The Left Case Against the EU Paperback – 19 Oct. 2018
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"Costas Lapavitsas is the most important commentator on the EU and its current crises, including Brexit. This is one of the most significant books on modern politics to appear in the last decade, and virtually the only one fully to grasp the nature of our present situation."Richard Tuck, Harvard University
"Important and timely"
'In 2015, a left-wing government in Athens was wrestling with Berlin and Brussels. Two prominent economists took part in the scuffle: one, Yanis Varoufakis, became Minister of Finance; the other, Costas Lapavitsas, was a member of the ruling party, Syriza. The first was a Europhile who viewed the capitulation of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras as an invitation to struggle for "another Europe". The second, always the sceptic, saw his views confirmed by the debacle.'
Le Monde Diplomatique
LSE Review of Books
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In this fine book, Costas Lapavitsas, Professor of Economics at the School of Oriental and African Studies, demolishes this view. He contends that the EU used the Eurozone crisis to make the EU a wholly capitalist force. Its unelected institutions all enforce the interests of capital against labour. Its treaties prevent progressive reform and make austerity, privatisation and wage cuts into constitutional obligations.
As he shows, “The EU and EMU are not a neutral set of governing bodies, institutions, and practices that could potentially serve any socio-political forces, parties, or governments, with any political agenda, depending on their relative strength. Rather, they are structured in the interests of capital and against labour. They have also gradually become geared to serving the economic advantages, and thereby the international agenda, of a particular dominant class, above all, German industrial export capitalists. …
“The foundation of the tremendous trading success of Germany since the introduction of the euro has been extraordinary domestic wage restraint – German exports have boomed on the back of German workers. German exporting industries exploited the monetary union as well as the changes wrought by unification in the 1990s to gain an advantage over labour, thus paving the way for the country’s international ascendancy.”
In the eurozone crisis that began in 2010, “EU policy defended primarily the interests of big business, and especially banks, at the expense of wage labour and the poor. … the Commission imposed a host of neoliberal policies on the stricken Southern periphery, most notably fiscal austerity and wage reductions, along with deregulation and privatization.” The ‘Troika’ of the unelected Commission, the unelected European Central Bank and the unelected IMF enforced these policies.
They, and the EU member governments, blamed the eurozone crisis on government spending. But for most of the 2000s public debt as a proportion of GDP stalled or fell. “Public debt did not cause the Eurozone crisis, even in Greece. The rapid increase in public debt in Europe took place after the outbreak of the crisis.”
What was the effect of the EU’s austerity policies? “Far from curing the problems of stricken economies, austerity frequently has had a net destructive effect on output, employment, and productive capacity. Similarly, there is little evidence that privatization and deregulation induce rapid growth. … There is no doubt at all that the social costs of EU policies were borne primarily by wage labour and the young, especially in peripheral countries.”
The EU targeted workers and their trade unions. As Lapavitsas shows, “‘Reforms’ were particularly severe in the labour market, for instance, limiting trade union rights, abolishing collective bargaining, easing dismissals, intensifying the precariousness of employment and so on.”
Across the EU, the Troika’s propaganda was that the only thing worse than staying in the euro was leaving it. In Greece, “Fear of default and exit has become an entrenched part of Greek public debate since the early 2010s, cultivated assiduously by mass media outlets typically owned by powerful business interests. Legions of outlandish claims were made of the destruction that was likely to follow, including food shortages, lack of medicines, and violent unrest in the streets with looting and arson. Fear assumed the dimensions of a political force.”
Lapavitsas exposes Syriza’s abject failure to serve the people of Greece. The Greek Communist Party [KKE] failed them too. It “sought refuge in ultra-leftism, largely implying that the Greek crisis could be dealt with only by overturning capitalism … The party was always quick to add, however, that leaving the EMU, or even the EU, without ‘popular power’ would be disastrous for Greece. By taking this position the KKE effectively neutralized itself as a political force …”
Lapavitsas quotes Marx and Engels’ The Communist Manifesto, “Since the proletariat must first of all acquire political supremacy, must rise to be the leading class of the nation, must constitute itself the nation, it is so far, itself national, though not in the bourgeois sense of the word.” So, “Workers’ internationalism always starts at home.”
The solution is therefore popular and national sovereignty as preconditions for socialism and true internationalism: “The plebeian classes of Europe were right to perceive the hollowing out of democracy as a loss of sovereignty, for democracy is an integral part of popular sovereignty and extends far beyond the mere ability to vote periodically. … In old-fashioned and perfectly apposite Marxist terms, the decline of democracy and the loss of popular sovereignty in Europe reflect a historic shift in favour of capital and against labour.”
He concludes that “if Britain is to recapture its sovereignty, it cannot remain in the single market.” We need to reject the single market and reject the EU’s Four Freedoms, we need to control the movements of goods, services, capital and labour.