The Alternative for Germany (AfD), the National Rally (RN) in France, the League in Italy, Vox in Spain, the Sweden Democrats, as well as UKIP and the Brexit Party in Britain, are fomenting hostility to settled immigrant communities within the EU or refugees from across its borders. Many old conservative parties are apeing them to avoid losing their reactionary electorate. In Poland and in Hungary they are in power. In Austria and in Italy they may have been ousted, perhaps temporarily, from coalitions, but they are far from defeated. The movement which led to the vote for Brexit continues to be a source of inspiration for far right nationalists across the continent.
The roots of the huge levels of social discontent that underpin this development lie in the Great Recession of 2009. Neither the reformist social-democratic parties and trade unions, nor the radical libertarian forces in the Occupy movements, rose to the challenge of channeling the spontaneous indignation of millions against the bankers and billionaires into a political force that could put anticapitalist parties into power. As a result, the continent has suffered a decade of austerity, stagnation, falling wages and attacks on social services which have turned large parts of the middle classes and sections of the unorganised workers toward nationalist, and even racist, solutions.
The liberal media complain about the decline of idealistic liberal ‘European values’ but a large portion of the blame must be placed at the feet of the neoliberal policies imposed by the ruling class elites who lead the European project – policies carried out with the support of, or even by, social-democratic and Labour parties. Despite their cooperation, the continent’s ruling classes do not willingly sacrifice their national interests to the high ideals of peace, democracy, and social progress that they proclaim. In reality, they are engaged in a destructive rivalry with the world’s other great imperialist powers – China, Russia, Japan and their supposed ally, the United States, for domination of the world’s markets, labour, and material resources.
Revolutionary socialists, including the League for the Fifth International, have long argued that Europe’s capitalist and imperialist masters cannot unify Europe.
This is because they all remain rooted in the soil of their national economies and each is committed above all to its “national interest”. Having twice been brought close to common ruin by war, they may have opted for pan-European institutions but, faced with economic crisis, they could only agree to use them to force the working classes of the continent to pay to bail out the bankers and financiers. In so doing they then revealed the glaring democratic deficit of those institutions.
Even before 2008-9, the moves towards a federal union and a single currency, the Euro, overseen by an independent European Central Bank (ECB) meant the domination of the weaker states of eastern and southern Europe by the core states – especially Germany but also by France and the loan sharks of the City of London, with their huge financial, manufacturing and trading monopolies.
The working classes of the continent, with some of the strongest trade unions and the largest number of workers identifying with socialist and labour parties, should have fought this project with an alternative that called into question not only neoliberalism, market anarchy and privatisation, but capitalism itself. For it is capitalism that has clawed back the achievements of postwar socialist and communist parties in terms of free and universal healthcare and welfare systems, mass social housing, secondary and higher education open to all and full employment.
Now, in addition, it is clear that capitalism’s ravaging of our planet’s natural resources has triggered a catastrophic combination of rising sea levels, desertification, forest fires, and species extinctions with consequences not only for millions of climate refugees but for human civilisation itself.
Last, but not least, regional wars and invasions, as in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Yemen have not only generated reactionary terrorists like ISIS or Al Qaeda, but are now drawing in the rival imperialist powers, the USA and its Nato allies, Russia, China and powerful would-be imperialist states and powers like India, Saudi Arabia, Israel and Brazil, all ambitious for regional dominance.
Under Obama, and even more under Trump, the US has intervened to thwart Germany and France’s plans for converting the European Union into an imperialist super state to rival America and China in the world markets. Trump has openly supported Viktor Orban in Hungary, the Truth and Justice governments in Poland and feted Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson, urging them to take the UK out of the European Union.
On the eastern front, the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, has also encouraged the far right with roughly the same objective – to fish in the troubled waters of a divided Europe. Those leftists who say that weakening the EU leaders Germany and France (and the UK) will be good for the working class, ignore the fact that the first forces it will strengthen are America and Russia. The force it will really weaken is the European working class by putting new and higher borders between us and fomenting chauvinism within, and endless conflict between, the countries of our continent.
Brexit, and all similar projects, are thus reactionary to the core. All of them gain their political momentum by vicious baiting of immigrants and racial and national minorities, to a degree not seen in western and central Europe since the 1930s. This is a true parallel with what the white supremacist Trump and the Alt-Right are fostering across the Atlantic.
For this reason, workers across Europe, the great movements of women and environmentalists and the organisations of the socially and racially oppressed, all need to reject with contempt the national identity calls (modeled on America First) pedaled by these demagogues as well as the false internationalism of the capitalist European Project. In the name of the latter, Greece was subjected to an artificial economic collapse similar to that of 1929-31 or that of the post Soviet Union states in the 1990s.
All the working, exploited, and oppressed people of Europe, including those excluded by its razor wide border fences and its Mediterranean moat, have a hundred more times more in common with one another than with the tiny class of the super rich who exploit us all.
The workers of the continent have shown time and again that they have the will to fight back. In France, the neoliberal ‘reformers’ from Chirac to Macron have been dealt heavy blows so that their Thatcher Revolution is still far from complete. British workers should remember that it was our own bosses, led by Thatcher, who opened the onslaught on the postwar social reforms long before their European mainland imitators. Greek workers waged a valiant resistance after 2009 in general strike after general strike but, scandalously, they received little practical aid from their labour and socialist neighbours.
In the first decade of this century, a tentative framework of cooperation came into being in the shape of the European Social Forums where trade unions, socialist parties, NGOs, environmental and antiracist campaigners assembled to discuss a continent-wide strategy for resisting the neoliberal offensive. Their greatest achievement was the antiwar movement of 2002-3 when 20 million world-wide were called into action by the European Social Forum in Florence, and the Word Social Forum in Porto Alegre, Brazil.
But this movement ended by ducking the challenge of a Europe wide anti-austerity movement and faded away just when it was most needed, at the onset of the historic crisis of capitalism in 2008. Now, with the signs of an approaching global downturn mounting and the economic chaos Brexit will bring to both sides of the Channel, we need such international coordination more than ever. And there are the forces needed to initiate it, with climate justice movements spreading across the continent and the millions-strong women’s strikes as well as the still huge potential strength of the trades unions. The alternative would be just to wait as the threats of new wars abroad and more vicious racism at home mount.
Those on the left, who are internationalists, have to wrench the banner of European Unity from the hands of the neoliberals, changing its colour from blue to red. The left who are apeing populism, either by touting a ‘left’ exit from the EU like the Communist Party of Britain, or the social-chauvinists like Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who take up the flag not of the great Revolution and the Jacobins but of French colonialism, are the enemy of working class internationalism and the social revolution. The goal of genuine socialists is nothing less than the creation of a federal socialist Europe, which proclaims itself the home and friend of the workers and oppressed of every country in the world.
This objective is why the League for the Fifth International has developed a programme of action for uniting today’s struggles in different countries in organised bonds of solidarity. It is why we call on the workers of Europe and the world to unite and cast off the chains that stop us solving the problems of humanity and its natural environment by means of the social revolution and working class power to inaugurate a new chapter in human history.
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