Spartacist English edition No. 66
Fighting Centrist Bending to the European Union
Forward with the Banner of Leninism!
The International Communist League (Fourth Internationalist) held a plenum of its International Executive Committee (IEC) in Germany last summer. This gathering of the IEC, the ICL’s highest decision-making body between conferences, came at an important time for our organization. The death in April 2019 of our central founder and longtime party leader, Jim Robertson, whose interventions had been crucial in maintaining our revolutionary compass, posed pointblank the question of continuity. Also, this was the first gathering of the leadership elected at the Seventh International Conference of the ICL in 2017, which was the culmination of a hard struggle to re-establish a Leninist framework on the national question and to rectify adaptations to Great Power chauvinism (see “The Fight for Leninism on the National Question,” Spartacist [English edition] No. 65, Summer 2017). The plenum and the memorandum adopted unanimously by the IEC, “Forward with the Banner of Leninism!”, were continuations of that struggle.
A key aim of the plenum was to reappropriate the clear programmatic framework of opposition to the European Union (EU) that we established in the 1970s. As part of our disorientation in the period marked by the 1991-92 counterrevolution that destroyed the Soviet Union, a degenerated workers state, the ICL has repeatedly capitulated to the EU, a consortium of unequal capitalist states dominated by German, and to a lesser extent French, imperialism. As comrade Jay, a member of the International Secretariat (I.S.), reported at the plenum:
“Our main opposition to the EU became liberal outrage over ‘racist fortress Europe,’ with the implication that the imperialists should stop being racist and defend immigrants. We raised the demand for a Socialist United States of Europe like it was some kind of extension of the EU. And by the time the economic crisis hit Europe in 2010, we were writing about the European Central Bank and the IMF ‘helping’ dependent countries with their debts.”
The last several years saw a series of struggles to sharply assert our opposition to the EU. Reprinted below is the section of the plenum memorandum, edited for publication, that codifies the results of the discussion and struggle on this question.
A central task since the International Conference has been the consolidation of a new international leadership collective capable of confronting the enormous challenges the ICL faces in a period defined mainly by a lack of social struggle and a retrogression of proletarian consciousness. The plenum memorandum noted, “Without comrade Robertson, our capacity to maintain our revolutionary continuity depends heavily on the capacity of the I.S., as the continuing executive arm of the IEC, to give the sharpest programmatic guidance possible. Our task remains to do what Lenin did and create a party composed of layer upon layer of thinking Bolsheviks.”
Since 2017, the I.S. has had an unconventional composition, with a number of its members not residing in the international center. The geographic spread brings challenges. At the same time, this configuration is vital because each comrade has more distance and plays the role of a programmatic corrective in the International and in the other comrades’ national sections. It also serves to counterbalance the pressures that come with having our center in the U.S., the most powerful imperialist country.
It is a deforming pressure on the ICL that most of our membership is concentrated in the imperialist centers. The predominant weight of the American section, and the pro-Democratic Party “fight the right” climate in the U.S. under the Trump presidency, continue to be challenges for us (see “In the Predominant Imperialist Power,” Workers Vanguard No. 1158, 26 July 2019). The plenum memo included a section on the Spartacist League/U.S. and one on the German section, the Spartakist-Arbeiterpartei Deutschlands (SpAD), which focused heavily on its struggles over the EU. It was in part to counter the pressures on the SpAD and further its integration into the International that the plenum was held in Germany.
Our commitment to internationalism was highlighted by the multilingual nature of the gathering, where simultaneous translations made the proceedings available in four languages, including for the first time German. Both the plenum and the memorandum strongly motivated the importance of rooting ourselves in communist programmatic continuity and in history.
The plenum began with an educational point on German unification under Bismarck and on Japan’s Meiji Restoration. The presentations explained how these bourgeois revolutions from above led to the rise of Germany and Japan as dominant imperialist powers. “The Meiji Restoration: A Bourgeois Non-Democratic Revolution” (Spartacist [English edition] No. 58, Spring 2004), a programmatic document fundamental to the work of the Spartacist Group of Japan, is both an analysis of the modern history of Japan and an indispensable weapon for political battle against the reformist left. For our German section, it is crucial to appreciate Bismarck’s significance in order to understand the formation of the German capitalist state and its position and role as an imperialist power in the middle of Europe.
Transatlantic Opportunism on the EU
While our problems in confronting the EU reflect pressures we are under in our European sections, much of our wrong approach came from the SL/U.S. There was an important fight leading up to the plenum, and which continued after, over appreciating the fact that the EU remains crucial to the strategic interests of U.S. imperialism, notwithstanding the competition between the American bourgeoisie and its German and other rivals. American capital is heavily invested in Europe, and the EU continues to function as an adjunct to the U.S.-dominated NATO military alliance.
Denying this relationship means capitulating to U.S. imperialist interests in Europe. But this understanding was initially resisted by IECers in the U.S. section, including in the I.S., who tended to reduce problems on this score to bad formulations in our press or analytical shortcomings. One sign of the problem, described in the memo excerpt, was that an initial draft IEC statement on the 2019 “Europarliament” elections written in the U.S. softened our principled opposition to running for seats on this body, which is essentially a diplomatic tool of the EU’s dominant imperialist states. (The IEC statement is printed on page 22 of this issue.) More generally, as the I.S. Secretary wrote in a document following the plenum, liberalism on the EU coming from the U.S. section “was a warmed-over version of our own imperialism’s approach to the EU, i.e., a kind of support to European ‘integration,’ which is the position of NATO, the IMF and the State Department.”
Our problems on the EU stemmed in part from prettifying the role of finance capital in oppressing the dependent countries of Europe. In Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism (1916), Bolshevik leader V.I. Lenin exposed the Kautskyist lie that imperialism is just a policy of military aggression. Lenin explained that imperialism is a stage of capitalism in which monopolies and finance capital have become dominant and the world has been divided by a handful of rival capitalist powers. The imperialists, including the American bourgeoisie, have reaped huge benefits from the European single market and the euro.
There is nothing peaceful about the EU, a tool for imperialist plundering of the oppressed nations of Europe and exploitation of the working class. However, there are widespread illusions that there is “peace in Europe” because Germany is building the EU rather than invading other countries. Lenin’s Imperialism took direct aim at such notions:
“‘Inter-imperialist’ or ‘ultra-imperialist’ alliances, no matter what form they may assume, whether of one imperialist coalition against another, or of a general alliance embracing all the imperialist powers, are inevitably nothing more than a ‘truce’ in periods between wars. Peaceful alliances prepare the ground for wars, and in their turn grow out of wars; the one conditions the other, producing alternating forms of peaceful and non-peaceful struggle on one and the same basis of imperialist connections and relations within world economics and world politics.”
In the lead-up to the plenum, one IECer echoed the party’s past adaptations to the EU, treating it as a federation of equal states rather than a set of exploitative treaties imposed by imperialist powers on their victims. In the guise of being hard against Greek nationalism, the IECer argued that it was wrong to say that the EU was responsible for smashing the result of the 2015 Greek referendum on German imperialism’s bloodsucking EU “bailout” plan. After the vast majority of the population voted “No,” the imperialists insisted on an even more savage program of starvation and humiliation, which the Syriza government agreed to in a sellout of the Greek masses. In arguing that the Syriza government was mainly responsible, the IECer alibied the EU’s imperialist subjugation of Greece. Rejecting this chauvinist framework, the plenum memo reaffirmed: “While Greece is formally an independent country, it does not fundamentally control its own domestic and foreign policies.”
Continuing the Fight Against the Hydra
The Seventh International Conference was crucial for the ICL’s ability to take a strong stand on the side of oppressed nations and against Great Power chauvinism. The IEC Plenum furthered this struggle, making an important correction to the characterization of abuses by two now ex-members who had been involved in the work of the Trotskyist Group of Greece (TOE). The members of the Greek section were critical of the fact that the actions of these individuals were not recognized as racist at the time, when they were in Greece, and that at the International Conference their actions were instead treated as on a continuum with other piggish behavior that came to light in the course of the fight against Anglo-chauvinism. The TOE comrades questioned whether the two should remain members and asked for an International Control Commission investigation. As soon as the investigation was launched, one of the two quit the party.
The plenum passed a motion stating that the International Conference had failed to correctly characterize the conduct of the two as racist, that their behavior was qualitatively worse than other examples of abusive behavior in the ICL, and that they should have been expelled at the time the actions were committed. Following the plenum, the second of the two was expelled after she upheld her grotesque record in Greece and exposed herself as a self-serving liar.
As a small revolutionary Marxist tendency in a prolonged period of political reaction, we have had to struggle hard against the pressures of bourgeois society in order to uphold the banner of Leninism. But our numerous internal struggles over the past period have shown that there is a vibrant and interventionist IEC, with comrades throughout the International playing crucially important roles. The pre-plenum discussions and the proceedings themselves highlighted once more the necessity of international collaboration. The plenum was a strong statement of the ICL’s dedication to the perspective of reforging the Fourth International as the world party of socialist revolution, the essential tool for paving a way forward for the proletariat and opposing imperialist domination of the planet.
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IEC Plenum Memorandum (Excerpt)
The following is a selection from the memorandum adopted by the summer 2019 plenum of the ICL’s International Executive Committee.
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the party has repeatedly adapted to the EU, treating this imperialist-dominated conglomerate as a supra-national state and bending to illusions in its “progressive” character. Comrade Robertson intervened repeatedly to correct these departures and insist that we uphold our historic opposition to the EU. As he insisted, “The EU is not a state. It is a treaty entered into by states.” Although there have been numerous correctives over the years, they have been partial and have never tackled the full extent of our capitulations on the question. This plenum seeks to critically review and correct our numerous past deviations on the EU, including in the recent period, in order to go forward on a strong programmatic basis.
We are opposed on principle to the EU and its instrument the euro. The EU is an unstable alliance dominated by German, and to a lesser extent French, imperialism. Its purpose is to increase the exploitation of the working class and the subjugation by the imperialists of dependent countries, and to increase the European imperialists’ competitiveness against their U.S. and Japanese rivals. At the same time, the EU was created with the backing of the U.S. and remains an integral part of the U.S.-dominated transatlantic alliance, a point that has been disputed in the lead-up to this plenum.
Revisionism on the EU is a capitulation to imperialism. For sections in Europe, it is obvious that capitulations on this question come from the pressure of their ruling classes. However, in a number of cases our problems on the EU have come from or were shared by comrades in the SL/U.S., reflecting the political pressure of U.S. imperialism.
The social democrats and the labor lieutenants of capital have played a key role in selling the myth of the EU as a permanent, peaceful, democratic supra-national entity. In Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism (1916), Lenin polemicized against Karl Kautsky, who raised similar arguments, for his
“most reactionary method of consoling the masses with hopes of permanent peace being possible under capitalism, by distracting their attention from the sharp antagonisms and acute problems of the present times, and directing it towards illusory prospects of an imaginary ‘ultra-imperialism’ of the future.”
The problems the party has had in opposing the EU are part of our broader adaptations to Great Power chauvinism and imperialism. The current struggle over the EU is a continuation of the fight against the chauvinist hydra, codified in the 2017 International Conference document.
U.S. Imperialism, NATO and the EU
The EU is not a homogenous bloc united against the U.S., even though it functions as a bloc against the U.S. on particular political and economic issues. Its forerunner, the European Economic Community (EEC), was historically a Cold War instrument for the U.S. against the USSR, and the EU continues to act as an adjunct of NATO. The American ruling class uses the EU to maintain Germany within the U.S.’s orbit and to counter Russia. The U.S., Germany and France continue to collaborate in expanding the EU and NATO in tandem in East Europe and the Balkans. At the economic level, a large fraction of the surplus value extracted from the exploitation of workers in Europe is appropriated by American capitalists, directly and indirectly. The U.S. bourgeoisie has benefited politically and economically from the EU and overwhelmingly supports it.
In the period following capitalist counterrevolution in the Soviet Union, our propaganda wrongly disappeared the role of the U.S. in the EU. By presenting the EU as if it were united against the U.S., we made the bloc appear more stable than it really is and minimized the differences among the European imperialists. When we began to correct our capitulations to the EU, they were viewed solely as a “European problem,” denying that the problems in the U.S. were an adaptation to the political pressure of U.S. imperialism. Recent examples of softness in the U.S. leadership on the EU included not addressing the intervention of the U.S. in the draft introduction to “Greece: Chauvinist Frenzy over Macedonia” (Workers Vanguard No. 1142, 19 October 2018), blunting our opposition to the EU “parliament” in the draft statement written in New York (“Down With the EU! No Participation in Its Pseudo-Parliament!”, WV No. 1154, 3 May 2019) and subsequently burying two documents about the problems with the draft.
Evolution of Our Propaganda on the EU
In the 1970s, our tendency opposed on principle the EEC (or Common Market), direct predecessor of the EU. Our articles at the time clearly identified the EEC as a reactionary agreement between capitalist states that was directed against the working class and the Soviet Union. This propaganda provides a model for our dealing with the EU. A document from an I.S. comrade detailing the evolution of our propaganda toward the EU explained that our early propaganda polemicized effectively against the opponents over their treatment of the EEC as a Kautskyite “superstate.” This later disappeared from our propaganda as we ourselves began treating the EU as a “superstate.”
The anti-Soviet nature of the EEC was correctly central to our principled opposition to this imperialist conglomerate. Once the Soviet Union was gone, as part of the general disorientation caused by this world-historic defeat, our opposition to the EU started to waver, though in an uneven manner. While some of the articles written in the early 1990s correctly upheld our political line, others buried our opposition to the EU behind impressionistic analysis and bombastic projections.
The statement we put out for the 1997 Amsterdam “Euromarch,” “For a Workers Europe—For Socialist Revolution!” (WV No. 670, 13 June 1997), is the last formally orthodox article that we wrote on the EU for a number of years, and it has often been quoted in our more recent propaganda. It reaffirmed our fundamental positions in general terms, but it already presented significant weaknesses. The “Euromarch” was an important turning point for the European left in openly mobilizing behind the EU. However, the article failed to sharply denounce this pro-EU rally, reflecting an opportunist softening of our opposition to the EU. The statement contains another serious political error, asserting that “with or without the Maastricht Treaty, the main enemy of the workers of each country is their ‘own’ bourgeoisie.” This misapplication of Karl Liebknecht’s slogan for an interimperialist war disappears the dominant role of foreign finance capital in dependent countries. It denies the point that a worker in an oppressed country has an enemy in the bourgeoisie of the imperialist oppressor country, e.g., Greek workers are viciously oppressed by German capital. The sentence also downplays our opposition to the Maastricht Treaty, which is oppressive for workers including in the imperialist centers.
A 1999 discussion on participating in the fake EU “parliament” marked the beginning of an overt assault on our principled opposition to the EU itself. In the years following this discussion, the EU was barely addressed in our propaganda, despite the fact that it had become a central question for all of our European sections. The introduction of the euro, which was forcibly imposed on oppressed countries in the EU, was a devastating blow to workers and the oppressed across Europe, but we did not mention it in our propaganda at the time. When the EU was mentioned, it was treated as a “superstate.” These articles threw away our previous understanding of the nature of the EU, and our opposition to it was generally limited to anti-racist liberalism often directed at the pro-EU social forum milieu. The article “Capitalist Europe’s War on Immigrants Is a War on All Workers” (WV No. 784, 12 July 2002) was written in the context of the EU summit at Seville but did not even say that we are opposed to the European Union. This article was totally liberal; a longtime European cadre remembers comrade Robertson hating it and saying that it could have been written by a Marxist social worker.
In 2004, two central IEC members in Europe launched a revisionist discussion seeking to explicitly repudiate our understanding of the EU as opposed to the centrist hypocrisy that had become our established practice. They argued that Germany and France had transcended their rivalries, accepting the EU and the euro as stable and presenting the EU as a superstate. However, this discussion did not lead the party to formally revise our program. An early review of our problems on the EU in the 2014 IEC Plenum Memo singled out the documents by these comrades as if they were the source of our deviations on the EU and the euro. In fact, there was general agreement with their arguments because they expressed the appetite to capitulate to the EU that was prevalent in the party at the time. The profoundly revisionist 2004 discussion did not qualitatively change our propaganda.
In the wake of the 2008 global economic crisis, while the imperialists imposed devastating austerity on the oppressed European countries, our propaganda presented the imperialists as “helping” dependent countries and put the whole blame for austerity on the bourgeoisies of the oppressed countries. When the question of siding with the oppressed against the oppressor was sharply posed, our opportunism on the EU became social chauvinism. As Lenin explained in “Opportunism, and the Collapse of the Second International” (1915), “Social-chauvinism is a consummated opportunism. That is beyond doubt. The alliance with the bourgeoisie used to be ideological and secret. It is now public and unseemly.”
Following a 2011 IEC plenum, a senior IEC cadre wrote a document relaying comrade Robertson’s concerns that “people thought our line in opposition to the EU was hypothetical and that in fact we should use our observations from the past to demonstrate that our line has been vindicated by what is happening today.” This was the beginning of correcting our longstanding opportunism on the EU. Struggles over the Greek referendum, Grexit and “open border” liberalism, as well as the fight on the national question, were all key to our programmatic rearming. These fights are codified in the 2017 conference document. Since 2017, our political understanding has gotten better through numerous struggles on the EU, which are still ongoing.
EU: Tool for Imperialist Plunder
An essential component of our opposition to the EU is that we are against the national oppression of dependent European countries by the imperialists. However, for years we approached the EU as though it were a union of equals. While we originally insisted that the EU was an instrument for domination by German imperialism and to a lesser extent French imperialism, this disappeared from our propaganda by the early 2000s. As an IEC member in Europe argued in a document written before the plenum, “Our articles are bad or weak because we thought that the EU is peaceful and progressive and we failed to recognize early on that Germany and to a lesser extent France tramples on the national sovereignty of the smaller capitalist countries.” Indicative of this, the 2004 Agreement for Common Work Between the ICL and the Trotskyist Group of Greece as well as the 2007 article announcing the refounding of the Spartacist Group Poland did not even mention the EU.
In 1999, while partially upholding our opposition to the EU, a senior cadre also wrongly argued that “Italy is not to Germany as Mexico is to the United States. The European Union is not the European equivalent of NAFTA. We are dealing with the relationships of stronger to weaker advanced capitalist imperialist states.” Italy aside, the notion that countries such as Ireland, Portugal or Greece are “imperialist” flies in the face of reality. While not semicolonies, these are dependent countries. As Lenin explained in Imperialism:
“It must be observed that finance capital and its foreign policy, which is the struggle of the great powers for the economic and political division of the world, give rise to a number of transitional forms of state dependence. Not only are the two main groups of countries, those owning colonies, and the colonies themselves, but also the diverse forms of dependent countries which, politically, are formally independent, but in fact, are enmeshed in the net of financial and diplomatic dependence, typical of this epoch.”
In fact, like NAFTA/USMCA, the EU is an agreement for the plunder of oppressed countries.
In the early 2000s, a number of articles, especially in Workers Hammer, commented on the EU’s expansion into East Europe and its possible expansion into Turkey without opposing it, and some articles appear positive about the expansion of the EU. However, the 2004 IEC Plenum did reaffirm that “we oppose the European Union and hence its extension to Eastern Europe. The same applies to Turkey.” Thus coming out of that plenum, in an article in Le Bolchévik No. 171 (March 2005), reprinted in WV No. 848 (13 May 2005), we opposed the expansion of the EU into East Europe (“No to Capitalist European Union and Its Constitution!”). In the case of WH, it was not until the summer of 2006 that it retrospectively claimed that we opposed the eastward expansion of the EU (“Full Citizenship Rights for All Immigrants!”, WH No. 195, Summer 2006).
Our articles on the economic crisis in Greece written in 2010-11 put all the responsibility for austerity on the Greek governments while presenting the EU and IMF as playing a progressive role. One example of this Great Power chauvinism is the article “Greece: Down With PASOK Government’s ‘Stability Program’!” (WV No. 959, 21 May 2010), which states that “as their part of the bailout deal, the EU and IMF committed an unprecedented sum—almost $1 trillion—for loans to Greece, and potentially other heavily indebted EU countries like Portugal and Spain, to help them cover their budget deficits and refinance their debt” [emphasis added].
As one IEC member laid out in a May 2019 document, the article titled “Greece: Mass Anger Over Savage Austerity” (WV No. 983, 8 July 2011) grotesquely accuses the Greek workers of nationalism for fighting against the EU, falsely counterposing this to fighting against the Greek bourgeoisie. The article stated: “As long as Greek workers are mobilized primarily against the foreign diktats of the IMF and EU, they will be unable to see that opposing the imperialists is intertwined with overthrowing the Greek bourgeoisie.”
A document by an IECer in Britain outlined that the same problems are present in our propaganda on Ireland. The Permanent Revolution pamphlet (2008) states: “For well over a century, Ireland has been integrated into the economy of the British Isles, with a large fraction of the Irish proletariat working in the factories and construction sites of London and other cities. And in recent decades, Ireland’s membership in the European Union has played a large part in the country’s further economic development.” The article never mentions the national oppression of Ireland and outrageously presents British imperialism and the EU as playing a progressive role in the development of the Irish economy. As is already apparent from the headline, “Dublin Government Launches Savage Attack on Working People,” the article in WV No. 970 (3 December 2010) written by the SL/B blames EU-imposed austerity measures solely on the Dublin government and presents the EU as promoting stability and “helping” Ireland by bailing out the banks. This article also effectively takes a side with the imperialists by denouncing the “nationalist hue and cry” over Irish sovereignty when the European Central Bank stationed “observers” in the Republic’s Finance Department.
Like the ECU (European Currency Unit), the euro is the “deutschmark in drag.” We did not write anything substantive about the euro until after the world financial crisis, much less oppose the devastating consequences of its introduction. The initial articles addressing this question, written while the Greek economy was being crushed by Germany, did not characterize the euro as the financial instrument of German imperialism or state its oppressive nature. For example, an article written by the SpAD and reprinted in part in WV as “Financial Crisis Rocks Imperialist EU” (WV No. 960, 4 June 2010) stated:
“The attitude of the German bourgeoisie toward the introduction of the euro was mixed to negative, since it saw the danger of ceding sovereignty rights while obtaining a currency that would tend to soften.”
While grotesquely presenting the German imperialists as victims, the article has nothing to say about how Greece is oppressed through the euro!
For the Socialist United States of Europe, United on a Voluntary Basis!
During the 2000s, our propaganda raised the call for a Socialist United States of Europe without making clear that opposing the EU is a precondition for this perspective. For example, the article “Mass Protests Shake France” (WV No. 867, 31 March 2006) stated: “Against the reformists’ appeal for a capitalist ‘social Europe,’ we call for proletarian revolutions to achieve a socialist united states of Europe.” Nowhere in the article did we say that we are against the European Union. This is similar to how the reformists use the slogan, to express their view that the EU is a step toward “socialism.”
In contrast, our articles in the 1970s polemicized with our opponents on this exact point. “Down With the Common Market of NATO Europe!” (WV No. 233, 8 June 1979) stated:
“The USec’s main slogan in the elections is, ‘For a Socialist United States of Europe!’ To raise this slogan in running for the Strasbourg parliament implies that the Common Market is in some way historically progressive, i.e., provides an objective basis for the socialist unification of Europe. But the Common Market is no more a progressive step toward the socialist unification of Europe than was Nazi Germany’s conquest of most of Europe in 1939-44. The USec electoral platform never clearly states that the EEC cannot be transformed into a Socialist Europe but must be destroyed.”
When calling for a Socialist United States of Europe, we should be explicit that it can be achieved only through a series of proletarian revolutions in the different European countries, and we must make clear our opposition to the EU.
Following discussion in the Lega trotskista d’Italia in 2017, it was proposed that our demand for a Socialist United States of Europe be changed by adding “united on a voluntary basis.” This is an important addition because it takes into account that Europe includes both oppressor and oppressed nations, some of which are fighting for independence. It highlights the fact that the national question will not immediately disappear after the revolution and that historically oppressed nations will not be forced into a union with their former oppressors.
Against the Kautskyite Notion of a “Superstate”!
An overarching problem in our propaganda is treating the EU like a “superstate.” The EU is not a state. It does not pass laws or have its own armed bodies of men. It is an alliance of capitalist countries whose bourgeoisies all have separate, conflicting interests. Many of our articles have used wrong formulations that imply the contrary: “EU capitalists,” “capitalist Europe,” “European military units,” “the rulers of the European Union,” “supranational police-state measures,” “EU citizens,” etc. We should not use such formulations.
The 1997 Euromarch article, “For a Workers Europe—For Socialist Revolution!”, has been repeatedly quoted in our propaganda and used as a point of reference on the question of the “superstate” and the euro. The article argued:
“Control over the quantity of money within its boundaries is a basic economic prerogative of a bourgeois state, one necessarily closely linked to other instruments of economic policy. A stable monetary system based on the ‘euro’ would require tight and permanent restrictions over taxation and government expenditure in all the EU member states. This is precisely what Kohl and the Bundesbank are now demanding. But since capitalism is organised on the basis of particular national states, itself the cause of repeated imperialist wars to redivide the world, it is impossible to cohere a stable pan-European bourgeois state. A European imperialist ‘superstate’ can be achieved only by the methods of Adolf Hitler, not those of Jacques Delors, the French social-democratic architect of Maastricht. Should the Maastricht project for a common European currency come into being, it would amount to only a brief, conflict-ridden episode.”
While this statement correctly emphasizes the inherent instability of the euro and links the control of currency to national sovereignty, it also has a number of weaknesses. The most significant of these is that by stating that it is impossible to have a “stable pan-European bourgeois state,” the article wrongly implies that there could be an unstable pan-European bourgeois state, and that this could be the case with the EU.
Another weakness in the article is the statement that a “‘superstate’ can be achieved only by the methods of Adolf Hitler.” While evocative, this assertion is imprecise. Hitler brought military occupation and quisling regimes, not a “superstate.”
Liberalism on “Fortress Europe”
We should not use the term “fortress Europe.” This purely liberal term, which began appearing in our articles in the 1990s, is simply a call to open the borders. As one comrade argued, it also accepts the false notion that the EU is a “superstate” with one common external border, a common immigration policy and “free movement” within the bloc.
We should not deal with anti-immigration repression as one common policy that is shared by every country within the EU. Our starting point should be to oppose the specific repressive measures taken by specific countries. This does not deny that capitalist states do carry out coordinated repression, including through the EU.
Our embrace of the slogan “Down with racist fortress Europe” went hand in hand with liberal demands effectively calling for open borders. Until the 2015 fight on this question, we often used formulations such as “full citizenship rights for all immigrants and asylum seekers” [emphasis added]. This implies that the working class should fight for full citizenship rights for anybody on earth who wants to come into a given country, i.e., “open the borders” liberalism.
The EU’s purported “free movement” of people is a fraud. A patchwork of restrictions governs who can live and work where. States regulate who can enter their borders, including through treaties, but this does not mean that borders “disappear,” something that can happen only with the withering away of the state. As Lenin explained:
“We maintain that the state is necessary, and a state presupposes frontiers. The state, of course, may hold a bourgeois government, but we need the Soviets. But even Soviets are confronted with the question of frontiers. What does ‘Down with frontiers’ mean? It is the beginning of anarchy…. Only when the socialist revolution has become a reality, and not a method, will the slogan ‘Down with frontiers’ be a correct slogan.”
—“Speech on the National Question” (April 1917)
As against “open the borders” liberalism, our line remains encapsulated in the call for “full citizenship rights for all immigrants” who made it into the country in question. We oppose deportations and fight for a class-struggle leadership of the trade unions against the anti-immigrant divide-and-rule of the bosses. It will require socialist revolutions internationally to put an end to the imperialist devastation that drives emigrants to leave their homes.
Tinkering with the EU Treaties
A 2018 I.S. meeting adopted the position that “we are against the Posted Workers Directive (PWD), one of many mechanisms of the European Union to attack the trade unions and lower the wages and benefits of all workers.” Although the motion stated that opposing the PWD “is part of our opposition to the EU itself,” in fact, the motion sanctioned a deviant method of singling out particular EU regulations for opposition, a method we had correctly rejected in the past.
In 2015, the I.S. had correctly opposed the comrades who argued to single out the Dublin III agreement for opposition out of all the EU treaties. That agreement states that the country where refugees first enter the EU will process their asylum requests. However, our wrong position on the Posted Workers Directive gave new impetus to the liberal appetite to single out the Dublin agreement, leading the I.S. to reopen that discussion.
In an 18 August 2018 letter to the I.S., a senior comrade in the Bay Area relayed how comrade Robertson convinced her
“that to oppose Dublin III, or for that matter any other particular regulation of the EU, is to accept that the EU is some kind of ‘superstate’ as opposed to an unstable conglomerate of imperialist nation states and weaker, dependent countries. As he pointed out regardless of the particular EU mechanisms controlling the flows of people and labor, the bourgeoisies of EU countries do assert their own rule (albeit in the case of the weaker countries this is highly curtailed by the predominant power of German imperialism, to the point that Greece has been reduced to a virtual neo-colony which in turn owes much to the servitude of the Syriza government). Moreover, to selectively oppose particular EU regulations buys into the notion that the EU can be reformed, i.e., partakes of the myth of a ‘social’ Europe. To be clear these arguments apply not simply to the question of Dublin III but also the Posted Workers Directive which we recently took a position in opposition to.”
A subsequent I.S. motion corrected these problems on the basis of this intervention.
No Participation in the Fake European “Parliament”!
One component of the recent struggles to reassert our opposition to the EU has been reclaiming our line that it is unprincipled to run for election to the EU “parliament” or give critical support to opponents running in it. As a 2019 I.S. motion stated:
“The European ‘parliament’ is used by the imperialists in the EU to falsely present their consortium as a ‘free’ and ‘democratic’ union of peoples that transcends the nation state. The EU parliament is nothing but a diplomatic forum for haggling over treaties to the benefit centrally of the Fourth Reich at the expense of the weaker European countries and the working class across Europe. The participation of leftists in European elections necessarily gives credence to this charade. To serve in the European parliament is to be a diplomatic representative for a capitalist state, which is a betrayal of the proletariat’s interests.”
In fact, the 1979 article “Down With the Common Market of NATO Europe!” had the correct position of opposing the European “parliament.” However, that position was wrongly expressed in the call for a boycott, an electoral tactic that contradicted the article’s correct principled opposition to the European parliament by implying that we might participate in these elections in other circumstances. Nevertheless, the article established the key understanding that running for the then EEC “parliament” was seeking representation in a reactionary imperialist alliance. It firmly asserted that revolutionary Marxists “would not participate in this Euro-imperialist charade.”
In 1999, there was an international discussion that criticized our 1979 article opposing participation in the EEC “parliament.” Although the I.S. motion voted at the time doesn’t explicitly repudiate our principled opposition to participating in the EU “parliament,” the whole thrust of the discussion opened the door to participation, presenting this as if it were a tactical question. Following this discussion, we no longer criticized our opponents for the very act of participating in EU elections. Rather, we engaged in polemics over the content of their electoral platforms. Most of our polemics over EU elections are against British groups that claim to be against the EU: [Arthur] Scargill’s SLP [Socialist Labour Party], No2EU. While we rightly criticize these formations for being nationalist, we downplay how the EU is used against British workers and our own opposition to it. The article “No vote to No2EU!” (WH No. 207, Summer 2009) argues against voting for No2EU in the European elections. However, its whole premise is that we could potentially vote in EU elections.
In the context of the 2019 European elections, it became necessary to clarify our position. The I.S. Secretary argued that we should uphold our 1979 article and not participate or give critical support to opponents running in EU elections. There were a lot of differences within the IEC over this question. One IECer gave the strongest expression of these differences in two documents arguing that participation in EU elections is a tactical question and treating the EU “parliament” as a real parliament.
The draft statement on the EU “parliament” that was sent for approval to the IEC indicated that there was ongoing softness on this question. It did not express the politics laid out in the initial I.S. motion and presented our opposition to participating in the EU “parliament” as a question of how much power this body has, not of the nature of the institution. Participating in the EU “parliament” means participating in the reactionary EU alliance. Arguing against participation on the basis that the “parliament” is “impotent” or that it “has no power” implies that we could participate if it had power! This methodology is similar to Workers Power’s call in 1997:
“Dissolve the powerless European parliament and convene a Europe-wide constituent assembly (organised and defended by the workers’ organisations) to tear up the Maastricht treaty and to draw up a new workers’ plan for economic and political convergence, designed to meet the needs of the workers, not the ruling class.”
—Workers Power, January 1997 (quoted in WV No. 670, 13 June 1997)
Furthermore, the draft did not make clear that participating in the EU’s so-called “parliament” inherently means serving as a diplomatic representative of a capitalist state. And it did not argue against opponents for the very act of campaigning for a seat in this body.