There was no need for Mario Draghi’s words to understand that the crisis has already reached an irreversible threshold in Europe. A crisis of “systemic dimensions” was what Jean-Claude Trichet said a couple of months ago. Now Draghi, his successor at the European Central Bank, tells us that “the situation has worsened” (January 16th). It is difficult to understand what the worsening of a crisis of “systemic dimensions” might mean.
What is certain is that the scenarios for the coming months are quite dark, not only for those who have already been paying for the crisis for years and the medicine that aliments it – austerity or, more “soberly”, economic rigor. Even consistent sectors of capital and European ruling classes are starting to doubt that, in the gigantic process of global readjustment of the equilibrium of power underway, they risk becoming one of the losers. The specter of “decline”, even if it hasn’t stopped haunting American metropolises, has started showing up in Europe’s squares more persistently – or at least in entire European regions. And there is no lack of pundits that foresee military reasoning behind the actions of rating agencies, the first maneuvers in a “global debt war” where the goal of saving the dollar as the sovereign currency on a global level (consequently maintaining the current command centers of financial markets) can justify disintegrating the Euro. In the background, the news coming from the Strait of Hormuz reminds us that, facing a crisis of this profundity and length, war can always be an attemptable “solution” not only through finance and “sovereign” debt.
Let’s say it clearly: the European Union, as we have known it until today, is finished. This is not something to be happy about. We ourselves have thought from time to time that struggles and social movements could find a more responsive framework of reference for citizenship and governance than national political structures in the growing European institutions, a space inside and against which the construction of campaigns and the articulation of assertive political platforms could be experimented. Well, that space doesn’t exist anymore.
This is the first lesson to be learned from the crisis in this part of the world. The second, however, is just as important: every hypothesis of democratic or socialist answer to the crisis is being revealed for what it is – a possibly dangerous illusion lacking any efficacy. Two years of resistance has taught us this but, nevertheless, they have been two years of resistance confined to national spaces, to austerity policies in the countries hit hardest by the crisis. Greece is emblematic from this point of view. It is difficult to imagine a more radical and varied deployment of resistance struggles that what has happened there – from the occupation of squares to general strikes that lasted for days and days, from attempts to assault Parliament to entire cities paralyzed. Still the effectiveness of this permanent mobilization, in terms of contrasting the draconian policies of cuts and the dismantling of the social state and social rights, has been next to nil.
We’re not trying to be arrogant. Those struggles had to be done, in Greece and elsewhere. But the prospective of mere resistance within them (from the simple defense of the gains made over the last few decades and of the institutions that were supposed to incarnate them) found itself facing a radical limit. As Europe is shedding, before the eyes of millions of European citizens, any democratic vest to resuscitate the ghosts of the Commissioner as dictator, of the exclusivity of monetary regulation and colonial domination of a supposed center over the periphery, the national dimension has proven to be impotent as an extreme embankment or defensive bastion.
The processes of the disarticulation of the nation-state have gone too far over the last few years, too compromised with neoliberal and financial logic are the institutions of the latter, the composition of living labor has changed too much, too deep is the disproportion between the violence of financial control and the dynamics of representation making any New Deal on a national base impossible today. A program to overcome the crisis by moving ahead can only be a constituent program: the two elements that, by definition, qualify every constituent program – fixing new, non-negotiable principles and constructing new institutionality – must however be accompanied by the invention of a new space that, for us, can only be European. We won’t hide the fact that this is an enormously difficult task. Yet, the future of class struggle and any qualified “left” in Europe depend on the capacity that we have, in the immediate future, to assume this arduous endeavor.
2. The radicalness and the depth of the crisis, both on a global and European level, are now recognized by many mainstream analysts who openly talk about a medium-term recession. As for Europe, if a radical solution of continuity doesn’t intervene, this means that we’ll be facing a further decomposition of a space (political, social and cultural other than economic) profoundly heterogeneous from the beginning. European institutions presented this heterogeneity as one of the strengths of the Union. The pressure of the crisis has swept this rhetoric away. Today we aren’t even talking about a Europe going two or more different directions. What is happening around Great Britain is not less important than Greece’s fall toward the ascertainment of default: the City in London hopes to function as a magnet that attracts capital from all of Europe, distributing it over the global financial markets and contributing to the depth of the rupture of the economic unity of even “strong” countries – starting with Germany. The very hypotheses of the breakdown of European monetary unity, with a German secession and the formation of a new bloc around the Mark (Christian Marazzi has often mentioned this), serves the weakening of global demand for manufactured exports and the first cracks in the social stability that the German model depends on.
France’s downgrade weakens not only the “European Monetary Fund”; it definitively breaks the Paris-Berlin axis that had hoped to play a role as European director in the crisis and open another fracture line in the E.U.’s institutional space. In the east, the social revolt taking place in Romania opens another front of radical instability while the fascist derive of the Hungarian government – though being contrasted by a growing movement – caused a reaction in Brussels only when it demagogically got to the point of mentioning the autonomy of the ECB.
These are the decomposition processes of the European space that push us to affirm that the E.U., as we have come to know it, is finished. Let it be clear, this doesn’t mean that European institutions are destined to disappear or that plans for their “reform” don’t exist. More precisely, a few people (for example Étienne Balibar) have recently talked about a veritable “revolution from above”: an attempt to totally realign the Union’s institutional structure around the ECB, profoundly changing the material and formal constitution both on a European and national level (the reference to the balanced budget is clear here). The fiscal compact that will be signed in March indicates the framework of this attempt, lead by Germany, to manage the crisis, but whose limits are clear even to the promoters themselves and that could only succeed in the presence of a recession that is somehow “controlled” and slow in the attack on “sovereign debt”. For Germany (and not only), as we’ve said, the alternative is leaving the Euro, with effects in Europe and the globe that are difficult to predict.
We’ll not linger over this second scenario. It would seem more urgent to stress that the “revolution from above” currently underway empties European institution, however definitive, of every democratic substance and also suggest the absolute urgency of a constituent program on this level. A “gothic” Europe is being born, a dispersed and hierarchical Europe, a market-Europe without effective internal democratic mediations but, instead invested (and possible recomposed according to variable geometries and geographies) with a new sovereign head, the Bank – and not simply the ECB but “the markets” again – that come from above and spread widely.
The 50-year process of European construction based on a governance that balanced dissymmetry and prevented the appearance of possible upheavals in the traditional hierarchy of states. In the gothic labyrinth that is awaiting, with its deformed architectures bent to the needs of banks and “markets”, a kind of “planning” from above will dominate. It has been said: a quasi-soviet planning, not to produce goods but to produce debt – making sanctions against any deviation automatic. It is easily foreseen that, contrary to the federalist dream and the functionalist project of an attenuation of sovereignty in the process of integration, sovereignisms and nationalisms will proliferate in this structure. On one side, in “strong” countries protecting positions, already the dominant discourse presents them as threatened by the weak fiscal discipline of the “periphery”; on the other side, within the latter, where the anti-European reaction is beginning to assume the form of an anti-German reaction. In both cases we are facing an extremely dangerous phenomena that threaten to become even more dangerous with each passing day.
3. Today, these sovereignisms and nationalisms are the other face of the hypothesis of a “gothic” Europe, i.e. a “post-neoliberal” stabilization in the management of the crisis. We are talking about a post-neoliberal stabilization in a specific sense, on the base of the conviction that in the scenario coming through the approval of the fiscal compact we will see the reaffirmation of some of neoliberalism’s essential dogmas without an effective strategy for overcoming the crisis. There are not, in this scenario, effective margins of negotiation, neither a change in ECB policy nor in the evolution of the European Monetary Fund much less in a restructuring plan of sovereign debt or the recapitalization of banks. The idea of a European investment plan for employment and the prospective of a more or less “fair” redistribution of taxes and therefore working incomes and wealth, on these bases, seem to be pure illusion. The Europe of the “revolution from above” is built to guarantee financial rent and, at most, has the ambition of guaranteeing a compromise between the latter and the specific fractions of industrial capital. Its architects are aware of the fact that capitalism’s current global assets, with a finance 8 times greater than the “real economy”, is not sustainable and that any monetary policy (that at this point only help speculation) is unlikely to survive. Post-neoliberal stabilization in Europe is a project destined to drown in the long-term. But in the long-term, it is know, we will all be dead.
One thing is certain: if someone is thinking about composing the interests of different fractions of capital in gothic Europe, there is no recognition of work. At most, where there are still the right conditions (for example in Germany), this recognition finds space inside the structure of national consultation. But these structures excluded more and more significant portions (both quantitatively and qualitatively) of workers who are now definitively precarious, while the very position of “secure” work is being threatened by a crisis that doesn’t exclude anyone. Elsewhere, in most European countries, the attack on working conditions (of cognitive labor and factory labor alike, of migrant and autochthonous labor, of dependent and formally autonomous labor) knows no bounds. “Sovereign debt” is dumped on men and women who are evermore “privately” indebted, the attack on wages is combined with the attack on services, unemployment and the erosion of family savings and therefore the spread of poverty. A vertiginous increase in social inequality, already harshened by the processes of the financialization of capital, is the first consequence of all of this.
We’ll repeat what we wrote at the beginning: resistance to these processes of dispossession is not only sacrosanct, it is indispensible. It is only inside the development of resistance that we can form new ways of cooperating and new political platforms that can unite different social subjects together in a common struggle. This struggle, following the indications of Tahrir Square, relaunched by the Spanish indignados and by the occupy movement in the United States, must conquer its own spaces in the European cities shocked by the crisis. But for this struggle to become constituent and finally open the prospective of overcoming the crisis, the convergence between different forms of resistance in the metropolis is not sufficient. Only in a more ample space, which we can only define as European, will it be possible to draft a new program to win the common, understood as the material base for the construction of a new way of living together, cooperation and production among free and equal people.
This is an understanding, amply spread within the Spanish indignados movement, that can find an important moment of consolidation in the proposal of a European mobilization to encircle and assault the ECB in Frankfurt next May (on the anniversary of 15M). Take Europe Back must become the keywords of that mobilization. If the crisis threatens to characterize our lives over the next years, we must prepare ourselves to face this moment.
We are not starting from zero: social struggles have sedimented an extraordinary legacy of experience in many European countries while the revolts in Maghreb and Meshreq have come into the imaginary and languages of European movements. A great transnational campaign to free life from debt (and the political imagination from the blackmail of default) can mark the passage of a social movement space on a European level. While the acts and initiatives of resistance to debt are multiplying on a molecular level, we must construct a European political shore for these struggles, in the perspective of building elements of counter-power and political program without any nostalgia for nation-states, without any compromise with gothic Europe.