– Francine Mestrum’s text is broadly speaking very correct and if anything is still too omphaloscopic (navel gazing). Fair enough! since I assume it is meant for left-internal-consumption-only.
– And, as Thanos Contargyris indicated, it IS hard to critique because it collapses together huge, fatally tangled issues.
The provocative title confused me: does it refer to Thatcher being correct on the EU (IMHO – yes!) or Thatcher being correct on left politics? This needs to be clarified ASAP. It is a missed opportunity in that it points to a problem at the heart of her observations. ie
1) Thatcher was a neo-liberal (witting or unwittingly: this can be argued. However, whether or not she truly personally was, she is the ‘Face’ of the introduction of neo-lib strategies).
At the same time
2) Thatcher was anti-European and still, until today, the ONLY politician of any stature to have articulated ‘why’ convincingly.
3) Third, following her most perceptive anti-EU speech (which also implied conspiracy), she was removed from power the next day in a shock beheading and betrayal by her party, thus neatly confirming the conspiracy aspect of it – and further alienating small ‘c’ conservatives everywhere (who are not synonymous with, or to be conflated with Tories.)
This makes Margaret Thatcher the single most important politician and reference point to the reality on the ground today.
I am happy to point this out, btw, because Thatcher is such a bugbear and the Left’s reaction so hysterically emotional that the left shoots itself in the foot and THE key opportunity is missed. Both in understanding the crisis, in healing division and in mounting a resistance to the economic / political putsch underway.
My unwelcome point here is that I’d take a guess that 90% of Europeans (and possibly more) are AGAINST what is happening – yet politically they feel they have absolutely nowhere to go to register disapproval. Second, what is happening is absolutely NOT a “left” issue. The Left has to get that through its head! The Left does not own the Opposition. To define resistance to what is underway as being ‘Left” is to stay 300% locked in a fatally poisonous past and at the same time throw down a red carpet with flashing neon ‘Welcome!’ signs for the TiPP, Scheuble, Merkel et al.
And by the way, Scheuble & Merkel, Cameron etc. are not “conservative” or “right”, they are the handmaidens (1) of international oligarchy and a hitherto unknown, unimagineable scale of international corporatism and (2) of a wholly neutered and ineffective democracy (& IMO incipient fascism).
(See how unhelpful / emotive this paragraph above was? Yet I wholly believe it. My problem is that I – like the Left with Thatcher, and the entire opposition spectrum [my 90% guesstimate] – have not yet found a temporate, cool, and visionary political comprehension and language to describe this new condition, our new reality. Our new reality has clear historical precedents, yet we should make no mistake that it is not just a repeat: it is both unprecedented and NEW. Old definitions, historical ‘lessons’ are radically insufficient here. We need new understanding, a new political language and a new 100% inclusive political approach FASTER THAN FAST).
Europeans look with contempt at the poisonous divide in US politics, yet theirs at least has the advantage over ours of leading to gridlock – meaning that both sides are equally weighted in resistance to one another. The positions are clear at voting level. It may be tragic and unfortunate, but at least the oppositions are STRONG. Not so in Europe. Europe’s political divide is far, far worse, and set so deep in allergy and visceral hatred and fear of the political other as to be sclerotically invisible to us by now. Stupidity, past crimes and intransigent ideological blindness has fatally poisoned the European political well. Our ability to join together to resist is paralysed. And so this provides a broad open highway – a 32 lane freeway! – for neo-lib ideology/capture to conquer & on steroids.
The above article? is an excellent starting point, but dense by neesssity and needs re-conflation and unpacking.
IMO the 2 problems facing Europeans (EU version) today are
(1) Neo Liberalism: the neo-liberal economic reality that is being imposed against europeans’ will. I say ‘reality’ because it is clearly & certainly much more than ‘policies’ – the word ‘policies’ gives the impression of political legitimisation which has certainly NOT been the case. Deeply criminal things are happening, and the bubbles rising to the surface to prove this are, for example, the myriad prosecutions of illegal banking and trading practises: taking place more effectively in the US than here it should be noted. Which are ineffectual, like nailing down Gulliver’s pinkie. Why? Because this juggernautut has long ago by-passed the parliaments ie democratic institutions, and the law itself, national and international.
(2) The EU itself.
Talk all you like about the ‘good’ Commission vs the ‘bad’ ‘selfish’ Eurogroup, and whatever other black/white divisions and (IMHO false, utterly misleading -) analysis you want to make. The fact is that the Conseil d’Europe is a 100% neo-liberal body; the Eurozone was founded on 100% neo-liberal principles, and criminally & deliberately set up to fail at the first crisis; the ECB is of course neo-liberal and so stratospherically conservative that it makes the neo-lib Fed look like an out-of-control pot-smoking 15 year old hiphopper. The Commission is simply a bureaucratic arm. As for democratic legitimacy, accountability and representation – ie ‘deficit’ – ie the Euro parliament- don’t make me laugh. The big new democratic concession was to finally grant a power of veto? Sorry – this is horrendous.
So the crisis came, and the creditors made their own rules & broke the rules that were convenient to break, the IMF broke its own rules and unaccountable Troika was instituted. Take it from there…
I simply remind you that 17 nations joined the EU as a trade bloc. ONLY. And most by fiat, without referenda. Today Europeans are being presented with 2 intertwined TINAS: the supposedly ‘Eurogroup’ neo-lib austerity TINA, and the supposedly EU Federalist ever-closer-union TINA. Both TINAS are entirely false narratives. Myriad alternatives exist. What matters though is that the one is the arm of the other. Neither could function/be applied without the full complicity of the other. Pretending otherwise is to wilfully blind ourselves. And ignore that it turns the stated rationale for the EU, the bs PR, completely on its head. And condemn Europeans to a darkness that we haven’t even started to comprehend or experience yet. And worse, we can’t even positively name WHO and WHAT is behind this TINAs drive without appearing ‘conspiracy nuts’.
I have much deeper things to say but am confining myself to FACT.
So this is my view, which will offend all of you
And speaking as a Leftist, if the Left cannot find common cause with the peoples of Europe, if it cannot lift itself into the big visionary positive picture, then it cannot meet the needs of today and 100% deserves annihilation.
For example: the Social Model may be left in origin (bravo) but it is NO LONGER owned by the Left. Get over it! Share! Europeans everywhere want social justice. Europeans everywhere, across the political spectrum (I am not talking parties) sign up to the Social Model and believe it defines “us”, Europe. It is now owned by EVERYONE. So grow up Left, grow up!!! Put on your thinking caps. It’s time to ditch “wing” thinking and think : European peoples.
I apologise for my increasingly impassioned tone. Written on the hoof.
Francine Mestrum’s text:
Was Thatcher right? Reflections on the left in the European Union
The title is provocative, I know. But the question, I think, is serious: do we have any real alternatives for the current neoliberal austerity policies, or are our opponents right in saying ‘there is no alternative’?
The brief reflections that follow are inspired by a demand received recently from an Italian friend. He asks to organize a ‘counter-semester’ during the six months Italian presidency of the EU Council of Ministers, to organize demonstrations and protests. He states that the European Social Forum died precisely at the moment when it was most needed. He is right. But I doubt whether its follow-up, the ‘Alter-Summit’, will have a much brighter future.
What is going on and what can we do?
First, we have to recognize that the current economic and social crisis did not benefit the left. Certainly, Syriza in Greece, Izquierda Unida and Podemos in Spain had remarkable successes in the European elections. Greece and Spain are the countries that are hardest hit by the austerity policies, though the people in Ireland, Italy, Croatia, Cyprus and Latvia also know what ‘crisis’ means. And all countries of the EU are currently faced with deeper cuts in social expenditure and public services. Unemployment is very high. Yet, people do not turn to the left in order to protect them, they do not believe the left has the right answers to their problems.
Second, it follows from this that we have to admit the left itself is in crisis. It does not convince people anymore of the relevance of its message, and people turn to the intolerant, eurosceptic and often racist far right. This is particularly worrying and threatens democracy.
What should the European left be doing?
Being a long time European (and global) activist and having been a privileged observer of European policies for several decades, I can only repeat what I strongly believe in.
1. European social movements will never come to any coherent action or programme as long as they do not create clarity on who they are and what they want. The problem of the ESF and today of the AS is not so much that some are real movements and others are NGOs, or some are ‘radical’ and others are what is still called ‘reformist’. The main barrier for better understanding and common agreement is that some are anti-EU and others are not. Now, both positions, I think, are legitimate, but it is hard to agree on anything if you are not sure what your partners are working at. The political programme behind both stances are very different. In one case, one believes in the need for European institutions and policies, in the other case one strongly believes in the need for strengthening national sovereignty and in the perversity of any European approach.
Recently, movements have tried to avoid this difficult debate – which will inevitably split the movements – by claiming all together an ‘other’ Europe that has to be ‘social’ and ‘democratic’. But what these slogans mean, no one can tell you and the impasse remains. A serious debate is impossible and considered to be undesirable. For the Alter Summit meeting in Greece last year, for instance, it was impossible to agree on the need for ‘social convergence’…
This also leads to a biased analysis of European policies and possible resistance to them. Some are strongly condemning the European Commission as having too much power, being unelected and anti-democratic. Pointing to the fact that more and more power is in the hands of the European Council does not help, since it is not the institutions as such that interests them, but the existence of a so-called ‘supranational’ European entity. Looking more closely at the European Council would oblige them to see the responsibility of national Member States for austerity and trade agreements and would make their anti-EU strategy more difficult.
It is my strong belief that movements will never get out of this impasse if they do not bite the sour apple and create clarity about what they want. Once this is done, I also believe it should be possible to look for points of common action, such as resistance against the TTIP, which does not imply one has to blame the Commission exclusively. But it will be easier to agree on different yet now and then common strategies for future alternatives. And a clear choice can be offered to people.
One last point about this lack of clarity: I also believe the anti-EU left has an urgent need for explaining in what way their thinking is different from that of the anti-EU far right. Citizens need to know and understand.
2. If the left cannot convince people anymore of the relevance of their message, they probably also have to look at that message itself. I am personally convinced that the main points of that message are still very relevant, such as the need for national and international solidarity, social justice, economic and political democracy. But how to achieve these important claims, is another matter. The world has changed a lot in the past fifty years, economies and societies today have different needs and the narrative offered to people has to take this into account. What characterizes Syriza and Podemos is that they indeed spoke the language of people, they spoke about wages and pensions and health care. But for parts of the left this ‘reformist’ social protection is still a no-brainer, it never occurs to them social policies can also be the driving force for systemic change, they prefer to talk about capitalism and labour, and think that all solutions imply full employment , ‘stable jobs’ and state intervention.
This is only one example, but it is easy to look at the left discourse to see where it fails to talk of the real problems of people in a comprehensive language. The AS has currently three priorities: against TTIP, against austerity and against the extreme right … as if this constant fighting against everything were attractive to people. What people need is some security and protection, and that is what has to be offered, in a way that takes into account the existence of a globalized world, even if the left may want to change or regulate this globalization. But looking at the past does not help, the message of the left has to be geared towards the future and give hope to people. It has to offer real alternatives, and a strategy on how to achieve it.
One of the major problems of the left is that it talks to its own public, it is self-referential and forgets to speak to the many people it could possibly convince to join its ranks. A majority of people today can hardly make the difference between the first an the second world war, between the nazi-camps and the gulag, yet the left talks to them in marxist terms of labour exploitation and revolution. And is astonished that no one listens.
There is a huge paradox in today’s political situation. Western Europe is the richest subcontinent on Earth with still the best kind of welfare state and a relatively well functioning democracy. No, our democracy is not perfect, our welfare states are being dismantled and too many people suffer from poverty and deprivation. But being in such a privileged position compared to the rest of the world, should it not be obvious to defend what we have, to try to further improve it and to promote our political, economic and social system in the rest of the world? Why would we want to destroy everything? Without knowing how to replace it?
Two urgent needs
If we could create an awareness of the two abovementioned points, the need for political clarity on objectives and the need to improve instead of destroying our political, economic and social systems, we could think of a strategy in two dimensions.
1. We should develop multi-level policies and strategies. It means we should be aware of the impossibility of single regions and countries to find solutions for the global problems of to-day, whether it is climate change, or social dumping, or tax dodging or financialization of the economy. Once you say this, too many people are discouraged, believing they have no power to act at a European or global level. Yet they can. Working at the local level, for instance with migrants or refugees, it is easy to make the link with the global and European policies at the root of these problems. Creating an awareness of where problems come from, calling the attention of local councillors or national members of parliament, is within the competence of all movements. They should do it and do it constantly. In order to resist European migration policies, you do not have to go to Brussels or Strasbourg, you can do it in your local community in contact with your representatives and members of government.
This is all the more true for policies that are more or less hidden from national democratic procedures, such as trade agreements. Contrary to what some movements claim, even the smallest details of a negotiating mandate are discussed among national ministers and members of national parliaments have the possibility to ask for clarity. Furthermore, all national parliaments, I guess, have select committees to discuss the European legislation that is in the pipeline, and civil society usually has access to these meetings. Why not use this procedure much more? Why do many prefer the secret lobbying of governments or the blind street protests? Why not use the democratic procedures that are available? In short, for resisting European or global agreements, you do not necessarily have to be in Brussels, you can do it in a coordinated way from the local or the national level, putting pressure on governments and members of parliament.
2. If this resistance to European policies can be organized at the different national levels, in a democratic and transparent way, it can also be organized at the European level in cooperation with the members of the European Parliament. What the European Union urgently needs is an organized opposition to its neoliberal philosophy, and there are now in the European Parliament two or three groups that can help to organize this. All it demands is some pragmatic good will and efficient organization, and of course the clarity about objectives. The leftwing and green groups in the EP have no majority, but they should be at least as efficient as the eurosceptic and europhobic rightwing groups to have their voices heard, and to make the difference between left and right crystal clear.
In a nutshell, though it does require some serious work, what the European left needs is first of all the intellectual honesty to make its objectives clear and the pragmatism of strategizing. It should be possible to link up with national and local movements working with their national parliaments. If movements have the resources and the energy to organize at the European level, so much the better, but this is not a prerequisite. Dynamic local and national movements can be so much more efficient than the usual demo of 500 people in Brussels which is than proclaimed ‘the beginning of a new leftwing movement’ … wishful thinking of the worst kind.
Global Social Justice