Brexit is no victory, as much as it may upset EU elites

Despina Biri

In the aftermath of the British referendum, we asked friends of AnalyzeGreece with links to the UK what they thought of the result. We will be publishing short interviews with them over the coming days. First up, it's Despina Biri, from AnalyzeGreece editorial board, who studied and worked in London between 2003-2015, and who continues to have very strong ties to the UK.
ANALYZEGREECE!
 
 
 
1. What is your assessment of the referendum result and its immediate aftermath?
 
Quite frankly I did not expect Leave to win. This may have to do with the fact that most of my social circle in the UK is in London. Before the referendum I thought that the fractured nature of the campaign would be to the detriment of the right and far right groups in favour of Leave. Of course, exactly the opposite turned out to be the case.
 
However, I think we can quite safely conclude that the Left played a marginal role in deciding the outcome of the vote, as, quite frankly, the balance of power in UK politics is not such, at least for the moment, that would permit the adoption of a “Lexit” agenda for leaving the European Union. While it could be argued that Leave managed to harness anti-austerity sentiment among the disenfranchised, it is by now quite clear that Brexit does not mean the end to austerity in the UK. Nigel Farage’s rebuttal of the claim that Brexit would mean an extra £350m could be spent on the NHS goes to show that the Leave campaign is nowhere near advocating even a moderately progressive agenda, as if that weren't obvious enough. The UK under Cameron was not compelled to implement austerity by the EU, as is the case in Greece and elsewhere, but instead had its own agenda for creating a “minimal state” as envisioned by Thatcher and Reagan. Austerity in the UK is therefore less related to Merkel’s flavor of neoliberalism than to its London counterpart. However, Remain’s reliance on “expert opinion” during the campaign was problematic, and allowed Leave to prevail largely on the strength of right wing populism and on a reaction against the realities of inequality, hijacked by anti-immigrant discourse.
 
One important aspect of the referendum is how it is linked to the “refugee crisis”. While much of the debate in the UK centered on migration between EU states, I think Brexit may have implications for refugees currently trapped in Greece and elsewhere as well. The shameful EU-Turkey deal, and EU member states’, including the UK’s,  refusal to take in larger numbers of refugees, contributed to the xenophobic climate leading to the referendum. This effect was of course augmented by Remain’s reluctance to put forward a strong pro-immigration, pro-refugee agenda, brought on by fragmentation in the Remain camp, similarly to Leave.Therefore, the Leave vote can be interpreted as not only an anti-migration vote, but as an anti-refugee vote as well. This is regrettable, not least because the UK has been one of the instigators of the “war on terror”, and  is expected to do even less to tackle climate change, both of which will cause even more people to flee their homes in future.
 
I can only speculate what the Leave result means for UK politics, looking beyond obvious things we already know much about, such as who the next prime minister will be, and the possible eventual secession of Scotland. I do think that David Cameron’s resignation was the right thing to do, but I will be sad to see Boris Johnson, whose terrible politics I am all too familiar with as a former Londoner, as his successor. It is perhaps more interesting to see what happens to Labour, the leadership of which adopted a more cautious stance visavis the referendum, perhaps contributing to the weaker than expected Remain vote. What's certain is that things cannot and will not continue as before.
 
2. How, if at all, do you think Brexit will affect you personally?


While I have not managed to return to the UK since I left last year, my family, friendly, professional, and academic ties to the country remain strong. At this point I am therefore worried about what will happen to those close to me who live in the UK. I'm also worried about my own future, seeing as finding a job in Greece is difficult (even, or especially, for a highly qualified person such as myself), and I have considered moving back to the UK, though this will likely be more difficult after Brexit. We are already seeing reports of racist comments and bullying taking place all over the UK, and it may be some time before they subside, if indeed they do.
 
Of course, I cannot help but think about British friends and former colleagues, who I am happy to say voted overwhelmingly in favor of Remain, as did London, where I spent nearly all of my adult life until last year. At this point, I am cautiously concerned about what a Leave vote entails for EU citizens living in the UK, and for UK citizens living in the EU.
 
3. What do you think are the implications of Brexit for the European project and for the European Left?
 
I have been feeling pessimistic about the future of the EU for a very long time now. Quite simply, I believe that the European institutional framework is such that states are unable to function as democracies. The issue of EU expertise, mentioned in my answer to the first question, is a parallel but distinct issue to that of experts in UK public policy. I am therefore convinced that the disintegration of the EU into other formations –a “small Eurozone”, for example, or a “Visegrad group”, or something else entirely– is already underway (not necessarily triggered by Brexit, but by other events such as those following the Greek referendum in July 2015, compounded by the “refugee crisis”).
 
As things currently stand, I think that the Left in Europe is trapped into a cycle of trying to come up with alternatives, but has not come up with concrete proposals that would allow it to put those alternatives into practice as government. In Greece,  Syriza’s about-face bears a lot of the blame for this state of affairs, as the Left is too fragmented and sore from the defeat to recover quickly. I think the case of Greece serves as a cautionary tale for other EU members as well, in that it goes to show that changing European institutions “from within”, as Syriza tried to do, is an impossible task.
 
With reference to Brexit, I think the Left played a marginal role in the UK referendum. I therefore think that, barring significant developments in the Labour Party, the state of affairs in the European Left as a whole will not be affected much. However, I must say that I am sad to see many from the Left interpreting the referendum result as being “a blow to the establishment” when it is quite clear that it is elites who led both the Leave and Remain campaigns, and it is the worst off in the UK who will be hardest hit regardless of outcome, seeing as austerity and anti-immigrant policies will continue to be in place, perhaps with even greater force than before (the expected amendment of the Human Rights Act is a notable example, but not the only one). Therefore, I cannot see any reason to be jubilant about the Leave win, seeing as it goes completely against the Left’s permanent demand for open borders and freedom of movement, extending from the symbolic to the far reaching implications for many people who call the UK home, and who on the whole enjoyed living in a relatively tolerant (especially compared to those in other European countries) and forward thinking society, which is among the first in Europe to recognise same sex marriage, and the rights of trans people, to name but two areas in which the UK has been pioneering as regards social rights. Put simply, I can foresee a regression of these freedoms following the Leave win, because, let us not forget, racism often goes hand in hand with other forms of discrimination. Frankly, this cannot be called a victory, as much of an upset it may be for EU elites.
 
PS. Can you really cough it up loud and strong?
The immigrants, they wanna sing all night long
It could be anywhere
Most likely could be any frontier any hemisphere
In no-man’s-land
There ain't no asylum here
King Solomon he never lived ‘round here
 
(The Clash, “ Straight to Hell”, from the album Combat Rock)

Despina Biri is a researcher and writer on health care issues. She blogs at despinabiri.wordpress.com and bakterienfureureseele.wordpress.com
 
 
  • Published in EUROPE

What’s DiEM25, really? Reply to Open Letter by Souvlis & Mazzolini

by Yanis Varoufakis

Note from the LeftEast editors: this is the reply of Yanis Varoufakis to the Open Letter by George Souvlis and Samuele Mazzolini about the Democracy in Europe Movement 2015 DiEM25, which appeared earlier this week on LeftEast. Varoufakis’s reply first appeared on the personal blog of Yanis Varoufakis.

Shortly after DiEM25’s Rome launch, I received a splendid Open Letter from George Souvlis and Samuele Mazzolini. It reminded me of another such letter I had received from John Malamatinas prior to DiEM25’s Berlin launch. George and Samuele raise crucial questions about DiEM25 and our project to democratise Europe. Here comes a feeble attempt to answer them.

1. Who/what is DiEM25?

What escapes us is who DiEM 25 exactly is and who its ‘enemy’ is meant to be. More precisely, who are you fighting against?

DiEM25’s Manifesto answers as follows: We call on our fellow Europeans to join us forthwith to create the European movement which we call DiEM25

 
· To fight together, against a European establishment deeply contemptuous of democracy, to democratise the European Union
· To end the reduction of all political relations into relations of power masquerading as merely technical decisions
· To subject the EU’s bureaucracy to the will of sovereign European peoples
· To dismantle the habitual domination of corporate power over the will of citizens
· To re-politicise the rules that govern our single market and common currency

Going beyond the Manifesto, and speaking personally here, DiEM25 would have been unnecessary if:
 
· we did not have an EU founded on a cartel of oligopolistic central European industries and run by a bureaucracy on the basis of rules that were designed to ‘de-politicise’ politics and a common money (which is essential for the cartel’s price stability) – a process that leads to a class war against waged labour and small business
· this cartel-like EU had not entered (as it was inevitable it would) a process of disintegration that manifests itself through a combination of mutually reinforcing authoritarianism and deflation.

This degenerate yet incredibly powerful process and its agents (that include the EU bureaucracy and the national elites feeding it while being fed by it) is the ‘enemy’ against which DiEM25 member are banding together.

2. Is DiEM25 apolitical?

The ambiguous physiognomy of DiEM 25 is… reinforced by rendering the political affiliation of the people who will join your effort as an irrelevant criterion for their involvement as you literally said that: “We are not a coalition of political parties. The idea is that anyone can join independently of political party affiliation or ideology because democracy can be a unifying theme”… In this way, the nature of DiEM 25 runs the risk of apoliticism…

To invite members across political party affiliations is not the same as inviting them to join an apolitical movement. Political parties in EU member-states have become, like the EU, utterly… depoliticised. There are neoliberal parties implementing the largest tax-payer funded bailouts of private companies (banks!) in history. And left-wing parties implementing the worst austerity in history. This ‘anomaly’ reflects the success the EU cartel has had in de-politicising politics, which means creating a classist, toxic form of unrepresentative, anti-democratic politics.

Furthermore, DiEM25 is founded on the belief that the EU’s cartelised capitalist organisation is unique around the world and that its crumbling packs immense destructive potential (that is also unique globally). Europe’s exceptionalism is, thus, not due to the fact that Europe is great and superior (to other parts of the world, e.g. Latin America, China) but that it is so terribly structured that its inevitable fragmentation will inflict massive damage upon not only Europeans but also the rest of the world. (If, to give an example, the Latin American leftwing governments are now imploding, this has a great deal to do with the failure of Europe to get its act together after 2009, to raise investment, and thus to prevent China’s deflation which, in turn, caused the recessions in Brazil etc.)

If our analysis is correct (and I sincerely hope we are… wrong), we are at a moment in history very much like 1930: Just after the crisis (1929) and in the ‘early’ stages of a slide toward an abyss comprising deflation, xenophobia, hyper-nationalism, competitive devaluations, jingoism etc. What was the duty of progressives in 1930? It was, I suggest, to reach across party affiliations and borders to create a pan-European movement of democrats (radicals, liberals, even progressive conservatives) in opposition to the forces of evil. I very much fear that this is our duty today too.

In this broad context, DiEM25 is not in the business of becoming a confederacy of existing nation-state parties who, courtesy of the transfer of power from the nation-state to the anti-democratic EU institutions, end up with electoral programs which they have no chance of implementing once in government. Nor is it about being yet another leftwing movement that provides a home exclusively to people like myself, and possibly you (i.e. radical critics of globalised and European capitalism) but which fails to bring other opponents of the unfolding process into its ranks so that we can, together, offer meaningful resistance to the emergent misanthropy.

So, make no mistake here: DiEM25 is as political as they come. But to be political in a meaningful manner it needs to appeal across existing political party lines. DiEM25’s deeply political character/project can be seen just by perusing the four principles listed in its Manifesto:

 
· No European people can be free as long as another’s democracy is violated
· No European people can live in dignity as long as another is denied it
· No European people can hope for prosperity if another is pushed into permanent insolvency and depression
· No European people can grow without basic goods for its weakest citizens, human development, ecological balance and a determination to become fossil-fuel free in a world that changes its ways – not the planet’s climate
· Is this apolitical? Hardly? Is the call for democratisation apolitical? No way. After all, Aristotle defined democracy as “the constitution in which power rests with the free and the poor, being in the majority”. Not a project that the establishment would consider politically neutral…

3. The prospect of consensus

Moving to the European level and considering that the aims of DiEM 25 are limited to the democratic reestablishment of the structures of the EU, do you think that people with such diverse conceptions of democracy can agree on common agendas? We are very doubtful of this.

Allow me to say that the aim of democratisation can never be thought of as ‘limited’. Authentic democracy is an incredibly radical and far-reaching concept. If it is to spread to every social relation, including the workplace, democratisation becomes synonymous to a far-reaching revolution.

On the question of whether I think we can agree on a common agenda, allow me to suggest to you that we do not have the right (even if we have good reason) to be pessimistic. We both have anobligation to understand the obstacles and a duty to adopt Gramsci’s Optimism of the Spirit.

4. European or national agenda?

This leads us to yet another strategic issue: what exactly is to be done? It seems that DiEM has put all its bets on the European dimension, entirely bypassing the national one…

I can see why you may think this but I assure you it is not the case: DiEM25 is not neglecting the national, or the regional, dimension. Not in the slightest. Our view on the Europe-Nation juxtaposition is a dialectical one. We reject the standard trade-off theory (common in Brussels and amongst the EU-loyalists) according to which any democratisation of the EU requires further centralisation which, in turn, requires further loss of sovereignty at the national level. In sharp contrast, DiEM25 believes strongly that more democracy at the centre would reinvigorate the nation-state and return more sovereignty to the national parliaments.

Europe’s progressives, you and me included, must make a stark choice quickly. The truly awful EU we have is disintegrating. Are we to help speed up its disintegration, with a return to the nation-state? Or are we to try to stem this disintegration with an attempt at democratising the EU’s institutions? This is the question.

There are good arguments on both sides here. I have personally disagreed with excellent comrades from around Europe on this. But this is fine – progress demands disagreement. DiEM25’s position on the matter is clear, judging by the Manifesto’s proclamation that DiEM25 rejects both of the following options with equal fervour:
· Retreat into the cocoon of our nation-states
· Surrender to the Brussels democracy-free zone

You write: Holding both the nation-state and Europe as political horizons does not amount to entrenching oneself behind a form of backward nationalism, as many DiEM followers have suggested.

You are, of course, right – except that no DiEMer I know has said that holding on to the dialectical equivalence of the two horizons amounts to backward nationalism. What we do say is that prioritising the nation-state and calling for a retreat from Europe into its bosom is, indeed, a retrograde step.

The Manifesto explains this well:

“While the fight for democracy-from below, at the local, regional or national levels, is necessary, it is nevertheless insufficient if it is conducted without an internationalist strategy toward a pan-European coalition for democratising Europe. European democrats must come together first, forge a common agenda, and then find ways of connecting it with local communities and at the regionaland national level.”

5. Blinding ourselves to the many achievements of Latin America in the last decade or so would be crass Euro-centrism.

Just because we did not discuss Latin America in the Rome meetings that does not mean that we have ‘blinded ourselves’ to its significance. (As someone that has spent countless hours debating with Ernesto Laclau, when we coincided at Essex, I think I can safely claim not to be guilty of this accusation…)

6. Last but not least, Yanis! The issue of democracy within DiEM 25…

Is it possible, Yanis, to try to democratise something as big as the EU without previously having created solid democratic structures within your project?

No it is not! DiEM25 must practise democracy and transparency fully within its ranks before it can hope to democratise anything else, let alone… Europe.

Let me convey to you our thinking on this and the problems we are trying to overcome. Our thinking has been, as you suggested, influence heavily by the experience and know-how of the various social movements – after all most of us have been involved in them for many years. Democracy requires institution-building before we it gets to be practised properly.

DiEM25 began life when a small number of people came to the conclusion that it is time for a pan-European movement that traverses both national and political party dividing lines. We put together the Manifesto, as our defining text, by a process of toing and froing. Then we convened the Berlin and Rome launches with as broad a call to European democrats are we could muster. Thousands responded. And thus the usual problem of ‘organisation’ emerged.

We are in the process of developing, amongst our members (i.e. those who joined DiEM25 on our site), our organisational structure (or lack thereof). I am sure that you understand that this can only be work-in-progress. Indeed, if the structure had existed before the members joined, that would have been a glaring contradiction.

The basic idea is to combine coordination and spontaneous order, the physical and the digital.

On the one hand, DiEM25 will have a coordinating committee in every EU member-state, and one overarching pan-European one, that emerge through physical (e.g. ‘town hall’) meetings convened by initiators whose job it will be just to get DiEM25 members into one physical space, before representatives are elected.

On the other hand, we have already initiated our DSCs (DiEM25 Spontaneous Collectives). Here is how it works: DiEM25 members discover each other in their towns, regions etc. and spontaneously form a collective (between 7 and 15 member-strong). Then they act as a unit in any way they think appropriate to promote the Manifesto’s goals. They need not wait for approval from anyone. They have the right to represent DiEM25 (constrained only by the Manifesto’s principles) in any way they want as long as they respect three simple rules: First, they must not collect money on DiEM25’s behalf. Secondly, they cannot form pacts or associations with other organisations or parties. Thirdly, for a DSC member to put something out on behalf of DiEM25, they must have the consent of at least another three members of their own collective.

Dear George, dear Samuele,

There is so much more to say. Thank you for your critical questions and the opportunity to think harder and deeper about these crucial issues. Please consider DiEM25 to be your movement too. And if you see we are doing things wrongly, just step in and do it better!

Yanis

 

An Open letter to Yanis Varoufakis

In the following open letter, George Souvlis and Samuele Mazzolini respond to the recent DiEM launch in Rome.

Dear Yanis,

We decided to write you this letter after following closely the launch of DiEM 25 in Rome on 23 March. The missive aims to discuss a series of issues regarding your initiative that we found unconvincing by offering a well-intentioned criticism of it. We clarify at this point that our aim is neither to dismiss a priori the project nor to appear like smarty pants that know better than anyone else how things should be done, something not totally foreign within the universe of the Left. Rather, with this letter we wish to raise some questions publicly that we suspect many may have already thought about and discussed informally and that could be used as sparks for the amelioration of the initiative.

Let us start with the identity of DiEM 25. During your presentations, you repeated time and again that DiEM 25 is a ‘movement’ fighting for the democratization of Europe by attempting to change the content of the already existing structures of the European Union. However, what escapes us is who DiEM 25 exactly is and who its ‘enemy’ is meant to be. More precisely, who are you fighting against? Is the enemy the structures of the European Union? Or possibly the economic elites? Or just the Brussels’ bureaucrats? And who is DiEM? Is it something that is constituted by individuals, pre-constituted groups, or is it just a story by Yanis Varoufakis?

It may well be too early to find a definitive answer to this issue – after all certain things become clearer only as they are developed -, but the type of social movement that you are trying to build so keenly seems to carry a certain statutory uncertainty inscribed in its very foundation. Every social movement of the last decade or so has had a specific definition to the question of ‘who?’ – both in terms of who ‘we’ are and who ‘they’ are – even in cases when the movement emerged as an outcome of very complex and contradictory processes. For example, the anti-globalization movement focused its criticisms and activism against the multinational corporations that were responsible for stripping political power from States through trade agreements and deregulated financial markets. The question of identity is really a crucial one not just for abstract psychoanalytic reasons but from a strategic perspective.

The strategic dimension is central here and takes up even more prominence when considering another feature of your initiative. The ambiguous physiognomy of DiEM 25 is further reinforced by rendering the political affiliation of the people who will join your effort as an irrelevant criterion for their involvement as you literally said that: “We are not a coalition of political parties. The idea is that anyone can join independently of political party affiliation or ideology because democracy can be a unifying theme”.

We appreciate that DiEM intends to reach out beyond the restricted circles of the ‘converted’, but it should be noted that it would make little sense to belong to a conservative party (or even a social-democratic one for that matter) while adhering to DiEM concomitantly. In this way, the nature of DiEM 25 runs the risk of apoliticism, as it totally neglects the fact that the differences between the various political traditions are not limited to an abstract and harmless plane of ideas, but extend to the meanings and understandings of the democratic process as such. Let us not forget, for example, that the liberal and the aristocratic views of liberal-democracy at the beginning of the 20th century in many European countries did not include the participation of subaltern classes: their political involvement was won only through strenuous processes of struggle. In other words, the content of democracy was not something given but an issue of struggle and definition.

We consider that what is happening nowadays is in many respects similar: the destabilization of the representative institutions that the economic and political crisis brought about puts the meaning of democracy under contestation. While the political establishment considers the state of exception that has been imposed on a number of countries as democratic, the new protest movements that emerged in 2011 (Indignados in Spain, Aganaktismeni in Greece,  Occupy Wall Street in the US ) also claimed back for themselves the concept of democracy. Do they amount to the same? Do they serve similar interests? Are these two types of interpretations of democracy not contradictory?

We do not dispute that we need to disengage people from their previous political identifications and that this requires openness towards those coming from different political paths. What should be avoided, however, is a frontist strategy in disguise that fails to highlight that the democratic deficit is the fruit of the irresponsibility of those political traditions that are now so uncritically called upon. Moving to the European level and considering that the aims of DiEM 25 are limited to the democratic reestablishment of the structures of the EU, do you think that people with such diverse conceptions of democracy can agree on common agendas? We are very doubtful of this.

This leads us to yet another strategic issue: what exactly is to be done? It seems that DiEM has put all its bets on the European dimension, entirely bypassing the national one. How cogent is this move and how effective is it likely to be? Is it really necessary to delete the state from the map as a locus of progressive democratic reforms and to consider it as an outdated and old-fashioned obsession? We do not think so! We consider the radical reestablishment of democracy within the various nation-states as equally important as action at a European level. Holding both the nation-state and Europe as political horizons does not amount to entrenching oneself behind a form of backward nationalism, as many DiEM followers have suggested.

In this sense, it is particularly striking that in the argumentation you developed in Rome there prevails the utmost disregard towards other experiences of resistance towards austerity measures. In fact, if any stride towards the undoing of neoliberalism has been pursued in recent times, that has only happened in Latin America. We are aware that Latin America offers models that are now running into crisis and which have often been treated with deep suspicion by many sectors of the European Left. This should not lead us to throwing the baby out with the bath water. Blinding ourselves to the many achievements of Latin America in the last decade or so would be crass Euro-centrism.

Many lessons can in fact be learnt, as Podemos has admittedly done. One of these is the recognition that the nation-state is certainly in difficulty, but its death certificate has not been issued yet. The neutralisation of the Washington Consensus and its stabilization packages has been achieved through a reactivation of the nation-state in two different ways.

Firstly, as a locus of identification. Despite all its regional internationalism, the Latin American pink tide has been first and foremost a collection of national phenomena. Chávez’s Venezuela served as a powerful source of inspiration, but each experience manifested its own distinct particularities which have resulted in a case-by-case seizure of power, only to be followed by some inter-state convergence at a later stage (ALBA, UNASUR, CELAC). In other words, the Latin American progressive projects have demonstrated the importance of speaking the language of the nation and its people, a language of course expunged of any type of chauvinist or racist connotation. Even though the Bolivarian spirit pervaded to different degrees all these processes, it was the reference to the concrete material problems and issues pertaining to each country that made Chávez, Morales, Correa and the Kirchners popular and electorally hegemonic.

DiEM, on the contrary, seems to place too much faith on a European cosmopolitan spirit in a continent where cultural and linguistic differences are a hundred times more pronounced than in Latin America. It is a language which runs the risk of remaining unheard precisely by the people who are suffering the democratic deficit the most and to whom the initiative should be able to speak.

Secondly, the state has been turned towards the achievement of democratic goals. This was not an easy task in a context where many of the administrative functions of the state had been dismantled in the name of market equilibrium, and where its bureaucracy was so imbued with a neoliberal ethos. Nevertheless, and despite lying at the periphery of the world, the ‘re-oriented’ state has often been able to mount challenges to global capital that were deemed as inconceivable and unrealistic by the neoliberal mantra.

This does not amount to a denial of the fact that globalised financial capital puts pressures that are difficult to cope with at a national level and that many of the dilemmas that Europe is facing require large-scale efforts, as in the case of the refugees crisis. It just means that ruling out entirely the possibility for states to act upon the situation is an oversimplification, especially if Greece is taken as the sole example (other countries, Spain in primis, would have a very different bargaining power vis-à-vis the creditors). It means moreover that it is only by directing our efforts where there are realistic chances of some tangible result that any step towards the democratisation of Europe can be made.

Raising awareness at a continental level is crucial. But if left to itself, it leads sooner or later to its exhaustion. If not accompanied by the attempt to transform the institutions, the mere demand for their democratization is unlikely to produce any real change. And their transformation can only go through the nation-state, as a fully fledged European politics, capable of interpellating all citizens, does not exist yet, and given the demographic and power asymmetries, one wonders whether it is desirable that it existed in the first place.

Last but not least, Yanis! The issue of democracy within DiEM 25.

We were negatively impressed by the fact that nobody apart from you spoke on behalf of the project and that the issue of representative structures within DiEM 25 was quite ill-defined. Is it possible, Yanis, to try to democratize something as big as the EU without previously having created solid democratic structures within your project? Is it not a bit at odds with your own aims? We think that at this point you totally neglect the very recent experience of Syriza.

In our understanding, Syriza’s attempt failed terribly not only because the leadership of the party chose the wrong strategy in its negotiations with the institutions, but also because it abolished even the most elementary forms of democratic functioning within the party before and during the period of the negotiations. The party structures were incapacitated and a tiny minority – Tsipras’ group – dominated over the decision-making process. This bureaucratization of the party promoted a very distorted version of how politics should be conducted by considering that people and social movements should not have any say, as running the party is a job of the party elite. The outcome of this process is the one that we all know. We are really afraid that DiEM 25 may go along the same route if it continues to be a one-man show.

We consider the formation of truly democratic structures within the initiative as a vital necessity that will prevent a similar evolution to the one that happened within Syriza. Needless to say, this process should also have a gender balance and people should be coming from different social and cultural backgrounds. The experience and know-how of the various social movements should be a crucial component in making DiEM a more solid and democratic structure.This is the only way through which DIEM can be grounded socially and cease being an elitist leader-centered top-down forum.

Such a process will be able to guarantee the democratic accountability of DiEM as well as the marginalization of the opportunists that will attempt to use it as a vehicle of their own interests. Summing up, we believe that DiEM 25 faces the same dilemma of the EU: democratization or barbarism!

Sincerely,

George Souvlis & Samuele Mazzolini

Samuele Mazzolini is a regular columnist for the Ecuadorian daily newspaper El Telégrafo and is currently studying Ideology and Discourse Analysis at the University of Essex. He previously studied Economics and Politics at SOAS (University of London) and holds a Masters degree in Latin American Studies from the University of Oxford. He has worked as a political analyst and consultant for the Ecuadorian government. 

George Souvlis, a PhD Candidate in History at the European University Institute in Florence and a freelance writer of various progressive blogs and magazines (Jacobin, ROAR, Enthemata Avgis)

Europe's Left needs a new horizon

Now is the time to start discussing alternative political & economic unions for Europe
 
Ronan Burtenshaw

 

In my view, last Sunday's election (20.9.2015) reinforces the need for a conversation about a Europe outside the European Union.
For Popular Unity, who failed to make parliament, the equation of their project with the drachma, a return to the past and economic and political isolation was a significant liability. 
But also for SYRIZA, the clear victors in the election, this issue must be debated. Implementing an austerity memorandum in an economy already on its knees will be a difficult task, made moreso by the admission of Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos that it was “practically unimplementable”.
If problems arise, do we really believe that Schaueble's punitive Grexit option is off the table? And, if not, how will it be resisted next time? 
If the Troika objects to a parallel programme, or if the effects on the economy are more drastic than anticipated, is there to be no alternative?
Perhaps more importantly still – how can we imagine a world outside of capitalism if we cannot imagine a Europe outside of a capitalist institution?
Remaining in the euro with austerity triumphed comprehensively over break unilaterally in this election. But this binary remains a trap for both sides.
R.Β.


2015 has been a year when a decade has happened for Europe’s Left.In just a few months we have seen the election of SYRIZA, the unprecedented crisis in Fortress Europe and the election of Jeremy Corbyn as British Labour leader, not to mention the municipal victories in the Spanish state and the development of Right2Water into Ireland’s largest ever social movement. Further developments are promised in the cascade of elections to come in Europe’s periphery.

But, as we welcome the opportunities that have opened up, we should acknowledge the paths that have closed. Most prominently, the defeat of the Left government in Greece has raised serious questions about the way forward for our growing movement.

One of the fulcrum points for this debate is the European Union, which was so important in determining the prospects of SYRIZA. Europe’s Left has been divided on this question for some time – the majority faction saw the EU as a site of struggle which could be won and turned to progressive ends, the minority saw membership of it as an insurmountable obstacle to anti-neoliberal strategy. Both camps had valid bases for their position. The majority, which includes the leadership of most of Europe’s radical Left parties, argued that globalised capitalism could not be effectively challenged by a nation state. The minority argued that the European Union was irredeemably pro-capitalist.

In the end, the Troika used these two poles as a binary to entrap the Greek government. We now know that the price for remaining in the European Union and euro is accepting austerity and post-democracy. But the only alternative proposal has been unilateral exit and facing international capital alone. The Greek people, finding neither option attractive, are likely to punish the Left in the forthcoming elections.

But this binary – false internationalism or a return to the nation state as the only paths out of neoliberalism – is not only a problem for Greece. In the other states of the European periphery such as Ireland and Spain it places severe limitations on the prospects of growing left-wing movements. In Britain, with the new possibilities of a Corbyn Labour party, it creates a hugely problematic dynamic for the upcoming EU referendum, offering ideal ground for a narrow debate between the nationalist right and cosmopolitan neoliberals.

There is an urgent need for Europe’s Left to break this binary and construct a new horizon that seeks to transcend the limitations of the European Union and the nation state. 

For this, we need a debate about alternative economic and political unions.

The Limitations of the European Union
A conversation about a new kind of political and economic union for Europe can begin in the limitations of the EU. Much of the commentary about these limitations in 2015 has focused on the EU’s most important institution, the euro. One of the most right-wing currencies ever designed, coming as it did at the height of capitalist triumphalism, the euro’s flaws are well known by now. The lack of a lender of last resort, the ECB’s focus on inflation to the exclusion of unemployment, the artificially low value which allowed the German export economy to hollow out the eurozone.

But the limitations of the European Union do not begin and end with the monetary union. Nor are they simply a question of balance of forces in Europe at a particular moment. The EU structure itself is a barrier to progress for our movements. From its inception its economic integration has followed pro-market lines, most prominently enshrined in the Maastricht Treaty’s guarantees on the free movement of capital. Its political institutions are, as political scientist Peter Mair wrote in Ruling the Void, designed to “insulate decision-making” from popular participation. Its core-peripheral divide, which has deepened since the crisis of 2008, offers little hope for development or social justice not only in the PIIGS states but in the ‘other periphery’ of Europe’s east.

Eurofederalist ideology has also proven itself an obstacle to progressive change. Once conceptualised by much of Europe’s Left as a stepping stone to internationalism, this summer it has collapsed into an ideology that can justify northern European nationalism in the name of EU institutions and be picked up as a tool to harden the line of demarcation between Europe and the rest of the world as refugees drown in the Mediterranean.

The Nation State Dead End
Those pursuing an alternative to the European Union, most notably recently in Greece with SYRIZA’s Left Platform, now known as Popular Unity, have tended to focus on a left-wing programme within the nation state.

As its proponents admit, such a strategy would mean a rapid acceleration of class struggle. In the Greek context it would mean the nationalisation of the banking system, the institution of a command economy in key sectors like agriculture, and large-scale expropriation of capitalists. Even if this was carried out successfully it’s likely that there would be a prolonged period of rationing, severe shortages in hospitals, and serious failures in a state machine transitioning from chronic inefficiency, clientelism and a neoliberal worldview to running the economy from the Left. Without a source of significant funding internationally it is difficult to see how even a progressive Grexit, which presumes mobilisation and organisation of the working-class on a vastly larger scale than exists in Greece today, could avoid heavy social costs.

Accordingly, Popular Unity’s alternative to SYRIZA austerity is languishing in the polls. But for those who think that the difficulties of such nation state alternatives derive from the specificities of Greece’s position, Ireland provides a counter example. An Irish exit could be conducted without a bailout programme and with a far stronger export base. But with the agricultural sector taking the hit of losing the CAP and new barriers to trade with continental Europe imposed by leaving the EU, it’s quite likely Irish exit would leave the island a province of Anglo-American capital.

Proposing a return to the nation state also leaves the Left open to a potent challenge from the rising nationalist Right. Conservative euroscepticism has built an effective narrative on this ground – strong nation-states as the alternative to globalisation. Its project is vastly different to ours but it will be able to rhetorically recuperate many Left interventions if this is the terrain of struggle, mixing them with racist backlash which will be difficult to counter if we must make the case for national independence.

Towards Alternative Economic and Political Union

Of course, most proponents of the latter strategy of exiting the European Union are internationalists and would not be content with attempting socialism in one country. But there has been precious little attempt to flesh out what the internationalist alternative to the European Union would be.

The ground has never been more fertile for a European movement. The European Union did manage to create – through harmonising forms of capitalist development, instituting free movement and, more recently, the commonalities of its crisis – to deepen bonds between Europeans. The significant mobilisations across Europe for Greece followed by the pan-European refugee movement provide evidence of this.

But how should a progressive movement in Europe conceptualise what a political refoundation on the continent might look like? One recent example which carries useful parallels is the experience of Latin America. Since the 1990s its regional integration process has produced greater rather than lesser democracy and development, enhancing popular sovereignty, tackling poverty and providing a platform for numerous left-wing alternatives.

One lesson from Latin America is that this process has not happened all through one organisation. Rather it has been a project of differentiated unity.

ALBA, a political and economic union of the most progressive Latin American states, is based on mutual aid economics and has many parallels with the growing solidarity economy in Europe. However, it has also developed to provide challenges to the region’s right-wing media (TeleSur) and forge connections between nationalised oil companies (PetroCaribe, PetroSur) among other projects.

Mercosur operates as a customs and trading bloc, CELAC is an alternative to the US-dominated Organisation of American states which promotes regional sovereignty at a political level. Banco del Sur will be a development bank focusing on social programmes and infrastructure. There’s even the SUCRE, which is a nascent currency aiming to diminish the power of the US dollar over the region.

Such a point of departure will be essential for the debates that need to happen on the European Left about how to construct regional alternatives in trade, currency and foreign policy.

New Horizon
But the most important lesson of the Latin American Left is that such developments do not come from pre-ordained technocratic plans. They arise when growing popular struggles from below meet a new horizon and strategy which can unite them.

In Latin America Bolivarianism offered the prospect of a democratic, sovereign and social continent, as well as providing an anti-imperialist justification for the creation of new institutions. For us to break the binary facing Left governments – staying in the European Union with austerity or leaving to face international capital alone – we need a new project that pits ordinary Europeans against the European Union. Such a project can say, honestly, that another Europe is possible and is evidenced by the rising tide of progressive forces across the continent.

* It can argue the internationalist case without being hamstrung by Fortress Europe or the euro, it can argue against austerity without proposing national isolation.

* It can take up the mantle of the free movement of people without it being one side of a coin shared by racist and authoritarian border policies for non-Europeans.

* It can look forward to a socialist economy of the twenty-first century rather than back to the nation state, aiming at democratising ownership and production on an international basis.

* It can argue for an alternative political and economic union of democracy and development. A union that meets the demands of the movements fighting neoliberalism and austerity.

* These are the kinds of arguments we need to be able to make in the forthcoming elections and referendums. To make them real, we need a new horizon.


Ronan Burtenshaw is a journalist, vice-chair of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions youth committee and co-ordinator of the Greek Solidarity Committee in Ireland.
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