by Michael Pröbsting
Fundamental causes: the decline of capitalism
It is obvious that all progressive organisations and activists oppose the EU reform treaty. However there is very little clarity about its origins and what alternatives there are and with what strategy we can fight it.
The EU reform treaty is not the result of a sudden lust for power on the part of the bourgeoisie, as various left reformist currents believe. Even less is it a conspiracy by various bureaucrats in Brussels, as in the fantasies of the editorial offices of the Kronen newspaper or in the Freedom party.
The struggle against the EU reform treaty cannot possibly be won if it is based on illusory and utopian foundations. The basic mistake of many Lefts today is to believe that the policy of the ruling class, which people usually call neoliberalism or militarism, is simply one of several possible options for the capitalist system. It is generally argued that the bourgeois rulers really have a range of possibilities as to how to exercise their power. The programme of relentless attacks on the social and democratic achievements of the working class and the imperialist war offensive is therefore not seen as an unavoidable, and from their own point of view absolutely necessary, policy of the ruling class but rather as a “mistaken policy” which could be replaced by a “correct policy” such as the development of the social state, full employment, disarmament and peace, whilst at the same time maintaining capitalism.
In reality, the neoliberal militarist offensive of the ruling class is the necessary result of the decline of capitalism against a background of increased competition between the monopolies and the great powers. Since the 1970s, the world economy has been characterised by a tendency towards stagnation of the productive forces. (23) This development holds true for the period of globalisation even though here we can see that there has been an uneven development where the tendency to stagnation dominates in the imperialist metropoles and in broad areas of the so-called Third World, while at the same time there are important exceptions such as China or India.
The formation of the EU as an answer of the imperialist capitals of Western Europe
It is the crisis ridden developmental tendency of the capitalist global economy which drives monopoly capital to sharper attacks on the working class and the increased exploitation of the semi-colonial world and, simultaneously, sharpens the competitive struggle between the great powers - above all between the two most powerful blocks, the USA and the EU. This results, on the one hand, in a common approach by the great powers when it is a matter, for example, of opening the semi-colonial countries to the great corporations but, on the other, also leads to political and economic conflict between the two blocks when their interests conflict.
The formation of the European Union as not only an economic domestic market but also as a political and military power bloc is the answer of the ruling class of Europe, above all of the core states, Germany and France, to increased competition and the necessity to pursue their interests in an increasingly unstable world with all the means at their disposal. We had already made this clear in an analysis three years ago: “the formation of a European capital and imperialism which can offer a rival to the USA as the leading world power is and remains a strategic aim of the German and French capitalist classes and their political executives.” (24)
That is why it is no accident that, after the ruling classes of Europe suffered the defeat of the referendum on the constitutional treaty in 2005, they soon began a renewed attempt. “The general attack on the workers will be maintained across the whole of Europe with unlimited, indeed increased, sharpness. Even if, in individual countries, there are short-term tactical retreats by the ruling class in response to mass mobilisations, these will lead quickly to even harsher attacks. The ruling classes will consciously take steps towards the formation of an imperialist bloc.” (25)
This remains our position: the aggressive policy of the ruling classes of Europe in the direction of a neoliberal dismantling of social services, militarisation and the building of the central EU state apparatus is the unavoidable result of the interests of capital in a time of stagnation, increased competition and instability. They have to pursue these policies otherwise the USA, and other powers, will in the long run degrade their European rivals from an advancing empire into a dwarf among the imperialist powers. Flowing from this, there will be rapidly developing sharp political crises up to the revolutionary situations. Any attempt to move the capitalist class to adopt different policies by negotiation or petitions is, therefore, nothing more than a reformist daydream.
That does not of course mean that absolutely no changes or modifications in the policy of the ruling class are possible without the immediate development of a revolutionary situation. It is possible to block this or that attack temporarily by hard class struggle or to reduce their impact. However, such changes are temporary defensive successes and, as long as the capitalist relations of exploitation remain, cannot lead to a fundamental and permanent improvement in the situation of the working class.
Reforming the EU in the interests of the oppressed?
A good proportion of the left holds a reformist politics that would like to change the EU and create a “social, peaceful and democratic Europe”. Two examples can be dealt with here. ATTAC, for example, demands the election of a constitutional assembly in the EU from which a reformed EU could proceed. (26) The ATTAC founder in Austria, Christian Felber, hopes that through such democratic and social reforms a more effective EU can be created: “the effectiveness of the EU in comparison to the present situation would be improved through such new structures.” (27)
Similar hopes are held by the European Left Party whose Austrian component is the Kommunistische Partei Österreichs (KPO): “we believe that the EU is in a position to disarm and should do this and that the military budgets of the member states should be reduced and they should give up thinking in military categories.” (28)
It is noteworthy that the Socialist Party youth organisation has never brought itself to make a clear rejection of the EU reform treaty. In their one public position they did indeed demand a referendum but did not take a position. At the same time, they opened the columns of their newspaper to Socialist Party propagandists for the EU reform treaty and declined to offer any criticism. Once again this shows that the Socialist Youth, unlike their self-characterisation, are neither autonomous nor Marxist but rather the left reformist drummer boys of the Socialist Party apparatus in the ranks of the youth.
Despite differences of nuance, these positions have in common a deeply reformist petty bourgeois logic. Namely, that it is possible to create a “democratic socially just and peaceful EU” without posing the question of property and power in Europe. How can a socially just Europe be possible as long as capitalist property relations are maintained, as long as a tiny minority of employers hold all the means of production in their hands? How can a peaceful Europe be possible as long as the corporations and the generals, who intend to further their interests globally by military means, exist? How can there be any real democracy so long as the ruling class is in power and is daily strengthening the police state?
Reformist politics have no clear class understanding that our society is divided between a ruling class, at whose head is monopoly capital and its professional politicians, and the working class, that is to say those dependent on wages and their families.
Naturally this lack of understanding is not accidental, it has a material basis. Behind the reformist view that neoliberalism is simply a “mistaken policy” which can be resolved through “another politics” with “another government”, there is a political perspective. Namely, the hope by forces such as the European Left Party that they can become part of a government coalition in the capitalist EU member states and thereby get their noses into the trough of power and its associated privileges. In Italy, this has already been carried out and the Rifondazione Communista (PRC) played a substantial role in the neoliberal and militaristic government of Prodi (which, with the help of the PRC, raised the pension age, participated in the occupation of Afghanistan and built up the NATO military base in Vincenza). In Berlin, the Partei des Demokratischen Sozialismus (PDS) has been in a coalition with the Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands (SPD) for three years and undertaken dismantling of social provisions. Behind the reformists’ phrases of a “social and peaceful Europe” is hidden the reality of their desire to participate in capitalist power.
The League for Socialist Revolution (the Austrian section of the L5I) stands for a socialist Europe and rejects the slogan of a “social Europe”. At best, this formulation leaves open which class should rule in such a Europe. But those who leave this question open are basically accepting that those who rule today shall also rule in the future. In other words, their “social Europe” is nothing more than a social democratic, that is, a bourgeois and imperialist, Europe.
We do not want to reform the EU, we want to destroy it – but not in order to return to the nation state, the form of social organisation which corresponded to the level of development of the productive forces in the 19th century. We want to go forwards: to a European revolution over the corpse of the EU towards the United Socialist States of Europe.
Is an exit from the EU an alternative for the working class?
An apparent alternative to this is the strategy of various left organisations such as the KPO Steiermark and the Communist Initiative, which propose that Austria should leave the EU. This demand for a return to the old nation state is deeply illusionary and dangerous. It is wrong to believe that Austria, if it were to free itself from the EU, would be any less reactionary, any less hostile to the working class, as a state. Austria is an imperialist state, it has not been led astray by the “bad EU”, rather, domestic capital sees its interests best served, for the moment, in the EU. The capitalists are not attacking the working class because of some “diktat from Brussels” but out of their own basic interests in profit. It is therefore all the more damaging when various lefts strengthen this excuse from fractions of domestic small and medium-sized capital and echo the lies that are spread by the bourgeois media. The ideology of the “good” old nation state would in reality mean the retreat of the working class from the stage of the class struggle by a united global proletariat and back to narrow, reactionary, national horizons. Austrian capital does not only exploit the working class here at home but also in numerous semi-colonies, above all in Eastern Europe, through its massive foreign investments from which it gains super profits. It was not for nothing that the ruling class of Austria was strongly in favour of the EU entry of the east European countries.
In the capitalist world, the individual capitalist states do not exist entirely independently of each other and neither could they. Rather, what we see is a constantly increasing involvement of individual countries within the global economy. Austria is one part of the global economy and cannot change this by leaving the EU. All of its involvements would continue to exist even if Austria were to leave the EU. The leader of the Russian October Revolution in 1917, Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, characterised nationally limited politics such as those of the “leave the EU” current very accurately:
“The petty striving of petty states to hold aloof, the petty-bourgeois desire to keep as far away as possible from the great battles of world history, to take advantage of one’s relatively monopolistic position in order to remain in hidebound passivity—this is the objective social environment which may ensure the disarmament idea a certain degree of success and a certain degree of popularity in some of the small states. That striving is, of course, reactionary and is based entirely on illusions, for, in one way or another, imperialism draws the small states into the vortex of world economy and world politics.” (29)
At heart, the “leave the EU” perspective shares the same fundamental error as the left EU reformers, that is, they completely ignore the class question. Whose EU? Whose Austria? The EU that really exists is the EU of the corporations and the generals. And the Austria that really exists is equally the Austria of the corporations and the generals. As long as this class holds the power in the economy and the society there can be no long-lasting reforms. Only their overthrow will open the way to the future.