Contesting Capitalism in the Eurozone

Contesting CapitalismIn light of the new Syriza government’s difficult struggle against the German dominated institutions of the Eurozone, I’ve revisited a little known book published ten years ago by political scientist Richard Dunphy called Contesting Capitalism? Left Parties and European Integration (Manchester University Press, 2004). In the book, Dunphy charts out the trajectory of the European Far Left’s relationship to European integration. While at the time the book seemed to fly under the radar (this was just before the French and French rejection of the Lisbon Treaty in 2005 and the rapid accession of a number of new member states in the previous year), the issues addressed by Dunphy seem increasingly more relevant as the crisis of the Eurozone proceeds unabated.

Dunphy identifies four positions adopted by various parties of the left. The first position is views the EU as a reactionary project that intends to further capitalist exploitation at the behest of either American or German hegemony. Full withdrawal is necessary and national sovereignty must be protected as a necessary condition for the development of socialism. This position has been consistently adopted and maintained by the Greek Communist Party (KKE), the major party ‘to the left’ of Syriza. The second position differentiates between European integration and the neoliberal character of the European Union – and resisting the latter. This approach argues that, despite the current neoliberal form of European integration, there is no going back to a Europe of sovereign nation states characteristic of the interwar period. However, the neoliberal component of the EU must be rejected and the EU must be transformed into a progressive force. The French Communist Party (PCF) of the late 1980s is representative of this position. The third and fourth positions are what Dunphy calles ‘strong reformism’ and ‘weak reformism’ respectively. The strong reformist position views the EU is a potential agent for progressive social and economic change, despite its current limitations and neoliberal tendencies. Proponents of this position tend to argue for more, not less, European integration – even political integration, partly through the strengthening and democratization of the EU parliament. The Italian Communist Party (PCI) of the 1980s, the Spanish Communist Party (PCE), and even the left-wing of the SPD were representative of this position. Dunphy highlights the difficulty of maintaining this position:

‘There is always the risk of being blown off course and seeming to support policies that are inimical to the interests of one’s natural supporters. There is the constant danger that the inevitable search for political allies – in order to exercise some influence over the progress of events – will lead to a fatal erosion of political identity.’

The fourth position is what Dunphy calls the ‘weak reformism’ of the uncritical pro-integrationist left. This space is occupied by the now moribund parties of the Social Democratic centre-left. Their uncritical commitment to the so-called ‘modernizing’ project of European integration has led them to abandon any serious discussion of building socialism and has allowed them to establish a common cause with the parties of the European centre-right, forming what Tariq Ali has called ‘the radical centre’.

It is the first three positions, and in particular the feasibility of maintaining the second position – which seems to be that of the anti-austerity parties like Syriza and Podemos – that are of most interest. In particular, the ability to maintain a critical stance towards the neoliberal character of the EU while not rejecting the EU outright and resisting the slide into the ‘strong reformist’ position, which increasingly seems implausible, appears to be the challenge that faces parties like Syriza. As I progress through the book, I will continue to post some of Dunphy more interesting insights.


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