The new left in Europe needs to be radical – and European – The Guardian
“A spectre is haunting Europe” read a recent headline in the Italian newspaper Il Manifesto, announcing the round of meetings between the Greek prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, and his European counterparts. Just think of what would happen if Podemos wins in Spain: the spectre would turn into a monster, propelled by one of Europe’s largest economies. In a few weeks, campaigning will begin in Spain and no doubt the European governments will redouble their efforts to frighten Spanish citizens away from Podemos. But what can Podemos tell us about Europe?
Since Syriza’s victory in Greece, Podemos’s position on Europe has been supportive of Syriza while prudently reserving its judgment. After all, Tsipras’s strategy could fail in the brief interval that remains until the Spanish elections. But prudency is not the same as ambiguity. Nothing would be more dangerous than an ambiguous position at this point, given the negotiations under way between Greece and Europe on the viability of the policies implemented by the troika until now. There are now two Europes and it is imperative to align with one or the other. Podemos supporters know that victory is only possible by joining a front already opened by Syriza, one that must expand throughout the EU. The politics of debt and sovereignty, and the Atlantic question are all issues that can only be tackled at a European level.
Syriza’s tactics and, in particular, its economic and financial policies already signal a plan for transnational cooperation and an abandonment of the anti-European rhetoric of “older” leftists. Of course, Syriza’s wager is formulated in terms of defending national sovereignty (“against the troika”, “against Merkel”), but in practice it implies an acceptance of a political intervention within and against the EU. It points the way to a coalition of the “Piigs” (Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece and Spain) as a new left able to overturn the status quo.
It is on the viability of such a coalition that a Podemos victory rides. Until now we have seen a confrontation between a neoliberal Europe and a democratic Europe attentive to the needs of workers, the impoverished middle classes, the unemployed, the young and elderly, women, migrants and refugees – the excluded, old and new. After the crisis of 2008, neoliberal Europe imposed itself forcefully, leaving for the other only the marginal space of protest. But an alternative space has started to appear in Greece. Now the task is to affirm it and organise it.
The first difficulty is debt. The troika wants to make the European multitude pay for this debt, and the ability to do so has been used as a yardstick of democracy and Europeanism. This is insulting, not least because these debts were incurred by those in power and have fattened the purses of the ruling classes – through corruption, tax evasion and fiscal favours, but also exorbitant defence budgets and misguided industrial policies. Against this enslaving condition, the new left – through Syriza – is asking for a rescue deal that would allow for a new solidarity based on fair fiscal and labour policies.
Podemos can add a huge impetus to this project for a deep transformation of social relations, one that we can call anti-fascist because it revives the spirit of the resistance. This could give rise to a democratic union based on solidarity beyond and against the market, reducing or abolishing the debt, and establishing progressive fiscal measures across the eurozone. The central tenets of the welfare state – education, health, pensions and housing – but also innovations such as provision for domestic and care work, and a universal basic income must be evenly developed throughout Europe.
To win on these issues we must take the measure of the battlefield, and this must extend to the whole of Europe. This brings us to the problem of sovereignty, one that has given rise to countless misunderstandings. Concessions on sovereignty have already been made, always in favour of financial powers. The rise of nationalism in Europe is built on attacking these concessions. And yet these positions have appeared uncomfortably close to Syriza, Podemos and other forces of the new European left.
We must be clear on this point. None of the countries in the EU, much less those in the eurozone, has full sovereignty any more. This is not necessarily a bad thing given their history. We must acknowledge that sovereignty in the sense of a power “in the last instance” now rests with the European Central Bank. We need Frankfurt and a European currency if we don’t want to fall prey to global finance and to policies dictated by the US or other continental giants asserting themselves against Europe. But we must recover Frankfurt for democracy. Frankfurt should be stormed by Europe to turn the European parliament into a constituent assembly.
Asking for monetary and political control, while insisting on the dissolution of the old monocratic sovereignties, leads to the issue of federalism, another essential step towards this new Europe. This would be a federalism that drives European nations to establish a constitutional dialogue and conceives of Europe as an articulation of all its nations, populations and languages within a unitary framework. The issue of sovereignty can only be raised in terms of a new federalism if the EU is to stop being an instrument of domination to become a democratic goal. This new left-European-democratic radicality is thus key: we must do away with left nationalism, just as we must defeat the populist transformation of national feelings into fascist ones. Only a Europeanist left, transformed by the democratic radicalism of the movements against austerity, can construct a democratic Europe.
And so we arrive at the Atlantic question, a question rarely discussed, as if it were obvious that the process of European unification must develop under the wing of the US. Europe was fuelled by the anti-fascist resistance to overcome the wars that had destroyed and impoverished its populations; peace was then seen as crucial for democracy. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, the EU lost its role as a last front against the Soviet world. Hence the EU had to redirect its aims towards the construction of common juridical structures and towards its autonomy in a global environment.
But today the Mediterranean – deeply integrated in Europe by movements of migration and crucial relations in energy policy and commercial exchange – is traversed by war, fascisms and dictatorships extending all the way to the Middle East and dangerously exposing Europe to armed movements that are of global importance and leadership. Furthermore, on the eastern border of Europe, a senseless war is developing between Russian-speaking populations fuelled by global interests that go against those of the European population.
Here then, the real sovereignty of Europe – no longer the imagined sovereignty of each country – is delegated to Nato and usurped by it. When Tsipras raises the necessity of dealing with this problem, he goes to the root of our European structures. We must respond to this problem without imagining that it can be quickly resolved. War and peace cannot be considered secondary problems.
Tsipras has courageously laid out a constellation of problems that are crucial for the construction of a Europe outside of the troika; they also allow us to outline a Europe outside of Nato. Citizens all over the world are asking for a democratic Europe that can play a key role in a new global reality, renewing a longstanding democratic tradition in the light that Syriza and Podemos have lit, one that offers hope for reform and a move beyond capitalism.
Translation by Kelly Mulvaney and Yaiza Hernández
The new left in Europe needs to be radical – and European – The Guardian