Dead Men Left

Friday, June 03, 2005

Doom and gloom: assessing the Left after the French vote

Hold That Thought returns to the fray, rallying the left in defence of neoliberalism and Peter Mandelson with "four fallacies" the "FU Left" is "hanging its hopes on":

1. The constitution was anti-democratic, neo-liberal and militaristic.

...Of course the constitution isn't against the free market, but seriously what exactly does the Left want? A push back to a pre-EU market situation? The Left continually overlooks the fact that the constitution would have added, not subtracted, a political dimension to a democratic European politics. That means another avenue to redress the excesses of the free-market, both at home and abroad.

What the Left does not want - is hardwired neoliberalism. We absolutely do not want a constitution that says (as do clauses III-69, 70, 77, 144 and 180) the EU must act "in conformity with the respect for the principles of an open economic market where competition is free." This is a direct attack on the ability of any future government in the EU, never mind the EU itself, to - for example - tax environmentally-sensitive activities, never mind wider economic reforms, and never mind whatever democratic mandate a government may hold.

Andrew claims the constitution would a "political dimension to a democratic European politics". The proposed constitution specifically undermines EU democracy on certain key areas, relating to - you guessed it - the activities of the free market and corporations. Article III-63 demands unanimous voting for measures that might run against corporate interests as "necessary for the functioning of the internal market and to avoid distortion of competition." Article III-17, whilst recognising the need for public services, claims they tend to distort "the conditions of competition in the internal market" and commits signatories to their elimination.

I cannot see why a "political dimension" can only be provided on these desperately constrained terms. If we have an EU constitution, why must it demand the free market? To repeat: the constitution is a direct assualt on democracy within the EU, in favour of rule through the judiciary and corporate interests. Avenues to "redress the excesses of the free-market" are explicitly curtailed by the constitution - and, as clause III-17 makes clear, the expectation is that previous "redressings" will be progressively removed. (A comparison with a similar clauses in the General Agreement on Trade in Services [PDF] is instructive.)

2. Europe vs. the United States

Perhaps the strangest argument I've read is that calls for a stronger Europe to counter the U.S. on the international stage is some kind of throw-back to its colonialist past. Or that an argument for a balancing out of geo-political power relations is somehow offensive to the political opposition within the United States! Great - so let's not empower the anti-war sentiments of most Europeans, and instead all just pray that future American administrations won't abuse their power. This idea totally contradicts some of the better motivations of the Left. Bizarre.

Curiously enough, the call for a mighty Europe to challenge the US is a "throw-back to its colonialist past". Why should a strengthened European bloc necessarily behave any better than a strong US? Why should the US always behave worse? Because, hey, we're the nice guys with the art and the cathedrals and shit and they're dumb cowboys? Belgium, France, Holland, Germany, Britain: the past records of European states in confronting the rest of the world speak for themselves. The idea that combining and strengthening this murderous gang will help the causes of peace and progress is historically illiterate. The "European ideal" and the privileging of "European culture" has always been a mask for barbarism.

Dealing with the immediate state of affairs: see how quickly the EU countries opposing the invasion of Iraq fell over themselves to recognise its occupation government. See how diligently grossly unfair trade practices are maintained with Africa. See how the constitution itself (articles I-40-1 and I-40-2) commits members states to "progressively improving their military capabilities" and reinforces the committment to NATO.

Thinking that "we" in Europe must unite - you, me, Tony Blair, Jacques Chirac, striking Italian workers, Polish farmers (but not illegal immigrants, tsk tsk) - against "them" in America, who all form a conveniently homogenous block and salute on command, is ludicrous. I have more in common with a worker in the US than I have with Blair, Schroeder and the CEO of GlaxoSmithKline. These are the lines on which progressive alliances can be made, not through absurd appeals to "our" enlightened European masters to behave nicely.

3. We can now formulate a nicer, friendlier constitution.

..."we" are those constitutionalits who have nothing to do with the EU, are anti-free markets everywhere, and busy organizing a grass roots movement to bang out a new draft before the next round of ratifications...

A popular argument amongst those of a left-liberal stripe who, on reading the draft text, became disquieted. It's less popular amongst those of us who think, as earlier comments made clear, that if our political classes want a constitution, they will have to come up with one less given over to the joys of private competition. Wish them luck.

4. The "no" vote is a victory for the Left.

The Left is now weaker than ever. It remains localized while the market together with its right-wing agenda spans national boundaries; even locally, the Left's ideology is increasingly marginalized on the level of national politics (and the Left is the first to point this out); European governments are increasingly powerless to resist the destructive forces of international commerce even if they wanted to; U.S. power internationally remains unchecked; and the Left's best chance of renewing itself on the inter-European stage has just been passed up. The future is looking pretty bleak.

Again, the pessimism drips from the screen. Give up, comrades; our only hope is - god help us - Jacques Chirac. I don't want to sound picky, but the Left is self-evidently pulling together internationally: the unprecedentedly large international mobilisations against the invasion of Iraq are one aspect of this, the huge gatherings of the Social Forum movement are another. Meanwhile, US power is increasingly constrained, unable to assert itself in Iraq, unable to deal with North Korea as it would wish, and even unable to prevent a popular left-wing President in its own backyard cocking repeated snooks. In Europe, a clear left pole is developing in opposition to a neoliberal consensus. The victory that it has pulled off in France was a stunning end to what must have been one of the best Mays for the left, internationally, since the glorious '68.