As nationalisms rise across Europe, it becomes increasingly clear that the continent’s socialists must either grasp the nettle that is the EU or weed it out completely.
The EU was created as the logical extension of capitalist imperialism. That much is trumpeted by any definition. Imperialism, after all, is the process whereby a state integrates new territories into its economy, in addition to its political and social orbit. And the EU fits this bill. An EU country may have similar levels of trade with two states – EU & non-EU respectively, but that EU state has a political and social obligation to the larger EU.
In theory, the EU is a buttress against inter-continental wars. In practise, the EU is an alliance between the imperial powers of Europe to secure their political and economic interests.
There are two strategies by which the EU achieves this.
Firstly, the union provides an opportunity for dominant member states to exploit the labour, resources, and markets of weaker member states. Resources are extracted at a fraction of the price by those nations best equipped to do so, e.g. Germany, etc., products are produced in these countries and the finished commodities are sold back to member states.
Ireland buying zinc tablets and fish fingers from Germany is an example of this.
Germany is the largest trade partner – in terms of import and export – of most EU countries, with the exceptions of the Baltic countries, Spain, Portugal, and Ireland.
Secondly, the EU as a bloc competes against the US, China, Russia/CIS and increasingly India. The function of the bloc is to maintain control over former colonies. Here we find a strange juxtaposition between Germany, who maintains internal dominance, and member states, i.e. France, Spain, Italy, Portugal, Belgium, and the Netherlands who continue their imperialism through the clout afforded by EU membership.
Migration in the EU is a massive issue, to overlook this is to overlook the imperialism practised within the EU. Self-sufficient industry is concentrated in those nations (generally, former imperial powers) with existing infrastructure, while countries lacking the same industry, often former dictatorships or dismantled socialist countries, rack up enormous debt, perpetually depriving themselves of the opportunity to be independent.
Hence the countries of the Eastern Bloc and PIIGS (Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece, and Spain) either struggle with severe poverty, become tax havens, or both. This dynamic has two results for migration: brain drain for poorer countries and increases in the reserve labour army/ decreases in wages in richer countries. Both of these benefit individual capitalist businesses but not the working class.
Nationalist movements seek to leave the EU to end this movement of people but this will not stop the root cause of migration: imperialism.
Member states are stripped of economic sovereignty as they are unable to regulate against the excesses of capitalism within the EU. “The union ensures free movement of persons, services, goods, and capital”. Therefore, the union itself stands to protect the rights of monopolies, banks, and dominant nations to accumulate “persons, services, goods, and capital” from weaker member states.
One of the self-purported aims of the EU is the integration of all European countries. Currently, the EU is in a transitional period wherein the current crises of Brexit and Covid-19 have stifled “European integration”. However, these issues are not the real complications within European federalism. European integration has, rather, been consistently undermined by a fractured bourgeoisie, vying for more power within the German-led empire.
The bourgeoisie of Hungary and Poland seek to encourage class corroboration through their nationalist movements in order to expand their economic and political power. These countries have had nationalist governments for years but have made no move to leave the EU.
Just as with the Duma in Tsarist Russia, the European parliament is a sham. All decisions are made by royal decree from an unelected European Commission, similar to the House of Lords in 1688. Various member states have conceded the democratic rights of their citizens away to the EU to allow this Commission to rule. In Ireland, these forced concessions were more notable by the running of repeated referenda to gain the desired result.
It is imperative that the labour movement once again struggles to regain national sovereignty. Here the question arises, how will nations secure their rights?
The democratisation of the European Union is the solution to the national question. The future lies in the supranation. Looking abroad, Caricom, CIS, and East Africa have all followed the EU in an attempt to build a project that supersedes the nation. China and India can be seen as the first projects to manage a billion citizens. Marxists must recognise this direction. 200 nations may become 20 states in a matter of decades.
Leaving the EU is a prerequisite for socialism. States must restore their sovereignty in order to turn to socialism. However, within the EU there has already been a reaction against attempts to secede. The Greeks tried to leave but were crushed through the European bank. Rightly or wrongly, Britons voted to exit. The EU is now attempting to exploit the territorial gap between the United Kingdom, with no regard for Northern Ireland. (As an aside, the UK has also shown little or no regard for Northern Ireland).
The United Kingdom’s leaving of the EU was a bourgeois revolt against the empire. While the UK gained its sovereignty, that sovereignty is now held by the most rancor bourgeoisie who have nothing but contempt for the working class. On the other hand, the Scottish bourgeoisie now have an opportunity to gain “independence” and rejoin the EU, acting as a colonial viceroy of EU policy.
As we have witnessed, any attempt to leave the EU will be met with swift, decisive action and any such departure – not led by socialists – will lead to more division, as the bourgeoisie seek to redraw territory to their interests.
Leaving the EU to avoid being crushed by the EU or being subsumed into bourgeois nationalist causes requires some creative thinking. We need a united European approach: a united European Communist Party whose aim is to create a European Socialist Republic.
Support for a European Socialist Republic should be the broader aim of any socialist within Europe for two reasons. Firstly, the EU is ultimately an institution which safeguards the rights of capitalists and which oppresses workers. Naturally, socialists want a socialist republic and replacing a capitalist institution with a socialist institution is a self-evident aim.
Secondly, nations who wish to secede and set upon their own path would be free to do so.
For example, if the Balkans wish to pursue an independent course, in accordance with their unique history, territory, and economic needs, they would be free to do so. As Marxists we must respect their right to self-determination.
Some may be concerned that a united European Republic would diminish our respective regional cultures. It may be feared that the minority populations, e.g. Irish, Portuguese, Greeks, Lithuanians, Latvians, Estonians, will be oppressed by the national majorities French, Germans, and Italians. Wouldn’t a federation be better? But is that not what we have already? Is that not what’s causing the problems.? The answer to this fear has already been proposed: democracy.
It is the current EU that desires to bind different nationalities and ethnicities into a federation.
The rise of nationalism is a rejection of unity. But unity for whom? The Lords in the European Commission? No working man of sound mind would accept this lack of accountability and transparency. People don’t reject dictates from Brussels because they fear their regional language or cuisine is under existential threat. People reject Brussels because they want a return of suffrage; because we no longer have a say in our lives.
Nationalism, in a poetic way, is an offer of unity. Even if this unity, ultimately, is a sham that demands the working class will better serve the aims of the bourgeoisie. Nevertheless, the promise to restore sovereignty for those bound by a very simplified history is appealing. Such claims, however, lean on dubious definitions of what makes a people a nation.
Questions of national culture are often fruitless. The intangible quality to what defines a nation is not only subjective but ever-changing. There was no magical feeling of Germanness for the people of Alsace-Lorraine in 1871 nor was there a French feeling in 1921.
The EU is quite content with federalism as a means of extracting labour and capital from peripheral countries. It is the nationalists that use culture to advocate for a separation from the EU. They wish to restore sovereignty.
The EU is perfectly happy if the workers of Catalonia and Scotland believe they have more in common with the bourgeoisie in Barcelona or Glasgow than the workers in Madrid or Liverpool. The EU doesn’t care how those workers fill out their census form or the language that they speak so long as they pay tribute to the federation.
We socialists, need a story like the nationalists. Our message of sovereignty and socialism should be paired with something people can actually rally behind instead of some artificial construct.
To unite locally, the workers of all nationalities of Europe into single, integral collective bodies, to unite these collective bodies into a single party – such is the task faced by socialism.
It goes without saying that a party structure of this kind does not preclude, but on the contrary presumes, wide autonomy for the regions within the single integral party.
The Workers Party of Belgium have demonstrated the success of this approach. If the historically divided Flemish and Walloon communities can come together behind a united Belgian party, and successfully put a communist party in opposition in that local parliament, then such an approach must be taken elsewhere.
A European Communist Party must run for elections in the anti-democratic bourgeois European Parliament but must also organise united actions across Europe.
A strike in Greece must be a strike in Ireland; a protest at a NATO base in Napoli must be a protest in Oslo. The divided and fractured communist parties across Europe need a project bigger than themselves.The success of the USSR happened because the entire Russian empire was transformed into a single unitary socialist state, not twenty nations to be picked off by imperialist aggressors. The EU has bound our nations together under its jack boot. This unity must be subverted and utilised against the bourgeoisie. Unity, not nationalism, is the key.