We publish here the second part of a draft document by the International Marxist Tendency, which examines the political impacts of the crisis of capitalism, with a focus on the radicalisation taking place in the USA and Britain, and the ever-increasing tensions within the European Union.
We publish here the second part of a draft document by the International Marxist Tendency, which examines the political impacts of the crisis of capitalism, with a focus on the radicalisation taking place in the USA and Britain, and the ever-increasing tensions within the European Union.
Political effects of the crisis
We are faced with what seems at first sight to be an inexplicable paradox. Until recently the bankers and capitalists were congratulating themselves on having passed through the deepest crisis in history without provoking a revolution. This surprising outcome developed in them a sense of smug complacency that was as misplaced as it was stupid.
The main problem for these people is that they lack even the most elementary understanding of dialectics, which explains that everything sooner or later changes into its opposite. Beneath the surface of apparent calm, there is a growing anger against political elites: against the rich, the powerful and the privileged. This reaction against the status quo contains the embryonic seeds of revolutionary developments.
It is an elementary proposition of dialectical materialism that human consciousness always lags behind events. But sooner or later it catches up with a bang. That is precisely what a revolution is. What we are witnessing in many countries, is the beginning of a revolutionary change in political consciousness, which is shaking the institutions and parties of the establishment to the core. It is true that consciousness is shaped to a large extent by the memories of the past. It will take time for the old illusions in reformism to be burned out of the consciousness of the masses. But under the hammer blows of events there will be sudden and sharp changes in consciousness. Woe betide those who try to base themselves on the consciousness of a past that is already vanished beyond recall! Marxists must base themselves on the living process and on perspectives for the coming period, which will bear no similarity to what we have experienced heretofore.
Looking for a way out of the crisis, the masses put to the test one party after another. The old leaders and programmes are analysed and discarded. Those parties that are elected and betray the hopes of the people, carrying out cuts in violation of election promises, find themselves rapidly discredited. What were considered as mainstream ideologies become despised. Leaders who were popular become hated. Sharp and sudden changes are on the order of the day.
There is a growing anger against the establishment, which goes beyond the immediate economic situation. People no longer believe what the politicians say or promise. There is a growing disillusionment with the political establishment and in political parties in general. There is a general and deep seated sense of malaise in society. But it lacks a vehicle that is capable of giving it an organized expression.
In France, where the Socialist Party won the last parliamentary election, Francois Hollande now has the lowest approval rate of any President since 1958 and the socialists suffered a severe defeat in the recent regional elections. In Greece we saw the collapse of Pasok and the rise of Syriza. In Spain we have the phenomenon of Podemos. In Scotland we saw the rise of the SNP. In Britain as a whole we have seen the emergence of Jeremy Corbyn. All this is an expression of the deep discontent that exists in society and is seeking a political expression. Across Europe there is a fear that the policies of austerity will not be a temporary adjustment but a permanent attack on living standards. In countries such as Greece, Portugal and Ireland these policies have already resulted in deep cuts in nominal wages and pensions without having solved the problem of the deficit. Thus, all the sufferings and privations of the people have been in vain.
We saw the same process taking place in Ireland in the recent referendum. For centuries, Ireland was one of the most Catholic countries in Europe. Not long ago, the Church held absolute dominion over every aspect of life. The result of the referendum on gay marriage, where 62% voted Yes, was a stunning blow to the Roman Catholic Church. It was a massive protest against its power and interference in politics and in people’s lives. This represented a fundamental change in Irish society.
The US was the only main capitalist country to experience at least a minor recovery, although it was of a weak and anaemic character. Most of the growth that was recorded last year was due to the build-up of inventories (unsold stocks). In reality growth is slowing in the USA and has already slowed in Japan and the EU. Since July 2015 the IMF has scattered minus signs all over its forecasts. Thus, nothing is left of the much vaunted recovery.
The weakness of the world economy and particularly the so-called emerging economies has led to a stampede into the dollar, which is still seen as a safe refuge in times of crisis. But the strength of the dollar is itself a problem for the US, giving a competitive advantage to its rivals and hurting US exports. Last year, exports and imports into the US fell, reflecting the general weakness of the world economy.
The crisis is polarising American society. The Obama administration is seen as a failure. The fact that the anti-establishment message of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders has resonated with so many Americans is an illustration of the alienation of millions of people. There is a polarisation to the left and to the right – a process that is taking place internationally.
Trump’s reactionary rhetoric strikes a chord with people who feel alienated by the political elite in Washington. His soaring popularity has come as a shock to the Republican Party leadership and the party is faced with crises and splits.
The US Presidential election presents a most interesting development. It is, of course, impossible to predict the outcome with any degree of certainty, given the extremely unstable and volatile juncture of US politics. The media has focussed almost exclusively on the person of the Republican Donald Trump. It seems unlikely that the US ruling class would entrust its affairs to a reactionary clown and ignoramus, although they have done so on at least two occasions in the recent past with Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. Hillary Clinton is surely a safer bet from the standpoint of the ruling class.
But far more significant than Trump or Clinton is the massive support for Bernie Sanders who openly speaks of socialism. The emergence of Bernie Sanders as a serious challenger for the Democratic presidential nomination is a symptom of profound discontent and ferment in society. His attacks against the billionaire class and his call for a “political revolution” resonate with millions of people, as tens of thousands attend his rallies.
The word “socialism” is now used more frequently in the mainstream media. A 2011 poll found that 49% of those aged 18 to 29 had a positive view of socialism, versus only 47% with a positive view of capitalism. A more recent poll, from June 2014, found that 47% of Americans would vote for a socialist, with 69% of those under 30 in favour.
Large numbers of people, many of them youth, but also many rank and file union members, are eager to hear Bernie Sanders’ message. It is true that his proposals are akin to Scandinavian-style Social Democracy, rather than genuine socialism. Even so, this is a most significant symptom that something is changing in the USA.
Bernie Sanders has tapped into a popular mood of hatred for the establishment and the government of billionaires and Wall Street bankers. The world slump has shaken America to its foundations. One in five US adults now lives in households either in poverty or on the edge of poverty. Almost 5.7m have fallen to the country’s lowest income levels since the global financial crisis.
The US administration has been bragging that the unemployment level has fallen to 5%. But the reason for this is not economic growth, but the fall in workforce participation. If the ratio of those working or actively looking for work were the same as in 2008, the unemployment rate would be over 10%. Workers have been forced into low-paid insecure jobs.
With stagnant growth and high unemployment in the eurozone; Japan falling into recession; and US growth stuck throughout the “recovery” at a mere 2 to 2.5%, there is now no country that can serve as the engine for a new boom. In the last period the developed industrial nations have therefore been depending on the “emerging markets” to support the global economy. That is no longer an option.
All across Europe people are waking up to the fact that that the policies of austerity are not merely a temporary adjustment but a permanent attack on living standards. In countries such as Greece, Portugal and Ireland these policies have already resulted in deep cuts in nominal wages and pensions without having solved the problem of the deficit. Thus, all the sufferings and privations of the people have been in vain.
Europe faces a long period of slow growth and deflation. The attempt to reduce debts in this environment will be “harder and bloodier” than we have seen. Taken as a whole, the eurozone economy has not yet recovered to the pre-crisis level of 2007. This is despite a series of factors which should promote growth: low oil prices, the quantitative easing program of the ECB (which amounts to 60 billion euros a month) and a weaker euro, which should stimulate exports.
However, the extremely low rate of inflation is not a reflection of economic health but of chronic sickness; it mirrors the lack of consumer demand, which in turn is a consequence of huge accumulated debts and falling incomes. It can lead to a downward spiral that can end in a prolonged recession. As a result they are talking about further cuts in the overnight bank deposit rate and an increase in the QE program.
Commenting on the situation, the President of the European Central Bank, Mario Draghi, writes:
“It took between five and eight quarters for the countries now making up the euro area to recover their pre-recession level of real output after the slumps of the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. During the recent recession – which was admittedly the worst since the 1930s – it took the US economy 14 quarters to reach its pre-crisis peak. If our current assessment is correct, it will take the euro area 31 quarters to return to its pre-crisis level of output – that is, in 2016”.
Even this is an over-optimistic assessment. In its present enfeebled state the EU is sensitive to shocks. The slowdown in China and the crisis in “emerging markets” is having a damaging effect above all on Germany, which is an exporter of machine goods to China. Since exports accounted for 45.6% of Germany’s GDP in 2014, the only country that could have acted as the motor force for an economic revival of Europe is in no position to fulfil that role.
The lower the growth, the higher will be the debt burden. That is the lesson of Greece. Under these conditions, defaults and financial losses will follow as night follows day, accompanied by a wave of bankruptcies and collapses in one country after another.
The economic impasse has had the effect of deepening all the contradictions and provoking serious tensions between the nation states of Europe. The refugee crisis, and the question of who is going to pay for it, was a catalyst that brought all these contradictions to a head. It has led to angry conflicts between Germany and Eastern European countries (Poland, Hungary), which not long ago had almost been reduced to the role of virtual German colonies.
France and Germany are locked in a conflict over the idea of a banking union, for which France is pressing, while Germany is dragging its feet. The men and women in Berlin are naturally not enthusiastic about the prospect of guaranteeing other countries’ banks, which they see rather like a man with a sound credit rating lending his credit card to his next door neighbour who has been several times committed to the bankruptcy court.
The bailout of Greece is still not resolved, despite Tsipras’ capitulation. It will not be easy for him to carry out the deep cuts demanded by Merkel and Co. There will be a further intensification of the class struggle as the Greek workers resist cuts and privatisations. At a certain stage this will provoke a crisis in the government and a new clash with the Troika, which will once again raise the spectre of Greece’s exit from the euro and a crisis in the eurozone.
Then there is the little matter of Britain’s forthcoming EU referendum. Cameron represents the Conservative Party which is implacably opposed to further EU integration. The negotiations will be difficult. Cameron must show that he has won some substantial concessions and Merkel must show that she has given him nothing.
The expansion of the EU has come to a shuddering halt. It is no longer in a position to integrate new and prospective Eastern European members. Having dangled the carrot of closer relations with the EU to Ukraine, that unfortunate country will now be left to sink or swim – and it is already sinking. Moreover, the process of European integration (which went further than what we thought possible) is now going into reverse, as border controls are reimposed.
The crisis in Europe is producing sharp changes in consciousness. The December 2015 regional elections in France indicate the process taking place. The National Front emerged as the first party in the first round, with the Socialist Party coming third behind Sarkozy’s conservative “Les Républicains”, but the biggest party by far was the party of those who didn’t vote (over 50%), expressing the general alienation of a large part of the population from all the mainstream parties.
In Spain, in 2011, the right wing Popular Party (PP) won the election. The explanation for this lies in the fact that the previous “left” government of the Socialist Party (PSOE) carried out a policy of cuts that disappointed the masses and led inevitably to the victory of the Popular Party. But now we see the opposite process with the rise of Podemos, which grew from nothing to a movement of hundreds of thousands in the space of 18 months.
There is ferment and a process of radicalization in Spain that is still developing. The December general election in Spain solved nothing. The PP has lost its majority and the result is a governmental crisis that will almost certainly lead to new elections. The widespread support for Podemos, which increased its number of seats from nothing to 69 is causing alarm in the ruling class.
The rapid growth of Podemos was a reflection of a profound discontent with the entire existing political order. At the present time one can say that the masses do not know exactly what they want, but they know very well what they do not want. Pablo Iglesias’ outspoken criticisms of the bankers and the rich and his denunciations of the political establishment, which he calls “the Caste” (La Casta), accurately reflect the anger of the masses.
It is true that the ideas of the leaders of Podemos are confused and unclear. But that corresponds to the existing state of consciousness of the masses, who are only just awakening to political life, and therefore did not prevent Podemos from growing, at least in the initial period. However, if it is not corrected this lack of clarity can ultimately destroy Podemos. Very soon it will have to decide where it stands and in which direction it intends to go.
All these processes will be accelerated in the event of a deep slump. Europe will be facing a situation far more similar to the 1920s and ‘30s than the decades that followed the end of the Second Word War: a prolonged period of social and political upheavals with violent swings to the left and right. However, as well as similarities there are also profound differences with the period between the two World Wars. The correlation of class forces is entirely different.
This means that the European bourgeois is faced with an insoluble dilemma. It is compelled to try to abolish the reforms conquered by the working class over the past half century but is confronted with the stubborn resistance of the working class. Precisely for that reason the crisis will go on for years with ups and downs.
Donald Tusk’s predictions
The general figures for unemployment in the eurozone conceal deep divisions between wealthier and poorer countries. Before the crisis, unemployment rates in the region’s largest economies were broadly similar.
In 2016 the EU will try to speed up the vicious policy of cuts and austerity under the soothing banner of “fiscal consolidation”. The serious strategists of Capital can see the dangers that are implicit in this situation. They have come to the same conclusions as the Marxists. Writing in the Financial Times on 15/6/14, Wolfgang Munchau warned that Europe is under a “constant threat of insolvency and political insurrection … The bottom line is that the total post-crisis adjustment will be much more brutal than it was in Japan 20 years ago. In such an environment I would expect the political backlash to get more serious… Even if deleveraging could work – which is not clear – it may not work politically… By reducing political instability, they will end up increasing financial instability.”
More recently, Donald Tusk, the former Polish prime minister who now heads the European Council, said he feared “political contagion” from the Greek crisis far more than its financial fallout:
“I am really afraid of this ideological or political contagion, not financial contagion, of this Greek crisis,” he said. “It was always the same game before the biggest tragedies in our European history, this tactical alliance between radicals from all sides. Today, for sure, we can observe the same political phenomenon.”
This was the same Tusk who played a central role (together with Angela Merkel) in forcing Alexis Tsipras to agree to the brutal terms involving sweeping austerity measures including the privatisation of €50bn worth of Greek public assets, cuts in pensions, tax hikes and other deep cuts. The same Tusk later protested that he could not accept the argument that “someone was punished, especially Tsipras or Greece. The whole process was about assistance to Greece.”
But Tusk also said he was concerned about the far left, which he believes is advocating “this radical leftist illusion that you can build some alternative” to the current EU economic model. He argued those far-left leaders were pushing to cast aside traditional European values like “frugality” and liberal, market-based principles that have served the EU in good stead.
As in other parts of the world, the youth is particularly hard hit, with persistently high levels of unemployment. Presently in the region’s largest economy, Germany, youth unemployment is at 7.1%. In Italy, more than 40% of people under 25 looking for work are without jobs. The figure for France is 24% and in the UK 17%. But it is over 45% for both Greece and Spain.
The ruling class is well aware of the danger this represents for their system. Ms Reichlin of the London Business School said: “There is a big stock of young people in Italy that risk being lost forever and that will create political pressures over time. The Italian opposition is fragmented at the moment, but that won’t necessarily always be the case.”
Donald Tusk, referring to Tsipras, said the febrile rhetoric from far-left leaders, coupled with high youth unemployment in several countries, could be an explosive combination:
“For me, the atmosphere is a little similar to the time after 1968 in Europe,” he said. “I can feel, maybe not a revolutionary mood, but something like widespread impatience. When impatience becomes not an individual but a social experience of feeling, this is the introduction for revolutions.”
The impact of the Greek crisis has been felt far beyond Greece. The idea of European integration has been shattered. In negotiations, Germany was like the dictatorial conductor of an orchestra. Merkel made no secret of the fact that she was in charge of the whole show. The French bourgeois, who once had the illusion that they were the joint rulers of Europe, had to take care not to push too hard for any concerns they might have had. These tensions will grow even sharper as the crisis deepens.
The reality of bourgeois democracy as a fraudulent façade stood exposed in the minds of millions. Merkel was saying in very clear language: popular referendums and elections are of absolutely no value: the big powers and the real rulers of Europe, the bankers and capitalists, will take all the decisions, irrespective of the opinions of the majority. Likewise, the humiliating climb-down of Tsipras has exposed the limits of reformism and social democracy.
This is a period of wars, revolution and counterrevolution. But that does not mean that fascism or Bonapartism are an imminent danger. In the long term, of course, if the working class offers no way out, the ruling class will try to move in the direction of reaction. But because of the changed correlation of class forces, this could not take the form of fascism as in the past, but some kind of Bonapartist regime. Even so, they could not immediately install a military dictatorship without running the risk of civil war, which they would not be guaranteed to win.
Sooner or later the ruling class will decide that democracy is a luxury they can no longer afford. But they will move cautiously, one step at a time, gradually eroding democratic rights and edging towards parliamentary Bonapartism first. But in conditions of capitalist crisis a reactionary Bonapartist regime would be unstable. It would not solve anything and probably would not last long. It would only prepare way for even greater revolutionary upheavals, as the Greek Junta in 1967-1974 ended in a revolution. We must be prepared for these kinds of developments and not allow ourselves to be thrown off balance by events.
The election of Corbyn as leader of the Labour Party by a big majority transformed the whole situation in Britain practically overnight. This development was anticipated by events in Scotland, where the revolt against the establishment was reflected in the rapid growth of the SNP. This was not a movement to the right but to the left. It was not the expression of nationalism but of a burning hatred of the effete elite that rules in Westminster. The Labour Party, as a result of the cowardly class collaborationist policies of its leaders, was seen as just another part of that establishment.
In itself, the election of Corbyn was the product of a series of accidents. But Hegel pointed out that necessity expresses itself through accident. The fact that Corbyn managed to get his name on the leadership ballot falls under the philosophical category of accident – that is, something that might or might not have occurred. But once this had happened, it transformed the whole situation.
From his very first appearance in a television debate Corbyn stood out clearly in comparison with the other candidates. He stood for something different, fresher, more honest, more radical and more in tune with the real aspirations of millions of people, who were fed up with the status quo and wanted to express their rejection of the establishment.
Before the general election there was little or no life in the Labour Party. But the Corbyn campaign transformed the situation. It was precisely the catalyst that was needed to act as a rallying point for all the accumulated discontent in society that had until then not found any point of reference, and least of all in the right-wing dominated Labour Party.
The election of Jeremy Corbyn provided the one thing that was lacking in Britain: a point of reference for the accumulated discontent and frustration of the masses. It is beginning to regenerate the Labour Party and push it to the left. That represents a mortal danger to the ruling class and they will stop at nothing to destroy it.
For decades the Labour Party under right wing leadership was a pillar of support for the existing system. The ruling class will not abandon this without a ferocious struggle. The first line of defence of the capitalist system is the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) itself. The Blairite majority of the PLP are the direct and conscious agents of the bankers and capitalists in this struggle. That explains their fanatical determination to get rid of Jeremy Corbyn at all costs. The ground is being prepared for a split in the Labour Party that will create an entirely new situation in Britain.
Not only the Labour Party but also the Tory Party is split, especially on the question of the EU. The outcome of the British referendum is hard to predict, but a British exit would have the most serious effects both on Europe and on Britain. It would accelerate the process of disintegration that could end in the destruction of the EU. On the other hand, if the UK leaves the EU, the Scottish nationalists, who are pro-EU, would demand another referendum on independence, which could lead to the breakup of the united British state.
The cracks in the Tory Party will deepen, probably leading to a split-off of the anti-European right wing, which could fuse with the anti-European and anti-immigration Ukip, to form a Bonapartist-Monarchist party to the right of the Conservatives. On the other extreme, the Blairite Right are clearly moving in the direction of a split from Labour. Although both they and the bourgeois fear the consequences of such a move, it is likely that at a certain stage the Labour right wing will be forced to split and link up with the “left” Conservatives and Lib-Dems to enter some kind of National Government.
This seems to be the only way the British ruling class could prevent the emergence of a Corbynite Labour government. But it is a very risky strategy. It would cause extreme polarization, pushing Labour further to the left. In opposition at a time of deep crisis, the Labour Party would recover, preparing the way for a Left Labour government. The generals have already threatened a coup if Corbyn came to power. It would immediately open the door to a clash between the classes and a revolutionary crisis in Britain.
The perspective now opens up of a crisis and split in the Labour Party, which will offer even bigger possibilities for the Marxist Tendency. But our priority is still that of winning and educating the youth. That will provide us with the cadres we will need if we are to take advantage of the possibilities. This is not a normal crisis. Sharp and sudden changes are implicit in the situation. We must expect the unexpected. Tactics may have to change within twenty-four hours.
All these events are a reflection of a profound change that is taking place in the depths of society. It was very well described by Trotsky as the molecular process of socialist revolution: a process in which a series of small changes gradually accumulate until it reaches that critical point when quantity changes into quality.
Illusions of the bourgeoisie
With the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War the dazzling prospect opened up before the European bourgeois of permanent economic prosperity and ever-increasing European integration that would end with Europe (under German control) expanding its borders up to the Urals. Intoxicated with such dreams of grandeur, the European bourgeois were induced to give up a large degree of national sovereignty in some very sensitive areas. The creation of the eurozone is probably the most striking example of this.
The Marxists pointed out that it is impossible to have monetary union without political union. We predicted that the Euro could be maintained as long as the economic conditions remained favourable, but in the event of a slump, all the national antagonisms would re-emerge and the Euro would collapse “amidst mutual recriminations.” Twenty-five years later this prediction retains its full force.
Marxists stand unequivocally for the abolition of all borders and for the unification of Europe. But on a capitalist basis this is a reactionary utopia. The reactionary aspect was shown by the brutal treatment meted out to Greece by Brussels and Berlin. Under the domination of the bankers and capitalists, the EU stands for a policy of permanent austerity. An unelected and irresponsible clique of bureaucrats can dictate policies and overrule the decisions of elected governments like the government of Syriza in Greece.
In alliance with NATO and US imperialism the EU also plays a reactionary role on a world scale. It has intervened in the Balkans, where it was instrumental in the criminal dismemberment of Yugoslavia. It intrigued for the breakup of Czechoslovakia – something that neither the Czechs nor Slovaks were ever consulted about. Its interference in the Ukraine, together with US imperialism, caused the present disastrous mess. All this was basically in the interests of German imperialism, which is the real master of the European Union and has been striving to reassert its domination of Eastern Europe and the Balkans.
The other imperialist powers of Europe, in the first place Britain and France, now find themselves in the role of junior partners subordinate to Germany. But they have their own imperialist interests in Africa, the Middle East and the Caribbean, which they continue to pursue under the flag of the EU. The French and British led the way in the bombing of Libya. The British were the most enthusiastic allies of the USA in the criminal invasion of Iraq. Now the French play a similar role in Syria. All are pursuing their own cynical interests, under the flag of “humanitarianism”, of course.
Together with the Euro, the Schengen Agreement is one of the cornerstones of the European Union. It has reduced the time and cost of moving goods across Europe because trucks no longer have to wait for hours to cross an international border. It benefits tourists and people living in border towns, because passports and visas are no longer needed. It does away with the absurd waste of spending money on patrolling obsolete borders. This treaty was supposed to be a key step in the creation of a federal Europe.
In 1995 the Schengen Agreement eliminated border controls between its signatories and created a common visa policy for 26 countries. But now the process towards greater European integration has gone into reverse. The crisis of the European Union was sharply exposed by the refugee issue.
Europe and the refugee crisis
With the November 2015 massacre in Paris the Middle East finally came to Europe. Simultaneously, the arrival of thousands of desperate people fleeing from the horrors of war, hunger and oppression presented the governments of Europe with a dilemma. In reality, there is a global refugee crisis, not just a Middle Eastern one. Globally the number of people displaced by wars, persecution of minorities and violation of human rights was close to 60 million at the end of 2014. This is a graphic reflection of the world crisis of the capitalist system – its inability to give people the most elementary of human rights – the right to live. The flood of refugees from Syria, Afghanistan and other war-torn and poverty-stricken parts of the globe has led to demands for tighter border controls.
Angela Merkel was quick to open her arms to the poor refugees who were knocking at her door. Partly no doubt this was an attempt to capitalise on the genuine feelings of sympathy that were naturally expressed by many people in Germany and all other European countries. The ordinary people, whose thoughts and actions are not dictated by the cold calculations that motivate the bankers and capitalists, always display sympathy and solidarity to the poor and downtrodden. On the other hand, big business was in favour of an open door policy, not out of empathy for the sufferings of others, but as a means of securing a large supply of human labour at bargain basement prices.
However, Merkel’s kind heartedness did not last long. Germany was expecting to receive over 1 million asylum seekers in 2015. But attacks against immigrant shelters in Germany are increasing as are the votes for right wing anti-immigration parties like Alternativ für Deutschland. Now Merkel is pleading with Turkey not just to halt the flow of refugees but to take them back. Berlin is urgently demanding proportional distribution of migrants across the European Union – a suggestion that meets with no great enthusiasm in London and Paris and outright rejection in Warsaw and Budapest.
Sharp contradictions have emerged between the members of the EU. French and Austrian authorities accused Rome of allowing (and even encouraging) asylum seekers to leave Italy and threatened to close their borders with Italy; indeed, France followed through with its threat and briefly closed its border in late June. Germany, the richest country in Europe, was in a position to absorb a large number of refugees. Others are not so fortunate. Italy and Greece have taken a larger portion of refugees than most others. They have repeatedly demanded more resources and the introduction of immigration quotas in the European Union. But these pleas fell upon deaf ears. Central and Eastern European countries immediately rejected the idea of quotas.
The problem is now posed: what exactly to do with the Schengen Agreement, which makes it possible for immigrants to move freely among member states. Even before the Paris events the Polish President of the European Council Donald Tusk said: “let there be no doubt; the future of Schengen is at stake and time is running out…we must regain control of our external borders.” The Paris attacks provided governments with a convenient excuse for the “temporary” introduction of border controls, not only by France but by other states including Germany and Sweden.
Throughout Europe there is a growing malaise and a feeling of mistrust and hostility to the EU. After the brutal treatment of Greece, there is growing political opposition to Brussels from workers and youth in Southern European countries that are opposed to austerity. At the other extreme there is opposition from right wing, anti-immigrant and populist parties in Germany, France, Finland, Denmark and other countries in northern Europe.
The longer countries maintain border controls or fencing, the more the principle of an open Europe will be undermined. The rise of nationalist and anti-immigration parties in Germany, France, Finland, Denmark, Sweden and Hungary is putting further pressure on European governments to close the borders. The days of the Schengen Agreement are clearly numbered. If it is not abolished altogether, it will certainly be revised to such a degree that not much will be left of the “sacred principle” of the freedom of movement in Europe.
Member states are pushing to be given more power and discretion on the issue of reintroducing border controls. With or without a reform of Schengen, there will be stricter police controls at train and bus stations and at airports. This is already happening. Immigration laws will be tightened to make it harder for immigrants to obtain welfare benefits. Countries like Romania and Bulgaria that have not yet joined Schengen will want severe controls. Poland and Hungary, which were the satellites of German imperialism, are now in direct conflict with Berlin over the refugee issue.
The undermining of the Schengen Agreement will necessarily lead to the weakening of the free movement of people — one of the key cornerstones of the European Union. Once a basic principle is weakened, the door is open for other things to be similarly affected. The removal or weakening of the free movement of people can provide a precedent for the weakening of the free movement of goods. Together with the collapse of the Euro – which is entirely possible – it would mean the end of the European Union as we know it. Nothing would remain of the dream of European unity but an empty husk.
Under capitalism the idea of a Continent without borders will remain an unattainable dream. The unification of Europe – a historically necessary and progressive task – can only be achieved when the workers of Europe move to overthrow the dictatorship of the banks and monopolies and lay the foundations for a free and voluntary union of the peoples on the basis of the Socialist United States of Europe.