The case of Greece, the austerity policies imposed by the Eurogroup and the fact that hardliners in the governments of Germany and other countries have been blackmailing the Greek government to implement neoliberal programmes have led to discussions about the stance of DIE LINKE (Germany’s main left-wing party) on the currency union and the European Union, as well as the idea of withdrawing from the eurozone.
By tabling a motion to his parliamentary faction, chairman Gregor Gysi is targeting clarification. Below we document:
“The time has therefore come to remind ourselves of a few things:
1. “A day will come when the only fields of battle will be markets opening up to trade and minds opening up to ideas”, predicted Victor Hugo in his opening address to the International Peace Congress in Paris in 1849. A hundred years later, following countless European wars and two world wars – for which Germany was largely to blame in both cases – the leaders of the capitalist European states knew that without interfering in the European order and taming Germany, which had been particularly belligerent up until that point, this sentence would remain obsolete. Unsurprisingly, the practical result of this realisation was not proletarian internationalism, but rather a process of European integration – strongly shaped by capitalism – against the backdrop of a confrontation between the two power blocks of east and west. A founding purpose of the European Union and its predecessors was and still is the creation of a peaceful order between its member states through the enforced equilibrium of national interests and, in particular, through the containment of Germany and its uniquely aggressive nationalism. This founding purpose has been achieved by the EU member states so far, and it is certainly not the place of the left to question it or even put it at risk – even though the EU is a capitalist structure by nature.
2. For Germany, the importance of EU membership is two-fold: on the one hand, the EU represents both a means and an end for the federal government to put its economic, political and socio-political mark on the EU and its member states, to ensure and expand its economic position of power inside and outside of the EU and to increase its political leverage on an international scale and become one of the major players on a political level. Germany’s enormous economic power is what led to its sometimes hegemonic position on the continent, and it was only when the euro was introduced that Germany achieved a status verging on that of a world power. Therefore, Germany has become the main beneficiary of a union which – allegedly – is based on solidarity. Germany’s profits in global trade have been growing for many years, even though it might simultaneously register losses in EU trade. This leads to a scenario in which within Europe, a gap is opening between the countries on the periphery and the economic powerhouse of Germany, and corresponding crises are emerging.
On the other hand, its membership in the EU and the currency union means there must be considerations and restrictions when it comes to enforcing national interests, thus preventing their direct implementation – though not the country’s hegemonic claims. As for Greece, this means that a Grexit was unenforceable because neither Greece, nor France or Italy wanted it. Anti-social and anti-European austerity policies, however, were enforceable – not because they were dictated by Germany, but because all member states are adopting the same neoliberal approach; any differences between the member states in this respect only become visible when this approach takes an extreme form – e.g. when Germany and the Eastern European states were ready to throw Greece to the wolves, but France and Italy were not willing to. The German federal government is trying to overcome this disaccord by means of treaties, increasing statutory regulations and institutionalisation and therefore shaping policies of the EU and the currency union according to its political and economic desires; at the very least, it tries to render the realisation of alternative courses of action more difficult.
3. As a whole, the EU increasingly acts towards its populations as an inscrutable, undemocratic, sometimes authoritarian and repressive, anti-social and profoundly neoliberal body with a fixation on austerity. In extreme cases, the EU does not shy away from pushing certain demographic groups and member states to the brink of disaster; it enables social dumping and destroys the welfare state. However, it continues to boast an apparent attractiveness – both for EU and non-EU citizens alike – which does not correspond to its social and political character. This is made clear by the numerous countries expressing their wish to join the EU or sign association agreements, by people harbouring desires to migrate to the EU, refugee movements etc. on the one hand, and an underdeveloped and barely noticeable internal opposition on the other hand (except for nationalist-chauvinist EU bashing).
Externally, the EU sets an economically expansive and aggressive course, often showing political indifference, but eventually always follows suit with the US; it is increasingly active on a military level (however it is still far away from the level of aggression level shown by the US or Russia, though it is clearly more active than China).
Certainly, considering that the current state of this imperialist construct seems socially and politically destructive and resistant to progressive changes and that – considering the EU’s power, institutionalisations and legal disposition – any hopes for potential reforms of the EU in an emancipatory sense seem absurd, one could be forgiven for entertaining thoughts of just quitting and simply exiting the EU. But what would this entail?
Assuming Germany withdrew from the currency union and the EU, this would not mean a withdrawal from capitalism, which – incidentally – is impossible. In order to achieve this, societies must be transformed. A number of questions would arise, however, concerning a still-capitalist but non-European Germany:
- Would it be more democratic?
- Would it be more social?
- Would it be less neoliberal?
- Would it be more ecological?
- Would it be less nationalist?
- Would less refugee accommodation burn down?
- Would it in fact be more internationalist? (E.g. would it grant Greece significant debt reductions?)
Questions such as these must be answered. The answer: none of the above would be the case. Quite the contrary, in fact. A deterioration of the status quo in each of these areas could be expected. The question about the conditions for left-wing politics still remains. Would they improve if Germany exited the currency union and the EU? Right now, we have no reason to believe so. In a best-case scenario, capitalism would remain the same, as would governmental policy, political parties and power relations within society. In a less favourable, but nonetheless more probable scenario, a renaissance of notorious German nationalism on a mass scale may be expected. Looking back at history, the German population has tended to favour potential right-wing and fascist solutions over others in moments of crisis, while rulers have opted for repressive and dictatorial action. There is no evidence that would indicate a different outcome in the event of a German exit from the EU. Furthermore, Germany would no longer be able to enjoy the protection of the European courts; no individual EU commissars would be able to issue reminders to the German federal government. The current reaction of a significant number of German citizens to the German refugee policy – which can hardly be branded as progressive –provides just a vague idea of the circumstances we would be facing in an unfettered Germany.
Hence, the conditions for left-wing politics would most likely deteriorate significantly especially as – and this should not be underestimated – contemplations regarding a potential withdrawal from the EU are popular among economic liberals and nationalists. Within the left in Europe – apart from maybe a few very marginalised sectarian movements – there have been no efforts to exit or crush the EU or the currency union, which are both met with an underwhelming response by the general public. Withdrawal and the disintegration of the EU or the currency union have largely and long since been a goal of the extreme right in Europe. With this in mind, the left in Germany should really leave this idea alone, as it would be entirely illusory, overly self-confident and ultimately highly dangerous to attempt a left-wing project targeting this kind of ideas.
A disintegration of the EU would currently mean regressing to the European organisation of nation states in the 19th and early 20th century which – with all its predictable consequences in terms of peace, prosperity, social security and politics – would represent a large step backwards that the left must not entertain.
Tasks for the left
Instead of fighting for Germany’s withdrawal from the currency union and/or the EU and therefore risking immense social costs and massive migratory movements, as well as achieving a boost for nationalist parties and what would probably be a deep Europe-wide recession (not only with disastrous social consequences, but eventually even leading to increased conflicts between the European countries), it is the task of the left-wing forces in Europe to win over majorities in order to achieve a change in EU politics – similarly to what has only been the case in Greece up until now.
In 1998, we heavily criticised the introduction of the euro because, although it was launched in greatly differing economies, no common standards for social services or taxes were introduced. The process of integrating a continent on the basis of a currency alone can only lead to a crisis, merely because the cheapest and lowest standards will eventually prevail. This was one of the reasons for implementing Agenda 2010 (a series of reforms implemented between 2003-05 by the coalition of Social Democrats and Greens to reform the welfare state and labour relations) in Germany. The euro has, however, contributed more to the division of Europe than to its integration, just as we feared. Returning to the previous national currencies would, however, not only be perceived as a step backwards in the integration process, but also carry devastating consequences. In most countries, the former currency would not be worth much, which would lead to an increase in poverty, but would facilitate exports while largely preventing imports. The Deutsche Mark, on the contrary, would be very valuable, which would lead to the increased value of people’s savings; however, it would increase the prices of exports to such a high level that exports would basically collapse. Countless insolvencies and mass unemployment would follow. Germany’s economic and political hegemony in Europe, however, could be expected to remain the same.
The left in Europe needs to finally stand together for all to see and to not disintegrate! We cannot simply shy away from our responsibility; instead, we must promote change. This struggle will involve combatting neoliberal hardliners in the governments of all member states and in Germany, finally coordinating common campaigns and actions on a Europe-wide level, significantly intensifying EU-wide cooperation within the left movement and thus creating a European (counter) public. Common goals and subjects of such campaigns could and should be:
- democratising the EU; the only democratically-elected EU body – the European Parliament – must be equipped with full parliamentary rights;
- admitting European referenda (in which they vote on the legal basis of treaties);
- raising social questions on a European level;
- practically supporting international solidarity; and
- promoting a different political course - an eco-social “Marshall Plan” for a Europe that can achieve full employment, the development of public infrastructures and democratic participation rights.
In implementing this, it will be necessary not only to form alliances with other anti-capitalist groups, but also to cooperate with the social democrats, the Greens and trade unions, in order to define common goals and possibilities for taking action – thus uniting as many citizens as possible to work towards a new concept for Europe – and in order to make reforms for European structures which are long overdue. The ongoing campaign against TTIP provides a potential example in this context. A reorganisation of solidarity within the European Parliament, the European Left as well as extra-parliamentary movements will be indispensable.
In conclusion, let us cast a glance back at the founding manifesto of the European Left:
“For us, Europe represents a place in international politics for the re-emergence of the fight for a different society. Its goals are peace and the transformation of the current capitalist system. […] For this reason, the European Union and even the entire European continent […] are becoming an increasingly important place for alternative politics.”
Our electoral programme conforms to this statement. It also contains no mention whatsoever of a withdrawal from the EU and the currency union, or the disintegration of either. It states very much the contrary:
“DIE LINKE stands for a new beginning in the European Union. Together with other political parties of the left, DIE LINKE stands for a policy change in Europe: for a different and better EU. […] Even though the European currency union contains severe structural defects, DIE LINKE does not advocate a withdrawal from the euro. […] The answer of the left in Europe to the European crisis must therefore be a joint resistance which extends beyond international borders – to achieve higher wages, increased social standards and workers’ rights. […] The European Union must be redesigned and become a truly democratic, social, ecological and peaceful union.”
This must be our aim as we go forward.”
Motion, version no 1, 3 September 2015