In the run up to the referendum on the EU constitution in France, a very popular intellectual, Toni Negri, decided to weigh in for the debate. Negri has now put himself on the same side as Chirac and Raffarin, the French bosses and the worst social democratic reformists, and come out in favour of a “yes” vote.
The explanation for this is quite simple. After the collapse of his theory of “the Empire” (seeThe Empire does not exist), a result of the outbreak of the war in Iraq, Negri argued that the US had performed a U-turn and had executed a “coup” against the Empire in order to push its own particular interests. This idea of a US coup against the Empire itself contradicts the theory of Empire, because it is clearly stated in “Empire” that the nation state was no longer politically relevant.
At the beginning of the war, in a desperate attempt to deny that what was happening in Iraq was an imperialist intervention, Negri actually tried to justify the invasion, when he said of the US protectorate in Iraq that, “We are not facing an administration of a colonial type, but a classical process of “nation building”, that is to say a tranformation with a democratic sense” (Clarin, 26-10-2003).
He then changed his position again: the Empire suddenly became the US, and Europe became the counterweight to the Empire by standing against the invasion of Iraq. He declared that Europe could act as a brake on the reactionary ideology of “economic unilateralism”. The fact that the proposed EU constitution is reactionary “isn’t the point” because it is only “a passage to the abolition of the nation state”, which is the “ugly beast”. If France scraps the constitution, according to Negri, the whole structure will collapse, leaving the nation state as the only opposition to Empire. Negri sums this up by saying, “To not be in Europe equates to not doing politics.”
European imperialism is no better than US imperialism. France has deployed troops to defend its interests in Central and Western Africa as the Americans did in Iraq. France and Germany were opposed to the invasion of Iraq precisely to defend their imperialist interests there against the US, not because of some opposition to imperialism. The welfare state in Western Europe was established thanks to the struggles and the enormous power of the working class after the Second World War. These achievements, which make Europe a better place to live compared to other parts of the world, are precisely what the new constitution wishes to destroy.
Negri the “revolutionary” has stumbled to the classic reformist position of the “lesser evil”. When your starting point is a false theory, this is the inevitable result. Negri, throughout his political history, has always zigzagged from one extreme to another. In the 1970s he was known as a “workerist”, i.e. he held the position that only the blue-collar workers could form the revolutionary class that would overthrow capitalism. With the defeat of the working class movement in the 1980s and a weakening of the weight and strength of that particular sector of the working class, the Italian philosopher came to the conclusion (and a very original one!) that the working class no longer existed!
The working class doesn’t need bad “teachers” like Negri. Negri’s theory of Empire has led not only to the support of a reactionary constitution, but to the support of reactionary European imperialism. Negri has led his supporters and any workers that follow him (if there are any) down a blind alley. The Marxists have consistently called for a “no” vote in the referendums on the European constitution. We have consistently explained that European imperialism is fundamentally no different, and no better than US imperialism. To call for the support of the EU constitution amounts to supporting attacks on all the gains and victories of the past 50 years. To call for the support of the EU constitution submits the interests of the working class to those of the bosses and supports a reactionary Europe. What is needed is independent class politics. The working class must counter pose their own interests to those of the bosses. The working class must struggle, not for a united capitalist Europe, but for a united socialist Europe. In order to truly unify Europe, to preserve and extend the social gains of the past 50 years, to create an equal society of prosperity and abundance, to guarantee peace, to build socialism and to abolish the nation state, what is needed is not a reactionary capitalist Europe, but the socialist transformation of society and the establishment of a Socialist Federation of Europe.