Interesting commentary from Rizospastis dated 10 February 2015 posted at
Discussions of the prospects for a United States of Europe emerged among the European bourgeoisie during the 19th-century bourgeois revolutions and nationalist movements in Europe as a bourgeois-democratic demand. Among its proponents were the French author Victor Hugo and the Italian bourgeois revolutionary Giuseppe Mazzini. The dawn of the 20th century saw a revival of the debate as an objective result of capitalism entering its imperialist stage, with the discussions intensifying during World War I.
In the beginning of the 20th century, the debate had an impact on the workers’ movement, with discussions concerning whether the slogan should be adopted or not. It should be reminded that this was the discussion to which Lenin contributed during World War I with his 1915 article “On the slogan for a United States of Europe”, where he pointed out:
From the standpoint of the economic conditions of imperialism —i.e., the export of capital and the division of the world by the “advanced” and “civilised” colonial powers—a United States of Europe, under capitalism, is either impossible or reactionary. […] A United States of Europe under capitalism is tantamount to an agreement on the partition of colonies. Under capitalism, however, no other basis and no other principle of division are possible except force.
Of course, temporary agreements are possible between capitalists and between states. In this sense a United States of Europe is possible as an agreement between the European capitalists … but to what end? Only for the purpose of jointly suppressing socialism in Europe, of jointly protecting colonial booty against Japan and America….
In the aftermath of World War I, the unification of capitalist Europe was hotly debated among the strongest capitalist nations and was seen as a way to deal with the USSR and the action of the Communist Parties. This dispute unfolded during the inter-war period, becoming one of the stakes of World War II.
An internal conflict waged within the ranks of the German bourgeoisie concerning, among other things, the path that Germany should take in order to play a leading role in the context of a European unification process. The first tendency, led by liberal – mainly Catholic and Jewish – businessmen, leaned towards a strategic agreement with France and the creation of a Franco-German axis around which European unity could be built. In political terms, this position was represented by the bourgeois parties of the Weimar Constitution, i.e. the bourgeois parties that accepted the terms of the Treaty of Versailles and the Social Democrats. The other tendency – which turned out to be the strongest – wanted to establish a German hegemony in Europe, built on the German Reich and the Austro-Hungarian lands, by weakening France and eliminating British power over continental Europe. This position was represented by a major part of the German industrialists who were politically linked to nationalist-populist parties and eventually rallied around the Nazis.
In 1943, the Nazi Ministers Joachim von Ribbentrop and Cécil von Renthe Fink proposed the creation of a European Confederation with a common currency, a central bank based in Berlin, some regional authorities, a common labour policy and common economic and trade agreements. The candidate countries for membership were Germany, Italy, France, Denmark, Norway, Finland, Slovakia, Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania, Croatia, Serbia, Greece and Spain. The Union was supposed to act as a strong antidote to the Soviet Union.*
The statement of the later Foreign Minister of the Nazi Germany Arthur Seyss-Inquart was indicative of this line of thought: “The new Europe of solidarity and co-operation among all its people will find rapidly increasing prosperity once national economic boundaries are removed”. The advance of Nazi troops promoted this aim.
In addition, the call for a unified European economic and political capitalist area was also played up by the representatives of other bourgeois classes, mainly thοse of France. A characteristic statement was that of Jacques Benoist-Méchin, Minister of the Vichy regime: “France has to abandon nationalism and take its place in the European Community with honour”. Jean Monnet, the founding father of the European Union, had been a minister of the National French government during World War II.
In the post-war era, the Marshal Plan, the foundation of NATO in 1949 and the European Coal and Steel Community, later to become the European Community, were the basic pylons for the economic and political support of capitalist Europe’s reconstruction in a climate of severe and acute confrontation with the Soviet Union and the socialist countries.
In the years that followed, the European unity process became the object of fierce conflicts and negotiations; however, the conflict between capitalism and socialism in Europe reinforced the unification tendencies.
Discussions of a prospective unity of the European states emerged as a result of the internationalization of the capitalist economy that grew immensely in the imperialist stage of capitalist development. The whole process is characterized by a contradiction that remains unresolved in capitalism: capital is still generated in nation-states and continues to be nationally-based, while at the same time expanding its international activities, intertwining with other nationally-based capitals.
It is clear then that the entire history of capitalist Europe from the early 20th century onwards is framed by an objective, contradictory conflict between a “cosmopolitan trend” with the European capitalist states, participating in a kind of inter-state union or alliance, and a “nationalist trend” that emphasizes the individual interests of the national bourgeois classes within the framework of such a union, with the strongest capitalist states competing for supremacy.
This means that there have always been certain bourgeois forces that promoted participation in the process of a “European unification” and some other forces that were critical to the process towards a European Community or a European Union at a later stage.
In the current context of the capitalist economic crisis and the exacerbation of contradictions causing the emergence of new international and regional forces and bringing about changes in the correlation of powers, the discussion on the future and the prospects of the EU and the Eurozone has intensified. The future of the EU and the Eurozone in their existing form is unclear.
“Euroscepticism” is a political current representing some parts of the capital in certain EU member states that in the present context of crisis, intensified contradictions and shifting correlation of powers, think they do not benefit from the existing EU and the Eurozone.Most of these political forces adopt strong nationalist characteristics, although the manifestation is different in each country depending on the degree of such country’s affiliation with the EU and its economic and political power.
The so-called Eurosceptic forces in Europe represent different bourgeois tendencies within each country that cannot be seen as undifferentiated, i.e. Euroscepticism in Great Britain is not the same as Euroscepticism in France etc. A unifying element is the idea that the current structure, the institutions and the functioning of the EU and the EU treaties do not serve the interests of individual bourgeois classes. However, irrespective of their declarations, all of these forces essentially express the need for different inter-state unifications and alliances. For example:
Marine Le Pen and the National Front in France have stressed the need to replace the EU by a Union of Free National States as envisioned by Charles de Gaulle, pursuing in essence the creation of an EU that would be rid of Germany’s hegemony and be led by France instead.
The Italian Northern League that recently embarked on a co-operation with Marine Le Pen’s National Front has argued for a “new Europeanism” and an orientation towards China and Russia.
The UK Independence Party has maintained that the UK should break away from all EU Treaties and create a Commonwealth Free Trade Area (between the UK and the countries of the British Commonwealth, i.e. Canada, Australia, New Zealand, India, Pakistan, South Africa and a series of other former British colonies).
Eurosceptic views are not restricted to states that oppose Germany’s hegemonic role in the EU; they also take hold in Germany. In a recent interview, Hans-Olaf Henkel, former chairman of the Federation of German Industries and member of the political party Alternative for Germany, said the Euro was a disaster because saving it meant that differences in competitiveness between the North and the South would have to be resolved at an EU level; as competitiveness of Southern countries could never match that of the Northern countries, this would ultimately lead to reductions in the competitiveness of the North and especially that of Germany. As a result, he proposed three different alternatives for abolishing the Euro. At the same time, Henkel believed the weakening of the Franco-German axis to be a negative development.
Therefore, the conflict between “Euroscepticists” and “Pro-Europeanists” is in essence a conflict about how to best serve the interests of the bourgeoisie of each individual country within the context of the existing imperialist coalitions and against a backdrop of exacerbated intra-bourgeois antagonisms. What is important, of course, in each country is how the working class will avoid getting caught in the snare of those intra-bourgeois conflicts. So much so that “Euroscepticism” is used either as a scarecrow, fueling fears that its rise will wreak havoc on the EU and have disastrous effects on its peoples, or, sometimes, as a line of thought assuming the rhetoric of radicalism or anti-capitalism. In the current conditions, the working class must find a way to make its own anti-capitalist – anti-monopoly path, to take a course towards breaking away from the EU and overturn the power of each country’s monopolies. But this could be the subject of a different article.
1. V. I. Lenin, On the Slogan of a United States of Europe, Apanta, Vol. 26, pp 359-363 (English text: https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1915/aug/23.htm)
*In 1943, the German ministers Joachim von Ribbentrop and Cecil von Renthe-Fink eventually proposed the creation of a European confederacy, which would have had a single currency, a central bank in Berlin, a regional principle, a labour policy and economic and trading agreements. The proposed countries to be included were Germany, Italy, France, Denmark, Norway, Finland, Slovakia, Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania, Croatia, Serbia, Greece and Spain. Such a German-led Europe, it was hoped, would serve as a strong alternative to the Communist Soviet Union. It is worth noting that the Benelux countries are omitted from the list of proposed countries, as their future integration into the German Reich had already been decided.
The later Foreign Minister Arthur Seyss-Inquart said: “The new Europe of solidarity and co-operation among all its people will find rapidly increasing prosperity once national economic boundaries are removed”, while the Vichy French Minister Jacques Benoist-Méchin said that France had to “abandon nationalism and take place in the European community with honour.”
Translated by Effie A.