There are two basic lines of possible working class policy in relation to the European Union.
The first advocates building on what the bourgeoisie has created and uniting the working class across the EU to fight the bourgeoisie for democratic and social reform and, in the course of doing that, building towards socialist transformation by working-class revolution on a European scale.
Such an approach does not imply backing what the dominant capitalists and their servants do, or the way that they do it.
It does commit us to counterpose working class measures on a European scale to the bourgeois system.
And it does commit us to European unity and to opposing politically all those who advocate the break up of the European Union and implicitly back the restoration of the old, long-bankrupt, European bourgeois nation state system.
The alternative response to the bourgeois character of the existing process of European unification is to advocate regression to an outlived earlier stage of bourgeois rule — the era of competing and sometimes warring European national states. Despite its advocates’ sometime concern with working class self-defence, this is a reactionary policy. It is a break with the best traditions of the working class movement and of Marxism.
The unification of Europe was a policy of the working class left long before any sort of union became the policy of the ruling bourgeoisie. Trotsky raised the call for a United States of Europe in the middle of the First World War. In 1923, at the time of the French occupation of the Ruhr region of Germany, the Communist International adopted the slogan for the Socialist United States of Europe.
Marxists, including Trotsky, rightly dismissed feeble bourgeois talk in the 1920s of a capitalist united Europe as utopian. It took the Second World War, the destruction of large parts of Europe and the long-term threat of USSR conquest in western Europe before bourgeois quasi-unification became possible.
Because of the successive series of defeats the working class movement has suffered we have not the Socialist United States of Europe advocated by revolutionary socialists, but the quasi-democratic bureaucratic European Union of the bourgeoisies.
Socialists now start from that. We cannot start from anywhere else!
Historically the knitting-together of peoples and states is one of the great progressive works of capitalism. But, as with “globalisation” now, even progressive capitalist development proceeds inhumanely, destructively — in short, in a bourgeois way.
The bourgeoisie industrialised much of Europe in the 19th century. In the long term, they were creating the precondition of socialism — a high level of labour productivity and thus the possibility of abundance for all and the elimination of ruling classes and class exploitation. In the lives of many millions they created industrial hell-holes and foetid slums. They tore down all the old defences of the working people. The pioneer new technology, that of the British cotton industry, made it profitable for the cotton kings to get the raw material, to feed machines run by the child and woman wage-slaves in the cotton mills, by way of black slavery in the USA.
Some early working-class rebels and good-willed observers wanted to “rescind” industrialisation and go back to an earlier historical stage. Describing such ideas as “reactionary socialism” in the Communist Manifesto, Marx and Engels proposed instead that the working class should in the short term organise to protect themselves, and in the longer term aim to win political power and take over industrial society, humanise it and use what the capitalist era in history had achieved as the basis on which to build a socialist society. There was no other way to build a humane working-class system, except on the basis of the economic achievements of capitalism: socialism is in history the child of bourgeois society. No other socialism is possible.
The Communist Manifesto established the basic working-class approach to bourgeois society and its development — to simultaneously fight it in working class self-defence and in the longer term aim to build on its achievements.
Socialists in Marx’s tradition fight the bourgeoisie within their system, conduct the working-class struggle for trade union and social rights, for the fullest democratic rights and procedures, and ultimately for the overthrow of capitalism and its replacement by socialism. We know only one viable anti-capitalism: the conquest of political power by the working class and the transformation of advanced capitalism into the beginning of socialism. Anything else is reactionary anti-capitalism, in the muddled form of a utopian drive to go back to stages capitalism has outgrown.
Fundamentally the same issues arose at the start of the 20th century. Imperialism bestrode the world. Great trusts and cartels united with powerful states to fight other states and their industries for markets and colonies. In response, there arose a bourgeois and petit-bourgeois movement against these “unacceptable” manifestations of capitalist development.
Proposals were made to break up the giant industries, to unscramble and undo what the organic evolution of capitalism was doing. In America, such ideas were made law, and Standard Oil was broken into parts — most of which then developed into giant corporations… It was, even if desirable, simply not possible to roll the film of capitalist development backwards.
Lenin, Luxemburg, Trotsky and that whole generation of revolutionary Marxists mocked at the ideas of the “trust-busters” and denounced their programme as a petty-bourgeois utopian aspiration to “devolve” capitalism back to a stage it had long passed, never to return to. Lenin saw the gigantism of capitalist organisation as a potentially progressive work of social integration and organisation: the answer to its exploitative and brutally capitalist character was for the working class to win political power, and by expropriating the bourgeoisie take over the economy and put it under humane, rational working class control.
To say, as some do, that because socialism is now possible, therefore capitalism is completely reactionary and must be opposed when it tries to unite Europe, is both foolish and sectarian.
Who knows that to be true? Capitalism does not come to a dead end: for example, the microchip revolution over recent decades is a tremendous capitalist-era addition to humankind’s power over nature and potentially over its own social affairs. These and other contemporary technological advances will be taken over by the working class, which develops with and within capitalism and its constantly changing technologies.
Capitalism continues to develop and, in its own bourgeois way, continues to socialise production. It continues to create the material basis for socialism.
The European Union represents a necessary capitalist development. It is reversible only by regression to economic chaos and probably war. Socialists cannot propose to roll the film of history backwards, or want Europe to regress to the old “Balkanised” system of antagonistic bourgeois states and alliances.
The way forward is a working-class campaign to democratise it, and a Europe-wide working-class campaign for a Socialist United States of Europe. We seize the chance to unite the European working class; we propose that the working class should set as its goal the creation of a fully democratic Europe, the overthrow of the bourgeoisie and the creation of the Socialist United States of Europe.
A EU-wide working-class campaign for such a democratic transformation would help show the working class its own immense strength and convince it of the feasibility of radical social transformation.
A programme for European workers
* For a Republican United States of Europe! Scrap the existing bureaucratic structures and replace them with a sovereign elected European Parliament with full control over all EU affairs.
* Fight to level up working class living standards and conditions. For a common campaign for a legal 35 hour week.
* Fight for a guaranteed decent European minimum wage.
* For a Europe-wise emergency programme of public works to tackle unemployment and social exclusion. Workers’ control of the big multinationals, to steer production toward need and to guarantee every worker the right to a decent job.
* For Europe-wide public ownership of all the big banks, and democratic control of credit and monetary policy.
* For the replacement of the Common Agricultural Policy with a plan worked out by workers’ and small farmers’ organisations, based on the public ownership of land. Food production should be geared to the needs of the world’s hungry people.
* For the abolition of VAT and the financing of public services by direct taxation.
* Stop all the state hand-outs to big business — subsidies, tax concessions, reductions in employers’ contributions for social security — and use the money to create jobs in public services.
* Prioritise rebuilding good public services, halt all privatisation plans.
* For free abortion facilities, freely available, everywhere.
* For a Europe which respects the environment, putting controls on industries which pollute, phasing out nuclear power.
* For a Europe open to the world! Free movement of people into the EU; free access for Third World exports to EU markets; a big EU aid programme without strings to the Third World.
* For the right to vote of all residents of EU countries.
* Scrap the proposed Europe defence force. For the replacement of all the EU states’ existing military hierarchies by people’s militia. For a Europe free of nuclear weapons!
* For a united working class. For Europe-wide shop stewards’ committee in all the big multinationals and all the major industries!
* Fight to rebuild a European international socialist movement.
* For a Workers’ United States of Europe.