Predators & Prey

Imperialist Expansionism & the EU

This statement was first published prior to the May 2005 French referendum that rejected the EU constitutional treaty.

In October 2004, representatives of the European Union’s (EU) 25 member states celebrating the signing of a Constitutional Treaty at a posh reception in Rome’s Palazzo dei Conservatori were told by incoming European Commission President José Manuel Barroso that the agreement would usher in a “more democratic union” (BBC News, 29 October 2004). Outside, 7,000 cops were deployed to ensure that their celebration of democracy was not disturbed by the hoi polloi.

To take effect, the treaty must be endorsed by all member states. Ten countries (France, Spain, Britain, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Ireland, Luxembourg, Poland, Portugal and the Netherlands) are holding popular referendums. In 15 states (Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Slovakia, Slovenia and Sweden) the government considered it too risky to submit the new “constitution” to a popular vote, and opted instead for a simple parliamentary ratification. While this is certainly a violation of democratic principle, for Marxists democracy is not the main issue here.

The essential question is whether or not to endorse the consolidation of the grip of the powerful West European imperialist bourgeoisies over the neo-colonial countries of the east, which is what the treaty is designed to facilitate. The pending referendums provide class-conscious workers with an opportunity to express their opposition to the entire imperialist project with a resounding “No!"

If any country fails to ratify the agreement, it will inevitably be repackaged and resubmitted in one form or another—but this would represent a setback for the imperialists’ plans. Philip Gordon, of the Brookings Institution in the U.S., observed that a single failure:

“would seriously undermine prospects for EU enlargement to include key American friends such as Turkey and Ukraine. It could lead to divisive, unworkable proposals for an EU ‘core group’ that would exclude US allies in Britain and Eastern Europe.”
Financial Times (London), 17 May [2005]

Given the compromises and trade-offs required to get agreement on the existing draft, amending it or redrafting it seems likely to be both costly and time-consuming.

‘Old Europe’ vs. United States

The EU originated in the aftermath of Hitler’s failed attempt at “European integration” under the swastika as a U.S.-sponsored attempt to develop closer economic and political ties between the major West European powers. Washington’s overtly counterrevolutionary strategic objective was to strengthen West European capitalism against both the Soviet Union and indigenous pro-socialist elements of the workers’ movement. The first step was the creation of the European Coal and Steel Community in 1951 when France, West Germany, Italy, Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands signed the Treaty of Paris. European “integration” took a further step in the 1957 Treaties of Rome, which created both the European Economic Community and the European Atomic Energy Community. In 1986, the Single European Act extended the scope of European policymaking and sought to rationalize decision-making. The “European Union” born of the 1992 Maastricht Treaty represented a significant deepening of the project through the Economic and Monetary Union and agreement on launching the Euro as a single currency.

The 1989-91 triumph of counterrevolution over the bureaucratized workers’ states of the Soviet bloc opened up vast spheres for capitalist exploitation, while also sharpening antagonisms among the major imperialists. The French and German bourgeoisies in particular openly aspire to establish a European counterweight to the declining American colossus. A key element in this project involves tightening integration of the former “Communist” hinterland of Eastern Europe in order to gradually undercut U.S. economic and military influence in the region. Yet, as the recent campaign against Iraq has illustrated, there are important contradictions among the EU’s major players (Germany and France openly opposed the U.S. adventure while Britain, Spain, Italy and the Netherlands signed on). These differences, which U.S. policymakers naturally seek to manipulate, are, at bottom, an expression of the aspiration of each European imperialist bourgeoisie for its own “sphere of influence” at the expense of its competitors.

In March 2003, a week and a half after the U.S.-led assault on Iraq commenced, the influential German magazine Der Spiegel reported that a “new German foreign and security policy” was being formulated with the aim of establishing Germany “as an actor on the global political stage.” In May 2003, German defense minister Peter Struck released a set of “defense policy guidelines” proclaiming his government’s willingness to deploy the Bundeswehr (German army) “anywhere in the world and at short notice and...across the entire mission spectrum down to high-intensity operations” (cited in “Mugged by Reality? German Defence In Light of the 2003 Policy Guidelines,” Bastian Giegerich).

This represents a clear rejection of European military subordination to the U.S.-dominated North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). In September 2003 the German, French and British governments jointly signed a document proposing that, “the EU must be able to plan and conduct operations without the backing of Nato assets and Nato capability” (cited in the Daily Telegraph [London], 22 September 2003). A recent CIA report predicted that the:

“‘EU, rather than Nato, will increasingly become the primary institution for Europe, and the role Europeans shape for themselves on the world stage is most likely to be projected through it,’ the report adds. ‘Whether the EU will develop an army is an open question.’”
—Scotland on Sunday, 16 January [2005]

The possibility of a wholesale integration of European militaries into some sort of “EU army” is excluded by the fact that, in the final analysis, the European bourgeoisies are rivals, not partners. This does not rule out the formation of smaller integrated military units, but even the European Rapid Reaction Force, a supposedly transnational military formation directed by Brussels, is composed of units from the national armies of EU member states, each of which ultimately gets to decide whether or not to participate in any particular operation.

In February 2003 when the so-called “Vilnius 10” group of countries (including various East European EU candidates) pledged their support to U.S. aggression against Iraq, French President Jacques Chirac commented that they “had done their best to reduce their chances of entering Europe.” While this proved an idle threat, it reflected the considerable irritation felt in Paris and Berlin at American influence over the former Soviet bloc states. The most important U.S. ally in the EU is Britain, which signed on as a junior partner in Washington’s plans to occupy Iraq and establish its direct military control in the Middle East. But things have not gone well for the U.S./UK occupation: most of America’s East European vassals have pulled out, the pro-war Spanish government was defeated and Tony Blair’s Labour government has suffered a precipitous decline in public support. Washington’s influence in Europe is currently at its lowest point since the end of World War II.

In November 2004 José Zapatero, Spain’s new Socialist prime minister, declared that the EU should “have faith in the prospect of becoming the most important global power in 20 years” (Time Europe, 22 November 2004). The successful launch of the Airbus A380 as a rival to the U.S. Boeing Corporation in the field of commercial passenger airplanes demonstrates the capacity of the European bourgeoisies to cooperate in becoming competitive in at least some strategic sectors. In October 2004, when Washington hauled the EU before the World Trade Organization on charges that it had unfairly subsidized Airbus, the Europeans countered by pointing to the U.S. subsidies for Boeing. According to the New York Times, at the January unveiling of the A380 German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder “urged the European Commission to negotiate aggressively with the United States":

“‘There is the tradition of good old Europe that has made this possible,’ Mr. Schröder said, alluding to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld’s quip about ‘old Europe’ before the Iraq war.”
New York Times, 19 January [2005]

Divisions within the ‘Union’

The “European constitution” is not really a constitution at all, but then the EU is not a state—not even a federated one. Despite achieving a significant degree of economic and political integration, the European Union remains in essence a long-term strategic alliance between competing national bourgeoisies, each of which retains the capacity to pursue its own interests when necessary at the expense of its partners. While the EU has proved more durable and comprehensive than any previous inter-imperialist alliance, its essential character was anticipated by Vladimir Lenin some 90 years ago:

“Of course, temporary agreements are possible between capitalists and between states. In this sense a United States of Europe is possible as an agreement between the European capitalists…but to what end? Only for the purpose of jointly suppressing socialism in Europe, of jointly protecting colonial booty against Japan and America…. On the present economic basis, i.e., under capitalism, a United States of Europe would signify an organisation of reaction to retard America’s more rapid development.”
—“On the Slogan for a United States of Europe,” 23 August 1915

The EU’s new “constitution” represents little more than a codification of the agreements of 1957, 1986 and 1992 in a single document. It creates the post of a foreign affairs minister but stipulates that he/she may only act when all member countries are in agreement. The same principle governs EU “defense policy”:

“The common security and defence policy shall include the progressive framing of a common Union defence policy. This will lead to a common defence, when the European Council, acting unanimously, so decides.”
—Article I-41, Paragraph 2

Instead of a mandate for a European military, there is vague talk of “structural cooperation” between individual member states in the area of “mutual defence."

West European Imperialists Move East

The division over the Maastricht Treaty in the early 1990s was essentially a dispute over the relative advantages of “free trade” versus protectionism, as we observed at the time:

“The controversy over Maastricht is exclusively a dispute over how European capitalism should be organized. The duty of Marxist revolutionaries is to represent the long-term, historic interests of the working class, which has no stake in either model of capitalism.”
—“European Disunity,” 1917 No. 13, 1994

While still members of Arthur Scargill’s Socialist Labour Party in 1997 our British co-thinkers wrote:

“We reject the Maastricht plan for a European imperialist super-state as well as the Eurosceptics’ alternative, which points to an autarkic, protectionist Britain. We must prepare for aggressive resistance to all capitalist attacks on wages, living standards and social services, whether these are advanced on the grounds of promoting European integration, safeguarding British sovereignty or simply making British industry ‘competitive’. Workers’ struggle across national lines—not nationalist poison—must be our reply to capitalist attacks.”
—“A Marxist Programme for the Socialist Labour Party,” Marxist Bulletin No. 1, April 1997

Revolutionaries oppose privatization, cuts to social programs and all other attacks on workers and the oppressed, while at the same time refusing to promote the reformist illusion that capitalism can be rejigged to solve the fundamental problems faced by the vast mass of humanity. Reformists, by contrast, constantly push the illusion that there is an essential difference between humane, “social,” national capitalism and heartless, “neo-liberal,” globalizing capitalism. In 1988, at the height of a major public controversy over the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement (FTA), our Canadian comrades argued that working people have no side in disputes between the protectionist and free-trade wings of the ruling class:

“Whether ‘free trade’ or Canadian protectionism triumphs, the capitalists will attempt to ensure that the workers pay the price of intensified international competition. If [Prime Minister Brian] Mulroney’s deal falls through, and the Canadian capitalists end up ‘independent’ of all the major international trading blocs, the first thing they will do is try to further slash labor costs (i.e., working-class standards of living) on the grounds that they are locked into a small domestic market. Alternatively, if free trade goes through, it becomes an excuse to cut living standards and social services in order to stay competitive with the U.S.”
—“The Free Trade Election—No Choice for Workers!” November 1988

When the FTA was expanded to include neo-colonial Mexico in the early 1990s our attitude changed:

“The union bureaucrats depict NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement) as a mechanism for Mexican workers to steal the jobs of U.S. workers instead of what it really is—an attempt by the U.S. capitalists (and their Canadian junior partners) to take control of Mexico’s economy while simultaneously increasing the exploitation of workers throughout North America.”
—“Labor Must Defend Immigrants!” December 1993

The EU’s expansion into Eastern Europe represents a transformation qualitatively similar to the shift from the FTA to NAFTA in North America. That is why we now call for voting “no” in the referendum on the so-called European constitution. “No” to the economic annexation of the neo-colonial east by the rapacious imperialist powers of Western Europe as well as to the inevitable attempts to ratchet down wages and living standards in the name of becoming more “competitive."

European Unity & the Left

The Constitutional Treaty is an attempt to “substantially improve the Union’s effectiveness” by incorporating the agreements governing its operation into a single text and introducing “qualified majority voting” as the guiding principle in place of unanimity. But working people have no interest in rendering this imperialist alliance “more effective.” The central project of the capitalist governments of Western Europe is to address declining profits by increasing the rate of exploitation—lengthening the workweek and reducing labor costs while boosting military budgets in preparation for future conflicts over markets and raw materials.

Many of the supposed socialists in the “no” camp put forward the notion that the austerity drives and anti-working class attacks undertaken by each national bourgeoisie originate in directives from Brussels, rather than from their own aggressive pursuit of profits. The British Socialist Workers Party (SWP) warns:

“[T]he EU constitution is an attempt to set in stone a capitalist vision of the world with penalties for those who defy it. It will erode democracy and make officials even less accountable.”
Socialist Worker, 26 June 2004

The SWP’s adaptation to illusions in the “accountability” of capitalist functionaries was displayed during the run-up to the imperialist assault on Iraq when it joined a variety of other pseudo-Marxist groups in signing an appeal pleading with Europe’s rulers to try to persuade the U.S. to call off its plans to attack Iraq:

“Those who show solidarity with the people of Iraq have no hearing in the White House. But we do have the chance to influence European governments—many of whom have opposed the war. We call on all the European heads of state to publicly stand against this war, whether it has UN backing or not, and to demand that George Bush abandon his war plans.”
—reprinted in Weekly Worker, 12 September 2002

One of the motions adopted by the October 2004 conference of Respect, the SWP’s current electoral vehicle, included the following:

“The effect of market forces on our welfare state has been catastrophic and it is time to reverse this and return it to the people, who provide the taxes for these services, to rebuild our welfare state for the benefit of those using the services and for the staff who provide the services.”

Not only do these reformists refer to the British bourgeoisie’s organ of repression as “our” welfare state, but, in the same resolution, they describe the relentless attacks on social services as something “achieved by the UK Government signing up to the Maastricht Treaty and the World Free Trade Organisation...."

The SWP’s social-democratic concerns about the dangers of EU neo-liberalism are shared by the French Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire (LCR—the leading section of the moribund United Secretariat of the Fourth International) which paints rosy pictures of the possibilities of life under capitalism free of the Brussels bureaucrats and their constitution:

“Our opposition to the European Constitution is one of social mobilization, of internationalist solidarity of workers and peoples. The direction of our No is a real alternative to [neo]liberalism: the right to a job and the banning of lay-offs, in particular in companies making a profit; stopping privatizations and re-launching public services; increasing salaries; social minimums and a new division of wealth."
—“Le Non peut et doit gagner!” LCR leaflet, 4 April [2005]

Peter Taaffe’s Socialist Party (leading section of the Committee for a Workers’ International-- CWI) correctly criticizes its larger reformist opponents for being so anxious to tail the anti-globalization milieu that they omit all references to socialism from their propaganda:

“Those in the ESF [European Social Forum] who merely stress opposition to neo-liberalism, as if it is somehow distinct from capitalism, create the impression that a nicer, capitalist world is possible. This idea is reinforced by the failure of groups like the SWP, LCR and PRC [the Italian Partito Rifondazione Comunista] to spell out a socialist alternative or even emphasise the need for working-class action to counter the bosses’ offensive.”
The Socialist, 23 October 2004

The CWI strikes a more leftist pose by observing that:

“The alternative to the neo-liberalism of the Lisbon Agenda is not the same policies, only slower. The EU of the capitalists must be abolished and replaced with a socialist Europe.”
—CWI website, 7 April [2005]

But while remembering to mention its socialist maximum program, the CWI is just as concerned as the SWP and LCR that the proposed constitution is likely to result in the loss of national sovereignty of the various bourgeois states to the “unaccountable” Brussels bureaucracy:

“The European constitution lays down a framework for a common foreign policy and sets in stone the utter submission of its economic policies to neo-liberalism. Once this European constitution comes into effect it will be ‘illegal’ for member states to pursue economic policies that protect public services, nationalise industries or subsidise prices. If the social democratic policies which led to the creation of the welfare state in the aftermath of the Second World War in Europe were brought in after the approval of the constitution, they would be illegal and open to penalties from the EU and its member states. The EU constitution will be used as a weapon against any future radical governments in Europe who would try, even remain[ing] within the framework of capitalism, to introduce radical policies.”
—CWI website, 1 March [2005]

What is “legal” and “illegal” in the interactions of Europe’s imperialist pirates in the future will be determined entirely by the relation of forces between them, just as it has been in the past.

After initially hesitating, the French organization Lutte Ouvrière (LO) also decided to vote “no.” While denouncing the “domination of the great powers of Western Europe and their trusts over the poor part of Europe,” LO has observed that “Europe” is not the cause of the French government’s anti-working class policies:

“It’s certainly not the European Constitution—which has not yet been decided—which is responsible for attacks against wage earners, against retirees, against hours of work. These attacks are the work of the bosses and the governments that apply the policy they demand.”
Lutte Ouvrière, 8 April [2005]

LO tends to put a positive spin on capitalist attempts at European unification:

“...the European Union represents progress in a certain number of domains. The end of economic barriers and customs alone (along with the free circulation of people in part of the continent) represents an appreciable advantage in relation to controls and barbed-wire fences, even though this freedom is not fully recognized for immigrants who live and work in the Union.”
Lutte de Classe, February [2005]

LO welcomes the inclusion of Turkey (and presumably other semi-colonial countries) into the imperialist-dominated European alliance:

“[W]orkers have nothing at all to worry about from Turkey’s eventual entry into the Union. Granted, if the European bourgeoisies are working hard to suppress the borders that break up this old world, it’s in their interest, because they need a market on the scale of the United States. But all the same, the disappearance of borders, the single currency, the possibility of men to circulate freely, constitute progress.”
Lutte Ouvrière, 24 December 2004

For LO, the essentially predatory relationship between imperialist powers like France, Germany and Britain on the one hand and semi-colonial countries like Turkey or Romania on the other is transcended by the innately progressive character of the EU. While distinct from the nationalist/utopian tilt of the LCR, SWP and CWI, LO’s complacent reformist conviction that the incorporation of neo-colonial countries into the EU represents “progress” is hardly less dangerous.

No to the Constitutional Treaty! Forward to the Socialist United States of Europe!

The proposed Constitutional Treaty’s embrace of “the principle of an open market economy with free competition” is a declaration of intent to roll back the concessions won by workers’ struggles in the past. Yet all sections of the European bourgeoisie, including those that oppose the EU and advocate a more nationalist, protectionist policy, have the same intentions. The attacks of the bosses can only be successfully beaten back if the workers’ movement understands that there is no “progressive” wing of the bourgeoisie with which to ally, because the dispute over participation in the EU is basically an intra-bourgeois quarrel over how best to organize their system of exploitation and wage slavery.

Working people have the social power to successfully resist the ravages of capitalism, which grinds them down and humiliates them on a daily basis, but to wield this power they must embrace an internationalist class-struggle program. This begins with the recognition that all workers across Europe (and beyond) have common interests and common enemies. The trade-union bureaucrats in the imperialist heartlands, who function as little more than an agency of the capitalists within the workers’ movement, accept the bosses’ insistence that their enterprises must become more “competitive” by lowering wages, giving up benefits, lengthening the workday and introducing more “flexible” working conditions. The capitalists threaten that if their demands for concessions are not met they will move their operations to where wages are lower—to Eastern Europe or Asia. This plays into the attempts by nationalists and the far right to foment anti-immigrant xenophobia and racist attacks on foreign workers. The only way to combat this chauvinist poison is for the organized workers’ movement to champion the demand for full citizenship rights for everyone, regardless of their immigration status, and to actively participate in fighting every manifestation of racism and national chauvinism at home and abroad.

The record of cooperation between dockworkers in various EU countries provides a model for workers in other sectors. On 17 January 2003 when dockers in Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Spain, Cyprus and the Netherlands carried out a one-day strike to protest attempts by shipping companies to use non-union labor to load and unload cargo, they demonstrated, on a limited scale, the powerful potential of international working-class solidarity.

Every struggle to protect the gains won in the past is important. Yet the nature of capitalist competition requires constant, endless attacks on the lives and livelihoods of working people. This is why workers’ interests can only be permanently secured through expropriating the exploiters and creating an egalitarian, socialist economic system. Successfully challenging capitalist state power requires the construction of a revolutionary, internationalist combat party, rooted in the mass organizations of the proletariat, which is able to unite workers across national lines. Leon Trotsky, Lenin’s partner in the October Revolution of 1917, suggested that revolutionary workers pose the issue of European unity to their rulers in the following terms:

“In order to unify Europe it is first of all necessary to wrest power out of your hands. We will do it. We will unite Europe. We will unite it against the hostile capitalist world. We will turn it into a mighty drillground of militant socialism. We will make it the cornerstone of the world socialist federation.”
—“Disarmament and the United States of Europe,” 4 October 1929

Published: 1917 No.28 (December 2005)