sure, that this step, which most Irish people and indeed most Europeans are currently quite unaware of, is unlikely to make the rest of the Eurozone/EU look more kindly on Germany.
With best regards
PS. I am copying this letter to some of your fellow commentators in the Irish Times and other papers for their information, as doubtless they will have read your Saturday article also. The crucial distinction between the crisis in the Eurozone and the situation in the rest of the EU is too often not made by those who wish to divert attention from the historical catastrophe which the single currency is manifestly turning into.
- EU to set up euro-election ‘troll patrol’ to tackle Eurosceptic surge
- Why Germany Wants its Gold Back
- Eurozone banking union is deeply flawed – Financial Times
- EUROGENDFOR – policing sans frontières? – Quarterly Review
- Top European economists propose “jointly agreed euro exit” of Northern countries – Open Europe