It has been almost 3 weeks since Momentum’s The World Transformed took place in Liverpool alongside the Labour Party conference. What is surprising however, is that the topics and discussions that were had seem to have even more relevance now. Especially considering the many events which have unfolded following Jeremy Corbyn’s second mandate to be the leader of the Labour Party. This is true especially for our first post of this series covering the different talks that took place in Momentum’s The World Transformed.
“Where now for the European Left?” was the pressing question in this talk on day 2. An incredibly important question if the majority in Europe is to have an alternative to the current political and economic status quo. Similar to the majority of talks during The World Transformed, this one began with a long speech from each speaker before the panel then opened up to the crowd for questions and answers. This first post will solely focus on the speaker’s comments with some light comments of my own.
Catarina Principe – Member of Bloco de Esquerda in Portugal
Fabio de Masi – MEP for Die Linke in Germany
Xavi Ferrer – Acivist within Barcelona en Comú in Spain
Mary-Lou McDonald – MEP for Sinn Fein in Ireland
Fabio de Masi, a member of the European Parliament representing Die Linke (The Left) party from Germany began with the opening speech on where the left in Europe should go.
Right from the start, to grasp some context before jumping to any conclusions, Fabio’s remarks went into the practical (however general) problems facing the modern European left; the barriers from enabling them to implement policies based on their principles. Fabio’s speech was extremely critical of the anti-democratic structures of the European Union, although his tone matched a “remain and reform” ethos overall.
Fabio stressed that the current Eurocrisis had a lot to do with the European Union’s austerity policies, noting their aims of cheapening labour and exporting cheaper and cheaper goods. To Fabio, German politicians sometimes at the heart of the European Union often with conflicting interests also were at the heart of the failure and breakaway of the EU. Fabio claimed that the left in Europe must go against this and be extremely critical of the EU; especially the rules it has created that have led to the worries of the working class of cheap foreign labour and ultimately to the result of Brexit. Fabio concluded that these worries have been used to divide and atomise the working class, and that they must be addressed by the European left to reach these people again politically; specifically by focussing on reforming the rules and economic orthodoxy of the European Single Market.
Xavi Ferrer is an active member within Barcelona en Comú (Barcelona in Common): a leftist coalition including Podemos which gave Ada Colau the platform to win the mayoral election in Barcelona in 2015 and become the first female to ever hold the office.
Xavi’s opinion was that the focus for the European Left must be around the grassroots level of municipality. A lot of the issues at the national and international level (across the European continent) according the Xavi can be remedied through organisation at the level of municipal elections like is happening in Barcelona.
Xavi put his emphasis on several ideas within municipalism that he believed the left must adopt, and phenomena within this concept that are advantageous to the left’s cause. He begins with the idea that bottom-up processes in the end produce better, more egalitarian and sustainable results. Xavi makes the case that municipalism works better than any change that’s imposed on the national level for this very reason. He uses the example of Syriza in Greece as an example of this. Syriza were defeated because although they were a grassroots movement of cooperation between the left parties in Greece, the party was an effort to effect change at the national level. This national level was utterly gridlocked by top-down processes imposed by the “troika” of creditors.
Municipalism can be used to achieve specific attainable goals, such as the election of Ada Colau – opposed to processes which may be focussed on effecting change from a position of power. A focus on municipality can emancipate the left from theoretical binary debates, because no hard ideology is needed; with specific goals in mind we can accept everyone as individuals with a variety of perspectives and areas of expertise. As long as these specific goals are met, directions afterwards on these certain issues amongst the left can vary: this makes it a lot more difficult to attack and categorise the group as a single entity.
Reflecting upon Fabio’s statement on the disenfranchisement of the working class, Xavi made the point that the language of political discourse must be altered to engage these non-political persons. Xavi made a lot of points supporting Municipalism as a fundamental weapon for the left within Europe. I think most importantly however, was the idea that a focus on Municipalism for the left can create a platform and network, giving it the capability to achieve small change. Small changes according the Xavi can in the end create openings and enable larger changes to occur. If you “put municipalism at the centre of the mainstream, you create a new political area for left politics to thrive”.
Catarina Principe is a member of the Left Bloc in Portugal: Bloco de Esquerda, and Die Linke in Germany. She is also a contributing editor at the Jacobin magazine: a leftist publication based in Brooklyn, New York.
Catarina begins her speech with making the statement that the European Union has from the beginning been a “neoliberal” project by following a distinct socio-economic ideology. She uses the Syriza situation in Greece as an example to support this statement. “The Syriza example made the mask of the European Union drop”. The overall gist, was of how a top-down power structure, coupled with a toxic economic ideology such as financialisation can be (and has been) used by the European Union to impose its will against the overwhelming mandate of another populace.“Sometimes you have to say ‘fuck you’ to the European Union”, is one note that Fabio and Catarina agreed upon.
Catrina makes the observation of how in the past through the pursuit of an internationalist agenda, the left has traditionally believed that “states do not matter”, when in fact she announces this cannot be any further from the truth – states do matter. To restructure the present system within Europe, Catarina claims that a movement more decentralised than any other in history is needed. The left now more than ever needs all different levels of governing, including the different levels that are afforded by states.
Leaving the European has been framed entirely as a far-right agenda. Catarina states that she firmly believes it is not. It is just being framed as such. Catarina insists that the left in Europe should tackle this problem, by proposing solutions to these problems created by the European Union and getting them out into the mainstream. Solutions which widen the left argument to leave the EU. There should be “many different exits” – being proposed by the left in Europe. This way, you empower the grassroots base of the left, and neutralise the far-right’s monopoly on leaving the EU.
Mary Lou Mcdonald was an MEP between 2004 and 2009, is currently the vice-president of Sinn Fein in Ireland and is a TD for Dublin central in the Irish parliament.
Mary Lou began her speech in reply to Catarina. She explains how although she would definitely be considered a leftist, through her upbringing amongst circumstances such as the struggle for an independent and united Ireland: “states have always mattered for me”.
Mary Lou reframes the question Catarina was proposing also. The question for Mary Lou is not”how do we reject the EU in as many ways as possible”, it should always be: “do we give up on the EU, or do we grow the left politically within?”. States have always mattered, and the left absolutely must maintain its internationalist agenda within such structures, not abandon them.
Going back to the example of Syriza in Greece. Mary Lou makes the case that Syriza failed exactly because of this lack of co-operation within these structures – not entirely because of the overwhelming powers of the interests within the EU. France abandoned them and there were no other left political parties that were in positions of power willing to stand in solidarity with them against these interests. This, according to Mary Lou is exactly what Jeremy Corbyn as the Labour party leader, standing on a remain and reform platform so vitally represents: solidarity internationalist agenda within these structures.
The focus for the left in Europe to Mary Lou should be on creating an EU-wide internationalist alternative, changing the agenda that is currently put forward by the right: “You, I and everybody in this room knows, restrictions on the freedom of movement will not lead to a pay increase for the working class”. Mary Lou argues entirely against conceding to the right on this issue. She in conclusion argues that the way forward for the European left is to reclaim the EU project for itself through deep-rooted left-wing activism. It should be tackling xenophobia, and addressing working-class issues through framing them and their solutions in different inspiring ways which give way to hope, not division.
At this specific event, the answers given by all speakers focussed predominantly on the context of ‘following Brexit’. All of the speakers were highly critical of the European Union and many of its different facets. The main disagreement was between the viability of Lexit –the case to leave the European Union in order to regain national sovereignty to states, powers to implement socialist policies, and to enable circumstances throughout Europe for other states to do the same – and remaining and reforming – the case of showing solidarity to other states throughout Europe by remaining within the European Union, but with the effort to reform it within towards more of a socialist agenda.
Is the European Union a project broken beyond repair? Do we cling onto it and try with all of our might to make it change? The speakers outnumbered the argument of Lexit 3-to-1, with Catarina fighting hard to explain that there is a potential future for the left in Europe and Britain whilst accepting the result of Brexit. The remaining three members of the panel were more pessimistic about the future, which looks to be inevitably on its way.
All photos were taken by David Walters: http://www.dwliverpoolphotography.co.uk/