2005-22′: The crisis of western capitalism behind the left and far right radicalism

Saturday, 23 April 2022 — MROnline

Originally published: Defend Democracy Press on April 21, 2022 by Dimitris Konstantakopoulos

First of two articles

In a previous article we have tried to explain the rise of the extreme right in Europe, in its various forms, as a result of the deep crisis of world (western) Capitalism. The same is true of the rise of the radical left, where and when we witness it. It is simply impossible to understand what is going on now in the world if we don’t take into consideration the crisis the globally dominant Western capitalism has been facing since 2008. The depth of this crisis is comparable to the depth of the two biggest crises in the history of capitalism, those of 1873 and 1929.

Those two crises have produced in the past the drive to imperialism, as a way out of the crisis (analysed in a magnificent way by Hobson and Lenin in their classic works on imperialism). They produced also WWI and II, the Russian and the Chinese revolutions, and the rise of Nazism in Germany.

Social interests and psychological factors constitute a great barrier in acknowledging the depth and the potential consequences of the crisis our world is facing. An equally important obstacle is the very serious intellectual (and moral) decline we are living in, reminiscent in a way of the descent of the ancient world into the Dark Ages. In particular, political and social critical thought has declined dramatically since the ‘80s of the last century, especially in the context of the “end of history” period opened with the triumph of capitalism on the ruins of the USSR and its bureaucratic “socialism”.

We acknowledge or we do not aknowledge the crisis and its depth, it exists objectively. We are then right to wait events as dramatic as the ones the two previous crises have produced. In reality we have already been witnessing them since the beginning of the century. The European debt crisis, the cascade of wars in the Middle East, the increasingly important and threatening ecological crises, and the COVID crisis all have a systemic character. And now we are already, whether or not we want to aknowledge it, at the beginning of a new, sui generis world war, launched by NATO as a reaction to the Russian military intervention in Ukraine.

All those phenomena are not separate “accidents” of some sort. They are the symptoms of a global system more and more unable to regulate itself without producing more and more destruction, as has happened in the past with WWI and II, which permitted a development of the productive forces only after destroying them massively.

But there is not only similarity: there is also a crucial difference between the present and the two previous crises. Humanity has now unimaginable means of destroying life on earth. And even if it does not use them to commit suicide, it will anyway end its existence in a not so distant future, if it does not take very radical steps to reform itself, adressing in particular climatic change and other threats to the natural environment which has sustained superior forms of life on earth. Such radical steps seem beyond the capacity of the present global system. They require profound systemic change if humanity is to survive. This was already very difficult before the Ukrainian crisis. But if the cold and hot wars which begun go on they will destroy any possibillity of international cooperation thus rendering certain the destruction of our species as a result of the climatic change and the other existential threats we are facing.

This information is becoming more obvious by the day now. But it is so terrible, that people are refusing to let it really enter their brains. They prefer to continue business as usual, reproducing what they know from the past and not taking into account that, for the first time in the history of humanity, its survival cannot be considered as granted.

A crisis of representation

The crisis of Western capitalism did not happen overnight. It has a past. It was initially manifested as a crisis of representation of the popular strata, in reality of the majority of the population, in the political superstructure and the decision-making mechanisms. As neoliberalism progressed, it removed further from politics, that is, from people, any influence on economy and society. The traditional parties of the Left and Right began to look like two drops of water regarding the most central economic and foreign policy choices. Governments were elected on one platform, but after winning the election they applied the opposite policy.

A divorce between the populations and the political elite was established. In nearly all referendums in Europe, from Cyprus (2004) and France (2005) to Greece (2015) and the UK (2016), people voted massively against the central policies followed and supported by the European political, economic and media elites.

The Maastricht Treaty

In Europe, an aggravating factor has been the totalitarian structure of the Maastricht Treaty by which the EEC was transformed into the EU and the Euro was created. This treaty has taken away much of the sovereignty from the national level, where there is still a limited possibility of influencing decisions by the people. This sovereignty has not been transferred to a democratically constituted and functioning supranational level, but to technocratic institutions, controlled by international financial capital and NATO. Those institutions are obliged, among others, by the very provisions of the  Maastricht Treaty itself

– to constantly “liberalise” the “markets” (that is to expand the power of capital on societies),

– to constantly expand the Union (the external corollary of internal “market liberalisation”, a way to create a global “Empire” of Finance and destroy for ever the dream of a political union of Europe, based on its independence from the USA and to implement a permanent anti-inflationary policy (that is to guarantee the value of the capital of the big financial corporations).

  • to keep EU’s policy linked in a permanent way to NATO, that is the USA
  • to forbid measures of economic and social unification, the European Union project being exclusively the creation of a huge market, regulated as less as possible by either national or “federal” state powers, able to limit the power of financial Capital. The Maastricht Treaty is in itself a formidable obstacle to a genuine political integration of the continent, it is not a new international political subject, nut a huge “market”, a space for the action of of Capital.

The creation of the EU represents thus a fundamental transformation of the western capitalist system. In the “algorithm” of the Maastricht Treaty is hidden the repudiation of the principle of popular sovereignty and the replacement of the regime of “bourgeois democracy” by the rule of the Kingdom of Finance, although the structure continues to have a kind of democratic ideology, devoid more and more of its content. (That does not mean democratic forces should struggle for the dissolution of the EU or for exit from the EU tomorrow morning. Their struggle must obey the need and a strategy to replace the existing European order with a better, not a worse, one. Britain for example left the Union and became the vanguard of the most extremist forces of Imperialism).

Revolting against Euroliberalism

In May and June 2005, the citizens of France and the Netherlands, two of the founding states of the EEC and then of the EU, took exception to all this construction and the “Euro-liberalism” underlying it, by voting en masse against the draft European Constitutional Treaty and, indirectly, against the fundamental Maastricht Treaty provisions incorporated into it. By voting this way they made official the divorce between the regime established in Europe, the “Euroliberalsm” and the French and Dutch peoples. The divorce of the EU with the Greek and the British people would come ten years later.

The financial crisis enters the equation

But the western crisis has deepened much more as a result of the 2008 financial crisis which was  “exported” from the United States to Europe, provoking a European debt crisis, an EU crisis and finally leading to a “nation destruction” experimental programme applied in Greece, the bail-in programme against Cyprus and the attacks against the economies and societies of the poorer half of the EU, including not only the EU periphery, but even the French, the Belgian and British societies and their welfare systems. The end result of all that was the Greek crisis, Brexit and the quasi-revolutionary revolt of the Yellow Vests in France.

From Crisis to War

Now, as we have already mentioned, we are entering an even deeper chapter of this crisis with the Russian military intervention in the Ukrainian crisis and the war NATO has launched against Russia in response, a war which is rapidly becoming a sui generis World War against Russia and, in prospect, against China and everybody else with even the slightest element of independence vis-a-vis the American Empire.

This new phase is producing already some first political results and it will produce many more when the enormous economic and social cost of this War will become apparent.

We don’t know for example how the Hungarian leader Orban and the Serb leader Vucic will act in the coming months, but in their electoral triumphs one can easily discern the first political repercussions from the war.  The popular strata in the West feel by instinct much better that their “leaders” that NATO’s war against Russia may very well end in global disaster. The more the western elites move towards war, the more reticent become the popular strata, although this process is still in an embryonic stage.

Although we cannot establish it, we consider it highly propable that the distance both Le Pen and Melenchon tried to take from the more extremist NATO’s policies, even if it was slight, contradictory and not very audacious, has contributed to their ratings, especially among popular French social strata and workers. Those strata, having being the target of the mainstream mass media for decades, tend to be now more sceptical towards their war propaganda. They feel, by their own instinct, that the anti-Russian campaign is against their own interests and they don’t have the reasons the “Bobo” (Bourgeois-bohème) social strata (which tend to dominate many leftist formations, even some claiming to be revolutionary marxist!!!) have to identify with the “democratic” and “humanistic” campaigns of western imperialism and its narratives. We see, here, in an embryonic form still, the same processes of differenciation we witnessed in various countries during the two World Wars.

Of course, there are also the opposite tendencies working. Probably the Americans contributed in overthrowing the Pakistani President, for his good relations with Russia and China.

Looking for alternatives

The long crisis we have described above has led to a massive search for alternatives, either to the Left or to the Right. In France, the so-called “radical left” (even if such terms have quite a distance from “real” reality), together with the Left of the Socialist Party, have mobilised, only under the pressure of their popular basis and of independent intellectuals (like the ATTAC), for a No vote at the 2005 referendum. The leftist critique of Euroliberalism dominated the “Front du Non” in 2005, by uniting the force of societal and of “national” demands, under an anti-neoliberal and an (implicity sovereignist in order to be) democratic agenda.

The left and the national factor

It is clear that for the Left to claim hegemony and power, it has to be firmly based on its national context (having also a serious international strategy). It has, in a way, to be a “national” force, for the simple reason that you have to propose a way out for your nation, otherwise you condemn yourself to a marginal existence. This does not mean, of course, that the Left has to adopt any nationalistic or chauvinistic agenda. But it means it has to be critical towards the “anti-nationalistic” ideology of the globalised neoliberal capitalism. There is nothing very progressive in the destruction of states and nation by an ascending Empire of Financial Capital.

By the way there is a clear racist element behind the condemnation of “nationalism” in general by the dominant Western narrative, a condemnation which is very eclectic. For instance, Russian or Serb nationalisms (which oppose Western domination) are apalling, Ukrainian or Albanian nationalisms (which have become the tools of Western imperialism) are welcomed and supported. Ukrainian refugees are welcomed, Asian and African refugees, coming from countries destroyed by western military interventions, are not.

Does the Left want to win?

The 2005 victory of the critical intellectuals, of the “radical left” and of the socialist Left surprised them. They did not know what to do with it and were unable and/or unwilling to provide a follow up to the revolt of the people. They did not have an answer to the question “What is to be done now”? Those “imaginary revolutionaries” would prefer the more confortable position of the critique of the “system” than the much more difficult and dangerous work of trying to reform it radically or overthrow it. This became amply clear during the “crisis of the suburbs” in November 2005, the revolt against CPE in March 2006 and the 2007 French presidential election.

“We voted No at the referendum and now we have six presidential candidates of the No”, a taxi driver told me in Paris, during the 2007 election, before asking me:

Those people want to win or to lose?

The first version of the radical right

The 2007 election was won finally by the representative of a first (mild) version of the “radical right”, Nicolas Sarkozy. He pretended to be the heir of Gaullism, in order to betray more easily the General’s ideas, by getting France back into the military structure of NATO and leveling Libya, for the sake of American and Israeli Neocons (the French Libyan campaign must not be understood as a classic neocolonial campaign. It reflected rather the influence of the “Party of War” inside a more and more unified block of western capitalist states, where the very notion of a national ruling class is already invalid to a large degree and where national political and financial elites are becoming more and more something like indigenous rulers of the provinces of the globalised capitalist world. As for the European constitutional treaty, rejected by the French citizens in the 2005 referendum, Sarkozy reinstated many of its provisions through the Lisbon Treaty, which was approved by the French parliament without being submitted to a referendum.

The right-wing fraud was succeeded by a “socialist” one. Elected by stating that his main adversary is the “Empire of Money” (www.lefigaro.fr), Francois Hollande  finally appointed the Rothschild banker Emmanuel Macron as Minister of the Economy. Macron was subsequently able to steel Hollande’s job and destroy his Socialist Party!

Monthly Review does not necessarily adhere to all of the views conveyed in articles republished at MR Online. Our goal is to share a variety of left perspectives that we think our readers will find interesting or useful. —Eds.

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