A necessary rupture

Panagiotis Sotiris says Greece’s austerity experience highlights why the left should be talking about exiting the Eurozone

June 1, 2014
4 min read

Most parties of the European left have made no effort to transform the growing resentment of the EU’s neoliberal, undemocratic and aggressive character into an anti-EU, anti-capitalist, progressive discourse. This creates a political void that the far right is trying to fill. There is no ‘Euroscepticism of the left’, at a time when it is urgently needed.

Rather, the obsessive Europeanism of many left parties is one of the main obstacles to offering a radical left-wing alternative to the Eurozone crisis. Leaving aside the fantasies for ‘another’ EU with ‘another’ euro, and ‘another’ European Central Bank – which ignore the actual balance of forces within EU institutions – any attempt towards left governance that takes the euro and the EU treaties as given will only lead to futile attempts to renegotiate an ‘austerity with a human face’.

It would be wrong to consider exiting the Eurozone and potentially the EU as a panacea for all social problems, but it would be equally wrong to underestimate its importance. The European integration process has been a long-standing elephant in the room. Its deep crisis is exemplified by the generalised tendency towards austerity all over Europe and the systemic economic violence unleashed against countries such as Greece.

Greece highlights the contradictions of a single currency in an area marked by important divergences in productivity and competitiveness. The single currency and the lowering of protective barriers exposes the economies of the peripheral countries to competition, worsens the debt crisis and leads to policies of ‘internal devaluation’ that are more aggressive than the IMF’s infamous structural adjustment programmes. Brutal austerity programmes imposed on Greece are not an attempt to ‘modernise’ the Greek economy; rather they are a manifestation of the embedded neoliberalism of the EU’s financial, monetary and institutional architecture.

The EU’s structure is based on an undemocratic conception of a ‘constitutionalism’ without democratic legitimacy. Its complex architecture is convenient for those in power, keeping decision-making tightly insulated against social movements and the demands of the subaltern classes. Apart from the constant erosion of popular sovereignty, we have the institutionalised racism of European anti-immigration policies. The EU has never stood for the rights of people.

An exit strategy and a rupture is a necessary progressive and democratic step. There can be no radical, progressive or socialist alternative within the constraints imposed by the EU. Stopping debt payments, annulling existing debt and removing the neoliberal terms that govern loan agreements would require nations to exit the Eurozone, break with the EU and regain monetary sovereignty and democratic control over economic and social policy. This needn’t be a strategy for isolation, but instead a defence against aggressive capitalist policies. It is also an opportunity to focus on locality, environmental protection and relative self-sufficiency – crucial aspects of any anti-capitalist alternative.

There are hopeful signs. Some segments of the European left are now calling for a rupture with the EU. These include voices within France’s Front de Gauche and NPA (New Anticapitalist Party); Antarsya and the ‘Left Platform’ within Syriza in Greece; tendencies within Die Linke in Germany; and militants and intellectuals in other European countries.

This offers a chance to reopen the debate on strategy within the European left. It should include considering how the necessary rupture can be combined with a process of productive reconstruction and socialist transformation based on the collective skills and ingenuity of a society in struggle. It should also include developing an approach to political power that could combine the struggle for a radical left government with extensive forms of popular power, solidarity and self-management from below.

The combination of the economic crisis, the Eurozone crisis, the political crisis and an impressive cycle of protest and contestation has opened big cracks in the neoliberal hegemony. This offers possibilities and opportunities that the forces of the radical left in Europe cannot afford to miss.

Panagiotis Sotiris is an activist in Antarsya, the anti-capitalist left front in Greece