Spartacist English edition No. 66
Down With the EU! No Participation in Its Pseudo-Parliament!
For a Socialist United States of Europe, United on a Voluntary Basis!
The following statement was issued on 21 April 2019 by the International Executive Committee of the International Communist League (Fourth Internationalist).
Social democrats and other reformists are beating the drums for the European Union (EU) in upcoming elections to the European Parliament. Typically, the German Social Democratic Party (SPD) propounds that “Europe is the answer.” The very act of campaigning for and participating in the European Parliament betrays the interests of the working class. This “parliament” is not a parliament but a diplomatic forum. It is used by the imperialists to falsely present their consortium as a “free” and “democratic” union of peoples that transcends the nation-state.
Our international tendency has always opposed the EU and its predecessor organization, the European Economic Community (EEC), which were initially established as an economic appendage to the U.S.-led NATO military alliance against the Soviet degenerated workers state. The EU is today dominated by German imperialism, and secondarily by France. The EU is a consortium of capitalist states whose purpose is to maximize the exploitation of the working class in each of its countries and to enforce the economic domination and subjugation by the imperialist powers of poorer countries such as Greece, Ireland, Portugal and East European member states, including through its financial instrument, the euro. The EU is also designed to increase the European imperialists’ competitiveness against their rivals in the U.S. and Japan.
The EU is not a superstate but a series of treaties entered into by states. In Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism (1916), V.I. Lenin exposed the Social Democrat Karl Kautsky’s reactionary-utopian notion of “ultra-imperialism,” in which the capitalist powers would supposedly overcome their mutual rivalries as they jointly exploited the world. Because capitalism is organized on the basis of particular national states, it is sheer Kautskyism to posit a pan-European bourgeois state, or a stable common currency. The EU is subject to continual tensions arising from the disparate national interests of the European imperialists, which constantly threaten to tear it apart, and can be broken up by class struggle.
It is unprincipled for Marxists to participate in the European Parliament. Prior to 1979, delegates were appointed by the governments of the EEC. The post-1979 direct election of delegates did not change its essentially diplomatic character. As we wrote in the newspaper of our U.S. section 40 years ago, in regard to participation by the pseudo-Trotskyist United Secretariat (USec) in the Europarliament elections, “What if NATO’s North Atlantic Council were constituted by direct elections, or the colonialist British Commonwealth set up a pseudo-parliamentary body: would the USec seek representation in these imperialist alliances? We can only assume that they would!” (Workers Vanguard No. 233, 8 June 1979).
The International Communist League does not seek to renegotiate the particular terms and provisions of the EU; to do so would reinforce illusions that the EU can be reformed in the interests of the working class. The misleaders of the working class propagate the lie of a “social Europe,” the false view that the EU can be an instrument for social progress for the workers and the oppressed. Our attitude toward the EU is intransigent opposition: we seek to shatter it through proletarian internationalist struggle. We fight for workers revolutions across the continent, leading to a Socialist United States of Europe, united on a voluntary basis.
The institutions of the EU, including its “parliament,” are nothing more than bodies that regulate the terms of exploitation and oppression of the capitalist order in Europe under the leadership of Germany. The treaties regulating the EU represent the balance of power between the imperialists themselves and between the imperialists and the oppressed dependent countries. The European Parliament is an impotent advisory body that tinkers with the treaties negotiated by the heads of EU member states. No matter what the platform on which a member of its “parliament” is elected, his role is that of a diplomatic representative of a capitalist state. Such service in negotiating reactionary treaties necessarily entails sharing responsibility for their outcome.
To participate in any way in the EU “parliament” would compromise the class independence of the proletariat. On that basis, the ICL on principle does not give critical electoral support to left opponent organizations running for this “parliament.” In “Left-Wing” Communism—An Infantile Disorder (1920), Lenin pointed out that the masses learn from experience and not simply from communist propaganda. At the time, he urged Communists in Britain to help put the Labour Party in government so that the masses could learn that the Labourites were class traitors. The ICL has used this tactic when appropriate. However, one cannot expose reformists by electing them to the European Parliament. The very act of running means accepting the framework of tinkering with the EU imperialist treaty.
Like the League of Nations of old (and the United Nations today), the EU is a den of imperialist thieves and their victims. Up until 1934, the Stalinist bureaucratic caste in Moscow and the Communist parties that supported it opposed participation in the League. When the Kremlin changed course in 1934 and joined it, this marked the onset of the popular-front policy, based on the invention of a “progressive” wing of imperialism. Pillorying Stalin’s betrayal, the Trotskyists quoted his own 1927 declaration regarding the League in an article in New International (July 1934):
“The Soviet Union is not prepared to become a part of that camouflage for imperialist machinations represented by the League of Nations. The League is the rendezvous of the imperialist leaders who settle their business there behind the scenes. The subjects about which the League speaks officially, are nothing but empty phrases intended to deceive the workers. The business carried on by the imperialist ring-leaders behind the scenes, that is the actual work of imperialism which the eloquent speakers of the League of Nations hypocritically cloak.”
The EU is an alliance of states that are unequal, with the dominant imperialist oppressor states lording it over the poorer, oppressed countries. It is held together through economic force and blackmail exerted by the more powerful imperialists. An example is the imposition of the euro, which devastated living standards of working people and benefited German capitalism. Control over currency is a key component of national sovereignty. Ordinarily, a debtor country can gain some relief and regain economic competitiveness by devaluation. But this is not possible within the eurozone.
How the imperialists oppress the dependent countries in the EU was described in a Financial Times (11 May 2014) article, “How the Euro Was Saved.” In 2011, when then Greek prime minister George Papandreou proposed a referendum on a bailout, the leading EU powers united to stop the referendum and organized a political coup to replace him. French president Nicolas Sarkozy, Angela Merkel of Germany, IMF director Christine Lagarde and the EU’s two presidents met to plot how to block the referendum. They proposed a “national unity government” to be headed by Lucas Papademos, a former vice president of the European Central Bank. Within a week, Papademos took over. No election was held.
In July 2015, Greece’s Syriza government called a referendum on accepting further austerity as the condition for another EU bailout deal. Some 60 percent of the population voted “no,” delivering a slap in the face to the EU. Prime Minister Tsipras then agreed to an even more savage program of starvation, misery and humiliation drawn up by the EU masters. In response, our comrades of the Trotskyist Group of Greece (TOE) called for forming workers action committees that would repudiate this sellout, and repudiate the EU and the euro. The TOE explained that these committees would fight for such demands as canceling the debt; workers defense guards against the fascists; expropriation of the banks, utilities and ports; jobs for all through a shorter workweek at no loss in pay. These demands were linked with the need to struggle toward “a government which will act in the interests of the working people and be subordinated to them” (“Repudiate Syriza’s Sellout to the EU! ENOUGH!” Workers Vanguard No. 1072, 7 August 2015).
The only mass workers party in the country, the Greek Communist Party (KKE), played a treacherous role in demobilizing struggle when it counted. The KKE refused to call for a “no” vote in the referendum. This proved the hollowness of the KKE’s claims to oppose the EU. The fact that the KKE runs for and participates in the European Parliament, for which the EU pays substantial subsidies, underscores its actual subordination to the EU and the European capitalist order.
The trade-union misleaders and reformist workers parties have played the key role in propping up the EU and the capitalist bosses, exemplified by the SPD’s “GroKo” (Grand Coalition) with Merkel. Germany’s predominance in the EU is due in no small part to the SPD. The last SPD-headed government introduced a series of anti-working-class “reforms,” including the Hartz IV laws and Agenda 2010, dismantling numerous welfare provisions. This directly led to the introduction of a huge low-wage sector in the country, greatly strengthening the competitive position of the German bourgeoisie.
The ICL’s British section supports Brexit and called for a vote to “leave” in the 2016 referendum. In contrast, Labour “left” leader Jeremy Corbyn betrayed his working-class supporters by campaigning against Brexit and more recently has come out for a second referendum, in defiance of the vote of the populace. With austerity continuing to stalk the workers of Europe, the reformists’ servile support for the EU has fueled the growth of the far right and fascists.
The ICL’s opposition to the EU and its “parliament” is proletarian, internationalist and revolutionary. To build a society free of hunger, want and oppression requires a series of socialist revolutions that will expropriate the capitalist rulers, especially in imperialist centers like Germany and the U.S., and establish an international planned economy based on workers rule. What is needed is the construction of revolutionary workers parties, sections of a reforged Fourth International, to lead the working class to power, sweeping away the rotten capitalist-imperialist system.