With the collapse of socialism in Europe, our continent is now dominated as never before by the European Union (EU). Its evolution and its impact are of vital significance for the working class of this continent.
Writing at the beginning of the century, Lenin said that the slogan of a "United States of Europe" was either impossble or reactionary. As we see the enlargement process gather force within the EU, it is obvious that this is not impossible - but it remains reactionary.
For Irish Communists, any approach to the EU based on the illusion that it can be democratized or that its fundamental nature can be changed ignores the reality that the EU is a supranational form of monopoly capitalism, designed to allow the maximum freedom for capital while restricting the rights of labor.
In one sense, of course, the EU is the application locally of the globalization of the international econmy, with a relative freedom of movement of capital throughout the world. This allows the monopoly concerns to play one section of workers off against another: closing a plant in one country while expanding a similar plant (usually at lower wages) in another. Monopoly competition is operated to maximize profits and reduce labor costs.
The EU also serves another international purpose. The loss of direct empires has circumscribed the power of exploitation of the old imperialist centers; they now hope to revive their fortunes by pooling resources, and so reimpose upon the Third World conditions of total dependency.
The key points about the European suprastate are, firstly, its fundamental lack of democracy, and, secondly, the fact that the contradictions between the various imperialist centers have by no means been obliterated, only glossed over. The Communist Party of Ireland starts from this fundamental premise: that there can be no advance to socialism in Europe unless the power bloc of the European Union as an instrument of monopoly capitalism is overthrown.
Controls and restrictions on the freedom of monopoly capital are essential if working people are to redirect the resources created by their labor - away from an insane and resource-consuming drive for more and more profits (a process that is ultimately environmentally unsustainable) to meeting the social needs of Europe's people. In this sense we support the idea of a Europe of the peoples, as against a Europe of the bosses.
What we need to end is the present pressure to reduce all standards to the lowest common denominator, with low wage rates in the Third World and in eastern Europe being used to set the norm for workers in western Europe. International cooperation and coordination is needed by the working class so that the pressure can be upward to bring wages and conditions to the best levels.
For example, in the GATT negotiations there were various arguments over the balances between different produces and commodities of concern to various negotiators. But nowhere was the demand entertained that freedom of access to developed industrial markets should be matched by International Labor Organization recognized standards of social and trade union rights. And in consequence we are now told our own rights must be watered down so that "we" can compete.
This relates directly to the question of sociaIism. Throughout our movement, there has been, and continues, a vital debate about why socialism was overthrown in eastern Europe. Was Marxist theory fundamentally flawed? Was it all a problem of the "command economy"? Was the sysem's capability of development stifled by failures of democray?
Socialism must start off from the viewpoint that it has a different set of priorities: one that would see human society in harmony with nature, where development and the purposeful employment of all people's labor power is not lost sight of in a bewildering kaleidoscope of individual greed
The issue of the European Union is at the core of our response to this.
Ireland, and perhaps Greece, are alone among member states of the EU in having been colonized and exploited countries, in having never been colonizers or having had empires to exploit. The transfer of resources from richer EU states to the periphery like Ireland cannot offset the historical transfer of vast funds from an exploited Ireland to a rapacious English colonialism. Not only would the Irish boast that we built the roads, railways and canals of industrial Britain, but in common with the peoples of India and Africa and the Caribbean, we paid for it all.
But the EU system of transfers is not designed to help the peripheral countries develop independent self sustainable economies, in which our working class can define our own social priorities. EU transfers are designed to develop our infrastructures so that the imperialist centers can better penetrate our economy and streamline our agriculture and industry to their needs - just as in the l9th century the English built railways in Ireland to make the emigration of our people easier.
It seems to us that those who proclaim the omnipotence of the globalization of the economy and call on us to "face reality" are in fact blinded by the tragedy of socialism's defeat. In learning from that failure, we do not need to throw the baby out with the bath water. We need to recognize that capitalism is a social failure, that it creates huge levels of unemployment, which not only engender poverty (of varying levels) but the frustration and alienation of idleness also.
Capitalism's power in Europe is exercised primarily through the EU, and breaking that institution's power is the first step to building the strength of the various national contingents of the working class.
James Stewart is general secretary of the Communist Party of Ireland (CPI); this is excerpted from Unity, publication of the CPI.
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