Impossible European Unity

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Is the bourgeoisie capable of giving so much as the shadow of a solution to the problem of the world's division into nations, which has caused millions of deaths in the worldwide and local wars which have besmirched the planet since the turn of the century? This is at least the claim of several pro-European political tendencies.

Today's reality demonstrates that a united Europe incorporating the various EEC countries, and even others, was nothing but a utopia. We can see the proof in the disputes that divide them, and their inability to settle such tragic international events as those in Yugoslavia, despite their unfolding at the very gates of industrialised Europe. Nonetheless, it is not impossible that the bourgeoisie might, in different circumstances, and in particular to serve new imperialist alliances, be led to revamp the idea of European unity as "flavour of the month" once again. Once again, the bourgeoisie would be led to use campaigns on the European question to try to polarise the workers' attention on a problem which has nothing to do with their interests, and even more, to divide the class by making it take sides in a false debate.

This is why it is necessary to show that the whole project of building European unity is in fact just an element in the creation of alliances in a merciless economic war which is being waged between all the countries in the world, or in the formation of imperialist alliances with a view to open warfare to which the insoluble economic crisis is leading.

The different attempts at European unity are sometimes presented as so many steps towards the creation of a "new European nation", with a considerable economic and political standing in the world. Each step forward, and especially the latest, are, according to the euro-enthusiasts, factors of peace and justice in the world.

Such an idea has had all the more impact in that whole sectors of the bourgeoisie have fallen for it, and become its earnest advocates. They like to talk of the "United States of Europe", on the same lines as the United States of America.

New nations are not viable under decadent capitalism

In fact, such a proposal is a utopia, because it is lacking two essential factors.

The first is the fact that the formation of a new nation, in the full sense of the word, is a process that can only occur under certain historic circumstances. And the present period, unlike some in the past, is wholly unfavorable to such a formation.

The second is that, contrary to the claims of bourgeois propaganda "the political will of governments" and "popular aspirations" cannot act as substitutes for violence. Since the existence of the bourgeoisie is indissolubly linked to that of private property, whether individual or state-controlled, the unification of nations inevitably means the expropriation or violent subjection of some national fractions of the bourgeoisie by others.

This is illustrated by the history of the formation of new nations ever since the Middle Ages.

During the Middle Ages, the social, economic, and political situation can be summed up in these words of Rosa Luxemburg: "In the Middle Ages, when feudalism was dominant, the ties between different parts or regions of the same nation were in fact extremely loose. Every important city produced, with the surrounding countryside, the majority of products required to satisfy its day-to-day needs; it would also have its own administration, its own government, and its own army; in the West, the largest and most prosperous cities sometimes waged war and signed treaties with foreign powers. Similarly, the largest communities led their own isolated lives, and each part of a feudal lord's domain, or even each of his knights' manors, constituted in itself a quasi-independent state" [1].

Although at a slower pace and on a smaller scale than was to be the case under capitalist domination, the process of social transformation was already at work: "The revolution in production and commercial relations at the end of the Middle Ages, the increase in the means of production and the development of a money based economy with the development of international trade, and at the same time as the revolution in military techniques the decline of the nobility and the development of standing armies were all factors which in political terms encouraged the development of royal power and the rise of absolutism. Absolutism's main tendency was to create a centralised state apparatus. The 16th and 17th centuries were a period of constant struggle between the centralising tendency of absolutism and the remains of feudal separatism" [2].

Obviously, it was the bourgeoisie which gave the decisive impetus to this process of the formation of modern states, and brought it to a conclusion: "The abolition of tolls, and of the independence of both municipalities and the minor nobility in the matter of taxation and the administration of justice, were the first acts of the modern bourgeoisie. This went along with a large state machine which brought together all these functions: administration in the hands of central government, legislation by a parliament, the various armed forces gathered together in a centralised army under the command of the central government, customs duties levied uniformly on imports and exports, the imposition of a single currency throughout the state, etc. In the same way, the modern state has unified the cultural domain as far as possible, through a uniform régime in education, and with a church organised along the same lines as the state as a whole. In a word, capitalism's dominant tendency is towards the greatest possible centralisation" [3].

War has always played a vital role in the formation of modern nations, both internally in eliminating the resistance of reactionary sectors of society, and externally in asserting the nation's frontiers, and its right to exist, by force of arms. This is why the only viable states to have emerged from the Middle Ages are those which have a sufficient economic development to guarantee their own independence.

The example of Germany illustrates the role of violence in the formation of a strong state: after beating Austria, and subjecting the German princes, Prussia was able to impose a stable German unity thanks to the victory over France in 1871.

Similarly, the formation of the United States of America in 1776, although its foundations were not laid in the soil of feudal society since it had gained its independence in the war against Great Britain, also illustrates the same point: "The first nucleus of the Union between the various English colonies of North America, which until then had been independent of each other and which differed widely both socially and politically and indeed on many levels had widely diverging interests, was created by the revolution" [4]. But the formation of the cohesive modern USA of today was only assured by the North's victory over the South in the Civil War of 1861: "The Northern States acted as advocates of centralisation, thus representing the development of large-scale modern capital, machine industry, individual freedom and equality before the law, in other words the real corollary of wage labour, democracy, and bourgeois progress" [5].

The 19th century was characterised by the formation of new nations (Germany, Italy), or by the bitter struggle to do so (Poland, Hungary). This "is no accident, but corresponds to the impetus given by an expanding capitalist economy which finds the nation state the most appropriate framework for its development" [6].

Capitalism's entry into its decadent phase at the turn of the century prevented the emergence of any new nations capable of competing on an equal footing with the existing industrialised nations [7]. The six greatest industrialised nations of the 1980's (USA, Japan, Russia, Germany, France, Britain) were the same, though in a different order, as those of World War I. The saturation of solvent markets, which is at the root of capitalism's decadence, provokes a commercial war between nations and the development of imperialism, which is nothing other than the attempt to find a military solution to the insoluble problem of the economy. In this context, those nations which arrived late on the industrial scene have not been able to close the gap separating them from the most developed: on the contrary the gap tends to widen. Last century already, Marx underlined the permanent antagonism between the bourgeoisie's different national fractions: "The bourgeoisie finds itself engaged in a constant battle. At first with the aristocracy; later on, with those portions of the bourgeoisie itself whose interests have become antagonistic to the progress of industry; at all times, with the bourgeoisie of foreign countries" [8]. While the contradiction between capitalism and feudalism has been superseded, by contrast the antagonism between nations has only been exacerbated by decadence. This underlines how utopian, or hypocritical and deceitful, is the idea of a peaceful union of different states, European though they may be.

All the nations born in the present period were the result (like Yugoslavia on 28th October 1918) of the imposition of new frontiers or the dismemberment of vanquished nations or their empires in the world wars. In such conditions, they were necessarily deprived of the attributes of a major nation.

The present, and final, phase of decadence, that of social decomposition, not only discourages the emergence of new nations: it exerts an active pressure on the less cohesive existing ones. The breakup of the USSR is partly a result of this phenomenon, and in its turn it has been a destabilising factor both in the republics which it created and in the European sub-continent as a whole. Yugoslavia, amongst others, has not stood up to it.

Since the conditions for European unity as a nation did not exist before the beginning of the century, in a period which was much more favorable for new nations to emerge, it has been impossible ever since. However, given the region's importance - the greatest industrial concentration in the world - and its consequent status as a prime target for imperialist appetites, it was inevitable that Europe should become the theatre where the determining imperialist alliances in the international balance of power would be made and broken. From the end of World War II until the collapse of the Eastern bloc, it has been the bastion of the Western bloc, with a political and military cohesion to match that of the enemy bloc. Likewise, since the collapse of the Eastern bloc and the consequent dissolution of the Western bloc, it has been the theatre for the struggle for influence between the USA and Germany, which will be at the head of the two future imperialist blocs, should these ever come into being.

The economic agreements between European countries to face up to international competition have been superimposed on these imperialist rivalries and alliances, though not always in tune with them.

Europe: an instrument of American imperialism

At the end of World War II, a Europe destabilised by economic crisis and social disorganisation looked an easy prey for Russian imperialism. The leader of the opposing bloc was thus obliged to do everything possible to reestablish a social and economic organisation which would make it less vulnerable to Russian ambitions: "Western Europe, although it had not suffered the appalling damage inflicted on the Eastern part of the continent, was still suffering, two years after the end of the war, from an economic exhaustion which it seemed unable to escape... overall, at the beginning of 1947 it seemed on the edge of an abyss... all these elements seemed likely to provoke, in the short term, a general economic collapse, while social tensions gathered on the horizon threatening to tip Western Europe into the rapidly forming camp of the USSR" [9].

The Marshall Plan was voted in 1948: $17 billion worth of aid was to be made available between 1948 and 1952. It was entirely at the service of this imperialist objective of the USA [10]. It was part of the dynamic of the strengthening of the two blocs and the increasing tensions between them. Other important events were part of the same pattern. On the Western side came, in the same year: Yugoslavia's break with Moscow, preventing the formation of a Balkan Federation including Bulgaria and Albania under Soviet influence; the creation of the Brussels Mutual Assistance pact (a military alliance between the Benelux countries, France and Great Britain), followed the year after by the Atlantic Pact which was to lead to the creation of NATO in 1950. This being said, the Eastern bloc did not remain passive: it initiated the "Cold War", marked in particular by the Berlin blockade and the pro-Russian coup d'état in Czechoslovakia in 1948. In 1949, Comecon (Council for Economic Cooperation) was set up between the countries of the bloc. Moreover, the antagonism between the two blocs was not limited to Europe, but already was polarising imperialist tensions throughout the world. The years 1946-1954 saw the first phase of the war in Indochina, which was to end with the surrender of French troops at Dien Bien Phu.

The establishment of the Marshall Plan was a powerful factor drawing together the countries which benefited from it, and the body in charge of it, the "European Organisation for Economic Cooperation", was the precursor of all those "agreements" which were to follow. However, the motive force behind these agreements remained the demands of imperialism. This was especially true of the "European Coal and Steel Community". "The European Party led by Robert Schumann gained strength in 1949-50, when a Russian offensive was most feared, and it was desired to consolidate Europe's economic resistance while the political arena saw the reinforcement of the Council of Europe and NATO. And so the desire to give up particularities in favour of a pooling of the great European resources, in other words the foundations of economic power which at the time were coal and steel" [11]. 1952 thus saw the formation of the ECSC, a common market for coal and steel embracing France, Germany, Italy and the Benelux countries. Although formally more autonomous of the USA than was the EOEC, this new community still served US interests through an economic and therefore a political strengthening of the Western bloc's frontier with the USSR. Great Britain did not enter the ECSC for reasons of its own, linked to its desire to preserve its "independence" from the other European countries, and to maintain the integrity of the "sterling zone", since the pound at the time was the world's second currency. However, this exception was perfectly acceptable for the Western bloc, given Britain's geographical position and the strength of its ties to the USA.

The EEC's creation in 1957, with the aim of "gradually doing away with customs duties, harmonising economic, monetary, financial and social policies, and establishing the free circulation of labour and free competition" [12] was a further stage in the reinforcement of European cohesion, and so of the Western bloc's cohesion likewise. Although the EEC was a potential economic rival for the United States, it began on the contrary as a factor in US development: "The geographical area most favored by direct US investments since 1950 is Europe: they have increased fifteen-fold. This tendency remained fairly modest until 1957, but accelerated afterwards.

The unification of the continental European market led the Americans to rethink their strategy in the light of several imperatives: the creation of a common economic tariff was likely to exclude them, if they were not already present on the spot. Existing investments were called into question, since within a unified market there could be advantages to be gained in terms of labour costs, taxation, or government subsidies, by relocating, for example, to Italy or Belgium. Moreover, there was no longer any reason to duplicate investment in more than one country. Finally, and above all, the new European market could compare in population, in industrial capacity, and in the medium term in living conditions, with the USA: its potential was therefore not to be neglected" [13].

In fact, Europe's development was such - during the 60s it became the world's greatest economic power - that its products began to compete directly with those from America. However, despite this economic success it was unable to overcome its own divisions, based on opposing economic interests and different political orientations within the Western club. An example of the opposition between different economic interests is the divergence between Germany on the one hand, which sought to encourage its exports by widening the EEC and developing closer relations with the USA, and France which on the contrary wanted a more closed EEC in order to protect its own industry from international competition. This political opposition between France and other countries came to a head over Britain's repeated applications to join the EEC. De Gaulle's government, which sought to reduce American domination, alleged that membership of the Community was incompatible with the "special relationship" between Britain and the USA.

Thus, "the EEC was only a very partial success, and was unable to impose a common policy. The failure of Euratom in 1969-70, the mitigated success of the Concorde aircraft, are illustrations of this"(13). This is hardly surprising, since a common and autonomous European strategy on the political, and thence on the economic level inevitably came up against the limits imposed by the discipline of the bloc dominated by the USA.

This bloc discipline disappeared with the collapse of the Eastern bloc, and the dissolution of the Western bloc as a result, since as we have seen European unity was cemented essentially by imperialist considerations.

The only cohesive factor in Europe, as it appears today with the dissolution of the Western bloc, is at the economic level, in agreements designed to confront in the least unfavorable conditions possible the competition from Japan and America. By itself, this factor is very weak compared to the growing imperialist tensions which are pulling Europe apart.

The battleground in the struggle for influence of the great imperialist powers

The agreements which, on the economic level, define the present European Community are largely to do with freedom of trade in most commodities between member countries, with various safeguards allowing the temporary protection of national production in some countries, with the agreement of the other members. These agreements go hand in hand with other open or concealed protectionist measures against other countries which do not belong to the Community. Although these agreements obviously do not eliminate competition between the member countries (this is not their purpose anyway), they nonetheless have a certain effectiveness against competition from the US and Japan. One example is the hypocritical barriers imposed on imports of Japanese cars, to protect the European auto industry. Another, though in the opposite direction this time, is the USA's huge effort during the GATT negotiations to drive a wedge into European unity, and to have succeeded amongst other things over the question of agricultural produce. At the economic level, these measures are topped off by the adoption of various standards such as those concerning tax laws, designed to facilitate trade and economic cooperation amongst the countries involved.

Apart from the strictly economic measures, others have been adopted or proposed whose clear aim is to tighten the links between the various countries.

Thus, the Schengen agreement has been signed by France, Germany, Italy, Belgium, Luxemburg, and the Netherlands (to be joined later by Spain and Portugal), with the aim of "providing protection against massive immigration", and at the same time "against internal destabilising factors".

Despite their vagueness, the Maastricht agreement is also an attempt to go further in tightening these links.

The implications of such agreements are wider than the mere common defense of certain economic interests, since the growing interdependence between the member countries opens the way to a greater political autonomy from the USA. The full importance of such a perspective can be seen when we consider that the most powerful European country involved is Germany, which is precisely the country most likely to take the lead of a future imperialist bloc opposed to the USA. This is the reason for the clear attempts on the part of Holland and Great Britain, which have remained the USA's faithful allies, to sabotage the construction of a more "political" Europe.

The imperialist question appears still more clearly if we look at the military agreements involving the "hard core" of the attempt to assert a clear autonomy against US hegemony. Germany and France have formed a common army corps, while a less important, but still significant agreement has been concluded between France, Spain, and Italy for the formation of a common air-sea force [14].

Britain's disapproval of the Franco-German force, and the Dutch reaction to it ("Europe must not be subjected to the Franco-German consensus") are clear indicators of the antagonism between the respective camps.

Similarly, the USA, despite some discreet and purely diplomatic noises in favour of Maastricht, are singularly unenthusiastic about the treaty, even though they can always rely on their British and Dutch allies to paralyse the European institution [15].

Obviously, the tendency will be for Germany and France to make more and more use of the EEC institutions to make Europe more autonomous relative to the USA. Conversely, Holland and Britain will be obliged to respond by paralysing European initiatives.

Nonetheless, such action by Britain or Holland would tend to "marginalise" them from the EEC structures if pushed beyond certain limits.

Such a perspective, which would mean the beginning of the breakup of the EEC, is obviously not without disadvantages at the economic level for all the countries involved. In Europe itself, it would accelerate the formation of a new bloc opposed to the US.

Fertile ground for anti-working class ideological campaigns

Since the "European project" is a pure myth, and moreover is preparing the integration of an imperialist bloc, the working class obviously has no sides to take in the quarrels going on between different bourgeois factions as to which imperialist camp to join. The workers must reject both the chauvinists who present themselves as the "guardians of national identity", or even the "defenders of the workers' interests against the bosses' Europe", and the no less nationalist partisans of "building Europe". The class has everything to lose on this terrain, which would do nothing but sow division and the worst illusions amongst it. And amongst the lies the bourgeoisie uses to deceive the workers, there are a few "classics" which they must be able to unmask.

"The union of the majority of European countries is a factor for peace in the world, or at least in Europe". This kind of idea relies on the assumption that if France and Germany are allied in such a structure, we will avoid a repetition of the last two world wars. It is true that this might avoid a conflict between the two countries - always assuming that France does not change sides at the last minute to join the US camp. But it provides no solution at all to the crucial problem of war. If the political ties between certain European countries were to develop further than they are today, this would inevitably be part of a dynamic towards the formation of a new imperialist bloc around Germany, and opposed to the USA [16]. And if the working class leaves the bourgeoisie's hands free, the end result of such a dynamic can only be imperialist war.

"This kind of union would allow its inhabitants to avoid such disasters as poverty, ethnic wars, or famines which are presently ravaging most other parts of the world". This idea is the complement to the one above. Apart from the lie which makes believe that a part of the planet could escape from the system's worldwide crisis, this idea is part of the propaganda whose aim is to persuade the working class in Europe to leave the fundamental problem of its own to survival in the hands of "its own" bourgeoisie, without regard to, and (though this is not admitted openly) to the detriment of the working class in the rest of the world. It therefore aims to harness the working class to the defense of bourgeois national interests. It is merely the equivalent, on the scale of the imperialist bloc in formation, of all the nationalist and chauvinistic campaigns that the bourgeoisie uses in every country. In this sense, it can be compared to the campaigns that the Western bloc used to employ against its Russian adversary, designated for the occasion as the "evil empire".

"The working class can, in fact, be identified with the most nationalist fractions of the bourgeoisie, since like them it is largely against European unity". It is true that under the barrage of bourgeois propaganda, large numbers of workers have in some cases (eg during the French referendum on the ratification of Maastricht in 1992) been led to take part in the "European debate". This is due to a weakness in the working class. It is also true that, in this context, some workers have been influenced by those arguments which seek at different levels to mix up the defense of class interests with nationalism, chauvinism, and xenophobia. Such a situation is a product of the fact that, overall, the working class is still subjected to the weight of the dominant ideology, of which nationalism in all its forms is a component. But the bourgeoisie also uses this situation to render the working class guilty of engendering within itself such "monstrosities", in order to divide the class into so-called "progressive" and "reactionary" fractions.

Faced with the lies of "overcoming national frontiers by building Europe", or of the "social Europe", as with the calls to nationalism in order to "protect themselves from the social evils of European Union", the workers have no choice to make. The only way forward for them is the intransigent struggle against all the fractions of the bourgeoisie, for the defense of their living conditions and the development of a revolutionary perspective, through the development of their international class solidarity and unity. Their only safeguard will be to put into practice the old but always up-to-date slogan of the workers' movement: "The workers have no fatherland. Workers of all countries, unite!".

M, 20th February, 1993


[1] Rosa Luxemburg, The Nation State and the Proletariat

[2] idem.

[3] idem.

[4] idem.

[5] idem.

[6] "The proletarian struggle in the decadence of capitalism. The development of new capitalist units", International Review no.23

[7] See the article: "Still-born nations" in International Review no.69

[8] The Communist Manifesto.

[9] Pierre Léon, Histoire Economique et Sociale du Monde.

[10] Clearly, it is no accident that the plan was set up by Marshall, head of the US army's general staff during the war.

[11] idem.

[12] idem.

[13] idem.

[14] idem.

[15] Such an initiative is also significant of the need felt not only by France, but also by Spain and Italy, to avoid being completely defenseless against their powerful German neighbour and ally.

[16] The USA is also doing whatever it can, not just to block the French and German efforts, but also to create their own "common market", to prepare for an increasingly difficult world situation. The North American Free Trade Association formed with Mexico and Canada is not just an economic effort, but an attempt to reinforce the cohesion and stability of their immediate zone of influence, both against internal decomposition, and against the influence of other major powers from Europe or Japan.