Defeat in French and Dutch referenda
On Sunday 30 May 2005, the electorate of France voted No in a referendum which was the first of a series under which the European Constitution is sought to be adopted by the various countries of the EU. On 1 June the Dutch electorate equally gave the thumbs down to the proposed constitution. This is a significant setback for the European bourgeoisie in its plans to build a European superpower, for the constitution can only be adopted by unanimous agreement of all member states.
The essence of the proposed European Constitution
With a view to securing a Yes vote, the European bourgeoisie heavily decorated this constitution with ‘rights’ for all European citizens, but each and every one of these ‘rights’ is surreptitiously conditional. Each and every one of these ‘rights’ can, according to the constitution itself, be overridden if to do so is “necessary” in order “genuinely” to “meet the objectives of general interest recognised by the Union” (ie, bourgeois objectives) “or the need to protect the rights and freedoms of others”. (In particular, of course, the right and freedom of the bourgeoisie to pursue the god of maximum profit!)
Lenin writes in Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism that: “Monopolist capitalist combines – cartels, syndicates, trusts – divide among themselves, first of all, the whole internal market of a country, and impose their control, more or less completely, upon the industry of that country. But under capitalism the home market is inevitably bound up with the foreign market. Capitalism long ago created a world market. As the export of capital increased, and as the foreign and colonial relations, the ‘spheres of influence’ of the big monopolist combines, expanded, things tended ‘naturally’ toward an international agreement among these combines and toward the formation of international cartels.”
The European Union is a creation of this tendency of capitalism towards monopoly. It has come about because, confined within the boundaries of their nation states, the various European bourgeoisies are unable to expand to the extent necessary to compete effectively with the massive imperialist monopolies based in the US and Japan. It is only by joining forces that they will have the critical mass requisite to bring about economies of scale across the board, as well as the economic and military strength to hold on to, and expand, their neo-colonies (in the face of their rival imperialists’ desperate need to edge them out). It is these economic and military needs that are above all reflected in the draft European Constitution. The ‘rights’ it is supposed to confer on ordinary people are nothing more than wilting fig leaves.
Articles 1-3 aim at an internal market where “competition is free and undistorted”. This is the key to the whole project. The aim of the constitution is to create optimum social, economic, political and military conditions for the flourishing of monopoly capital. Curiously, the policy that most favours the growth of European monopoly at the present time is ‘neo-liberalism’, ie, ‘free market’ capitalism, under which the profiteers do what they like free of state intervention, regardless of the social cost. Not only the working class, but even the smaller, weaker, capitalists are to be ruthlessly sacrificed in the interests of creating an imperialist megalith. This policy is enshrined to such an extent in the constitution as to outlaw virtually all state intervention in the economy – including nationalisation, government grants to industry and Keynesian job creation through public spending, all of which various national governments do from time to time use in order to protect enterprises from annihilation in the hope that they will become viable when economic conditions ease, and to soften the impact of crisis on the working class as a whole lest they should rise in revolt.
If this constitution is accepted, then for as long as member states do not unanimously agree to revise it, Europe’s path to the enrichment of the very few and the impoverishment of the vast masses will be completely untrammelled, considerably increasing the speed at which economic crisis grows deeper and more widespread.
Articles 1-3 claim that the European Union promotes social justice and social welfare. Yet throughout Europe, social spending, be it on hospitals, schools, pensions etc, is being reduced – because social justice and social welfare are incompatible with what matters most, ie, with the competitiveness that the EU is designed to promote. This process will continue apace notwithstanding the ‘rights’ conferred by the constitution, since increasingly public services are to be privatised, which means that it is only a question of time before they cease to be available, at least to some extent, to those who cannot pay.
Articles 2-75 tell us every citizen of the EU will have the right to search for a job. There is no ‘right’ to work, for only communist economies can provide that. The measures to promote free competition will bring about, and are intended to bring about, thousands and thousands of redundancies. The poverty associated with this will be highly socially unjust, but workers’ only recourse will be to “search for work”. Articles 111-27, moreover, promote labour “flexibility” – a term that implies lack of job security and lack of social justice.
Articles III -91 proclaim that every worker will benefit from rest periods and a working day controlled in its length. Yet the EU is proposing to increase the maximum average hours that may be worked from 48 hours a week to 65 – an increase of some 14 percent.
Every worker will be protected by Articles 2-90 against “unjustified” dismissal. But the justifications for dismissal in this regime of labour flexibility will be infinite.
Various social democrats, class collaborators to the last, are singing the praises of the constitution on the grounds that it recognises public services ‘for the first time’. It recognises them, however, only to privatise them. All public services must be open to free competition. There are to be no government monopolies. In other words, what the constitution safeguards above all is privatisation; the right of capitalists to make profits from providing public services. We all know what that means – low wages for employees providing the services and a deterioration in the quality of the services provided! That is how the European Constitution intends to ‘safeguard’ public services.
Besides enshrining free-market principles that will remove all restraints on capital in its search for maximum profit regardless of social cost, the constitution is a veritable militarists’ charter. If the EU was set up to make European imperialism more economically competitive and to strengthen it vis-à-vis its US and Japanese rivals, then it follows that European imperialism will be contending with its rivals for markets and sources of raw materials. Should these rivals not be willing to allow Europe what Europe perceives to be its ‘fair share’ of the spoils of imperialist super-exploitation of the oppressed countries of the world, Europe is preparing through its constitution to build the means of seizing its ‘rightful’ share by force, and of defending the ‘rightful’ share it already has against all attempts by rival imperialists to muscle in. European imperialism is sick and tired of being forced to share its neo-colonies, for instance in Africa, with various upstarts as a result of ‘civil wars’ in which US imperialism arms opponents to Europe’s resident puppets. It is looking forward to being able to intervene far more effectively in these ‘civil’ wars.
Every European member state will need to increase its military expenditure in order to be able to discharge its constitutional obligations to maintain Europe’s military might. And all states are obliged to do everything in their power to assist Europe’s military adventures, a concept that the constitution refers to as “solidarity”. If any state is the subject of a “terrorist attack” – a concept that includes, according to various European legislative texts, peaceful protesters occupying public buildings or important factories, as well as public disorder – then troops from all over Europe can be sent in to deal with the situation. Moreover, the death penalty – abolished for other purposes – is justified, it seems, for the purpose of suppressing an uprising or insurrection!
It is clear that the European Union is an instrument of war both at home and abroad, and its draft constitution merely reflects that essence.
As part of its campaign to streamline European imperialism and make it more effective, the European bourgeoisie is, through the constitution, intending to shift powers from national parliaments to European executive committees. Members of the latter will be appointed by national elected governments, but the decisions of these executive committees will not be subjected to endless debate in the national parliaments, in addition to the debates in the European parliament. Those who focus their activity on the lobbying of MPs and putting down ‘early day motions’ etc, will find the ground cut from under their feet, since these activities will become, if the constitution is adopted, even more obviously futile than they are at present. Nevertheless, an important step the European bourgeoisie has taken that seriously undermines bourgeois democracy is to decree that no member state has any right to try to influence decisions of the European Central Bank, which will have exclusive control over monetary policy. If there is to be any monetarist intervention to try to ward off the effects of economic crisis, it is the Council of Ministers that must decide on it, not the cabinets of individual European states.
These are rational steps for the European bourgeoisie to take – they are steps towards unification and federation that are necessary for the creation of European monopolist megaliths. There can be no question of individual member states ‘doing their own thing’, as this would prevent the very objectives of the European Union. The European Constitution does no more than codify what is already the case. Those who do not support the European Constitution cannot in all honesty support the European Union. The reasons for opposing the constitution (its neo-liberal policies and its militarism), are the reasons for opposing the European Union itself. If the constitution has made this clearer to people than it was previously, this can only be a good thing.
There are those who today support the European Union on the grounds that by intensifying the contradictions between the various imperialist powers – which it will undoubtedly do – it will hasten war between them and thus open the door for proletarian revolution sooner rather than later. This attitude, however, is equivalent to welcoming wage cuts and redundancies for workers because the impoverishment of the workers will incline them towards proletarian revolution. No, we do not welcome wage cuts, redundancies, or inter-imperialist wars. The cause of these is imperialism itself, and nothing we do or say will prevent imperialism from striving to bring these about. Our job is to oppose these effects and in doing so to open the eyes of the working class to the fact that is imperialism that is causing their misery, and that they must therefore do everything that has to be done to overthrow imperialism.
It would be nice to think that the No votes secured in the French and Dutch referenda were indicative of a deep understanding among European workers of the nature of the European Union and its constitution. As it is, however, it is clear that the No votes were mostly protest votes at the threats to living standards and the well-being of the masses of workers and sections of the petty bourgeoisie brought about by the inherent workings of imperialism – threats that would be there regardless of whether or not the bourgeoisie’s European Union project makes progress or not.
‘Left’ social democracy has been encouraging everybody to blame the ills of capitalism on the EU, and this is a message that resonates with people kept in the dark about the inevitable effects of imperialism. Quite a few of those that voted No were those that the bourgeoisie had persuaded to blame ‘foreigners’ for declining living standards, and who were therefore motivated by xenophobia against Turks, fearful that Turkey’s accession to the EU will somehow lead to further immigration, or the naïve belief that things would be better if eastern Europeans could be kept out. In actual fact, the reason for the decline of manufacturing in western Europe is the export of capital eastwards (which would happen even without the European Union), not workers from the east heading west. The majority of those that voted No, in fact, voted No for all the wrong reasons. Nevertheless, they brought about the most welcome result – a rejection of the bourgeoisie’s imperialist, neo-liberal and militaristic agenda.
We oppose imperialism and all its works. We oppose the European Union and its constitution – not because workers would be better off if the European Union collapsed, since we cannot say whether they would be or not, but because they are the logical steps that imperialism must take towards impoverishment of the masses and towards war if imperialism is to survive. We oppose the European Union and its constitution because they are imperialist tools, for the promotion and strengthening of imperialism, and are therefore of necessity measures to suppress the rights and well-being of the masses of working people, be they in the oppressed countries or in the imperialist heartlands.
Down with the imperialist EU!
Down with imperialism!