The programme of the Greek left coalition Syriza is a challenge (though an incomplete one) to EU policy as well as to Greek policy.
It demands a change in EU policy away from enforced cuts and enforced destruction of worker-protection laws.
The left across Europe should take up this challenge, and spell out a full and coherent alternative.
Both because democracy is important in its own right, and because calls for change in EU economic policy spin in a void if there is no measure of democracy at a European level to allow them traction, the left’s alternative must include proposals for democracy.
In quiet times the EU leaders are happy to let the feeble democratic element of EU politics, the European Parliament, play. In the crisis the last thing they bother about is what the European Parliament says.
EU leaders have set up a system, the “European Semester”, under which EU governments must submit their budgets to the European Commission each year, to get either approval or instructions to add further cuts or marketising reforms.
If Syriza wins power in Greece and implements its policy, the European Central Bank, an unelected body, notionally “outside politics”, threatens to expel Greece from the eurozone.
This Euro-arrogance threatens to throw people into the arms of right-wing nationalists.
Already groups like the Front National in France, Geert Wilders’ movement in the Netherlands, Golden Dawn in Greece, and Ukip in Britain, are growing.
To try to counter them with left-wing nationalist alternatives is hopeless. The programme of rebuilding barriers between nations, and seeking a way out through more unrestrained nation-against-nation economic competition, “belongs” to the right wing. Left-wingers who adopt that programme and dress it up in left-wing clothes will be trapped into being “left cover” for the right-wingers.
As Marxists, we advocate a more responsive, accountable, and worker-based form of democracy than any parliamentary system. We advocate a democracy of workers’ councils, with the right of recall over delegates, the fusion of legislative and executive powers, and officials paid workers’ wages.
That working-class democracy can operate only in tandem with economic democracy. It will not emerge through communal meditation on the relative advantages of different constitutional blueprints. It will come as working-class struggles create new democratic structures from the ground up, in the first place as means for coordinating struggles.
Europe-wide, we are far from that level of struggle now. Democratic demands from the left now should be geared round the contradictions and points of leverage in existing realities, not a future blueprint.
Leon Trotsky sketched such an approach when writing an “action programme for France” in 1934: “A single assembly must combine the legislative and executive powers... Deputies would be elected on the basis of local assemblies, constantly revocable by their constituents, and would receive the salary of a skilled worker... A more generous democracy would facilitate the struggle for workers’ power”.
For the European Union, a similar approach would mean sovereignty over EU affairs for the elected European Parliament. The present unelected “executive”, the European Commission, should be replaced by an executive elected by and accountable to the European Parliament.
A democratic programme must also be more respectful of national and local autonomies than today’s EU often is.
We want expropriation of high finance across Europe and its reorganisation into a democratically-controlled public banking, insurance, and pension service. We want “levelling-up” of social provision and workers’ rights across Europe.
Those demands imply some economic “centralisation”. Within that, we want central EU bodies to control national budgets even less than we want Westminster to control local government budgets in Britain.
As Frederick Engels explained, correcting over-centralist views which Marx and he had earlier held: “throughout the [French] revolution up to , the whole administration of the départements, arrondissements and communes consisted of authorities elected by, the respective constituents themselves, and these authorities acted with complete freedom within the general state laws... this provincial and local self-government became the most powerful lever of the revolution...”