For a Federal United Ecosocialist states of Europe

imageRalph Blake and Dave Packer continue the debate on our response to the crisis.

Michel Husson [1] in more general broad terms and Ozlem Onaran [2] in more concrete ones put forward a strategy for solving the crisis in Europe. Michel’s is a first shot across the bows at how to tackle the European wide crisis that has evolved from the summer of 2007’s global crisis of credit. Ozlem’s contribution seeks to answer one of the critics of Michel’s suggested strategy, Costas Lapavitsas [3], while putting some meat on the bones of Michel’s outlines. There is much to agree with about Michel and Ozlem’s analysis of the roots of the crisis and we have offered a similar analysis [4]. There is also much to agree with on the solutions to the crisis: full public control and ownership of the banking system; progressively taxing the rich and wealthy and corporations; opposing all the austerity measures that Europe’s ruling class is trying to impose on the working class, students and poor of the continent; and a debt audit to identify the source of the debt, its legitimacy and where the debt is held.

What we disagree with in Ozlem and Husson is the political premise. This suggests that a radical reform of the European Union in a general anti-capitalist direction while staying in the Euro is both possible and desirable. It is also claimed that staying in the Euro is more “European” and will strengthen internationalism rather than accommodate to an anti-European, rightward, nationalist shift.

They argue that staying in the Euro will shield the working class from setbacks and defeats while fending off financial speculators. They also imply that general blanket demands such as default should be raised in all the countries of Europe.

There are several problems with this approach. The anti-capitalist demands that they propose are not compatible with membership of the EU, which is essentially a neo-liberal institution. If any country followed such a programme they would be thrown out – we have to make this clear.

Some have argued that it is better for tactical reasons to be thrown out of the Eurozone rather than leave because the left should not associate itself with reactionary nationalist forces, who also campaign to leave. Of course we should denounce right wing nationalism and argue that the working class maintains its independence from them, but their position assumes that staying in the Euro and in the EU is somehow neutral, while leaving will threaten pensions and savings, etc. We disagree with this because the EU is a neo-liberal capitalist club that not only facilitates and imposes massive austerity on the weaker economies in Europe, but also deepens the inequalities between the larger and the smaller economies in the interests of French and particularly German capitalism.

Membership of the Euro does not protect the working class from epoch-defining defeats – quite the opposite. The Euro is the umbrella that the ruling classes are using through the EU, together with the IMF, to impose a massive austerity attack on the European working class to make them pay for the crisis. If it succeeds then the European working class will have suffered an historic defeat.

Shoring up the banking system

The huge bank loans to bail out Greece, Portugal and Ireland and potentially Italy and Spain, etc., are not designed to promote growth in these economies, or create jobs, but to provide cash to enable them to pay off their sovereign debts to their creditors, the international banking system, while at the same time imposing more austerity. In other words it’s about shoring up the banking system at the expense of the European working class who will all have to pay for this through more austerity.

However, these loans from the European Central Bank, the IMF, and private banks at extravagant interest rates, have not been adequate to stave off a Greek default. Greece now needs another 85bn euros from the EU/IMF, and has to sell, privatise 50bn euros of assets on top of that, at knockdown prices, because it cannot borrow in the global markets. In exchange for the new bailout, the EU is insisting on a new range of austerity measures, including a further 10% cut in public spending, a 1/3 cut in the public wage bill. The Greek workers and students will not accept any more austerity as the recent massive general strike has shown and if they succeed in resisting it, this will stimulate struggles in Ireland, Portugal, Spain and Italy.

Now (October, 2011) as the crisis rapidly accelerates, the private holders of Greek debt, banks and pension funds, are being asked by the desperate Eurozone governments to write off 50% Greece’s debt, but only voluntarily! This would be a soft, controlled, partial default on its debts. However the banks, particularly French banks, resist this because they can’t sustain such losses, so Eurozone governments have been obliged to make funds available for their recapitalisation to the tune of 108 billion euros. This is because they fear that another banking collapses like Lehman Brothers, will lead to another credit freeze and even deeper slump. They are also terrified by the prospect of a default by Italy or Spain, ‘which are too big to fail’, so they also propose to establish a one trillion Euro bailout fund, going cap in hand to China for a contribution. This strategy is about spreading the impact within the system when Greece defaults.

As we have pointed out previously many on the left do not face up to the fact that the contradictions of the Eurozone mean it cannot be reformed but needs to be broken up. [5] The Marxist economist Ernest Mandel pointed to these likely contradictions and consequences in 1992. [6]

However, the general demand for a debt default fails to recognise the diverse sets of circumstances across Europe. Where this is a credible demand in the smaller near bankrupt economies, Greece, Ireland and Portugal, we should support it, but in most of the major economies of Europe a default is first of all not necessary, at this stage, as there is sufficient wealth through the banking system and in the rich corporations to avoid one, and second, it fails to recognise the likely effects the general call for a default would have if implemented on the global financial system – an immediate second credit crunch and world depression as happened in the 1930s. That historic crisis was mainly due to major European governments’ defaulting on their debt. [7]

It is not the job of Marxists to put forward demands that would immediately deepen the international capitalist crisis in a way that would further batter working class living conditions. The consequent freezing of world credit and rapid descent into slump that would result from a default of a major economy would not necessarily create the best conditions for a fight-back, as the catastrophe of the 1930s has shown us. Our task is to put forward anti-capitalist demands, including transitional demands that would defend jobs, services and living standards and lead in the direction of revolutionary solutions to the crisis. Only this would be in the interests of the working class.

As Ernest Mandel stated : “For revolutionary Marxists, this conflict is a typical inter-imperialist competitive struggle in which the working class has no reason for supporting one side against the other. To the policies of both sides, they must counterpose the struggle for a Socialist United States of Europe, for a really unified Europe, which could effectively surmount the antagonisms bred by capitalist competition; that could only be a Europe which has abolished both capitalist property and the bourgeois state. It is not by accident, moreover, that the present crisis in the Common Market coincides with a slackening of economic expansion which could be the preliminary signal of an opening recession in all capitalist Europe”. [9]

Identify illegitimate debts

A transparent and democratic debt audit is a vital demand for all countries, with the facts brought before public opinion, which will expose and identify illegitimate debts, which in the case of the near bankrupt countries must be repudiated and cancelled: Toussaint’s six demands for Europe [8] address some of these questions with dispensation for public holders of the debt. [See also Tousaint, In the eye of the Storm, the debt crisis and the European Union, interview by the CADTM, for a more detailed discussion of the debt audit and default.]

Ozlem overestimates the popularity of a general default demand in the major economies. The NPA in France, which has raised this demand is a significant formation but has membership of only a few thousand and is not a mass party with mass influence. Default on the debt would not today be understood in rich counties like France, Germany or Britain.

More importantly, membership of the Euro has not protected counties from financial speculation; quite the opposite is the case. The financial markets can see the contradictions in the Euro that we have pointed out. They have seen that the peripheral countries would need a bailout and bet against their governments and corporate bond and share markets until the point of the bailout is announced. They can also see defaults coming, possibly in Spain and Italy as well and are betting now that these will happen.

Speculating against Greek debt

Greece was the subject of derivative manipulation to hide its deficit to meet the budget conditions to enter the Euro. The investment bank responsible for these derivatives tipped off its hedge fund clients about the cover up and they speculated against Greek debt. [10] The way to end speculation is in fact to leave the Euro and deal with debt swiftly either through default and taking control of the banks as in the case of the peripheral countries, or in the case of the major economies, through taxing the rich and taking control and ownership of the banking system and setting out an orderly plan for dealing with the debt.

Without full control and ownership of the banking system even a debt default by a country like Greece would see a freezing of credit, leading to a deeper recession and big losses to workers’ pensions because the majority of a country’s debt is held by domestic banks and domestic pension funds. A default strategy must therefore be combined with taking into public ownership and control the banking and financial system.

In fact sections of the European ruling class [11] are setting the scene for defaults by the periphery countries because they realise that the losses will be mainly borne by these countries themselves and the effects across the European banking sector would be relatively small. They think it better to have an orderly default rather than spook the markets with a sudden one.

Many capitalist economists think the break-up of the Euro is inevitable and countries such as Greece would be better outside it. [12]

Attempts at putting forward proposals that reform the European Union lead Ozlem into dangerous territory. There is much talk of socialisation, an ambiguous term associated with the public bearing the losses of the financial system, rather than outright public ownership and control, which is essential for any default strategy and when abandoning the Euro.

Small economies under perform in Eurozone

Some comrades, advocate improving productivity in the periphery countries. As a solution this is shared with the ruling class as they seek to heap the blame for the crisis on the periphery countries’ working classes for not working hard enough. Portugal’s problem, for example, is not that it is uncompetitive but that it came into the Euro with its currency at too weak a level. This has seen its economy underperform compared to the major European economies and unemployment rise since it entered the Euro. [13] Leaving the Euro would see its economy become more competitive and allow it to fully utilise its food production potential. Becoming self-sufficient in food and improving its competitiveness would boost exports and reduce the amount of imports making it less vulnerable to importing inflation. This of course would not in itself be a long-term solution for the working class.

But those who say leaving the Euro would lead to economic isolation by the EU erecting trade tariffs misunderstand their use. These tariffs are in general a reaction to other major trading blocs e.g. the USA and China putting up barriers to European trade. [14] This argument also ignores the fact that states such as Britain while outside the Euro still have the Eurozone as their major trading partner. But a country leaving the Euro in the present crisis would be forced to break with neo-liberalism, move in either a radical Keynesian, or anti-capitalist direction. Socialists can make temporary alliances with left Keynesian reformists on some question. They would seek to develop different trading relationships with other countries, which are moving in a similar trajectory based on an exchange of goods to meet basic needs. This must also include a radical restructuring of the economy to take account of the deepening ecological crisis, which the neo-liberals are pushing off the agenda. [15]

This is not to say that independence from the Euro and the EU will solve the problems of these economies, but it will create better conditions for the fight back, for the working classes in these countries to begin to deal with their own ruling classes. It will lead to a weakening of pan-Europe capitalism, to control over monetary and economic policy, allowing greater scope to take on the ecological crisis, greater political clarity and transparency. Rather than being an isolationist policy leaving the Euro and breaking up the European Union while putting forward radical anti-capitalist and eco-socialist solutions will lead to more, not less international solidarity across Europe. Self-determination is essential for real international solidarity. It will inspire workers in other countries to follow and lead to the break-up of what is the major neo-liberal block in the world.

These are key steps to creating an alternative, federal Eco-Socialist Europe. Workers in England, Germany and France will see that there is a way to break the grip of European capital and its ruling classes and move in an anti-capitalist direction.

To stay in the European Union and the Euro the periphery countries in particular will see immigrants blamed for the austerity and very high levels of unemployment, which is already happening, while in the major economies we will see a strengthening of the political right as their populations face cuts and rises in taxation to fund bailouts of the periphery countries. These are the contradictions of the Euro that are not acceptable to socialists.

Contradictions of the Euro not acceptable

Attacks on wages and conditions and budget restraint (massive cuts) will block growth and punish the periphery countries and raise their cost of borrowing, slowing down economies, creating bigger debts and deficits. For example, this will have a major impact on Spain that has high exposure to variable mortgages. With 21% unemployment and a rise in interest rates Spain will be exposed to more house price falls and more real losses for the Cajas (Spanish building societies) which will eventually lead to more state bailouts for them and bring a Spanish bailout closer, with all its consequences for the Spanish working class.

In summary: The European Union and the Euro are tools to manage the crisis in the interests of capital and protect banks from collapsing with the debt on their books. They are not the framework for progressive policies and Eco Socialism to be pursued.

Rather we should focus on key demands that can unite the working class across Europe and put a stop to austerity now.

These demands should include:

• leaving the Euro which would help lead to the break up of European Union and defaulting on unsustainable debt for periphery countries faced with EU/IMF imposed austerity. This would allow the working class of each country to face up to their own domestic and weaker ruling class. This would not be a move to save capitalism but to weaken pan-European capitalism and break it at its weakest links on the periphery; and it would be part of a series of anti-capitalist demands which we expand on below that could lead to the construction of a socialist economy and society;

• a full debt audit, overseen democratically, to reveal who is responsible and who holds the debt;

• taking banks under public control and ownership that can nullify a credit crisis in defaulting nations and provide resources to cancel and pay off large chunks of debt in major economies; Financial resources could then be directed to useful, green, planned investment.

• alternative retirement provision which means pension fund debt can be cancelled without a loss to workers – basic needs met through free on-retirement: housing, utilities, transport, basic food, education, health, culture and sport;

• a wealth tax on the superrich and a progressive tax on better off, increased corporation tax and a clampdown on tax avoidance;

• build green sustainable economies not based on the capitalist drive for growth – free public transport, renewable energy, stop nuclear power, self-sufficient food production and distribution taking these industries under public control and ownership, carbon neutral affordable social housing, We have to challenge capitalist consumerism that says we always need more and more commodities. Socialists aim for a rise in the quality of life across the whole planet rather than the constant drive for increased output: ‘for abundance of free time rather than abundance of unnecessary commodities’;

• encourage the exchange of goods and services across Europe rather than neo-liberal trade and become more self-sufficient and green through internal production for need rather than profit.

In this way we can begin to create a real internationalist Federal United Eco-Socialist Europe based on the institutions and relationships created by the working class and their allies through their struggles against the neo-liberal austerity policies of the European Union and the Euro. It will be based on new equal relationships and forms of power. Not ones based on the rule of Europe’s finance capital and its multinationals.

Footnotes :

[1] A European strategy for the left, Michel Husson December 2010.

[2] An internationalist transitional program towards an anti-capitalist Europe, Ozlem Onaran, April 2011. Republished in Socialist Resistance, issue 66, October 2011.

[3] A Left Strategy for Europe, Costas Lapavitsas, April 2011. Republished in Socialist Resistance, issue 66, October 2011.

[4] Sub-Prime Driven Recession: Coming Soon To a Neighbourhood Near You, Raphie De Santos May 2008,

[5] Will the Euro Survive, Raphie de Santos, October 2010, and Boom to Bust, Dave Packer and Fred Leplat, March 2011, Socialist Resistance pamphlet.

[6] Ernest Mandel, Why Keynes isn’t the answer.

[7] E. Borenztein & Ugo Panizza: ‘The Costs of Sovereign Default, IMF Working Paper,’ October 2008, concluded that sovereign defaults tended to cause banking crises rather than be caused by them. The current situation is different, and like the 30s, in that we already have a banking crisis, but this time the risk of default has been caused by the banking crisis and its bail out while in the 30s the debt had been accumulated by the cost of the First World War. Today we risk a double whammy, which will have an effect not just on US banks but banks globally. We have already seen through the sub-prime and Lehman’s crisis how global and interconnected the global financial system is (much more than in the 1930s) with a much greater and more immediate impact on the global economy.

[8] Six demands for Europe, Eric Toussaint, April 2011.

[9] Ernest Mandel, Crisis is the Common Market.


[11] Greece might need debt restructuring.

[12] Greek deal may collapse and Greece will restructure debt.

[13] Portugal: The prospect of a full bailout and more austerity looms in 2011, Raphie de Santos, January 2011,

[14] Generalised system of preferences.

[15] There is not the space here to integrate the dual crisis of capitalism: the economic and ecological crisis, the complex issues of sustainable development and ‘unsustainable growth’. See ‘Enough is Never Enough (for those who have too much)’, by Roy Wilkes in this issue, for a useful discussion of these questions.

Ralph Blake is a member of the Scottish Socialist Party and a derivative strategist in the fund management industry. He has written extensively over the last three and half years on the financial and economic crisis and has a blog the For fourteen years he worked in investment banking, four of those as Head of Equity Derivative Research and Strategy at a major investment bank and has had extensive research published by global banks on economic and financial strategy. He was an adviser to many major global financial institutions and lectured on finance at universities across the world as well as at the Nobel Foundation annual conference on finance and the annual Risk conference.

Dave Packer is a longstanding member of the Trotskyist movement in Britain, has held a number of leadership roles in the International Socialist Group, Socialist Resistance and the Fourth International. He was formerly on the editorial board of Socialist Outlook.

This article was originally written in May, 2011 and has been amended and updated.

1 Comment

  1. How can the distinguished authors of this article discuss the debt problems that afflict the EC (and other high productivity nations) and propose big write-offs of debts and consider nationalisation of banks without mentioning savings? The mountains of threatening debts result from savings that have not been invested in productive or valued assets. Workers, businesses and governments have borrowed and spent these savings maintaining demand in the economy and avoiding a demand crash. As the workers are maxed out and most businesses have enough debt, governments have become borrowers of last resort. But by spoiling savers, they create dangerous moral hazards.
    This is a psycho-social problem that results from the ways our short-sighted and over-optimistic nature reacts to money. The demand for cuts that afflict workers comes for leaders who seek to run their economies like a family or business that can reduce its costs with little effect on its income. But wages are the costs of businesses and the source of their incomes. A crisis occurs when savers become nervous and want their money back. But this is rarely possible. The crisis is not a plot against the working class but a common human folly. Nor is the euro particularly relevant.
    To those who ask what would Jesus do I answer: Cite the legal prohibition on charging your brother interest on a loan. This discourages saving and lending and intermediation. It does not prevent productive investments and it reduces discounting of the future. But hoarding money must be discouraged.
    One source of deficits is trade surpluses: They could be deprived of interest and even taxed. Pensions are another: They could be paid out of revenue as I believe the French and our civil service do. This requires trust in national governments the authors appear to possess!
    Low real wages are a major cause of excess saving as Richard Wolff neatly explains for the US in his seven minute Economic History.

    Deregulation reveals the tendency of capitalism to depress wages. Soviet communism suffered from the opposite problem. It fixed prices and raised wages to create incentives but failed to deliver enough goods and services. This created black markets and crashed incentives to work. Hence “They pretend to pay us and we pretend to work!” How would the authors set wages to sustain full employment without inflation?
    Bank credit has destroyed money as a catalyst of exchange. Would this be restored? And would the reserve fraction of banks be increased to 100%? Note that at the end of 2010, M4 was 169% of the value of annual GDP!
    And what values are required to sustain a socialist society? Most believe they should be free to pursue their interests subject to competition and choice. The Right attributes our exceptional prosperity to these despite science, engineering and despoiling the environment. How could socialist values be introduced into a world where a few have god-like wealth and power and abject poverty is endemic? Unless most people believe they are right and necessary, base human nature will reject them when things are going well. This is not a task for politicians. The EU was intended to ensure Europeans cooperated but by adopting deregulated capitalism, the EC has set person against person.
    Herman Daly offers a good set of values in Towards A Steady-State Economy, 4,645 words. But could even policy 5 be implemented?* “Re-regulate international commerce—move away from free trade, free capital mobility and globalization, adopt compensating tariffs to protect efficient national policies of cost internalization from standards-lowering competition from other countries.” This would be easier if EC nations restored their own currencies and used the euro for trade.
    * The UK’s Sustainable Development Commission for which it was written was closed on 31st March 2011! The webpage contains 227 comments.

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