28 June 2005

EU Constitution: A debate

By Hannu Reime, Moshé Machover and Arie Finkelstein

 

Reime:

May 30, 2005

Dear Moshik,                                                                                                  

What do you think of the French voters' decision? Do you agree that the cause of the winning side was laudable but their choice of voting "no" was wrong? Do you think that the French vote, in fact, strengthens US imperialism, contrary to what the no-voters probably thought? I'm no European patriot but the US power is a fact of life in the present-day world, and it's a very dangerous power!     

At the end of last month, there was a very good interview with Jacques Delors in Le Nouvel Observateur where he defended voting YES with the same goal in mind (the social point of view) that the NO-side said they were defending. He said that the NO-people were terribly wrong in their assesment. Delors is a relatively progressive reformist person, far better than his followers at the head of the commission, and very well-informed about EU-matters. An honest public personality, I would say. 

Do you think that an ideal situation would have been a decision to hold the referendum on the Constitutional Treaty at the same time in all the 25 member countries? After all, the matter to be decided deals with the whole Union, not individual states.

All the best,

Hannu 


Machover:

May 30, 2005

Dear Hannu,                                           

Yes, I completely agree. The motives of the "no"-voting leftist were mostly very good, but their success in defeating the Constitution will be bad.

A similar analysis [like the one by Delors] was made by my friend John Palmer (formerly one of the leading lights of Socialist Worker, and the European Editor of The Guardian) in an article published a couple of days ago. As you probably know, he is now based in Brussels and has very detailed knowledge of the inner working of the EU. I think he is basically right: the failure of the Constitution will not prevent any of the things that the leftist "no"-voters wished to prevent, such as a dose of economic liberalism, competition from an influx of cheap labour (or outflow of capital towards cheaper labour) etc. Such things do not need the Constitution as a precondition. So we will get the bad things anyway, but not the relatively good things that the Constitution would have granted. All this, in addition to the international dimension, which for me is the overriding consideration. By throwing the EU into this crisis, the result of the French referendum has open the door more widely to US global hegemony.

Ideally, yes, of course [to hold an EU-wide referendum]. But this is the way the EU has been working, and a source of one of its greatest weaknesses. While it is a supra-national structure, all popular voting — including elections to the Europarliament — are conducted at the national level, and almost entirely on national issues.

ATB, Moshik


PS: I would have liked to copy this correspondence to my Matzpen comrade and friend Arie Finkelstein, who lives in France and with whom I had a very brief discussion about the referendum some time ago. But I don't wish to do it without your consent. If you have no objection, please forward this message to him.


Reime & Machover:

May 31, 2005

Reime: Thanks for the very interesting article by John Palmer. Did you note that all the three trade union confederations in Italy support the Constitution with basically the same arguments that John Palmer and Jacques Delors present? Le Monde of May 24 interviewed the leaders of the left-wing CGIL, Catholic CISL and the more conservative UIL. They note the inadequacies of the Constitutional Treaty, but as Guglielmo Epifani, CGIL's secretary general, notes, without a constitution "Europe will only be a big market-place, and not a political entity, which is indispensable for the world peace."

Machover: I didn't know this. But it shows that the Italian left is more perceptive than the French.

Reime: A funny detail that I noted this morning, when I read the comments on the French vote in Helsingin Sanomat, the biggest Finnish newspaper. There the chairman of the Finnish Attac (the French-born international NGO) rejoices at the no-vote, and just on the column next-door Vaclav Klaus, the Thatcherite President of the Czech Republic, rejoices, too! Parts of the left (taken broadly) seem to have lost the compass totally.

Machover: Yes. But we also have to look on the bright side. Subjectively, it was a great victory for a mostly left-inspired popular revolt against the political elite. In this respect, it was quite nice to see the popular celebration of a popular victory. This may perhaps encourage a greater self-confidence on the left. Unfortunately it has been based on a mistaken analysis; and when this is finally realized it may deflate the euphoria of the French left.


Finkelstein:

May 31, 2005

Hello Moshik and Hannu,

Thanks for involving me in your discussion. I'll try to relate more in detail to your position in the near future. For the moment let me do several short staements that i'll try to develop and justify in a later stage.

First, I didn't vote in this referendum since I think that it evaded and helped put aside (camouflage) the main important question: Is this (European) economy designed to serve the needs of a the population, or does that population serve the needs of the (European) economy. The people who talk about "social europe" don't question the capitalist nature of the economy but rather try to impose mechanisms to "compensate" the working class for their losses due the the integration in the world market. The fact that the reformist left, the PS and the Green party, were divided in nearly equal parts shows that even from an "enlightened capitalist" point of view, there was no clear advantage in voting yes or no. In this state of confusion, it could have been much more beneficial, to expose both sides to the limitation in their analysis.

Second, I think that there is no fundamental difference between American Imperialism and (future) European imperialism. The only difference is in terms of current power, which can change with more investments in "defense" by the European community. The French are now involved in Africa to an extent that is higher than that of the USA in that continent. Their position about Iraq was driven by economical interests rather than peace or justice. These interests can change and can result in an agressive policy. So I think that voting yes because of temporary tactical considerations, is wrong.

I must admit that I felt happy to see the polititians face after this defeat. They used intimidation methods and had 80 percent of the media time to do a brainwash campaign that failed.

Regards,

Arie


Machover:

  May 31, 2005

Arie shalom,                                   

I will reply briefly to your two statements.

1. Yes; everyone recognizes that the EU is at present a capitalist union. At the moment the choice is not between a capitalist Europe and a socialist one, but between various models of a capitalist Europe. How revolutionary socialists ought to translate this obvious truth into a prescription of how to vote (or to abstain) in the referendum? This is a question to which several answers are possible. I quite understand the answer you arrived at. I think it is better than voting "no', but I still think it was wrong.

2. You say "that there is no fundamental difference between American Imperialism and (future) European imperialism". This may or may not be true; as it is a statement about the future, we cannot be certain. But let us assume that it is true. My point is from a socialist viewpoint a situation in which there is one hegemonic almost all-powerful imperialism, which decides everything unilaterally, is much more dangerous that a multi-polar world, even if it is a capitalist one. Of course, you are right that the opposition of France (and Germany) to the Iraq war "was driven by economical interests rather than peace or justice". But this only proves my point: for their own reasons, hey did oppose it! Had the EU been stronger and more united, the Iraq war could perhaps have been prevented.

ATB, Moshik

 

Finkelstein:

   June 3, 2005

Hello Moshik and Hannu,                                       


I am sorry again, not to be able to develop my ideas in detail. I am very busy at work recently. So let me make again several brief statements: 

First let's agree that we are dealing with a tactical question. The proof is that people like us, with the same class analysis of the society had three different positions: Yes, No and rejection of both options as the same calamity.

Let me first relate to what Moshik said:  

You say "that there is no fundamental difference between American Imperialism and (future) European imperialism". This may or may not be true; as it is a statement about the future, we cannot be certain. But let us assume that it is true. My point is from a socialist viewpoint a situation in which there is one hegemonic almost all-powerful imperialism, which decides everything unilaterally, is much more dangerous that a multi-polar world, even if it is a capitalist one. Of course, you are right that the opposition of France (and Germany) to the Iraq war "was driven by economical interests rather than peace or justice". But this only proves my point: for their own reasons, they did oppose it! Had the EU been stronger and more united, the Iraq war could perhaps have been prevented.” 

This position is as speculative as mine since nobody can guarantee, that had the EU had a real military and political weight, the war in Iraq could have been avoided. It could have well taken place with a prior agreement where the EU gets a fair share of the cake.

What we should be concerned about is not strengthening a rising imperialist power, but rather create a new internationalist (European) working class power. 

My position is based on the current political situation in France. The popular social outrage is so big that it would have been extremely difficult if not suicidal for a revolutionary to take a "Yes" position. Especially with the media and the hated government daily dose of brainwash.

A "yes" position would not be understood. The polls yesterday say that there are 24% satisfied with Chirac and 36% have confidence in the new prime minister. So tactically speaking your position was out of the game. 

Let me examine now the "No" position in respect to a position rejecting both and trying to advance socialist revolutionary ideas.

According to the polls 17% of the voters changed their mind in the last week and further 10% changed their mind in the election day itself. Most of the common  people were confused.

In this situation advancing socialist revolutionary ideas was very easy. I was surprised how easily my ideas were accepted by  people who are normally very moderate middle class people. Of course I didn't talk in Marxist terms but rather general terms like the ones I wrote in my previous message (for instance, using population rather than working class which could be blamed by Marxists as mystification?). So tactically speaking, the revolutionary ideas had a golden chance to be heard and promoted.

 

Machover:

June 4, 2005

Hi,                                                      

Arie Finkelstein wrote:

First let's agree that we are dealing with a tactical question. The proof is that people like us, with the same class analysis of the society had three different positions: Yes, No and rejection of both options as the same calamity.

I don't think it is only a tactical question. It has of course a tactical aspect: what position you advocate. Do you recommend voting for, against, or abstaining. Tactical considerations come into it.

But there is also another more fundamental question, which is the one we were originally discussing: will it be better from a socialist-internationalist viewpoint if the constitution is adopted or if it fails. This is not a tactical question at all. Nevertheless, people like us, with the same class analysis of society, can come to different conclusions about this. We can come to different conclusions not only about tactics.

You also wrote: What we should be concerned about is not strengthening a rising imperialist power, but rather create a new internationalist (European) working class power.

If I believed that the failure of the proposed constitution would be to help in creating a new internationalist (European) working class power, then of course I would be very happy with the outcome in the French and the Netherlands. But I don't think this is going to happen, and I think you are deluding yourself in believing it. On the contrary, failure of the constitution would lead to a regression from European integration and retrenchment of nation-states. We have to ask ourselves if this is desirable.

You also wrote: My position is based on the current political situation in France. The popular social outrage is so big that it would have been extremely difficult if not suicidal for a revolutionary to take a "Yes" position. Especially with the media and the hated government daily dose of brainwash. A yes position would not be understood. The polls yesterday say that there are 24% satisfied with Chirac and 36% have confidence in the new prime minister. So tactically speaking your position was out of the game.

All this is clear. Yet, we must ask ourselves whether this popular mood is based on an illusion, on a faulty analysis of reality. I think, unfortunately, that it is so. The future of the EU, and even of the constitution, is a much bigger issue than what the French people feel about Chirac.

You also wrote: Let me examine now the No position in respect to a position rejecting both and tryng to advance socialist revolutionary ideas. According to the polls 17% of the voters changed their mind in the last week and further 10% changed their mind in the election day itself. Most of the common  people were confused. In this situation advancing socialist revolutionary ideas was very easy.  I was surprised how easily my ideas were accepted by  people who are normally very moderate middle class people. Of course I  didn't talk in Marxist terms but rather general terms like the ones I wrote in my previous message (for instance, using population rather than working class which could be blamed by Marxists as mystification?). So tactically speaking, the revolutionary ideas had a golden chance to be heard and promoted.

This may be so. But we should not be swayed by a popular mood of euphoria, which may well be transient. The question remains: will the failure of the proposed constitution create better or worse conditions for the struggle for socialism in the whole of Europe and the whole world?

ATB, Moshik

 

Reime:

June 5, 2005

Arie and Moshik shalom,                                                                                      

Let me return briefly to the questions we are discussing by commenting on Moshik's earlier message with its 2 points.

1. I completely agree with Moshik for the reasons we've discussed earlier: European political integration (even in its capitalist form — and there's no socialist form of it for the moment) makes the conditions more favorable for an all-European workers' struggle for socialism, for a real international social movement. That's why I voted for Finland's membership in the EU in the autumn of 1994, and that's why I would have voted YES for the Constitutional Treaty if I had been a French or a Dutch citizen. I'd like put to Arie the following question: your abstention seems to indicate that you rejected both the YES and the NO camps on equal terms, distancing yourself from both. And yet there was a real popular movement behind the NO camp, whereas the YES camp was supported by the political elite with some individual exceptions, of course. So do you think that the movement for NO, despite its commmendable aims, was still misguided, as I and Moshik think?

2. Surely there's no difference between American and (future) European imperialism or any other imperialism from the socialist point of view. But more generally, I don't think that a multipolar world is in any absolute or principled sense "better" than a unipolar world. The collapse of EU's Constitutional Treaty will strengten the US imperialism by default, and that's one reason for supporting it but I think that, still, it's a very short term tactical consideration; at least for me it's not the main reason for being for the Treaty. And furthermore, I don't think that the US ruling class is in principle opposed to European integration as such: their attitude depends on the political line taken by the ruling class(es) in Europe together with other power political considerations. Moreover — and first of all, in fact — we have to remember that there was a multipolar world in 1914, and it lead to the first mutual slaughter in Europe, helped by the greatest betrayal of internationalism by the European workers' movement. The problem is not the number of power centres in the world but the birth of a new international socialist movement of the working class that is independent of all the power blocs and camps in the world and that rejects all the old (and new) "geopolitical shit", if I may use a bit vulgar expression. 

In solidarity,

Hannu


Finkelstein:

June 10, 2005

Hello Hannu, Moshik,                                      

I am sorry for the delay in my reply. I participate in a social movement against our employer concerning retirement. Our employer, the chamber of commerce, asks the government to issue a decree which will liberate them from all responsibility for the bad management of our retirement fund. We had three days of strike and locked up five of our directors for 10 hours of forced negotiations in front of the cameras and in the presence of more than 100 employees. This was an exciting activity, but we are far from winning.

Concerning the vote: Of course both the "no" and the "yes" were misguided when they tried to put forward social arguments. I think that from a socialist perspective there is no significant difference, since the economical basis stays the same. Joining one of these camps would be helping them hide the real important issues, while giving importance to secondary ones.

I entirely agree with your point [about various imperialisms]. However I am not sure that a politically united Europe could have any anti-American policies. It could just be the opposite: that in an effort to have a common middle-of-the-way position, the clear NO of some countries during the Iraq war, could not have been expressed. So in this respect the Yes position is based on speculations.


Arie


Machover:                           

June 10, 2005

Arie shalom,                                               

Yes, of course the economic basis will be capitalist in both cases. But from a socialist viewpoint there is a great difference between a capitalist Europe fragmented into archaic nation-states, and a capitalist Europe that is politically integrated. This integration is a historically progressive process, in some sense analogous to the unification of Italy and Germany. Superseding the obsolete borders of the nation-states will be a great progressive step.

I don't agree with Hannu's prediction that a stronger Europe may lead to a situation similar to that which gave rise to the two world wars. The world has changed since then, and a war between major powers is not a realistic option. But there will be rivalry between two capitalist blocs (later to be joined also by other blocks, such as China...). In my view, a situation in which there are rival blocs is better than an all-powerful US, which feels it can flout all norms of international law, and do whatever it likes. As the period of the cold war showed, the existence of rival blocs puts some brakes on this hegemonic behaviour. Each bloc restricts the freedom of action of its rival, if only to protect its own interest. This is shown by the example of Iraq. France and Germany opposed it — of course, not out of altruistic motives, but precisely because they saw it rightly also as an attack by the dollar against the euro. There is no reason to suppose that a stronger Europe would have joined the US in the Iraq adventure. Why should it? Saddam had started selling the oil he was allowed to sell in euros rather than dollars. For the US this was one of the main reasons to depose him. But for France and Germany it was a reason to object to his deposition. Had Europe been stronger and more united, the economic logic would have been the same, but Europe might have been able to prevent the US from acting.

ATB, Moshik

 

Reime:

                                                                                   June 13, 2005

Arie and Moshik,      

It's good that Arie doesn't see the content of the NO vote in any way progressive. In this there's a complete agreement among us. The difference between Arie, on the one hand, and Moshik and myself, on the other, concerns the way we see the value of a united Europe even if it's capitalist (and not an internal empire, of course).

As for the second point, I don't predict that a multipolar world will necessarily lead to a world war or even to a situation that resembles 1914. But surely there's such a possibility. The world was quite close to be blown up in 1962 and perhaps also in 1973. Moshik has a point when he writes that "a situation in which there are rival blocs is better than an all-powerful US," and I surely agree that rival interests were behind France's and Germany's oppostion to the US war against Iraq and that it was good. I don't want to say or imply that a world run by one imperialism would be better than a world of rival imperialisms -- I only want to stress that there are two sides to this question. In addition, there's a danger that socialist and other popular movements might in a multipolar world be tempted to support one bloc, deemed to be more progressive, against the other. This danger is less acute now than during the Cold War and the existence of state collectivist regimes. But I don't think the danger is totally passed: during the Yugoslav wars in the last decade, some sectors of the left saw the Milosevic regime as somehow progressive because it got into a conflict with Western imperialism.

In solidarity,

Hannu


Machover:

Machover: Yes, such a danger exists, but it is not inherent in the objective conditions but depends on the sophistication (or lack of it) of socialists. A multipolar world also provides space for manoeuvre for socialists.

In solidarity, Moshik


Finkelstein:


Dear Hannu and Moshik,  

I want to point out one important aspect that I forgot to mention: A "No" vote in France is not the same as a "No" vote in the UK. In France the majority of the "No" voters are for Europe. They opposed the constitution after a very widespread democratic debate on it's content, mostly for good reasons (regression in respect to certain legal achievements in France like secularism, abortions, the right of strike for the bosses etc.). In the UK the "No" vote is mostly rejection of  Europe and of the positive parts of the treaty.

Bye,

Arie

 

Machover:

                                   June 13, 2005

Dear Arie and Hannu,

This is very true. And for this reason I think that the result of the French referendum is not altogether bad. In my view the substance of it is bad, because it will impede the process of EU integration. But since it is perceived as a victory for the left, it may be a good morale booster. Also, it has made the European political elite realize that they cannot take the masses for granted.

ATB, MM

 

Finkelstein:

 

I have several comments on John Palmer's article. John Palmer says: "In the Netherlands we are told that the treaty would threaten Dutch liberal and secular traditions. In Poland the main complaint is exactly the opposite: the treaty will force secular standards on a Catholic society. Both cannot be true. Both are in fact rubbish. But voices trying to inject some reasoned evidence in the debate are easily drowned out."

This argument is demagogical. It is true that the treaty tries to find an in-between road concerning secularism and abortion. In this case both arguments can be true.

The following sentence by John Palmer strengthens my position why we shouldn't have voted and helped enforce the illusionary carnival: "If the constitutional treaty is killed, all the free-market provisions that the no side objects to will still be in force. This is because they are part and parcel of all the other EU treaties that will remain in force."



Hannu Reime is a veteran broadcaster and journalist working for the Finnish Broascasting Company.

Dr. Moshé Machover, a professor emeritus of King's College, London, is an Israeli-British mathematician and a life-long left-wing activist.  He was a founding member of the anti-Zionist, socialist and internationalist Matzpen group in Israel in 1962.

Arie Finkelstein is an Israeli socialist dissident who lives in France. Like Machover, he was an activist in the socialist group Matzpen in Israel.


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