From Tahrir Square to Zuccotti Park, from Athens to Madrid, millions have mobilised and are mobilising against the dictatorship of capital, whatever its local expression might be. Although such massive protests and upheavals would have been unimaginable just a few years ago, with the onset of the great recession in 2008, it seems millions are saying, once again and in a united voice: ‘We have nothing to lose but our chains!’ History that was halted and buried by the epigones of the ruling class has escalated and made visible what will always determine the capitalist system of production: a class-divided society driven by werewolf’s hunger for surplus-labour.
Inspiring as these events are, they have yet to seriously challenge the accumulation of capital. In achieving such long-term goals, questions of a more steady organisation beyond occasional protests inevitably have to be addressed. It is crucial to conceptualise policies as well as organisational forms that will not only pose demands, but will also have the strength to achieve them. Michael Lebowitz put it succinctly when, criticising the old saying ‘If you don’t know where you’re going, any road’ll take you there’, he stressed that the contrary is actually the case: if we don’t know where we are going, no road will take us there.
It is precisely at this point that imagining and developing a socialist alternative is of crucial importance. This involves both practical and theoretical work, as it is equally important to envision such society or the goal we are trying to achieve, while at the same time working on the practical, organisational issues, that is, measures through which the goal can be achieved. One of the most urgent tasks at hand is to improve the living conditions of the working class and to effectively combat the austerity measures that are devastating it. This panel will tackle both these issues in envisioning the society in which full human development will finally be possible and in which mankind will achieve the ascent from kingdom of necessity to the kingdom of freedom.
The European Union is often celebrated in the liberal commonsense discourse as a pacifistic project that finally brought peace, prosperity and brotherhood to modern Europe after centuries of wars between European nations or states. Furthermore, the EU is celebrated as a democratic project: immediately after the Second World War, at the very onset of European integration, the main ideological momentum of ‘democracy’ was antifascism; however, after the defeat of real socialism, the main ideological focus of the EU turned against ‘totalitarianism’ in an attempt to equate socialism with fascism.
The notion of the EU as an anti-totalitarian organisation reveals the purpose of contemporary European integration. In its opposition to both fascism and socialism, it betrays its liberal, more precisely, neoliberal bias spearheaded mainly against any kind of socialist or even Keynesian reforms. Mechanisms of preventing socialist ‘totalitarianism’ are constituent parts of the EU treaties (such as the Maastricht Treaty, the Lisbon Treaty), projects (the single currency project and the common market), pacts (such as the Growth and Stability Pact, the Six Pack) and the institutional framework notorious for its democratic deficit.
The crisis exposed the antisocialist and therefore antisocial bias of this kind of ‘union’. The common market policies are disabling the member states to compete in the common market in any other way than by suppressing the working classes. The single currency outsourced the monetary policies of the member states to the European Central Bank, which is not willing to play the role of lender in last resort whose main goal is to lower inflation, and thus pushes the member states into the cold hands of private financial markets. Its treaties and pacts are imposing a ‘straightjacket’ on member states. They are imposing fiscal rules on the one hand, while on the other they don’t provide fiscal transfers to guarantee convergence between the member states. And last but not least, the technocratic and authoritarian character of supranational institutions, which don’t even correspond to bourgeois democratic standards, are disabling the people and progressive forces to even slightly change these mechanisms. The dictatorship of the capitalist élites is perfected in this institutional framework.
The results of this kind of integration are of course no less than devastating. In the Union that pushed its member states into ruthless competition the wages of its working classes are being suppressed, its welfare state decomposed and once sacred social rights denied. Furthermore, the Union’s periphery, which was unable to catch up with far more advanced industrial production of the core, experienced drastic erosion of the productive base and finally fell into a debt trap. The expected miracle of the free market policies turned into a nightmare. States are diverging rather than converging, the tensions between the core and periphery are escalating, and the working classes are thrown into brutal exploitation and misery. The only profiteer in this story is – naturally – the European bourgeoisie.
Therefore, the EU is no less than a project of European capitalist élites aimed at imposing neoliberalism masked as ‘European integration’. To us, the anticapitalist left, this poses the following riddle: if the bias of the really existing European integration is neoliberal, how can we respond? Is it possible to change the institutional framework to function in favour of the working classes? Is a ‘good euro’ possible and if so, under which circumstances? And if it is impossible, how risky would it be to exit the euro zone and the EU? And finally: is a socialist Europe possible?