We are in an exceptional moment in history – a crisis of civilisation, a historic clash between the dominant and globalised capitalist system that has entered into a lasting crisis and the many-sided growth of a new world in which the forces for cooperation and mutuality are seeking to prevail over the principles of competitiveness.
Europe has entered into a spiral of recession and social regression which is resulting in a strong popular movement of protest, deep political crises in those countries where violent and devastating austerity remedies have been carried out as well as an intensification of competitiveness within the dominant class at the European level. Some are calling for federalism to move forward to a centralisation of decisions at a European level while others, like David Cameron, are increasingly distancing themselves from the project of union to return to the concept of the ‘great European market’. In any case, Europe today is no longer what it was before the crisis and no status quo is possible.
The neoliberal framework for building Europe is shared by the right, the social democrats, the greens and the centrists. Now that this model is in crisis, along with the consensual application of austerity policies by all these forces, Europe is plunging into a very serious democratic and political crisis. These policy choices have been fundamentally called into question by the populations in election after election, mobilisation after mobilisation. We are in a period of great instability in which any political force that carries out austerity policies pays a penalty at the next election – or else (more rarely) is forced to resign in the face of popular pressure. One way or another these sanctions lead to very uneven political results.
The populations are sending out clear warning signals, even if expressed in diverse ways. Everywhere anti-political populist and sometimes racist and xenophobic trends, nationalist or right-wing regionalist parties and even openly Nazi ones (as in Greece with Golden Dawn) are benefitting from people’s anger and despair. These are worrying developments.
However, some powerful struggles and political breakthroughs are emerging from this crisis, like the Left Front in France, Izquierda Unida in Spain or Syriza in Greece, whose impacts and developments are interconnected. Converging struggles, political rapprochement and new processes are emerging, which deserve our attention. Resistance has developed to a considerable extent in some European countries, and we can see some interesting attempts at coordinating these struggles at the European level. Today, well beyond the electoral influence of each of our parties, tens of thousands of people are hoping to find answers to their aspirations and opportunities for intervention in the political debate – trade-union and political forces, social and citizens movements, wage earners and youth, intellectuals, active members of community associations, artists and ecologists.
We have a great responsibility. Without alternatives for progress – without the emergence of a radically new vision of a Europe that could unite the populations in solidarity, cooperation and democracy, that is endowed with the means of freeing itself from the financial markets and intent on acting to change the rules imposed by globalised capitalism – anything is possible, including the worst.
This is why we are confronting these dangers with the ambition of a real project of refounding a Europe that would move towards humanity and solidarity. We are launching extensive discussions in the heart of our societies to outline the transformations needed and the major lines of the new construction adapted to this project. To do this, there is one imperative condition that only we can meet – that all the progressive forces in Europe which aspire to change, combine their efforts in a concrete, permanent and systematic manner.
This is the meaning we give to the building of the Front de Gauche in France. In Europe, the objective we are setting for our cooperation is that of working on these proposals and opening the necessary political areas for sharing and participation by the greatest possible number. This is how we aim to make this alternative a majority one. In short we aim to be the tools of a common and alternative policy of construction, in France and in Europe.
Following the fall of the Berlin wall and the rapid development of neoliberal hegemony, the expression so dear to Margaret Thatcher, as it is to José-Manuel Barroso, was ‘There is no alternative’ (TINA). This was strongly echoed in all our European countries. TINA, moreover, continues to be the most widely used formula to justify austerity cures, budget choices and to discipline some of us who want to repair the damage done by the irresponsibility of others. However, the crisis, the bank scandals and the social consequences of the bailout mechanisms as well as their total economic inefficiency, have made a dent in the triumph of capitalism. The resistance that is developing, especially in southern Europe, shows the revolt of European citizens against this model and, as a consequence, has opened up the hope of an alternative. Thus, our responsibility, as left organisations, is to deliver the coup de grâce to TINA and make this alternative credible.
Today resistance to austerity policies (budget cuts, privatisation of public services, increasing indirect taxes and the price of fuel and power) and flexibilisation of the labour market (lowering minimum wages, making employment contracts more precarious) – both of which are supposed to reduce the deficits, the so-called sovereign debts, and solve the unemployment problem – is crystallising. We must point out the real consequences of these policies: The Eurozone has now entered a lasting period of recession and unemployment is mushrooming everywhere. We must make clear what these measures are for: to preserve the interests of finance and the employers. We have seen this logic being brutally applied in Cyprus, bypassing parliament and directly attacking citizens’ bank accounts, while voices are increasingly being raised to say that the path established by the European powers is madness.
Thus the alternative starts from a simple position: serving the people instead of the financiers. In the Front de Gauche (Left Front, or FdG) we have called this ‘people first’. Starting from there, at least two points have to be treated in more detail: What development model do we want? How do we achieve it?
To those who claim they can solve the unemployment problem by increasing job insecurity for wage earners and the problem of deficits by applying austerity we reply: The real solution is to produce in Europe and produce in alternative ways by organising the ecological and social transition of our production models. The immensity of the wealth unleashed by the information revolution together with the phenomenal acceleration of knowledge and science could enable us considerably to reduce working hours, to lighten the burden and discomfort of labour while enriching its content. This could provide more free time for everyone throughout their lives so as to train, cultivate and develop their capacities, their creativity and participation in satisfying social activities outside work. It would enable the reduction of inequalities, develop kinds of production to meet the immense needs of humanity for food, healthcare and energy, etc. as well as build real systems of job security and training, thus ensuring the permanent expansion of public services, education, housing, research, culture, transport and the protection of the environment.
This radical change of course implies discovering new forms of social appropriation along with new powers for wage earners, which would allow them to act on all the strategic choices of their firms and to envisage the public taking over most strategic sectors (steel and energy production, etc.). It also implies that banks and currency again become common goods serving the general interest. The urgency in countries most exposed to public debt is to cancel the greater part of them, to cancel or reschedule repayment as a preliminary to restore growth. The political battle for changing the status and missions of the European Central Bank is fundamental. The ECB was designed to protect the financial markets as their armed wing. The idea was to make the Eurozone an attractive area for financial activity, and it continues to serve financial rents. Nothing prevents it from being transformed or from re-inventing its power to create money so as to make the Eurozone a solidarity zone. This was the idea behind the European citizens’ initiative that the EL campaigned for: to collect a million signatures to create a European public bank, exclusively dedicated to financing social development and ecological transition. This initiative was blocked by the European Commission, which refused to record it.
This brings me to a second idea: The alternative is also a rebirth of democracy at all levels. Let us assess the impact of the Budget Pact, drawn up by Nicolas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel and rapidly adopted under pressure by all the countries of the Eurozone in 2012. It is the power of every European country, of every national parliament, to define its revenues and expenditures, in other words to redistribute national wealth, which has just been removed and transferred to the European Commission (a technocratic entity whose composition is not determined by universal suffrage) and to the little national troikas composed of experts who decide the measures to be taken for ensuring financial balance. For these ‘automatic correction mechanisms’ to make decisions instead of national parliaments, all that is required is for the growth forecasts to be revised downwards. The Spanish indignados were certainly right in demanding ‘real democracy’. The question of popular sovereignty is a crucial issue for the future of Europe. In the face of the seizure of power (and even, in some countries, the repression of any form or criticism) we want instead to strengthen the role of elected institutions and encourage the involvement of citizens in political decision-making.
I am convinced that these concerns are increasingly shared in our societies, far beyond our ‘traditional’ spheres of influence. The last series of elections in France and the response that the FdG was able to get are good illustrations.
We have accepted the challenge of a very open front, a citizens’ movement capable of creating popular political dynamisms that consciously and sustainably carry forward the objectives of change. We have not succeeded in everything, but we have reason to think that a majority, or in any case a very large part of our people, could start moving politically and try to extricate the left from this spiral of failure. In four years the FdG has already reshuffled the cards in France in a left direction.
Everything confirms the need to change our country’s trajectory, and everything shows that the government and President of the Republic do not, for the moment, see this need. The weakness of the President’s programme has compelled us to decide on non-participation in the government. Today, its social liberal direction not only confirms the rightness of our decision but pushes us to mobilise still more strongly. Our approach is to support what can be seen as a step forward for our people – and to reject whatever is aligned with the disastrous principles of austerity and competitiveness. We always and in all circumstances put forward positive proposals.
We are not waiting for 2017, nor are we betting on the government’s failure, since we know that the danger of the right’s return to power is ever present – as is that of increased of votes for the National Front, fed by despair. Developing broad and convergent social mobilisations will be necessary for inverting the relation of forces, pushing back the liberals and the financial markets and to trying to force the government to take all the indispensable measures it has so far refused to take. We are supporting the mobilisations and we are helping them while respecting the autonomy of each of them. The social movement also carries a political dimension. The FdG is working to ensure that its proposals for action are complementary with those emerging from the struggles. It will have to see to it that unified frameworks, fronts and alliances adapted to the times and the challenges are created. Beyond the millions of electors who voted for the FdG and who can today see the correctness of its analyses, there are millions of others who have not yet done so and have only looked at the FdG from a distance without going any further, and who, at the moment, are wondering how to act to get the changes they want.
This is why we have launched a campaign ‘The Alternative to Austerity is Possible’ with the ambition of ‘working for immediate solutions to the crisis and building an alternative policy and majority’. We already know that convergences are possible with some sectors, some Socialist and Green activists and leaders and, more broadly, with all those who hope for change. In this search for convergence and common action we are therefore strongly calling on trade union and community activists.
Our national activity is inseparable from its European and international dimensions. As we create fronts of struggle for change we must unceasingly bear its multiple dimensions in mind – national, European and international. To thwart divisive strategies that aim at undermining the rights of all European populations, the cooperation that we maintain between progressive forces will be decisive. I think that we must move towards an internationalism of networks that are operational and politically useful in our real social life.
I have wanted to stress the responsibilities of the left in a crisis-riven Europe. I am convinced that linking our national and European struggles and proposals is crucial. This has been a reality ever since there have been European treaties, policies and a common currency. It is becoming a matter of urgency today. The austerity policies and the unconditional support European institutions give to the financial markets are based on a coordinated strategy of the wealthy elites, but also on the liberal consensus, which allies liberals and conservatives with social democrats and ecologists at a European level. If we are not up to the task of uniting left political forces and opening areas of dialogue with the social forces at the European level we will have lost an important asset in our confrontation with the markets and the supporters of the liberal consensus. I should add that there are many trade-union forces, social forces and workers who have identified the European level as relevant to their struggles – we must take that into account.
Our ambition is a refounding of the European Union, that is, the beautiful idea of a ‘Union of European peoples and nations’, which current leaders have soiled and distorted. This is indeed one of the great challenges of contemporary class struggle. ‘Building Europe’ must not mean conforming to the norm of liberal globalisation, but giving ourselves the means – economic, financial and political – of bringing to life an advanced social and cultural model and of building an increasingly horizontal democracy in which individuals not only have the right to vote but also have the power to act directly, thus influencing basic European orientations. This must include setting other rules in international relations – more equitable, more democratic and more peaceful. It is clearly not a matter of dreaming of Europe’s ‘Great Day’. Nevertheless it is time that, with our actions, those of the FdG and those of the party of the European Left (EL) – and, if possible, many beyond these – conditions be created for the forces of social transformation to go on the offensive and put effort into building a concrete alternative to the ‘Europe’ against which we are struggling on a daily basis.
The EL, of which I have been President since December 2010, will be holding its Congress in Madrid next 13 to 15 December. This still young organisation which works with due respect for differences of political culture while urging rapprochements and common action, has covered a lot of ground. The success of these initiatives shows that it is possible to open up still wider and more flexible areas, enabling work with other forces in building the alternative. We are speaking about a ‘European Front’ and will be discussing organising ‘an annual European Forum of alternatives’ at our congress.
We are not the only ones searching for areas in which to do work in common. Proof of this is the organisation of the Alter-Summit to take place in Athens from 7 to 9 June. This unprecedented initiative brought together a very wide range of social and trade union forces. It is a new construction process that the EL, in its role, supported from the start. This event can and must be an important moment for giving visibility to all those who are stepping forward and coming together for a European alternative. We have a lot to bring to this and must actively prepare for it in our countries together with those forces that are ready to participate.
Finally, the European elections will take place in 2014. This will be the moment for politicising European issues, and we must take care to turn them into a broad popular struggle. Together we must avoid the trap of the reductionist debate of choosing between Europe as it is and ‘leaving the Euro or the EU’ and instead advance our idea of refounding Europe. We must discuss the present composition of the European Parliament and convince people that another voice is needed there. I think that the conditions exist in many countries for a substantial reinforcement of our parliamentary group, the GUE/NGL, which is the only group capable of representing an alternative in the European Parliament, both in terms of its proposals and its practices.
The stranglehold of austerity and authoritarianism that is crushing the European populations must indeed be broken somewhere. Where will the crack open up? In Greece, Spain or Italy? In France? One thing is certain, it is by making our efforts converge that we will succeed in progressing on the road to social transformation.