Europe: the bosses are looking for shock

Antonio Negri 22/05/2020
Europe has been cut in two by the coronavirus and will be cut even more severely by its economic and social consequences: this perception is unquestionable when one looks at the pandemic bulletins, and is clearly translated by the differentials in the extent of the domestic product crisis and/or the public debt of individual countries.

Tradotto da Fausto Giudice
The Karlsruhe Court’s judgment of 5 May 2020 dramatized these dualisms by ordering the European Central Bank not to mutualise, in any way, its interventions in support of the EU Member States, and therefore ordered the German Central Bank not to cooperate in the work of the European Central Bank – should the ‘crime of mutualisation’ be established.
The problem we want to look at here is not a jurisdictional one: the European Court of Justice of the European Union immediately responded to the German Court’s injunction and declared it to have no jurisdiction as to the substance.
Nor is it the substantive issue. Leading economists have underlined the senile affection of the German Court for Milton Friedman’s monetary theory and the total misunderstanding of countercyclical monetary strategies, concluding that the Karlsruhe ruling could have negative effects on the same value of German Bunds (Treasury bonds).
Finally, it is not even from an ideological point of view that the question arises when one perceives the normative prejudice that German institutions often express, ultra vires [beyond the powers], on the legal, political, and social systems of other countries of the Union – almost, therefore, the last Karlsruhe judgment was a (so to speak “historical-ideal”) call to order of the propagation of German power over the Union.
The issue we are raising here is a political one. We ask ourselves why this judgment was passed today, when the debate on the necessary common solidarity of Europeans in the pandemic was at the centre of political interest. Now, it seems to us that the significance of this judgment has little to do with the defence of the Germanic citizen but is entirely conceived as a means of defending and perpetuating neoliberalism. The German Constitutional Court is not only the representative of the German capitalist class, but is, on this occasion, the political agent of the European capitalist class.
To clarify this statement, we must first of all remember that the neoliberal project as a framework within which the European Union has to develop, was imposed not only by the most powerful nation-state (Germany) but by the consensus of the ruling classes of all other European countries – an agreement which has globally involved, and organised over time, the centres of power of European capitalism. The agreement was made on the commitment to build consolidated economic and social institutions around a decreasing public debt and inflation close to zero. And above all in the invariance and continuity – “whatever it takes”, as Draghi said, – of the neoliberal model of accumulation and development. This agreement (and the prior consent) is the initialling of the decision of the European entrepreneurial class to disengage itself definitively from the remnants of interventionist and Keynesian liberalism after the Second World War. And thus, to build a society that is fully open to entrepreneurial initiative represented by extreme individualism. The construction of the European Central Bank, the radical guarantee of its independence, was the masterpiece of this project.
What is prompting the Court of Karlsruhe today to fire on this princely institution of neoliberal European capitalism? And to do so in the name of “human rights”, sanctified as “ewige” – “eternal” – in the German Constitution? An “eternity” in reality reduced to the eternity of the apologia of possession and defence of property? [As an old Hegelian, I remember a passage by Hegel, still young but already well versed in German law: “According to its original principles, German state law is properly a private law and political rights a possession, a property”. Are we still there?]. Finally, let’s ask ourselves once again: can it be a national interest that Karlsruhe claims? We have already underlined the fragility of this answer, which, taken seriously, would sound profoundly contradictory. It would mean that the German Court is moving against the interests of German capitalists themselves, who have found the functioning of the European market and the resulting strength of the euro (as well as its stability) to be an exceptional weapon of expansion. Far beyond any reservations about the Bank’s action, German capitalism calls for a further strengthening of the euro as an international trading currency and the maintenance of European consensus on this project – as a guarantee of Germany and Europe’s ability to conquer global markets. It also insists on the need to establish, in a world in great turmoil, a more balanced and active international position for Germany/Europe within the so-called de-globalisation (i.e. the loss of imperial and monetary sovereignty of the USA).
If this is the position of the German bosses, generally well served by their governments, we must conclude that the recent position of the German Supreme Court, far from any other reason, is fundamentally motivated by the prediction of the social crisis that the pandemic has caused and that it will affect Europe over a long period. Through its stance, the Court is inciting to react to the social crisis in the usual manner of ‘austerity’ and to propose, for the way out of the crisis, the pure and simple renewal of the ordo-liberal regime. Better still, the completion of the hitherto unfinished ordo-liberal project. The Court’s ruling is an appeal to suppress any change in the power balance between the classes that might occur at the exit from the crisis and in the long period of social and political adjustment that will follow. It is therefore purely and simply a political judgment, a reactionary device.
If we take this first conclusion, we can immediately draw some consequences from it. Firstly, that this judgment is not directed against the current decisions of the European Central Bank, nor against the reaffirmation (immediately expressed) of the supremacy of the European Court of Justice over each participating State. The present, and any new contradictions between these institutions, will be able to coexist within a hierarchy and a political gradation of European governance. The path will be difficult but certainly not obstructive of the coherence of European governance, which today is completely concentrated – and in a unitary manner – on the recovery and improvement of the accumulation machine built up over the last fifty years. Secondly, the Karlsruhe ruling operates in the sense of accelerating the transformative process of European capitalism, setting its objective beyond the first phase of the recomposition of the political stratum of capital. There is not, therefore, only a reference to order and capitalist norm to be read in his initiative – there is not only, eventually, a sly nod to the motto of conservation “everything must change, in order to stay the same”: there is, above all, the commitment to renew – with the forces of capital – the entire world of production, reproduction and circulation of goods, according to increasingly useful command criteria – profitable and coercive. Here, in fact, we pass from the long-ordered phase of extraction of absolute and relative plus-value to another phase of development characterized by the extraction of the commons. Through the German Court, the European capitalist class that this passage will be conducted with maximum force, out of all reformist illusions. Capital will act in the first person – the logistics, even the jurisdictional ones, will follow.
Thus we have arrived at the central moment of the clash of classes that before covid-19 had opened up and that today, within the crisis and the state of health emergency, is deepening fatally. When it is said that the world, after this pandemic, will no longer be the same, it is not a falsehood: the new way of producing (internet, artificial intelligence, robotization, platforms, etc.) awaits, taking advantage of this crisis as a destructive mediation of the old system, the establishment of a new political form of productive society.
Let us remember, however, that around this deadline, in Europe, the class struggle has been starting for some years. The coronavirus crisis has done nothing more than approximate the definitive point of contradiction and confrontation. A violent solution, because the decisive factor will be to close the dilemma that now characterises its central content: what future will be built?
Now, to go further in the analysis of the clash, it is worth giving that content its proper name: the name of the commons. Will it be a confirmation of capitalist domination over the commons or the breaking of that chain and the beginning of a process of liberation of the commons? Capitalist development invading “absolutely” (“real subsumption”, says Marx, “absolute capitalis”, interprets Balibar) society has also reorganized the relations of production, reproduction and circulation in a radical way. They “network”, and in such networks conditions, processes and end products of a production mode increasingly connected and commonly made operational are connected, articulated or compacted. The richness is today in this common connection. The process on the rhythm of which from the exploitation through the extraction of relative plus-value passes to the extraction of plus-value determined by the association/community (however crude or disorganic it may be) of social work (of the labour force, considered in all its social relations) reveals the productive power of the commons, together with the violence expressed by the organization of command. Common are in fact not only the great institutions of the circulation of goods which are based on platforms open to consumption and based on the analysis of big data; not only the figures of reproduction, especially those of the family and care, which foresee welfare as their support and production; and neither only the productive structures which now have at the heart of their conception and execution the value of a labour force built in the common paths of education and knowledge. It is on this ground, within this landscape, that the theme of Europe is proposed anew in the current crisis, when the health emergency is coming to an end but the class struggle is reopened – and governments are strongly urged (also by many authoritative bodies such as the Court of Karlsruhe) to take a line of drastic decisions to strengthen continuity and to further develop (if possible) the forms of pre-crisis production command – a step to the reform of the system.
It should not be forgotten, among other things, that part of the European (and French in particular) employers were able to consider the crisis of the covid-19 as a gift fallen from the sky, to interrupt a movement of struggles on wages, for a new democracy and for the institutional recognition of the commons, which for a couple of years had made the exercise of neoliberal governance uneasy. The struggles of the French proletariat represented in fact, by now, in the ever-widening convergences they produced, an effective counterpower, capable of interrupting neoliberal governance. This break in the daily continuity of the class struggles caused by the pandemic had not, however, erased the memory of the power of the proletarian commune that had expressed itself. Those struggles are ready to begin again!
But let us return to the centrality of the clash that presents itself at the end of the health crisis and the exceptional instruments put in place to resolve it. We have already widely known the rules of austerity in the management of the “public” and the rules for its privatization. Added today is the attempt to prefigure in concrete terms a new “labour law” that presents itself as a device for a radical transformation of the social working day into a day of high mobility and work flexibility (with an increase in working hours). Add to this labour policy and the strong financial (and privatisation) pressure on care institutions (hospitals, nursing homes, etc.). – precisely those most massacred in the previous thirty years) a solid attempt to shatter the welfare system, against its necessary universalisation, often hypocritically proclaimed also by capitalists during the covid-19 crisis. What is most frightening, in this case, is the fact of being faced with a capitalist initiative weakened by the perception of the crisis of the neoliberal model but at the same time frightened by this weakness: capable, therefore, of exasperating its reactions toward fascistoid forms.
How will the social movements of workers be able to sustain the class impact, the fight on future destiny? First of all, by building a discourse capable of bringing together the struggles developed before the emergency blackout (first of all, those of the Yellow Vests and those of the feminist movement), the many singular struggles conducted during the lockdown in recent months, with new strong unrest and strikes in the new phase, especially in the field of social reproduction. The universalization of welfare and the universality an unconditional basic social income today become the central point of the programme of the oppressed. To which we must add the theme of a democracy reconstructed from below, of a welfare system managed from below, in short the construction of an offensive programme of struggles on European soil.
In conclusion, let us return to the observation that Europe is cut in two, between countries of the South and the countries of the new Hanseatic League, behind which the bosses, not only the German but also the European bosses, are watching. How can the pro-European and communist movements, the movements of the South, move in this situation? How can they act in the double sense in which they have always carried out their initiative at European level 1. in order to give European expression to the struggles developing in the countries of the South, and 2. to affirm the project of a united Europe, at the centre of their programme? The only answer that the movements can give to these questions based on their experiences so far, is that we need to join forces, all forces at European level, to unseat the representatives of European capitalism from leadership. The movements do not believe in the possibility of detaching the capitalists of one European country from those of another European country and of uniting the destiny of each of them with that of the working class in their own country: modern history has taught us that these paths are not viable, and worse, that social democrats- by following them – have twice allowed monstrous fratricidal European wars. When war was no longer spoken of, national selfishness was providing no less than economic and social disasters and the by now enormous contradictions of European integration. Instead, we are convinced that a process of cooperation between the proletarian forces living and developing in all the countries of Europe can be set in motion and that a new European initiative can be built with them. For a Europe united but democratically built from the bottom up, productive but made so by a population that enjoys the universality of income and welfare, as powerful as only in the defence of peace can a country be… and young because its citizens will not be afraid of the future.