2009-06 Why should we have a communist party of Europe? [Dessaux]
If communists want to exist outside of the margins of society, they should be able to answer the questions arising from this society. The question of Europe, of European building, is among these. It’s an issue for workers struggles, for daily life, for political debates. What do we think about the proposals of European constitutional treaty? Should Turkey be a member of European Union? Should public services be sold to private enterprises? Should the age of retirement be higher? Should East-European workers come in the Western Europe to get jobs with lower wages than all others? Should migrant people and asylum seekers be able to settle freely in every country? All the questions, among others, needs clear answer. European Union bureaucracy has an answer. Bosses have an answer. Social-democracy has an answer. Communists should have an answer, a Marxist answer. This is our task as communists.
This can’t be escaped by writing again and again, as do some leftists groups, “European Union is capitalist, European Union is the union of bosses”, as if United-Kingdom, Germany or Italy weren’t capitalists, if all states weren’t capitalist. So, I won’t discuss here the class nature of EU, nor its situation in the world-wide frame of capitalism. The question I’d like to answer here is: which should we have a European communist party? Answer such a question needs first to show why it’s a better framework today, in a communist point of view, than a “national” party. Then, I’d like to make a few suggestions about the first step to achieve it.
The fact is that today, almost all laws and policies which regard worker’s rights, welfare, health, retirement, are decided at European level, and just put in application at national level. The same frame, the same agenda, is spread throughout Europe after being discussed and decided in Brussels. Just remembers what happened a few years ago with the change of age of retirement. It was the result of implementation of EU policy into national legislation. Italian workers refused to work longer in their life and went on strike. They’ve been defeated. A few months later, the French workers went on strike, and they were defeated. Then, it was the turn of the Austrian workers to be defeated on the same issue. What would have happen if they didn’t strike one country after another, but altogether at the same time? Probably, this EU policy would have been withdrawn. The fact EU policies are put in application on a different agenda in each member country is nothing but strategy to keep the working-class unable to unite against these “reforms”.
The way the working-class views Europe are complex and mixed. From one hand, there’s some sympathy: Europe is identified to peace and friendship between people. From the other hand, most people fear its dangerous effects for wage workers, social rights and daily life. It differs widely from one country to another. This ambiguity explains why left parties have to explain why they advocate against European treaties and support the ideals of Europe in the same time. The slogan of “social Europe” is more and more widespread in the left, even if don’t lead to anything practical. A national organization lacks the tools it needs to propose the working-class a clear view, a clear direction. To be able to resist effectively to the attacks on workers’ rights, to change the balance and go forward for the workers demands, a communist party must be able grasp how these attacks are connected and decided at European level, as European policies, and to provide workers tools to counter-attack at this real level.
This issue of European policies imposed on workers rights have been, through the last 20 years, one of the major issues for the working-class movement. Until now, workers demands were addressed to the national states, strikes and demonstrations had to engage the battle at national level to be effective. With a transnational state, this situation has been changed – not for every subject, but for most of them. The level where class struggle has to raise itself to be effective has changed.
Let’s imagine a party which would organize against the English government policy as the communist party of South-Wessex, or a Swedish party which would claim to represents the needs of the workers of Trollhätan and refuse any member who don’t live in Trollhätan – these parties would probably be nice people and genuine socialists, but would anyone consider them as relevant to the situation? The fact is the capitalist class is already united at European level – not necessary between themselves, but against the working-class. And this is the strongest reason why we need a communist party in Europe.
If our goal was, as some left nationalists suggests, leaving European Union, to defend our “motherland”, our “nation”, our “culture”, and all the chauvinistic ideas, so a national party would be fine. Would it be better to face a “national bourgeoisie” within national boundaries, than facing European capitalist class on a European-wide range? I advocates strongly for the second solution. Being defeated separately in each country on the same issues, the same policies, the same so-called “reforms” written by the European commission, is not a solution for workers. As worker-communists, with our analysis and refusal of left and right-wing nationalism, we need something else as an answer to the question of Europe. Our issue is not how to get the nation richer, or its industry stronger, but how to empower the working-class toward socialism. If the European question is one of the levers of this empowerment, we should grasp it and don’t leave it.
Is that achievable? Let’s have a look what did the working-class since the 10 last years: among the new facts relevant for the working-class movement is that some European strikes did really happen. Not general strike, for sure, but in some industrial sectors, in some international enterprises, trade-unions were able to organize strikes at European level. 1997, European strike for Renault; 1998, European strike for railways workers; June 2002, European strike for Air controllers; June 2008, European strike for Airbus workers; October 2008, European strike organized by Saint-Gobain’s workers; December 2008, European strike for HP / EDS workers. These are signs of a change, which we shouldn’t underestimate. For the trade-unions, getting united at European scale is difficult otherwise as a lobby, as a pressure group in Brussels, because of their own insertion in the social and legal system of each country. Even with these difficulties, they achieved it. Why couldn’t a communist party organize to such a level?
It should be remind the communist party was, from its birth even, European. The ideas of a socialist republic of Europe, or socialists United States of Europe, were discussed among socialists before even bourgeoisie took the question as a serious issue. This is not a new idea, neither the idea of a European-wide communist party is really new. Today, the issue is somewhat different. When this idea appeared among socialists, European states were still struggling on a military ground between themselves, with two world wars and numerous colonial conflicts. Now, they got a united in a common leadership. While each state keeps a formal sovereignty, most social and economical issues are decided in common at EU level, by European commission and parliament. So, our question is not about doing something capitalists didn’t achieved to do, but to struggle at the same level they decide for our daily lives. If we were discussing about lobbying, pressure groups and trade-unionism, maybe national boundaries may still be useful, at least for tactical reasons. But we speak about a communist party, which plans to engage in the struggle for power, and the power we face is European more than national now. That’s why the communist party we need just can’t have another scale than European.
Was there already a communist party with a European scale? Yes: The communist party, Marx’s party itself. The Communist party, in 1848, was not German, English or anything else: the famous spectre of the Manifesto didn’t haunt Germany or England, but Europe. I don’t like that style of writing which quotes Marx every other phrase, but reading the Manifesto once again is interesting for this discussion: “Communism is already acknowledged by all European powers to be itself a power. It is high time that Communists should openly, in the face of the whole world, publish their views, their aims, their tendencies, and meet this nursery tale of the Spectre of Communism with a manifesto of the party itself. To this end, Communists of various nationalities have assembled in London and sketched the following manifesto, to be published in the English, French, German, Italian, Flemish and Danish.” So, the communist party was birth as a European party, and this was only later it dissolved into national parties. That’s maybe symbolic, but we must remind it as Marxists.
For sure, there as some issues which do only exists in the scale of one country, as laws and government are still different in the European Union – and we must be able to answer theses question at their own scale. It’s true even at a lower scale, as some states like Germany, Italy or United Kingdom are not united and have regional government with regional laws – something which don’t prevent to build national parties. This means a communist party in Europe should have national committees, able to grasp the local issues and framework, and to deal properly with it. But they will do as part of a larger framework, with larger views and goals.
Remember that, in the beginning of the 20th century, while the bourgeoisie was engaging wars which killed millions of people, the communist movement already discussed the idea of “United socialist states of Europe”. Later, the domination of left nationalism, with the chauvinistic turn of the Stalinist parties in the thirties, discarded this goal, which was still discussed in some trends of the socialist movement. Now, we got bases to go even further, toward a socialist republic of Europe. This is a goal which may be achieved – no one could, by any theoretical trick, suggest that Europe is “not ready” for socialism, or call for a “bourgeois-democratic” revolution. All the bases already exist for socialism in Europe. If we want to discard the left-nationalism, views the situation without the nationalist glasses which is the legacy of Stalinism, we cannot face the capitalist European-building movement with a “less Europe” slogan, nor with a “social Europe” slogan, but with a “socialist Europe” goal to achieve. And that, obviously, needs a communist party in Europe.
Building a communist party in Europe doesn’t mean it should be, in one night, widespread all around Europe, in each town, each factory. Neither even it should have from the first day a committee in each of the 27 countries. It’s no more a prerequisite that already existing communist organizations from some of these countries take part to its building. All these views are nothing but means and reasons to delay the building of such a party. What it need first is one very important thing: to be open to anyone living in European Union. Every worker who personally agrees with it program, views and policy should be able to join this party. From Portugal to Cyprus, from Finland to Malta, any worker living in Europe should have the right to join that party – and this is the first step of its existence as a European party, a communist party in Europe.