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Table of Contents - Num. 13 March 2020


1) Crucial Forces of the European Process 

2) Politics of Science and Passion

European News
3) Brexit Renews Britain’s Ambiguity

4) Global Viruses 

5) Welfare and Uneven Development 

6-7) Britain’s Seccession from the Union Changes the Balances in the Franco-German Axis and the EU

News from the Silk Road
8) Beijing Faces an Uncertain “Carter Doctrine” 

9) The “Internal Constraint” Ballast Holds Down New Delhi on the RCEP

Europe’s defence and war industry
10) Atlantic Claims on the European Defence Fund 

The world car battle
11) From Watch Batteries to the Electric Car 

12) Virus of Superstition


Crucial Forces of the European Process

«Analysing the process of production and distribution of capital, and the process of production and division of surplus value, Marx and Engels analysed the real base of the classes, fractions and strata. Not only could they not neglect the superstructure of the institutions, but they were the ones who discovered them. What corresponds to profit, income, etc.? The fractions. How do they express themselves politically? Through political currents and parties.»

Arrigo Cervetto wrote this in February 1978, in a report that leaves a trace of a political fight, part of the political battle of the restructuring crisis in the ‘70s. With that crisis the foundations of the political cycle of state capitalism weakened; the new political cycle of imperialist liberism, which would soon be confirmed in the Anglo-Saxon area in Margaret Thatcher’s and Ronald Reagan’s lines, had been inspired by the German area. The restructuring that affected the big state-owned groups and brought into question the weight of welfare and public spending implicated theories and ideologies of state intervention in the economy.

The «crisis in bourgeois political theory», argued Cervetto in a December 1977 editorial, was propagandised as a «crisis in Marxism», when, on the contrary, it was a «crisis in the theory of planning and programming»:

«Whole economic sectors are plunging into crisis in the metropolises and are expanding vertiginously in the young capitalist countries. All the economic policies of the imperialist states are plunging into crisis. All the dirigiste economic theories are plunging into crisis. Reformist and opportunistic theories are plunging into crisis. The political theory of two cycles of the imperialist phase is collapsing miserably. In its petty-bourgeois variations this collapse would like to adopt the name of “crisis in Marxism”, attaching the Marxist label to state capitalism.»

One theme of this ideological campaign, which had accompanied confused agitations of the movements of intellectual unemployment in Italy in 1977, was the accusation that Marxism did not have a political theory, that it lacked a serious analysis of «representative democracy», of the «relationship among the various powers», of the «role of the political parties and the bureaucracy», and of the «function of the state in the economic cycle».

Actually, Cervetto rebutted in his February 1978 report, «all of Marx and Engels’ strategy» is based on the analysis of classes, fractions, class strata and fundamental groups, in their dialectical relationship with the political superstructure. Whence their analysis of «all the aspects of democracy», of the «British party system» and of the «subdivision of political power and governing power». Whence also the rejection of Ferdinand Lassalle’s theory that conceived of the ruling class as a «single reactionary mass».

This concept is picked up again in the editorial of the following month, “Pluralism of Economic Power”, with an exposition that is well known to us:

«Marxism has always taken the conceptual framework of plurality and balance of powers into account. In their lives Marx and Engels thoroughly investigated the political struggles in France, England, and Germany. Almost a century of political struggles passed beneath their theoretical lens and political phenomena like Bonapartism, Conservatism, Liberalism and Bismarckianism found their most complete materialist analysis. Definitions like balance of powers, political power, and governing power found their scientific systemisation in Marxism. Lenin was able to apply them successfully in his analysis of the Russian conditions. The same can and must be done for the situation of the present day.»

In the February report we again find a source of reflection later summed up in the newspaper; the battle had also had the internal consequence of the orientation of the new generation of militants that had drawn close to our party in our tactic over the crisis in the education system. The «theory of the balance of power», argued Cervetto, is an «updating in the imperialist phase» of bourgeois political theory:

«Do we perhaps deny the theory of the balance of power? No! for us there undoubtedly exists a plurality of powers. But power is such if it has a real base, i.e. if it is a real power. […] The balance of power is the balance in the institutions that regulate the struggles among the fractions, i.e. among the real powers. Only a rough version of historical materialism, a version lacking a political theory or theory of powers, does not analyse the fractions and their struggle: i.e. does not analyse politics.»

The «critics of Marxism» demonstrated they knew only that rough version, and did not know that «pluralistic sociology» derived from the opportunistic revision of the Marxist theory of politics, fractions and powers carried out by the «Austro-Marxists»:

«The specific form of capital, i.e. the democratic form of the most advanced capitalism, needed an updating of the theory of the balance of power. This occurred through Austro-Marxism.»


Britain’s Secession from the Union Changes the Balances in the Franco-German Axis and the EU

It goes without saying that Britain’s secession from the Union also refutes every economistic schematism about an objective law leading to a concentration into big states. But in its dynamic Brexit also confirms the unprecedented and colossal scope of the lines of force that determine global relations, where organisation into very big states and into continent-sized powers is decisive.

China is challenging the world order, we argued in 2006 in Europe and the State, «it is establishing itself as an imperialist power, is imposing its pace on the contention and is forcing Europe to seek a continental dimension». This is materialist determinism correctly understood, we can add: the driving force behind international politics is the uneven development of the capitalist economies and the struggle for the imperialist division, but this reflects on the powers through the system of states and the dynamic of the balance of power.

London arrived at the presumption of removing itself from those lines of force in an accidental way, the unwanted consequence of a convulsive political struggle that was triggered more than three years ago by David Cameron’s referendum gamble. The intention of that incautious appeal to popular sovereignty was the opposite of its result: to eliminate both the Brexit theme from the British debate and the clash within the Tories for at least a generation, definitively confirming Britain’s belonging to the EU.

Today the editorials of the Financial Times and The Economist demonstrate that the ruling British groups are adapting themselves to a result that they had tenaciously opposed for three years and are trying to influence the next year of negotiations by limiting the damage and seeking room for some advantages: it is in the interest of key industrial sectors to maintain full alignment with the EU single market; conversely, sectors of the City would like a partial misalignment in some crucial sectors of the financial services. Having said this, a reflection is needed with nontrivial theoretical implications, undoubtedly for the amplitude that political non-correspondence can assume also for one of the most experienced bourgeoisies like the British one, but also for the successive partial rebalance, in which the Remain currents themselves have to find a space in the Brexit process already launched.

The process by which a general line of imperialist democracy is defined can be so tormented and contradictory in the relationship between the fundamental groups and their parties as to impose a fall-back to strategic lines that are quite clearly a second choice for those groups themselves. The majority consensus of the British bourgeoisie was in favour of Remain: it will have to resign itself for at least a political phase to seeking the lesser evil in Brexit; this is the measure of the political imbalance in the new cycle, which may go so far as to weaken strategic policies that are considered as vital. Here, too, a mechanistic determinism would be a caricature of Marxism; political analysis must take into account the dialectical relationship among all the factors of the socio-economic formation.

A new battle is beginning, and how Britain will make its weight felt given its reduced condition as a national force, not only in the face of the European Union, but also of the United States, China or Russia, is a question which does not find itself discussed in an adequate strategic debate in London.

In 1998, when there was the qualitative leap of the euro federation, we observed that this historic about-turn had been possible «thanks to the contemporary, concomitant action and in causal connection with forces aiming at state centralisation in Western Europe and state disintegration in Eastern Europe». The disintegration of the USSR and German and European reunification had fuelled each other: «The beginning of the Russian implosion triggered German reunification, and the fall of the Berlin Wall precipitated the crisis in Moscow, as well as in Prague and Belgrade».

Britain’s secession today is also accompanied by a particular dialectic between aggregation and disintegration. The currents supporting Brexit meant to react to political Europe, i.e. to the EU’s tendency to strengthen its centralisation, but the European force field, acting on the United Kingdom, has opened wide its internal order, not only in the divisive result of the referendum, but also in the new flare-up of Scottish and Northern Irish secessionism. Moreover, decisive currents in Paris and Berlin see in London’s self-exclusion an opportunity to strengthen federalisation.

In 1984, in the article Propositi e realtà di un asse europeo [Intentions and Reality of a European Axis], Arrigo Cervetto scrutinised the line of the “second” Mitterrand: after an «Atlanticist» change of direction, France retraced its «Europeanist» steps, confirming its axis with Germany and envisaging a «European Defence». It was a matter of evaluating how much that line contained «wishful thinking» and how much of it was «feasible»:

«It is our opinion that, if the European axis remains limited to Paris and Bonn, wishful thinking prevails over feasibility. But this does not mean it has no influence in international relations. No matter how impracticable and how oscillating it may be, this axis has such a weight as to block many American and Russian initiatives, even if does not have enough to impose an initiative of its own. The situation would be different if a Paris-Bonn-London axis were to emerge: the rate of wishful thinking would fall and the rate of feasibility would rise. Even if this is improbable, it is not impossible».

We make three observations. The first, decisive, is that the above evaluation referred to the Yalta balances, the «real division» between the USA and the USSR in which Moscow had political-military control of Eastern Europe and East Germany, and Washington gave its de facto support to the balances emerged from the second imperialist world war. The idea that the Franco-German axis could get the better of the bipolar cohabitation between Washington and Moscow was undoubtedly «wishful thinking», since removing the jackboot of Russian tanks from Berlin was a question of war and peace. This was the consideration Cervetto had formulated two years before, reflecting on the «deadlines of the German question». Only in the hypothesised plan of massive European rearmament, almost a «partial war economy», would European imperialism have reconquered the initiative: then «Yalta would have been buried once and for all but, very probably, the rubble of the third world war would have anticipated the event».

It was the implosion of the USSR, between 1989 and 1991, that overturned the power relations, in a correlation that was global – the USA feared Germany would “go it alone”, playing on its relations in Asia without any constrictions – and that, in its consequences, would be on the scale of a world war. At that point, Helmut Kohl achieved unification with the agreement of a reluctant François Mitterrand: in exchange, Paris obtained commitment to the single currency, but with London’s opposition and not with its cooperation. In the new conditions, the Franco-German axis would now have the strength to impose the euro federation in less than a decade: neither Washington nor London would succeed in preventing it, and even less would Moscow be able to do so, reduced to half by the disintegration of the USSR.

The second observation sets off from here: Cervetto considered a strategic «Paris-Bonn-London» axis aiming to dismantle Yalta to be «improbable», and history has confirmed this. The relationship between Britain and the Franco-German axis has turned out to be algebra and not arithmetic; at a political-military level, if London drew close to the Franco-German axis, it did so in order to slow down the unification process and not to spur it on: a subtraction of forces, and not a sum. It is no coincidence that Ursula von der Leyen argues that decisive steps regarding European defence have been possible only since London, once Brexit had been kickstarted, has no longer been able to exercise its veto.

On the other hand, to bring Yalta to an end, that «almost war economy» hypothesised by Cervetto in 1982 was not necessary; German and European unification occurred via the subtraction of force – the USSR forced to withdraw and Germany which played its economic weight politically in the multipolar balance – and not via an increase in rearmament. If anything, the violence that was subtracted from the German and Central European chessboard with the repeal of the Warsaw Pact was driven back east and exploded in the wars borne of the dissolution of the USSR and the Yugoslav Federation.

On the contrary, where Britain provided an addition to the Franco-German axis was in the construction and implementation of the single market, launched in 1992. Here London’s contribution in these decades has been crucial, and it is here that Boris Johnson’s reasons seem almost unfathomable, in the absence of an exhaustive strategic debate not only about Brexit, but also about his intention not to want to tie himself to an «alignment» to the European Union’s regulatory standards. Britain’s contribution to the single market was distinguished by permanent insistence on liberalisation and was based over the years on the convergence between Britain and Germany, which balanced the more statist and regulatory French propensity. In 1995, in the debate which accompanied Jacques Chirac’s installation as the French president, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung wrote that there was a «stille Allianz», a silent alliance, between the British and the Germans that was even more effective than the Franco-German alliance which masked profound differences in its theatricality.

The third observation, then, is that a new phase is opening up in the relationship between Britain and the European Union and consequently in the relations of the EU states among themselves, but a new page does not mean a blank page: Brexit is a strategic divide but, to an extent that is still impossible to determine, the years to come will also be an only partial transformation of the previous relations.

Daniela Schwarzer is the director of the semi-official DGAP, the German Council on Foreign Relations; we have seen her as the interpreter of the “barycentre” of the strategic debate in Germany, hence close to the positions of the Merkel Doctrine. She does not hide the scale of the blow suffered by the EU with Britain’s secession. The Union loses «its second main economy and almost one eighth of its population». One of the two main European military powers and one of the two permanent members of the UN Security Council, as well as a close partner of Germany, has left the scene: «Together with Berlin, London backed the integration of the domestic market, the European policy as regards competition and trade, and the expansion of the EU, all policies that contributed to Germany’s economic success».

Schwarzer argues that it is not in the Union’s interest to let London draw away «politically and economically»; The EU will need «close, flexible relations» with Britain and this will have to include British participation in the planned European Security Council, as well as «ample offers of cooperation» in foreign and defence policies. Finally, relations within the EU will change. It is plausible that European integration will proceed faster now that London no longer acts as a brake on defence or the strengthening of the euro area, although Britain «has never been alone in its reluctance»: behind London «changing groups of states hid», often the smallest. If, «in the next decade», relations between the EU and Britain are maintained and the EU remains «flexible» within, in Schwarzer’s opinion it is plausible that «both parts will draw closer together again». We interpret this to mean that, at least according to German wishes, the «stille Allianz» remains somehow operative even with London outside the EU: keeping Europe «flexible» means resisting the more dirigiste French culture, and a decade may be the time span needed to define a looser institutional formula that would associate Britain again in a wider circle of the Union.

The Financial Times intervenes on the disruption of the dynamics within the Union: according to it, Brexit leaves a series of countries used to hiding behind Britain «orphans», forcing them to come out into the open and «to defend fiscal orthodoxy, free trade, open markets or the Nato alliance» in other ways. This mainly regards the Nordic countries and the so-called new Hanseatic League under Dutch leadership, but an appeal for keeping the European budget in check by the so-called «frugal four» includes Sebastian Kurz’s Austria alongside Sweden, Denmark and the Netherlands.

Always according to the Financial Times, London’s departure throws what was «the three-legged stool» of European policymaking, led by Berlin, Paris and London, off balance. In the opinion of Rem Korteweg of Clingendeael, a foreign policy think tank linked to the Dutch government, «the Dutch were always worried about the predominance of France and Germany, and saw London as a counterbalance». The Netherlands felt at ease «in the middle of the triangle» and had good relations with all three capitals; with Brexit, «the Dutch are closer to the periphery», which fuels fears of a «more protectionist and less Atlanticist» EU.

According to other sources, the failure to counterbalance the Franco-German axis is made all the more worrying by Berlin’s «political paralysis», which has allowed Emmanuel Macron to define a «destructive diplomacy» on such key questions as the enlargement of the EU or the future of NATO. Poland and Eastern Europe fear that Brexit will lead to a compromissory position with Russia:  «France, backed by such countries as Finland and Italy, is inclined to develop relations with Russia». Finally, Spain, writes El País, referring to government sources, does not intend to replace the United Kingdom as the «third force» of the Franco-German engine, also because London’s force cannot be replaced. Regarding the French suggestions of opening up to Poland, relaunching the «Weimar triangle» between Paris, Warsaw and Berlin, Madrid believes every hypothesis of a «new directory» is obsolete and «variable alliances» are in store, geared to the specific interests of the moment.

Precisely the question of European defence, with the Macron Doctrine and the initiative taken by the Élysée regarding the Europeanisation of the French nuclear deterrent, best shows that the new page opening up with Brexit is, on the one hand, a strategic divide, but on the other reconfigures and transforms the previous material and political relations.

Twenty-five years ago, Jacques Chirac had begun his septennate with the exemplary gesture of the nuclear test in the Moruroa atoll. Paris intended to launch a confrontation over European deterrence, but the first move reaffirmed in a spectacular way the sovereign decision of the French president over the force de frappe [a triad of air-, sea- and land-based nuclear weapons intended for deterrence]. We dealt with this in August 1995, in the article Mutazioni della deterrenza nel multipolarismo [Mutations of Deterrence in Multipolarism]. Paris envisaged a «concerted deterrent», offered first of all to its German ally, leaving behind the formula of merely «enlarged deterrent» that Valéry Giscard d’Estaing had set forth in the Seventies. Measured attestations of assent arrived from Germany, provided the French concerted deterrent was understood as «completing the Nato nuclear umbrella». According to Die Zeit, Paris was to be taken at its word, because America no longer intended «to assume the same responsibilities for nuclear deterrence as before» and would even be hoping for «greater European autonomy». For Chirac, European defence was a necessity in a future of «change and instability», marked by the emergence of such «new power poles» as China, India and the European Union itself.

So, nothing new? We do not believe this; even the same proposals, in the light of Brexit which makes France the Union’s only nuclear power, assume a different meaning. To what extent, is the subject of the confrontation that has opened after Macron updated the French doctrine in a speech made at the Military Academy?

According to what Élysée sources told Le Monde, the offer of «strategic dialogue» reformulated by the president «lies somewhere between concerted deterrent and enlarged deterrent». We observe that the choice of words is crucial; as early as 1995, Alain Juppé, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, had clarified that it was not a matter of «shared deterrent».

According to Jean-Dominique Merchet, an editorialist for L’Opinion, Macron has placed himself in the continuity of the French doctrine; where he has gone farther is in his view that «by now, France’s vital interests have a European dimension», and in his proposal to associate other countries of the Union with the exercises of the French nuclear forces. His statement that conventional forces and nuclear forces «mutually reinforce each other» in a coherent strategic whole also has a certain importance. We observe that the formula is part of the NATO strategic doctrine, but according to L’Opinion, it is a novelty in the French doctrine. The term «chosen with care» reflects the growing tensions among the great nuclear powers: it signals that behind every armoured vehicle, every fighter plane and every structure of French combat, «at the end of the chain there is a nuclear weapon ready to be used». In his speech to the Military Academy, Macron stressed attention to North and Eastern Europe. The expression «mutually reinforce each other», we observe again, also means stressing that the French forces engaged in the region with NATO – at the moment about 300 men in Estonia – have the protection of the force de frappe: a kind of indirect guarantee potentially offered to Poland, the Baltic countries, Sweden or Finland. We add that the same holds true for the French forces engaged in regional crises, where the local protagonists, as has happened in Syria, have the external backing of third powers possessing nuclear weapons.

According to Le Monde, there was a long discussion among the experts consulted by the Élysée about whether Macron should not have gone even farther. France does not limit itself to guaranteeing an «American-style umbrella», i.e. only an enlarged deterrent. But Europe’s fundamental interests, even if discussed in confidence among its partners, «will remain below France’s vital interests». According to General Bentégeat, the former Chief of Staff, the first question to be asked in the EU is who will decide whether Europe’s «vital interests» are threatened: «knowing that the French president can decide by himself is a major obstacle».

For the doubtful, this would not be the only reason for the cautious reactions in Germany. According to Claudia Major of the Berlin-based SWP Institute, more than an opposition, Macron is paying in Germany for «a series of misunderstandings», linked to a relatively scarce knowledge of the French nuclear doctrine and the Germans’ «emotional rejection of the concept of deterrence».  François Heisbourg, special adviser to the Foundation for Strategic Research, writes in Ouest France that «what is not said in Europe» is that it is not France that is rejecting a «Europeanised deterrent», but the Europeans, and especially the Germans, who are not ready for this «strategic about-turn». The grand coalition in Germany is paralysed and incapable of opening a debate on nuclear weapons in the face of a public opinion «that refuses the atom in all of its forms». Donald Trump’s reaction is feared. And, in the face of Russia, Poland and the Nordic countries «prefer the reality of the American umbrella to the virtuality of European nuclear defence».

However, two political signals seem relevant and indicate at least the beginning of a Franco-German strategic concerted action. In a long essay, Le Monde has documented tensions and misunderstandings between Paris and Berlin, at their height when opening up to Russia was decided upon unilaterally by the Élysée without informing the Germans.  But the subject of a concerted deterrent was prepared for by «a thorough exchange of views» between the two banks of the Rhine, including a direct consultation between Ms Merkel and Macron.

Then at the “Wehrkunde” conference in Munich, Macron confirmed that the French proposal is that of a «European pillar within Nato» and went so far as to propose cooperation with the NATO alliance over nuclear deterrents. Meanwhile, according to Macron, Europe has to be able to act alone for reasons of «sovereignty», because it has common values with but different interests from the USA: «Policy for the Mediterranean is a European, and not a transatlantic, issue; the same goes for Russia. We need a European, and not only a transatlantic, policy».

It is not surprising that the formula of the «European pillar» in NATO has confirmed itself as the watchword for Franco-German consensus. According to Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, Germany is ready to discuss «a European strategy connected with France’s nuclear arsenal». And according to Defence Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, there is «complete agreement» with Macron over the fact that «common instruments and common interests» must be translated into «a common political will»; a test of this may be the initiative for the Strait of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf, «independent of the American policy of “maximum pressure”».

What remains intact is the dilemma of a German political culture that, since the postwar period and for three generations, has been led to conceive of international relations in the unilateral terms of economic strength alone asserted politically, a variant of liberal economism; neither have the internal unknowns linked to the torments of the succession to Angela Merkel been dissipated. But the Franco-German axis is on the move.



Lotta Comunista, N° 584, February 2020  


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