By KD Tait Britain’s exit from Europe has caused huge turmoil in domestic politics. It could prove equally disruptive for Europe, where the rise of a Europhobic right was well under way before 23 June. As well as the Front National in France, “Exiteers” in Holland, Denmark and a series of states in eastern and central Europe are on the march, waving the banners of national sovereignty and hatred of foreign migrants, even where there are hardly any. This has prompted an opposite reaction amongst Europe’s rulers, even to some extent amongst voters, as we have seen in the Spanish elections; a rejection of populism, right and left, and a rush to the safety of traditional parties like the Popular Party of Mariano Rajoy who can guarantee stability (they think).
Angela Merkel’s milder than expected response to the British vote, in contrast to that of her own economics minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, shows an awareness that too much strong-arming from Germany and France against the weaker states, should they start toying with referendums or exit, could actually increase the centrifugal tendencies within the Eurpean Union. The Brexit disease could spread like a malign gangrene. On the other hand, there will be many who see the need to shoot the UK “pour encourager les autres”.
Across Europe, as in Britain, a powerful factor allowing for the growth of reactionary nationalism has been the weakness of the national workers’ movements in fighting to end austerity and resist anti-refugee racism. They have failed to show that “Another Europe is Possible” as the Euromarches and then the European Social Forums tried to do in the 1997-2007 period. What an irony that, when capitalism entered its most serious period of crises and stagnation since the Second World War, the movements of the European workers and the left retreated within their national borders.
Although there have been important exceptions to this weakness, especially in Greece, France, Belgium, Spain and Portugal, it has been plain even there that they have been vitiated by national limitedness. What has been needed is not just expressions of solidarity but a concerted struggle by all Europe’s workers to stop their own governments imposing austerity and labour “reforms”. On this basis, the EU authorities (the Commission, the Central Bank), could have been hit, and hit hard. They are not the all powerful ogres the exiteers declare them to be, but fostering national divisions is absolutely the wrong way to fight them.
If the governments of Spain, Italy, France and, finally, Germany, can be stopped from imposing their policies of slashing social welfare, lowering wages, deregulating health, safety and working hours and running down health and education services, then a continent wide struggle can open up, not just for a “social” but for a socialist Europe.
Therefore, we need not only a counteroffensive to austerity and racism and all the effects of the Brexit process in Britain, but united action by workers across Europe. This cannot be motivated either by a defence of the existing EU, the EU that pulverised Greece and other Mediterranean states, or by a walkout of its member states.
It needs to raise the banner of a united workers’ Europe, a Socialist United States of Europe, with its gates flung wide open to refugees and all those who wish to work there to build it up. Such a Europe can help rapidly develop those regions outside it in which the lack of jobs, schools and hospitals drives young people to leave and risk their lives crossing the seas to Europe. Then the free movement of people will be a truly voluntary desire to meet and help one another build a better world.