Alice in Euroland
One of my favourite books is Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. I don’t really remember when I first read it, but I must have been around seven years old. Since then, apart from having read it to my own children perhaps thirty years ago, I have frequently returned to it as a source of joy and inspiration, and look forward to my granddaughter, now three, reaching an age where she can appreciate it.
Another of my favourites is The Communist Manifesto. I do remember when I first read this. I was 18 when a college friend asked me if I’d read it, and I thought he was referring to an election manifesto put out by the CP. He was quite kind about this, but I was so embarrassed that I went straight out and bought a copy for 10p. I’ve never looked back!
Now, what could these two books possibly have in common? After all, one is a perfect description of contemporary political and economic realities. And the other is the founding text of the global movement for revolutionary social and economic change….
If you don’t think Lewis Carroll is a fine guide to the modern world then consider these facts:
In June, the European Parliament voted by a fairly convincing majority to give its support to the new system of European Economic Governance, the main aim of which is to impose austerity policies on any member state found not to be pursuing the destruction of the welfare state, or cutting wages, with sufficient enthusiasm.
In July the same body approved by a large majority the mandate for the negotiations between the member states and the European Commission on the 2013 EU budget. While, following the diktat from Brussels, almost all member states have adopted draconian austerity policies, the European Parliament wants to see the EU’s own budget increased by 6.8%.
This is almost 7 cents to the euro or dollar, 7p in every pound, and far in excess of inflation.
Moreover, there is in reality huge scope for reducing the EU budget, and not by means of anything resembling ‘austerity’. Left Euro-MP Dennis de Jong, from the Netherlands, has made a study of how such economies might be achieved and suggests, firstly, that the number of EU agencies be cut. These are bodies, scattered throughout the member states, which advise the EU authorities on the basis of research which they conduct. Occasionally they do some useful work, but they also waste huge sums of money, which isn’t surprising when you know how poorly monitored their spending is.
Moreover, the number of these agencies has grown out of all proportion to any usefulness they may have, from seventeen in 2000 to forty two just twelve years later. More money could be saved by holding all EP meetings in Brussels, instead of moving the whole institution, lock, stock, members and staff, down to Strasbourg once a month.
The European Parliament’s belief that everyone apart from itself should cut spending, a belief shared by all EU institutions, reflects a culture in which officials can work assiduously to force member states to erode their citizens’ pensions while zealously guarding their own ludicrously generous scheme. The cheapest meals, coffee and beer in Brussels are to be had in the EP’s various bars and restaurants, while outside in Leopold Park homeless people shelter under home-made tents and beg from passers-by. In a broader context, it reflects the absence of any mechanism via which the population of the twenty-seven member states can exert democratic pressure on the EU.
On a still broader level, it provides examples of the way in which political leaders have gone beyond routinely lying to enter a Wonderland where words no longer have any meaning; or in which they appear to believe, as Humpty-Dumpty says in Carroll’s other great work, Through the Looking Glass, that ‘When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean, neither more nor less’.
Take the question of fiscal responsibility. Probably if you have better things to do than follow these things in detail, you will be under the impression that Spain, which has come under the combined cosh of the European Central Bank, the European Commission and Chancellor Merkel, is a byword for heedless extravagance. In fact it had a much better record of managing its debt than did Germany, until its economy was derailed by the combination of a housing bubble and an inability – due to the Mad Hatter’s currency, the euro – to devalue to compensate. It was then forced by EU diktat to bail out its privately-owned financial institutions, thus making a mountain of private debt into an Alpine range of sovereign debt. The EU then forced Spain to cut public spending in an attempt to reduce this debt.
This might be compared to paying off your personal debts by selling your car. Could be a good idea, certainly, but not if you have no other way of getting to work. The result is record high unemployment and a level of youth unemployment which means, in practice, that almost no-one under 25 has a job. This, in turn, affects government revenue and despite savage cuts in benefits, expenditure.
Of course, the resemblance of the EU to Lewis Carroll’s Wonderland is superficial. The strange country in which little Alice found herself was riddled with absurdities all the way through, whereas the European Union only seems that way. In reality it is a brilliantly designed weapon of class warfare.
As such, it is best described not by Lewis Carroll but by the other writers whose work I cited at the beginning of this article as a favourite.
As Marx and Engels wrote over a century and a half ago, ‘…how does the bourgeoisie get over these crises? On the one hand by enforced destruction of a mass of productive forces; on the other, by the conquest of new markets, and by the more thorough exploitation of the old ones. That is to say, by paving the way for more extensive and more destructive crises, and by diminishing the means whereby crises are prevented.’
Steve McGiffen is Spectre’s editor and has been a Marxist since 1973 and a fan of Lewis Carroll for as long as he can remember.