This week, in advance of the upcoming Euro elections, the Oxford Marxist Society hosted a meeting on the EU crisis and the socialist alternative. Twelve people attended the meeting and enjoyed an interesting discussion about the Marxist view of the EU.
Arturo Zoffmann Rodriguez, member of the Oxford Marxist Society, gave the introduction to the topic. He began by explaining the depth of the crisis in different European countries and its economic and social impact. He then discussed the question of the nature of the crisis, explaining that it’s not a crisis of the eurozone or the EU, but that it’s part of a global crisis of capitalism, although the problems and contradictions of the EU and the euro condition and help exacerbate the crisis.
He went on to explain the concept of crisis of overproduction, highlighting how capitalism is based on the exploitation of the working class and that the producers cannot consume all the goods that they produce, creating an excess that can be temporarily overcome by capitalism through mechanisms like credit but that eventually leads to prolonged crisis. The EU and the euro, however, have helped exacerbate the crisis.
The EU emerged after WW2 with the ECSC and the EEC, as a trading bloc that intended to shield the weakened French and German capitalism from US and Japanese competition. The EU clusters highly unequal countries, and whereas inequalities can be obscured in periods of boom, where integration was possible, they have unravelled with the crisis. Traditional ways for poor countries to try to overcome crisis, like currency devaluation, become impossible due to the euro, whose interest rates are assured by German domination of the ECB, and are leading countries like Greece or Spain to pursue internal devaluation (i.e., attacks on wages to become more competitive). To make matters worse the EU lacks a cohesive state apparatus like the US.
Arturo then discussed the nature of German domination in Europe, pointing out that it’s not the German people as such having a dominating role but the German bourgeoisie. The latter managed to become highly successful and competitive by attacking wages and increasing productivity (still nowadays Germany has comparatively very low wages). The problem with this is that it exacerbates overproduction, since the German internal market was undermined, and created the need for Germany to export massively, dumping its overproduction in other European countries and fuelling its exports by providing cheap credit to countries like Greece or Portugal, which now has turned into debt. The bailouts to southern Europe are a way in which to indirectly bail out German banks, to which much of the debt is owned.
Arturo then discussed the different alternatives that are put forward to the EU crisis, noting that the serious bourgeoisie has absolutely no idea of how to get out of this mess and is highly pessimistic. He referred to left-reformist and right-wing arguments in countries like Greece which advocate an exit from the eurozone to be able to devalue the currency. This, however, inevitably leads to impoverishment and inflation since you might export competitively, but only by becoming unable to import.
He then touched on the notion of protectionism defended by the Right but also by parties like the Front de Gauche; this is an utopian solution in a globalised world – indeed, it had disastrous effects during the Great Depression, when countries set up tariff walls, only making matters worse. He criticized the idea defended by the Social Democrats of eurobonds, which would imply that Germany would fund other countries’ deficits, and which would lead to a centralisation of fiscal policy that would see Germany dictating even more ferocious austerity.
Finally, he discussed the idea of taxing the rich and defaulting on debt, which would not solve the fundamental problems of Europe, and would lead to a strike of capital that would make things worse.
The solution is the United Socialist States of Europe, where the commanding heights of the economy would be nationalised, and that using these resources a democratic economic plan would be drawn up to do away with unemployment, poverty, and to overcome inequalities within Europe.
He finally tried to answer the question of how to get to a socialist Europe by pointing out that we live in revolutionary times and that people are being radicalized across the continent, which has seen one mass movement after another. The only obstacle is the leadership of the working class which is clueless and is providing no alternatives. No leadership is articulating the massive discontent that exists in European societies. It is in this context that forces like UKIP are arising. Despite its cheap populism and its reactionary nature, UKIP’s following among the petty bourgeoisie reflects the uncertainty and unease that prevails among the middle layers of society. Its moderate inroads into working class constituencies are owed to the bankruptcy of the Labour leadership and to UKIP’s anti-establishment rhetoric.
During the discussion, a question was asked about the nature of nationalisations and about whether a planned economy would work in a single country, to which others answered that a few isolated nationalised companies run by bureaucrats is not what we are aiming for as they would be insufficient and would suffer from the pressures of the market. In order to plan the economy rationally and holistically you need to nationalise all the big corporations and put them under workers control; and ultimately, although revolutions will happen in some places first owing to the uneven development of capitalism, for socialism to be successful you need to make it international.
One person asked a question which argued that recovery was underway in the UK and in Europe. Someone else responded that macroeconomics are one thing, but that for the poor in society things are only getting worse and they are being ever more radicalised by the crisis in their living standards. It was also pointed out that what is being referred to as recovery has largely taken place through speculation and fictitious capital (i.e. the London housing bubble), while real industrial production has not increased.
In the UK wages have fallen systematically. The “recovery” its only benefiting a small layer of society while the rest get poorer – indeed we’re seeing rising inequalities that are fuelling discontent. All the talk of recovery sounds like a bad joke to most people (for instance in Spain almost 90% of those recently polled by El País said there is no recovery and that the economy will not improve in the medium-term).
More importantly, it is likely that there will be another slump soon, as the Financial Times admits: the BRICS are slowing down and the Ukraine crisis could plunge the world economy back into recession. The measures taken to alleviate the crisis (quantitative easing, drive to export, stimuli to credit…) are paving the way for a bigger crisis.
A number of other interesting questions were raised, on issues of “human nature” and the running of nationalised industries, as proposed by Arturo as the alternative to the capitalist club of the EU.
It was an enjoyable meeting about a topic that will be dominating the news headlines over the next week or so. It armed the Oxford Marxists with the ideas and arguments necessary to make the case for a United Socialist States of Europe.
by Oxford Marxist Society