"The last fight let us face"


June 26, 2007 9:04 |by Steve McGiffen

Maastricht's outlawing of socialism is about to be confirmed

The European Council has now met and issued its orders. An Intergovernmental Conference will soon be convened, charged with coming up with a text which the governments of the twenty-seven member states can approve, one which reflects what they believe themselves to have agreed on. Yet just over two years ago, the people of France and the Netherlands voted overwhelmingly to reject the proposed EU constitution, which in its essential features was identical to this document.

Since the European Economic Community began the process of transforming itself into a unified superstate, the peoples of a number of member states and would-be member states have been consulted on several occasions over membership, membership of the European Monetary Union, or approval of treaties which would require changes to their own national constitutions.

These are officially referenda, and some of them were genuinely so. Norway has asked its voters on two occasions whether they wished their country to join the Community, and both times they said no and their answer, though causing some lamentation amongst europhile politicians and 'business leaders', was respected.

In many other cases, however, it has been made quite clear that the referendum had a correct answer and an incorrect answer, and that failure to follow the instructions of government and the corporate propaganda machine would result in the unleashing of Famine, Pestilence, War and the other horseman of the apocalypse, the one whose name I can never remember.

In order to avoid the appearance of these sinister equines, electorates getting the wrong answer were sometimes given a second chance. This time, however, it appears that our leaders' notoriously limited patience has worn too thin for that. The Dutch and French people had not done their homework in the run up to the referenda on the misleadingly-named "Constitutional Treaty", and therefore failed this important examination. They cannot expect to be allowed a resit.

Of course, they may object, and as the French have such a colourful history of militancy and the Dutch No campaign was led by what is now - with the sole exception of Cyprus - Europe's biggest radical left party, their objections may take forms difficult to resist. The British, though sadly lacking a significant radical left movement, are for whatever reason none-too-keen on seeing their country dissolved into a superstate. Having promised a referendum, the Labour Party may be forced to deliver or risk being kicked out in a general election which the Conservatives could quite easily, and even honestly, present as a referendum on the new treaty. We shall see.

Elsewhere on spectrezine Anthony Coughlan offers an initial analysis of the new proposed treaty, so I will mention only one aspect which has gone virtually undiscussed in the mainstream press.

Part Three of the Constitutional Treaty will be transposed into the new treaty intact and without controversy. This is the section which gives the EU a permanent neoliberal orientation, and was the principal reason for the No votes in both France and the Netherlands. Yet it seems to have played little part in last week's debate at Brussels.

As Dutch left MEP Erik Meijer wrote in spectrezine three years ago, "The constitution protects freedom for enterprises and 'free, unrestricted competition'. What this means in neoliberal Europe has in recent years become ever more clear. Basic services in public transport, post, energy and telecommunications are no longer seen as common problems to be addressed communally, but as a sector of the economy pure and simple. The Lisbon Summit in 2000 encouraged the selling off of such services to major international corporations. Through the compulsory tendering of services which were formerly the responsibility of the state or public authority, it has also become necessary for the remaining public services to compete with others. This means that sooner or later they will disappear, because they are small, caring, and attached to a particular region, and deliberately not equipped to deal with the risks of operating in competition with others. This constitution is in this respect no different from that of Cuba or the former Soviet Union, in that it stipulates the form that the economy will permanently take and prevents any change being made to it by democratic decision. Striving for socialist common ownership of the means of production will become unconstitutional within the EU, as earlier predicted with some enthusiasm by a representative of the right in the European Parliament."

Meijer goes on to describe the text as one which "clears the way for capitalism, militarism and governmental structures which will continually hinder the working of parliamentary democracy." It reflects a world in which having a "thriving" defence industry is regarded as having no more moral meaning than having a successful strawberry export trade, a society in which the right to trade freely is the most important of all human rights.

The implications of the equation of capitalism with democracy do not seem to have been fully analysed by the left, and the foisting of this new treaty on Europe's peoples may well turn out to be part of the price we will pay for that. So I should like to make a start, and suggest what scientists call a "thought experiment".

Firstly, ask yourself why you are opposed to children of eight being employed in factories. You might, under pressure, be able to think of sound economic reasons which refer to the efficiency of production, the economy's long-term needs, and so on. But the first reason that will come to you will almost certainly be "because it is wrong". Forbidding child labour need have no other outcome than preventing children from working. In that respect it differs from, say, a decision on how to improve transport links, which must be justified in terms of outcomes which refer to broader social goods such as wealth maximisation, efficiency and (one hopes) environmental considerations.

Now imagine you believe that the right to trade is so fundamental that it is equivalent to, or more important than, the right of children to an education, to play, to develop freely. You can now argue that this right need have no outcome. Free trade is simply right, and anything which interferes with that right is therefore wrong, even if its outcomes would be desirable.

Freed from the need to argue that market economies are inherently more efficient than any alternative, you will also find yourself freed completely from the need to employ evidence-based arguments. I am opposed to child labour, to female genital mutilation, to slavery, simply because they are wrong, and only secondarily because in each case they may represent an inefficient use of human resources. Even to speak of "efficiency" in such a context might, indeed, be regarded as being in bad taste.

Now, to complete your nightmare, imagine the policy implications of such a fundamentalist belief in the freedom to trade. You are now thinking like a senior IMF or World Bank or European Commission official. Congratulations.

This new treaty embodies just such a belief and will make it the basis of economic law across twenty-seven countries, the unanimous agreement of which will be required for even the slightest modification to be effected. The left - and, indeed, anyone who honestly believes in democracy - must therefore oppose the treaty because it represents the final nail in the coffin of our right to choose what kind of economy we want our countries to adopt. Socialism, which under the favourable conditions prevailing in certain parts of northern Europe managed to have a profound effect on the organisation of societies whose basic economies nevertheless remained capitalist in nature, at the same time in its supposedly revolutionary form produced repressive governments in Russia, eastern Europe and elsewhere. This made its reformist version more attractive to the mass of workers than was "communism". The flaw in the reformist approach was that despite its massive social achievements it left the solid core of power, the vast bulk of the economy, firmly in the hands of a class which, while it could accommodate itself to social democracy in a particular epoch, would in the end come up against the contradictions of its own system. In order to remain "competitive", the European Union must dismantle as much as it can of socialism's achievements and institute the right to trade freely as the most fundamental of human rights.

The tinkering with voting systems and all the rest of it may be important to the small countries which tend to lose out, and the questions of whether the EU has a longer-term "president" and what we are obliged to call the foreign affairs representative should be of importance to all of us. Yet such questions also provide a convenient smokescreen for what is really going on. Some time ago the veteran UK Labour politician Roy Hattersley complained that the Labour Party had become so right wing that he had, without changing his views, found himself on its left. The institutionalisation of a market economy will mean that reformist socialism, for all its successes, is dead. Socialism, by default, and against the considered wishes of most who favour a high degree of socialisation in the economy (those who call themselves socialists and do not favour this are, of course, playing linguistic games) will return by default to its original form. The mildest socialist reforms having been made unconstitutional, all socialists, however "reformist", "moderate" or "realistic" they may consider themselves, will become revolutionaries - and without changing their views at all.

This may well be what the late nineteenth century English translator of the Internationale had in mind when penning those words about "the last fight let us face." Time to let Europe's political elite hear the "thunder" of "reason in revolt".