Workers Hammer No. 239
For the Socialist United States of Europe!
Italian Trotskyists say: Italy out of the European Union!
The following is a translation of a 25 March supplement to Spartaco, newspaper of our comrades of the Lega trotskista d’Italia.
The leaders of the European Union (EU) are meeting in Rome to celebrate the anniversary of the 1957 treaty that established the European Economic Community (EEC). Heads of state and EU rulers responsible for the misery of entire populations, for destruction in Africa and the Near East, and for the ceaseless drownings of immigrants in the Mediterranean Sea, will discuss how to “strengthen common security and defence” through “a better integrated defence industry” and “a stable and ultimately stronger common currency”.
We went on record as far back as 1973 in our article “Capitalist Conspiracy in Europe — Labor and the Common Market” (Workers Vanguard no 15, January 1973), wherein we explained: “the destruction of the Common Market should be a major goal of the European labor and socialist movements”. We knew that the existence of the EU was “based on agreement between the parties to undertake their plunder and exploitation jointly as long as the current expansionary wave lasts” but that as soon as one or more of the capitalist regimes belonging to it “begins to suffer from the effects of free trade competition with the others, however, the entire edifice will collapse and protectionist nationalism will re-emerge”. We emphasised that: “the struggle against the bosses’ Common Market, for a united socialist Europe, is at the same time a determined battle against these treacherous misleaders of the working class” who support the EU today just as they did yesterday.
The EEC was created by the 1957 Treaty of Rome as an economic adjunct to NATO, the military alliance formed after World War II as part of the imperialist crusade to roll back Communism. The American ruling class hoped the EEC would serve to dampen conflicts between the European imperialist bourgeoisies that jeopardised the common alliance against the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union, born out of the 1917 October Revolution, was a workers state (based on expropriation of the capitalist class and collectivisation of the means of production) despite its degeneration under the rule of a bureaucratic caste headed by JV Stalin. The Red Army’s victory over Nazi Germany in 1945 rescued most of Eastern Europe from capitalist exploitation. It was in this context that West European capitalist governments conceded benefits otherwise known as the “welfare state”.
We of the International Communist League (ICL) fought till the end for the unconditional military defence of the Soviet Union and the bureaucratically deformed workers states of eastern and central Europe, which were based on the Soviet model. Our struggle was linked to the perspective of preserving the revolutionary gains of the working class and extending them through a proletarian political revolution to drive out the Stalinist bureaucracy and bring the USSR back to the internationalist road of Lenin and Trotsky’s Bolsheviks.
Today’s imperialist order was shaped by the counterrevolutionary destruction of the Soviet Union in 1991-92, a historic defeat for the working masses of the entire world. From a NATO auxiliary, the EU has increasingly become an instrument of the European imperialists, particularly Germany, in competition with their American imperialist rival. But the EU’s role is as reactionary as it was during the Cold War.
The EU is a reactionary bloc of European imperialists, headed by Germany, which serves as the instrument for plundering dependent countries in southern and eastern Europe, ramping up exploitation of the European working classes, and controlling the flow of immigrant labour. Even in the capitalist economies that have benefited from the common currency, such as Germany, it is workers who pay the bill. Thanks to the Hartz IV “reforms” imposed by the German Social Democratic Party [SPD] in 2005, the number of workers in Germany who cannot live on their salaries has increased by 25 per cent, ie more than three million people.
The ICL has always opposed NATO, the EEC and the European Union on principle. We opposed the introduction of the euro, a financial and economic tool with which the German imperialists (and to a lesser degree the French and Italian imperialists) have plundered and subjugated economically weaker countries, reducing the Greek people to starvation. We also opposed the extension of the EU to Eastern Europe because it was clear that it would increase the exploitation of East European workers. We fight against the chauvinist discrimination directed at them in various EU countries.
The devastating effects of EU austerity inflicted on the workers and peoples of Europe are clear for all to see. The weaker capitalist economies of Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece and Spain, lumped together under the insulting acronym “PIIGS”, have been devastated. In Italy, unemployment has reached record numbers. Following the Maastricht agreement in 1992, the Italian bourgeoisie carried out extensive privatisations that slashed hundreds of thousands of jobs, especially in the south, and weakened the unions. Millions of workers toil under temporary contracts, are paid with vouchers, or work with the noose of labour brokers slipped around their necks. Healthcare, education and pensions have been progressively gutted. Industrial production has fallen by 23 per cent since 2008.
The working class must fight for Italy out of the EU and the euro. An Italian exit could precipitate the collapse of the EU. This would be in the interest of all workers and the oppressed and strike a hard blow against the bosses. The end of the EU would not mean the end of international capitalism, or of the exploitation and racism that are intrinsic to this system of production, but it would facilitate workers struggles across Europe and more sharply expose that the main enemy to combat is one’s “own” national exploiter.
Our opposition to the EU is integral to our revolutionary Marxist perspective: the overthrow of capitalism worldwide by the working class and the building of an internationally planned and collectivised economy. This would allow for a qualitative development of the productive forces and the overcoming of class divisions in society — the starting point for a world communist order.
A workers party guided by an internationalist programme is required to lead this struggle. To defeat the EU and NATO imperialists requires international working-class solidarity. Correspondingly, victorious revolutions in Europe will strive to integrate European economies on a voluntary basis within a united socialist states of Europe. Only when the working class seizes control of the means of production will the latter be transformed from the proletariat’s ball and chain to an instrument in the service of the working masses of the entire world. We in the International Communist League fight to build revolutionary parties in every country as sections of a reforged Fourth International that are able to lead proletarian struggle towards a socialist future.
Down with racist Fortress Europe!
The liberal bourgeoisie and the reformists pass off the EU as the last bulwark against anti-immigrant racism. According to them, the Schengen Agreement supposedly created a “Europe without borders” where everyone can move about freely. This pious illusion has never stood the test of reality. The EU is only interested in guaranteeing the free movement of capital within its borders. Labour migration within the EU has been manipulated by the capitalist classes to increase the exploitation of immigrants from eastern and southern Europe with low wages. “Freedom of movement” does not apply to many minorities, such as the Roma, who have been repeatedly deported to Eastern Europe.
Regarding immigrants and refugees from Africa and the Near East, the Schengen Agreement, like all bourgeois immigration laws, has been used to control labour migration to Europe in accordance with the needs of the bourgeoisie, which in many EU countries needs to import workers on low wages and with no rights. “Freedom of movement” for immigrants and refugees has always meant mass drownings in the Mediterranean, barbed-wire fences and detention camps.
For immigrants, Europe’s true face is exploitation in factories and fields. This is symbolised by the plight of hundreds of thousands of day labourers in the fields of Puglia and Calabria who are exploited by “Made in Italy” labour brokers. They sleep in decrepit shacks until their labour is no longer needed and then they are burned out by fires started by the bosses’ thugs or their homes are razed by police bulldozers. The workers movement must fight for full citizenship rights for all immigrants, undertake a major union organising drive and mobilise in their defence against deportations by the capitalist state.
Pseudo-Marxist supporters of imperialist EU
The agents of the bourgeoisie who lead the reformist parties in Western Europe have always rallied to the defence of their own ruling classes and the imperialist EU. In Italy, Rifondazione comunista and the Left Democrats (heirs of the former Italian Communist Party), together with the German Social Democrats and the French Communist Party and Socialist Party, played a decisive role in establishing the EU [at the time of the Maastricht Treaty]. In Britain, the left Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn lined up the Labour Party in favour of the EU and against Brexit in the referendum, a shameful betrayal of the interests of the many workers and minorities who saw in him a possibility to change things. Many so-called leftists peddled illusions in Syriza, a bourgeois party that ended up introducing devastating austerity measures in Greece in the service of the troika. (For example, Sinistra, Classe e Rivoluzione [SCR, the Italian section of Ted Grant’s International Marxist Tendency] proclaimed Syriza’s 2015 electoral win a “historic victory” and a “fundamental change” for Greek workers.)
The reformist left’s support to the EU has allowed reactionary forces like the English UKIP, the French National Front or the Northern League and assorted Italian fascists to posture as protectors of those who have been impoverished by EU diktats and has allowed them to misdirect outrage into nationalist chauvinism and racism against immigrants, Roma and other minorities.
The bourgeois media and the majority of the pro-imperialist left try to paint anybody who calls for leaving the EU as a reactionary nationalist. In this context, pseudo-Trotskyist groups such as the Partito comunista dei lavoratori (PCL) have denounced Brexit, describing it as a purely racist circus with a “reactionary hallmark” that represents “a threat to British workers and the European labour movement” (pclavoratori.it, 12 July 2016).
The PCL and SCR both attempt to pass off their capitulation to imperialism as Marxism. The PCL wrote: “The truth is that the alternative is not between the euro and the lira, between free trade and protectionism, between the European Union and the nation. The real alternative is between capitalists and workers. Between capitalism and socialism. In every country and on a worldwide scale” (“Euro or Lira, the real problem is capitalism”, 4 February).
The idea that overthrowing capitalism and building a socialist society on a world scale is the only way to eliminate poverty, unemployment, war and racism is a fundamental truth. But when this truth is used to justify abstention and curtail working-class opposition to imperialist coalitions like the EU or NATO, it loses all revolutionary content and becomes aid to the imperialists. The struggle to overthrow capitalism demands that the working class concretely oppose the EU and NATO. In fact, the Brexit referendum did not ask “are you for socialism or capitalism” but to take a stand for or against the EU. The abstention by the PCL and SCR was a betrayal of proletarian internationalism.
Furthermore, the PCL has often repeated the arguments of the Banca d’Italia [Italian central bank] that it would be a catastrophe for the proletariat if Italy left the EU, claiming: “just putting Italy back on the lira, just having Italy leave the euro, WITHIN THE FRAMEWORK OF CAPITALISM, would, in and of itself, lead to greater impoverishment and a deeper plunge in wages and salaries. For the proletariat, it would be a real bloodbath” (“Grillo’s ‘devaluation’”, 12 May 2012). The real bloodbath was experienced by the Greek people who stayed in the EU and have seen their living conditions reduced to poverty levels.
Another organisation that has sought to give a Marxist veneer to the bourgeoisie’s argumentation against the exit of Greece or Britain from the EU is the Internationalist Nucleus of Italy (the two Italian supporters of the US-based Internationalist Group [IG]). Ever since Greece was ground under the heel of the troika, the IG has opposed its exit from the EU, claiming that, “To call for Geece [sic] to exit the EU and drop the euro in favor of the drachma” is “a bourgeois nationalist demand, with negative consequences for Greek workers”. In the case of Grexit, the IG threatens apocalyptic consequences and “<n0>austerity with a vengeance”. The IG even suggested that Greek workers abstain on the 2015 referendum that asked for a vote for or against the troika’s memorandum — a real betrayal of the Greek proletariat. As we wrote: “The truth is that a self-proclaimed revolutionary Trotskyist organization that can’t even call for a vote against the diktats of the EU is on a bridge to the Fourth Reich of German imperialism” (Workers Vanguard no 1075, 2 October 2015).
Control over currency is a prerequisite for national sovereignty. Normally, debtor countries can get a breathing space and regain a competitive economic edge by devaluing their currency. This is impossible with the euro. As demonstrated by the experiences of Argentina and Iceland, default and devaluation, though difficult at the beginning, can rapidly lead to economic recovery and an increase in employment because a weaker currency makes exports more advantageous. Unlike Greece, Italy is an imperialist country and its financial institutions participate in the plundering of dependent countries, including through foreign debt. Thus it is crucial for the Italian proletariat to demand the immediate cancellation of the Greek debt (and debts owed by other countries) and an end to the austerity measures imposed by the EU on these peoples.
Trotskyism against Stalinism on the EU
Now that the EU is becoming unpopular with workers, a small section of the reformist left grouped around the Eurostop Platform has openly taken a position to “Break the EU! Get our country out of the euro, the EU and NATO.” But up until a few years ago, when the EU seemed to be doing well, they too supported the EU.
Throughout the 1990s, all the components of Eurostop were integral parts of Rifondazione comunista and of the Ulivo [Olive Branch] capitalist governments that imposed austerity, also on behalf of the EU. (In 1998, Oliviero Diliberto and Marco Rizzo founded the Party of Italian Communists as a split from Rifondazione comunista in order to be part of the D’Alema government that participated in the bombing of Serbia!) Even [former metalworkers union leader] Giorgio Cremaschi, spokesman for Eurostop Platform, was a supporter of a “social Europe”. In 2002, after the euro was introduced, bourgeois enthusiasm for the EU’s future was translated into the leftist mania for “Social Forums”, which were actually financed by capitalist states or institutions like the Rockefeller Foundation and Ford Foundation (see “Churches, charities, and CIA cash — Social Forum con game”, Workers Hammer no 191, Summer 2005). At the time, Cremaschi’s FIOM [metalworkers union] enthused over “the enormous opportunity to build a Social Europe based on democratic participation” (“The FIOM in the European Social Forum”, archivio.fiom.cgil.it, November 2002). Cremaschi himself promoted illusions such as “a European social wage as a guarantee against workfare” and wondered “what indispensable rights should be written in the European Convention”, hoping to involve workers “in a mobilisation for Social Europe” (“What is needed is a movement for workers’ rights”, 25 October 2002).
The Eurostop Platform’s opposition to the EU is based on a nationalist and reformist perspective, the axis of which is the “reconquest of full participatory democracy, to uphold and develop the principles of the Republican constitution of 1948” (eurostop.info, 4 November 2015). The “principles of the Republican constitution of 1948” are the principles of capitalist rule. In 1943-45, in the wake of fascist Italy’s defeat in World War II, the working class had a concrete possibility to take power into its own hands, but was sold out by [Palmiro] Togliatti’s Communist Party, which helped the bourgeoisie disarm the working class and rebuild the apparatus of capitalist rule. The re-establishment of bourgeois order in post-war Italy was ratified by the 1948 Constitution, which included acceptance of the Lateran Treaty signed by Mussolini and the Vatican.
As an alternative to the EU, the Eurostop Platform wants to “build a new Euro-Mediterranean Area together with the so-called PIGS” to “adopt new social policies, independently of the diktats of the Central Bank and the French-German axis, to introduce a new currency and to build new internal and international relations based on justice, solidarity and complementarity modelled on the Latin American ALBA, which was formed by countries subjected for decades to US domination” (retedeicomunisti.org, 12 May 2015). In the pipe-dreams of the Rete dei comunisti [Communist Network], this commercial bloc would be an alternative to the EU and would include semicolonial countries of North Africa, capitalist countries like Portugal, Greece and Spain, and an (albeit third-rate) imperialist power like Italy. In other words, it’s a reformist-flavoured version of Mussolini’s dream of “turning the Mediterranean into an Italian lake”.
For a revolutionary workers party!
Illusions in the Schengen Agreement and the EU have been used by reformists to promote the belief that the EU has progressively become a supra-national state that has allowed capitalism to overcome the economic and military conflicts between rival imperialist states. For over a century, Marxists have explained that in the epoch of imperialism, ie the period of the struggle by the bourgeoisies of the dominant countries to rip away each other’s shares of the world markets, the capitalist unification of Europe can only be utopian or reactionary. As the Russian revolutionary VI Lenin wrote in 1915: “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 Slogan for a United States of Europe”).
Only unity on a socialist basis, achieved through proletarian revolution and the expropriation of the capitalist ruling class, can lead to rational economic development worldwide, without exploitation. The Socialist United States of Europe can be created only on the basis of sharp struggle against the capitalist EU and all that it stands for.