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Table of Contents - Num. 197 June 2018

 

1)  European Balancing Act towards Moscow and Beijing 

2)  The SWIFT Network in the Capital War 

3) European Sovereignty and the New Political Cycle

European News
4) An Iranian Test for EU Foreign Policy 

5) Tehran, Gaza and Pyongyang Power play 

6) Armed Truce on Trade between USA and China 

7) The Sirens of European Imperialism

The Atom and the Industrialisation of Science
8) The 19th Century Scientific Renaissance in London

The Large Groups in China
9) New Solutions for China’s Iowa

The World Automobile Battle
10) Social Change and the Electric Car

The Asian Giants
11) The Bloody Unification at the Root of the “Chinese Model”

12) Publications

 

European Sovereignty and the New Political Cycle

In his editorial Pluralism of Economic Power, now in The Political Shell*, Arrigo Cervetto rejected the criticisms blaming Marxism for its supposedly deficient analysis of the modern State and representative democracy, i.e. the role of the political parties, the bureaucracy and the State in the economic cycle. Actually, he observed, what is attacked is its historical-materialist principle, according to which politics is the expression of the economy.

According to Cervetto, Marx and Engels always took the conceptual framework of the «plurality» and «balancing of powers» into account. In their thorough investigation of the political struggles in France, Britain, and Germany, almost a century of political struggles passed beneath their «theoretical lens», and such political phenomena as Bonapartism, Conservatism, Liberalism and Bismarckianism, and such concepts as balance of powers, political power, and governing power found their scientific systematisation in Marxism.

There ensued an explicit guideline for work in that editorial: «Lenin was able to apply [those definitions] successfully in his analysis of the Russian conditions». «The same can and must be done for the situation of the present day». Cervetto concluded that «Marxism maintains that there is a plurality of economic powers which become political powers»:

«The balance of powers is, therefore, the balancing of the political wills of the bourgeois sections within certain specific institutions. Plurality of economic powers of the capitalist groups, and balance of their political wills in the State: this is the pure political form, the democratic form, of social capital».

Let’s make some observations. As for the Marxist theory of international relations, which makes its own use of the balance theory, the same can be said for the Marxist political theory regarding the powers of the State and its institutions. Those powers, in their mode of operation and the relations among them in what the bourgeois theory defines as the dynamic of checks and balances, are political regularities.

In the different situations, they have specific features deriving from their history. There exists, for example, as a general form, a dynamic between the executive, legislative and judicial powers, according to the classic formula of Charles de Montesquieu’s liberal theory about the separation of powers. However, this dynamic has forms and specific modes of operation deriving from history.

The executive power in France is divided between the president, elected by universal suffrage, and the prime minister: this results in a “fuse” that protects the presidency, and also allows variations according to the need for the level of centralisation.

In Britain, the prime minister is the expression of the parliamentary majority, but also has the royal prerogatives of sovereign decision in foreign policy and whether to wage war; the efficacy of the parliamentary government is due to the majority electoral system and to the party system.

In Germany, the chancellorship is expressed by the parliamentary majority and is reinforced by the device of constructive vote of no confidence, but it does not have the prerogatives of the French president or the British prime minister in foreign and defence policies. In the German post-WWII setup, the armed forces are a parliamentary army. The efficacy level of political centralisation is tied to the combination between the party system and the German political culture of stability. Such formulas as grand coalition, the role of a third party to tip the scales, as the Liberals of the FDP did, the two-party coalition in a four-party system as there was between the Social Democrats and the Greens, and again today in laborious negotiations in a six-party system, have embodied the chancellorship solution with various degrees of efficacy over the decades.

Up to a certain point, political analysis is the description of the action of those institutions and regularities. On both the general level and on that of specific national and European forms, we have our specific contribution of Marxist analysis, which is the theoretical side of the political battles fought over the decades by our party. We need only think, for example, of our notion of political power, the fruit of our analysis of the political battles of restructuring, in the light of the role of the Bank of Italy in the «long chemical war» and then in the 1980 «car industry battle», in the connection between restructuring and European constriction sanctioned by the EMS, the European Monetary System.

It cannot be said that the concept of monetary power is in itself an exclusive feature of Marxist analysis; it is also used by bourgeois theory, even though Cervetto arrived at its formulation autonomously and was among the first to use it as a tool of political analysis. Again, our methodological criterion is to see the dynamic of the political powers as a confrontation among forces, but this, too, is not a specific feature of the Marxist school. Bourgeois realism, and also liberal theory, at least among such of its initial exponents as Montesquieu or Tocqueville, which sees politics as the relationship among forces, is to a certain extent liberal realism.

The exclusive feature of the Marxist theory of politics is undoubtedly that of seeing political powers as forces, but as forces determined by the economy, by the groups and fractions of the ruling class... precisely, in imperialist democracies, political powers in which the pluralist centralisation of the wills of the bourgeoisie’s fundamental groups and fractions is realised.

The difficulty lies in using these concepts, which are abstractions and generalisations drawn from the past cycles of political struggles, as tools for the political analysis of today. If one succeeds in doing this, the result is significant not only for strategic analysis, in the analysis of long-term trends, but also for single battles and political combats, because it allows one to contextualise and weigh up the subjective action of the single political exponents, an aspect on which the ruling ideology and the mass representation of the political struggle concentrate. Unlike what the current criticism of the Marxist theory of analysis maintains, materialist analysis succeeds in accounting for the subjective side of the political struggle, including the role of each of its personalities, with much more efficacy and conceptual coherence than much of bourgeois political science.

On the occasion of the 200th anniversary of Karl Marx’s birth, there was a great deal of superficial talk about his theory; as Lenin wrote, people would like to make him an inoffensive icon, when, on the contrary, his method was science for the revolution. Precisely on the methodological level, the lesson of his analysis of the Second Empire in France, in the preface to the second edition of The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, remains unmatched. To those who attacked Napoleon III to the point of making a giant of him, like Victor Hugo, or to those who transformed him into a historical necessity, like Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, Marx replied that his text demonstrated, on the contrary, how the class struggle had created «circumstances and relationships» that made it possible «for a grotesque mediocrity to play a hero’s part». 

Here we are: in those «circumstances» and «relationships» there are powers, regularities and also specific contingencies of the political struggle, stirred up in their turn by the key groups and fractions of the ruling class. As for «grotesque mediocrities», we are spoiled for choice.

 

The New European Sovereignty Battle of Italy

In the last twenty-five years, starting from the 1989-1991 strategic divide with the collapse of the USSR, German reunification and the launching of the common market and the Maastricht Treaty, and passing through the EMS crisis in 1992, the launching of the single currency in 1998, the 2003 war in Iraq and, finally, the battles linked to seven years of crisis in global relations after 2007-2008, the unfolding of the European process has required the elaboration of other conceptual tools regarding European political powers. In their turn, concepts, generalisations, and empirical valuations drawn from those battles have had to be tested, fine-tuned, updated and even corrected in the light of subsequent battles: this is the only way for a scientific analysis that is not the trite, sterile repetition of a pattern.

 

At the root of the surrender of sovereignty that all the national complexes in Europe have made vis-à-vis the Union, there is a question of imperialist force: only by moving with a single European market, with a European currency, and with European powers, can the groups and fractions of the Old Continent hope to withstand the competition with other continent-sized imperialist forces, beginning with the USA and China.

 

As we mentioned last month in the article Imperialist Democracy and New Political Cycle*, the ECB, as the EU’s monetary power, established itself in the crisis as the «federal anchor of European sovereignty», especially when, with Mario Draghi, it wielded «exceptional powers» translated into quantitative easing, the injection of liquidity into the financial system. In doing this, the ECB expressed, centralised in its sovereign decision, the general interest of the groups and fractions of the capital of the whole euro federation. In the European plurality of superstructures, various battles have put powers, agencies and relations among the powers themselves to the test, in terms that only practice, and not abstract juridical forms, could really define.

Like the «Greek lesson» in the summer of 2015, we estimated that the specific novelty of that battle in the crisis was «the debut of the Eurogroup as the joint confederal chamber of the confederal executive of the euro area». As the Commissioner for Competition, the Danish Margrethe Vestager exercises exclusive federal power as the guarantor of the Union’s single market and Antitrust Authority. As the Commissioner for Trade, the Swedish Cecilia Malmström has exclusive powers over trade relations between the EU and the other state entities. Evaluated in the practical terms of the ongoing battle, triggered by Donald Trump’s protectionist gesticulating, this centralised efficacy does not seem to be the same: at various moments Ms Malmström has seemed to be more bound to the consensus of the States and has appeared to suffer from Paris and Berlin’s difference in approach.

This was not the case with Draghi and the ECB, in which the federal nature of monetary power emerged clamorously when its Council decided by majority, putting the German Bundesbank in the opposition. But beware: at the same time, it cannot be said that Germany as such has been put in the minority. In the management of the crisis, especially in the specific Greek battle, Draghi’s line actually passed in correlation with the decisions of the Eurogroup and in Germany with the dialectic between Wolfgang Schäuble and Angela Merkel: hence, in a combination between federal, confederal and national powers, in which the German executive power – in an internal dialectic between the Finance Minister and the Chancellor – found itself back in the majority line with Draghi, while the Bundesbank, the national expression of federal monetary power, was, instead, in the opposition.

This is a crucial matter if we wish to understand the real terms of today’s institutional crisis in Italy. Let’s return to Cervetto’s formula of imperialist democracy as «pluralist centralisation» in a balance of the powers of the political wills of the key groups and fractions of imperialism. What results from the battles of the global crisis, in its second half of the sovereign debt crisis, is that the expression of the will of Germany’s big economic groups can be deciphered only in the correlation between federal, confederal and national powers, and not in the national superstructures alone. For Germany, too, it is true that the synthesis of a general line cannot occur only in national correlations. What we substantiate in Italy as the manifestation of weakness and imbalance – for decades Milan and Turin together with Rome have not been able to make it by themselves; correlation with the European powers is needed to synthesise a general line – also holds true for Germany in spite of its strong condition... and this because of the seminal fact that, in the general interest of Germany’s big economic groups, there is the existence of a single market, of a single currency, and of a continental political space, with its powers and institutions, for which the powerhouses of German imperialism have long chosen the surrender of sovereignty.

 

The European political cycle, surrender of sovereignty, federal monetary power, European sovereignty, the European plurality of superstructures, in short European imperialist democracy: with these and other tools we have followed the political struggles in Europe for more than twenty years. They have really turned out to be useful and vital, since the new crisis in Rome, in this sense a new European sovereignty battle of Italy, is being debated in those terms today.

 

The reader will understand that we are at the heart of the Italian crisis, only if we consider the vague and also ignorant use of the notions of national sovereignty and popular sovereignty. This is not a question of juridical subtleties; we said previously that the question of political powers is a question of forces more than of norms. In fact, at the root of the surrender of sovereignty that all the national complexes in Europe have made vis-à-vis the Union, there is a question of imperialist force: only by moving with a single European market, with a European currency, and with European powers, can the groups and fractions of the Old Continent hope to withstand the competition with other continent-sized imperialist forces, beginning with the USA and China.

The European political cycle, surrender of sovereignty, federal monetary power, European sovereignty, the European plurality of superstructures, in short European imperialist democracy: we cannot dwell on these and other tools with which we have followed the political struggles in Europe for more than twenty years; we only observe that those concepts have really turned out to be useful and vital, since the new crisis in Rome, in this sense a new European sovereignty battle of Italy, is being debated in those terms today.

However, a conclusion from that analytical approach needs to be verified, and this is an autumn 1997 observation to which we have already returned on other occasions. When it became certain that Italy would join the single currency, commenting on the combination of federal, confederal and national powers that was taking shape in the Union, we concluded:

«National sovereignty over monetary policy has been transferred to the ECB, while that over fiscal and budgetary policy is linked to the Stability and Growth Pact and is in any case co-ordinated in Ecofin. The fundamental problem of the imbalance crisis in the inflationary management of the currency and budget is therefore to be considered resolved thereby, since monetary power has simply been removed from the direct sovereignty of the Italian State and fiscal and budgetary measures will at the least be co-determined at EU level».

How do we evaluate the fact that precisely that combination between European sovereignty and national sovereignty is today being challenged in the new Italian crisis? Until the battle is over a definitive judgement is impossible: for the moment we observe three aspects of it. A crisis being played over the surrender of sovereignty in Europe confirms that this is the crucial point; it is obvious that Italy’s chronic imbalance is again touching upon the vital connection of the euro federation: the European powers and the European party in Italy, starting from such of its structures as the Quirinal, the Bank of Italy and also the bishops of the CEI, are doing all they can to guarantee that strategic connection.

In order to make an interim assessment, we pick up two points from the really abundant harvest of international comments and reactions. A Le Figaro comment, «Italian-style Theatre», is concerned about the premises that see Italy as the «political laboratory» for the whole of the Old Continent. «So what does this experience tell us? That elections are now being played on the fears of mass immigration and unbridled globalisation. That the collapse of Social Democracy and the erosion of the Conservative Right are opening up a motorway for populist formations. And that disappointment in Europe is pushing voters towards those who promise national solutions». We can conclude from this that the Italian imbalance allows us to glimpse the possible regularities of the new political cycle for the whole continent.

In the Financial Times, Wolfgang Münchau lists six mistakes that, in his opinion, fuel a «complacent narrative» about the Italian crisis, in the parallel between «the fall of Germany’s Weimar Republic» and «the vulnerability of Europe’s liberal elites». First of all, it is not true that the Constitution can prevent leaving the euro: the League’s plan is to create the conditions for a financial crisis, to declare force majeure conditions and to introduce a «parallel currency» during a weekend, when banks are closed. Second, there is no guarantee that the markets would frustrate this rebellion. For Matteo Salvini’s League, a financial crisis would not be «a threat but a promise» that would allow Italy to pull the plug. Third, the Quirinal’s powers are strong, but limited; Mattarella could not oblige parliament to approve a budgetary law in line with the euro area. Fourth, that the centre will always be able to «stitch things up» is debatable; the PD and Forza Italia (Forward Italy) miscalculated «the sheer scale of support of the populists». Fifth, it is said that «if all else fails», Draghi would deal with it, but ECB intervention is possible for «rule-compliant governments that find themselves under a speculative attack by investors»; this would not be the case. Six, it is hoped that economic recovery «will benefit the centrist parties», but the opposite is plausible; the League and the Five Star Movement will generate a recovery thanks to considerable fiscal stimulus, «and will gain the credit for it».

 

How do we evaluate the fact that precisely that combination between European sovereignty and national sovereignty is today being challenged in the new Italian crisis? A crisis being played over the surrender of sovereignty in Europe confirms that this is the crucial point; it is obvious that Italy’s chronic imbalance is again touching upon the vital connection of the euro federation: the European powers and the European party in Italy - the Quirinal, the Bank of Italy and also the bishops of the CEI - are doing all they can to guarantee that strategic connection.

 

It is to be observed that the Financial Times is campaigning on the Italian crisis; Münchau is feeling the effect of the dark mood of liberal opinion; he may be underestimating the eternal resource of Italian transformism; the Quirinal’s prerogatives regarding respecting a balanced budget are more intrusive and mandatory than what has been reported, so the anchorage of the European party has more political and institutional force than imagined. But the list of the City’s daily remains the pointer to a possible spiralling of the Italian crisis. This cannot be excluded.

 

Lotta Comunista N° 573, May 2018



* The Political Shell – éditions Science Marxiste (2006)

* Internationalist Bulletin, N° 196, May 2018

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