No to the European Constitution! Yes to a Socialist Europe!

We are publishing this article which appears in the recent edition of the French Marxist magazine La Riposte looking at the prospects of a European Constitution. How have the Communist and Socialist Parties of France responded to it, and what does it mean for the working class?

The world crisis of capitalism has hit Europe very hard. In all European countries we are witnessing budget cuts, privatisations, and social regression. There are officially 16 million unemployed in the EU-15, which is around 9 percent of the population. Poverty affects 70 million people, of which 17 million are children. Food insecurity affects 5 percent of the European population. These statistics in themselves illustrate the complete bankruptcy of the capitalist system. On a rich and modern continent, the lives of tens of millions of people have been reduced to a permanent struggle for survival.

For a long time in France, as in the majority of European countries, the rightwing and a section of the leaders of the left have explained that the “construction of Europe” would bear its fruit. With a few sacrifices, the youth and the workers would end up benefiting in the end. The accords, treaties and years passed. The Euro was introduced. But instead of the promised prosperity and social progress, we have seen an increase in misery and unemployment. The argument according to which “tomorrow, thanks to Europe, it will be better” is used until exhaustion. In this context, it is not surprising that a large number of workers in France have come out against the project of the European Constitution.

The large majority of workers do not have detailed knowledge of the text. But they understand that it will not solve any of their problems. Moreover, those who have written and negotiated the draft Constitution are the same people who in France lead the politics of social destruction. And doesn’t it say something about the reactionary character of the project when the task of directing the preparatory work has been entrusted to Valery Giscard d’Estaing, who is one of the most accomplished representatives of capitalist interests? For those who have been subjected to the attacks of the bosses and the government, the referendum that Chirac has committed himself to organizing will be a new occasion to protest and demonstrate their anger and to inflict a defeat for the right.

Towards a united capitalist Europe?

Historically, the formation of the EU is an attempt on the part of the European capitalists to liberate the economy of the continent from the narrow limits of the nation state. If, in the ascendant phase of the capitalist system, the nation states played a progressive role in permitting the constitution and the protection of national markets, they changed thereafter into obstacles to the development of the productive forces. The world market and the enormous productive forces developed within the framework of capitalism ceaselessly run into the borders of national markets. The formation of the European Union is in itself an admission of this contradiction. The European capitalists, notably, need to form an economic bloc in an attempt to resist the competition of the powerful economies of the United States, Japan, and now China.

The crushing economic and military superiority of the United States in particular pushes the European capitalist class to unify. But the attempt is constantly thwarted by the internal antagonisms of Europe themselves. Behind the façade of the EU, the principle powers – with France and Germany at the head – make an effort to dominate Europe to the detriment of the others. The forced smiles and diplomatic niceties during the European “summits”, do not stop the struggle for markets and zones of influence to continue and intensify.

In a favourable economic context, the fundamental contradiction between the European capitalist classes can temporarily pass to the background, which allows them to continue the integration of the EU. At the same time this also allows for a systematic offensive against public services, wages, the labour market and social budgets. The national capitalist classes were all the more able to get along with one another as each one managed to make enormous profits through the intensification of the exploitation of the working class.

However, in the current world context of enormous economic, political, and diplomatic instability, the integration of Europe is condemned to experience intense jolts. We saw this with the war in Iraq, which immediately sparked off a serious crisis at the centre of the “Union”. NATO is completely divided. Tomorrow, other shocks which will not necessarily be economic in nature, will submit the EU to unbearable pressures. It will all end up collapsing amongst mutual accusations.

The fundamental reason for this is that the national interests of each capitalist class are too contradictory. The inevitable convulsions of a rotting capitalism, which has completely exhausted its historic potential, will set the European capitalists against one another – to the point, in the end, of breaking the fragile structure of the EU. The project of unifying Europe on a capitalist basis remains as Lenin said at the beginning of the 20th Century: a “reactionary utopia”. A utopia, because it is unachievable. A reactionary utopia, because if it could be realised, it would not be in the interests of the European working class. In fact, Europe has never really been unified – temporarily or partially – but for one historic period: when Europe was under the jackboot of the Nazis.

The European Constitution

In general, the European capitalists hope that the EU will create stable institutions, centralised and capable of creating the elements of political direction in what is, for the moment, an immense common market. But this question is hardly posed, and the problem is immediately revealed to be unsolvable. The contradictions between the different capitalist classes exclude any genuinely stable centralisation. In reality, by “centralisation” or by “political unity”, the French, German and English capitalists each mean the same thing: “under favourable conditions for the interests of our national capitalism”. This is the starting point from where the complex and fickle game of alliances between the big European powers is woven. As for the “small countries”, there is nothing left for them but to enjoy their right to remain silent and contemplate the struggle from the substitute players’ bench.

The project of the European Constitution is marked by this situation. Officially, it is a matter of establishing rules for the functioning of a centralised European government. However, in reality it is but a very timid step in this direction. On all the questions that touch the fundamental interests of the different capitalist classes, the project of the Constitution establishes clearly that the national governments are sovereign. This can be seen particularly in the veto system. In other words, the Council of Europe would not have any authority except in secondary matters. And in effect, how can we imagine that the German capitalists would allow their industrial policy to be dictated by the European Council? Likewise, we saw how the French state intervened in the “rescue” of Alstom, to the great displeasure of industrialists and manufacturers of the other European countries, who protested in vain against this “infringement on the rules of free competition”.

In addition, it is necessary to see that this Constitution is the fruit of a very fragile compromise between the European capitalists. The first draft of the text had been rejected in December 2003. However, the source of the new disagreements has not dried up. On the contrary, the economic and international instability of our epoch will continue to feed this instability constantly. The Treaty of Maastricht, which was supposed to establish the rigid framework of a political monetary union, is nothing more than a tattered rag. The budget deficits of France and Germany have blithely passed the 3 percent limit stipulated by the “Maastricht criteria”. And the response of the two governments has been a shrug of the shoulders at what they call their “European engagements” and the threats of a fine. Raffarin, in September 2003, even got away with publicly criticising the “chiefs of the accounting bureaus in Brussels” who protested against the deliberate willingness of the French government to allow their deficits to go beyond the 3 percent limit. Certain news outlets have called this outburst a “slip”. But in reality, it illustrates much better the position of the French bosses towards the EU than all of their nice phrases on the subject of the “European ideal”.

The “Yes” Supporters

In a referendum on the European Constitution, the duty of all militants on the left is to call for a “no” vote and to denounce the lies of the rightwing on the progress that the integration of capitalist Europe is supposed to bring to the people. Whatever the degree of integration, capitalist Europe, dominated by a handful of multinationals and the big banks, will never allow for the resolution of the problems facing workers and youth. We must say no to this Europe on the same basis as we oppose capitalism in general. Unfortunately, a good number of socialist leaders have made new calls to follow the path of European capitalism. Once more, François Hollande and the rightwing of the PS (Socialist Party) have aligned themselves with the bosses in order to praise capitalist Europe and, this time, its Constitution.

These socialist leaders lean on two arguments for the majority of the time. On the one hand, they warn with emphasis: “do not allow yourself to be tempted by the “no”, because it will provoke a grave crisis in Europe!” This idea perfectly expresses their submission to the interests of the ruling class. At bottom, it signifies that the PS understands that the workers, the youth and the unemployed who are suffering through the crisis of the capitalist system want to express their anger and reject the project of the Constitution – but that they should do nothing about it, above all, because that would destabilise the camp of the European bosses!

Europe is already in crisis. It is in crisis from the point of view of the capitalists, but more importantly from the point of view of the working class. And things will not rest there. In the years to come we will see an intensification of the aggressive policies of the bosses, who will attack all aspects of our conditions of life: the hours and conditions of work, health, housing, democratic rights, etc. From then on, from the point of view of the working class, what significance does the slogan “do not provoke a crisis in Europe” have? It signifies nothing but the political bankruptcy of the leadership of the working class, who adhere completely to the capitalist system.

The second argument of the “yes” supporters of the socialist leadership consists in saying: “there are no reversals in this Constitution, and if there are nothing but some modest advances in this text, they are advances all the same, thus we cannot reject them”. Even in admitting the absence of “reversals” in the draft, this will not prevent the social regression that will follow, in reality, at a frantic pace. And the “yes” supporters would do well to remember it. As for these so-called “advances”, they will be two different types. One type will concern European integration. However, once again we cannot consider these as progress from the point of view of the working class. The other type will consist of “social advances”: trade union rights, public services, the battle against unemployment and other such nice promises of this kind will find a place in the Constitution. Hollande and his friends have jumped upon this little piece of the draft and uphold it throughout the entire country. But the question must be asked: what value can such promises have when they are formulated by those who, in their respective countries, commit attacks against trade union rights, employment and public services? In France, Hollande evokes these “advances” at the moment the Raffarin government calls the right to strike into question, proposes to make easier the procedures for lay-offs and continues the movement to privatise the public sector.

That the European capitalists have made vague promises with the idea of deceiving the working class, is completely natural. But the socialist leaders worthy of the name shouldn’t take these promises at face value. They must not sink to the role of sowing confusion amongst the ranks of the working class on the subject of the intentions of the bosses. On the contrary, they should work towards making them conscious of the insurmountable contradictions in the interests between the two classes. All of the fundamental advances of the workers’ movement have come from struggle. Today like yesterday, our only weapon in defending trade union rights, employment and public services, is the organised force of our class and organised struggle. To speak of “Social Europe” outside of the perspective of a massive mobilization of European workers, is to sow confusion amongst our own ranks.

The Impasse of Reformism

A victory for the “no” side in the referendum would have achieved the destruction of any semblance of legitimacy the rightwing government has had since the regional and European elections. It would also have reinforced the working class camp. This victory would also have put the PCF (Communist Party of France) and the left of the PS in a powerful position. Such developments would evidently be very positive. But the “no” supporters must not be content with a simple refusal of the Constitution. The struggle against the constitution must be linked with a campaign explaining the necessity of a socialist Europe.

The reformist character of the programmes of the PCF and the PS constitute a major weakness. In their programmes the centre point of any genuine socialist or communist programme is nowhere to be found: to break with the capitalist system, that is to say the nationalisation of the principle levers of the economy and place them under the democratic control of the working class. On the question of Europe, the result is confusion on the question of the European Constitution as much for the subject of alternatives to capitalist Europe.

The leaders of the left who campaign for “no” all share the false idea that the adoption of the Constitution will have grave, long-term consequences for the working class. The PCF fears that “the principles of liberalism are the foundation of the Constitution” which would then weigh on the European workers for ... 50 years. Jack Nikonoff, president of Attac France, also says “ [the Constitution will bring] the threat of 50 years of relentless neo-liberalism.” But why 50 years, and not 10 years, 20 years or even three centuries? Gérard Filoche, a leader of the left of the (PS), for his part believes that “The president of the European Convention, Valery Giscard d’Estaing, affirms repeatedly that this Constitution will be there for 50 years.” Filoche is not quite such an alarmist, seeing as he holds the perspective that “the project for the Constitution will solidify the profoundly liberal character of Europe for 30 years.” So, it won’t necessarily be 50 years of relentless neo-liberalism, but 50 years during which we have 20 years of respite!

This is not a serious analysis. It is clear that this Constitution carries the mark of the capitalist class. The Constitution confirms the principles of “free competition”, and they are there to serve as the excuse for social regressions. It is precisely for that reason that we must struggle against it. But that is not a reason to over-estimate the relative weight in the relations between social classes. The capitalist principles that the Constitution contains will not prevent the workers from being mobilized. They will not allow themselves to be hypnotised by a text from the ruling class preaching the policies that they combat on a daily basis.

Let’s take a concrete example. Let’s suppose that the “yes” wins and that the Constitution is ratified. Let’s suppose in addition that the PS and the PCF wins the next legislative elections, which is very probable. If a PS-PCF government commits itself, as would be desirable, to the re-nationalisation of public services and the major enterprises that have been privatised over the course of the last twenty years, it would immediately enter into contradiction with the principles of the European Constitution. What should then be the attitude of the government? Would it renounce the nationalizations under the pretext that they would be “anti-constitutional”? This would be to condemn itself to never advance on the way to socialism.

At bottom, the problem rests with the fact that the leadership of the PCF and the left of the PS have renounced the programme of the socialist transformation of society. If they exaggerate the weight of this Constitution, it is because their field of vision never goes beyond the framework of European capitalism. They are not opposed to a capitalist Europe, but to a “liberal” Europe. The term “liberal” is there to suggest the possibility of a “non-liberal” capitalist Europe, that is to say a European version of the famous “économie de marché à dominante sociale” which, in France, led us to the debacle of April 21 2002 and the return of the right to power.

The absence of any alternative on the part of these leaders can be seen clearly when they respond to the argument that says that the rejection of the Constitution would provoke a crisis in Europe. The EMP Francis Wurtz (PCF) wrote: “In what situation will we find ourselves in the period after a victory for the “no” henceforth possible in France? It will not lead to a situation of chaos nor the status quo. Legally, everything would remain the same, but politically, everything would change. On the one side, the project of the Constitution would be finished, but the current trade agreements would remain in force and would still apply. Thus, no chaos.” That is an example of typically reformist reasoning. This argument presents the “current trade agreements” as the pedestal of stability thanks to which the political struggle can be organized. But as these agreements themselves only have meaning in the context of capitalist Europe, this amounts to presenting the chaos of European capitalism as the acceptable framework for the “political” struggle for social rights, employment and everything else that the European bosses are attacking.

The fact that Wurtz presents these agreements favourably – agreements which the PCF rejected when they were no longer “current” – is the result of a tendency to rush headlong into things inherent in the logic of reformism. The left reformists are always against capitalist agreements when they are in preparation. But as soon as they are ratified, the left reformists always transform them into elements of “stability”. Something which the day before had been fought against in the name of the struggle against “liberalism”, becomes a weapon against chaos the next day. The root of this type of reasoning is the reformist illusion in the possibility of permanently improving the lot of the working class within the framework of capitalism.

For his part Gérard Filoche writes: “To not ratify Brussels, would it then be left to the treaty of Nice to make the EU-25 function? No, because the EU-25 could only function with great difficulty under the regulations of Nice. It would then be necessary to search for other solutions. They will discuss it. And re-discuss it.” In other words: the Socialist Party must reject all the European Constitutions until the capitalists, to whom we cede (until the end of time) the task of drafting them, write one for us that conforms with the interests of the working class. This is like asking a tiger to become a vegetarian! The capitalists have better things to do, from their point of view, than to draft constitutions in the interest of the working class!

Indeed, Filoche adds a little later that the capitalists “must re-start the project of the constitution, but this time under pressure from us”, in other words under pressure from the working class. But this wouldn’t get us very far. We would find ourselves facing the following perspective: under the amicable “pressure” of the workers’ movement, the European capitalists would resolve themselves to draft a “social” Constitution which they would respect scrupulously. Unfortunately, for anyone who remembers the principle lessons of the history of capitalism, and seriously consider what happened in Europe, things appear a little less magical. Constitution or not, the fact that their own system is in crisis will lead the European bosses to continue their attacks on working conditions and on the standard of living of the majority of the population. And it will be that way as long as they have control of the principle levers of the economy. Consequently within the framework of capitalism, under whatever Constitution, the workers will remain confronted with the necessity of taking control of the economy away from the ruling class. But Filoche doesn’t seem to recognize this necessity. He is content to call for the creation of a “social market economy”, within Europe. And it is precisely for this reason that he hangs on to the rotting branch of a progressive Constitution within the framework of capitalism.

The “no” campaign in the referendum must place itself in the struggle against the capitalist system itself. We must explain the reactionary character not just of the Constitution but also of the system of which it is only one particular element. With this in mind, it is an urgent necessity that a change is made in the orientation of the PS and the PCF, so that they reject once and for all the reformist illusions and re-establish the programme and the perspective of socialism.

The struggle for the reforms is obviously indispensable. But it must be linked to the necessity of breaking with the capitalist system. There is no other alternative to the capitalist domination of Europe but the expropriation of the banks, the insurance companies, big businesses, and the establishment of a planned economy under the democratic control of the working class. On the basis of the enormous material and human resources of Europe, it would be possible to immediately reduce the working week, and thus to provide jobs to millions of unemployed throughout the EU. If production were liberated from the artificial constraints of production for profit and the limitations of national borders, the European economy would develop at a much faster pace than the miserable 2 or 3% to which the defenders of capitalism aspire to today. This would make it possible to eliminate misery in the space of a few years, including the poorest regions of the continent. Under these conditions, the national question would be solved and the fraternal cooperation of the people of Europe would begin, in which all people would enjoy the right to speak their language and to develop their culture. Such is the immediate perspective which opens up before European workers if they succeed in breaking the domination of a handful of banks and multinationals over the European economy.

Jérôme Métellus

PCF/MJC Paris