“When life gives you lemons, make lemonade”
The European Union is a ‘lemon’ by all accounts – a dud car which you only discover after you have bought it with good money. It leaves a very sour taste in your mouth. The obvious thing to do is throw it away. Yet we shouldn’t assume this is the best option. Lemons can be squeezed and turned into lemonade. It requires a revolution to take something unpleasant and transform it into its opposite. It requires somebody, an agent, to make the transformation happen.
The EU is as different from a democratic United States of Europe as lemons are from lemonade. It is a bureaucracy not a democracy. It serves the interests of monopoly capital represented by European multi-national corporations and banks. As journalist Paul Mason says, the beneficiaries are ‘rentier’ capitalists creaming off the profits, tax dodging elites and organised crime. (Guardian 16 May 2016). Capital is the dominant power driving change in the EU and the UK. This will remain the case whether the UK leaves or remains in the EU.
Capital is the starting point to make sense of the European Union. A good place to begin is the Communist Manifesto. The Manifesto is the story of the life and death of Capital. Whilst its appeal is global and universal, it was in reality focused on European revolution. It was published in English, French, German, Italian, Flemish and Danish on the eve of the 1848 democratic revolutions which began in France and spread rapidly to Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
Capital appears as a powerful ‘revolutionary-exploitative’ force. It revolutionises the forces of production as it exploits an ever expanding army of wage labour. Capital overthrows all previous modes of production. It raises labour productivity to previously unimaginable levels. The Manifesto says “the bourgeoisie, during its rule of scarce one hundred years, has created more massive and more colossal productive forces than all the proceeding generations together”. (Communist Manifesto p20).
Capital cannot stand still for one second. “The constant revolutionising of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones”. (Communist Manifesto p17). Capital revolutionises technology continuously. It applies science to production. Hence “the applications of chemistry to industry and agriculture, steam navigation, railways, electric telegraphs, clearing whole continents for cultivation, canalisation of rivers, whole populations conjured out of the ground”. (Communist Manifesto p20).
Capital knows no boundaries. It spreads across the world in search of “a constantly expanding market for its products.” It chases profit and wage labour across the surface of the globe. Capital must “nestle everywhere, settle everywhere, establish connections everywhere”. (Communist Manifesto p20). No part of the world is safe from its embrace. Capital shapes the world market and subordinates labour to its will.
Capital smashes down barriers to trade, commerce, and capitalist production. It wages economic warfare in the name of ‘free trade’ on a global scale. The Manifesto explains “The cheap prices of its commodities are the heavy artillery with which it breaks down all Chinese Walls” (Communist Manifesto p19). Engels wrote: “Free trade is the normal condition of modern capitalistic production. Only under free trade can the immense productive powers of steam, of electricity, of machinery, be fully developed; and the quicker the pace of this development”. (MECW 26: 523-24).
Big is beautiful
Capital lives to grow and grows to live. As capital expands, it becomes more concentrated and centralised. ‘Big capital’ has all the competitive advantages over smaller rivals. Capital grows ever larger, becoming more creative and more destructive. The larger firms, the big ‘fish’ takeover or eat the smaller ‘fish’. Big capital is more ruthless and more exploitative in raising productivity and extracting profit. Competition gives way to monopoly power as the economy becomes dominated by a few major corporations and banks.
Big capital plans and organises the labour process on an increasingly global scale. The growth and spread of multi-national corporations creates a more ‘planned’ economy spreading across multiple international locations. The process of globalisation, which the Manifesto identified, has grown wider and deeper through integration of global finance and international production. Capital has revolutionised the world by creating an international working class whose exploitation depends on ever increasing productivity.
The Manifesto says Capital has “centralised the means of production, and has concentrated property in a few hands”. The logical consequence of this is “political centralisation”. Hence “independent, or but loosely connected provinces with separate interests, laws, governments and systems of taxation become lumped together in one nation, with one government, one code of laws, one national class interests, one frontier and one system of customs tariff.” (Communist Manifesto p20)
In the nineteenth century Capital transformed the continent of North America by creating the United States. Beginning as a loose confederation, the original thirteen states had by 1848 grown into a political union of thirty two states. In 1861 the slave owning Southern confederate states tried to leave the Union. A bloody civil war ended with victory to the industrial capitalist northern states. The United States survived and capitalism prospered. By 1900 the union, expanding to forty five states, had become one of the most productive economies in the world.
At the same time in Europe, Capital was breaking down the barriers within Germany and the Italian peninsula. Thirty nine petty states in Germany and six states in Italy were unified into single states, with a developing common market, single currency, central bank, a common language, common legal and regulatory system, and a unitary system of taxation. The political unification of Germany and Italy laid the foundations for extending a capitalist industrial revolution.
In the late 1940s popular revolutions in China and India created the world’s two largest single markets under a centralised government. China, with its current population of 1.3 billion, and India with 1.2 billion, are being transformed by the accumulation of Capital from largely peasant economies into modern capitalist economies with a growing working class. The sheer size of these single markets and the productive potential of millions of workers are transforming the world economy.
Capital is a ‘creative-destructive’ force. It creates the ‘new’ as it disrupts and destroys the ‘old’. The Manifesto says that Capital which has “conjured up such gigantic means of production and of exchange, is like a sorcerer who is no longer able to control the powers of the nether world that he has called up by his spells”. (Communist Manifesto p21).This is “paving the way for more extensive and destructive crises” (Communist Manifesto p22) in which “a great part of not only the existing products, but also of the previously created productive forces are periodically destroyed” (Communist Manifesto p21).
Capital produces an “epidemic of over-production”. (Communist Manifesto p ). Suddenly there are massive surpluses of unsold commodities. It seems the world has become too productive compared to the needs of society. “Society suddenly finds itself put back into a state of momentary barbarism; it appears as if a famine, a universal war of devastation had cut off the supply of every means of subsistence; industry and commerce seem to be destroyed and why?” (Communist Manifesto p22). The Communist Manifesto provides an answer. The productivity of labour has outgrown or outstripped the existing forms of property ownership.
The working class
Capital is a ‘progressive’ force in the sense that in its thirst for profit it creates its nemesis, an ever expanding wage labouring class. In the process of accumulation, Capital creates, organises and expands a worldwide network of production and trade. This prepares the ground for the global collective labourer to replace it. Capital is creating the technological infrastructure and social forces necessary for the birth of a new society.
Capital is not productive in itself. It is the form in which social productivity is expressed. It is the outer shell or disguise which conceals its inner secret of the productive power of socialised co-operative labour. Capital and wage labour are two sides of the same coin, revealed in the developing productive powers of wage labour. Hence the Manifesto says “in proportion as the bourgeoisie, i.e. capital, is developed, in the same proportion is the proletariat, the modern working class developed”. (Communist Manifesto p235).
Capital is working towards its own extinction. The ownership of corporations and banks is the right to decide how society’s productive resources are used and in corporate dividends and executive pay a tax on the rest of society enforced by the state. The Communist Manifesto concludes that “the bourgeoisie forged the weapons that bring death to itself: it has called into existence the people who are to wield those weapons – the modern working class – the proletarians” (Communist Manifesto p23). What Capital, therefore, “produces, above all, is its own grave-diggers.” (Communist Manifesto p35).
The Manifesto begins with the famous line that “a spectre is haunting Europe – the spectre of communism”. In the 1840’s Europe was ruled by the imperial monarchies of Austro-Hungary, Britain, France, Prussia and Russia. Capital and the industrial working class were in their infancy. In 1848 it seemed possible that democratic revolution might sweep away the old order and the working class unite Europe under communism.
At the beginning of the 21st century Capital continues to display all the features first highlighted in the Manifesto. It has continued to revolutionise the forces of production, break down borders, and create ever larger concentrations of Capital, with new larger states such as China and India. The European economy has become more integrated as Western and Central Europe has become semi-unified in the European Union. Here is a spectre, potentially more powerful than anything imaged in the Communist Manifesto, a larger, more connected and more productive European working class.
Today there is another spectre haunting Europe. In 2008 world Capital tipped into another periodic crisis of overproduction. Triggered by financial crisis in the banking system the world economy entered a period of recession and stagnation. Business bankruptcies and mass unemployment have had disastrous consequences for the EU and especially Greece, Spain, Portugal, Ireland, UK, France and Italy etc. As in the 1930s these conditions are a breeding ground for right wing nationalism, racism, fascism and war.
Today a European economy needs a European democracy to make European solutions. EU has a parliament but no real democracy. People across Europe face a stark choice. Either Europe makes the transition to a full European democracy or it will break up as people return to old rival nationalist ‘solutions’. The beneficiaries of this counter-revolution will be the far right. The EU has failed. We have bought a lemon. As the Communist Manifesto might have said – only the working class can make lemonade.
‘Workers of the World Unite’