Costas Lapavitsas makes a convincing argument why the Left should oppose the EU, writes Martin Hall


Costas Lapavitsas, The Left Case Against The EU (Polity Press 2018), viii, 175pp.

It has become something of a cliché to refer to a book as timely, but in the case of Costas Lapavitsas’s stinging critique of the European Union, it couldn’t be more true. The 20th of October saw a very large march take place in London in favour of, at least putatively, a ‘People’s Vote’ on any deal struck between the EU and the British government regarding terms for the latter’s leaving of the bloc. While the character of the march, and its organisers, were not of the Left, there was a sizeable number of people on it who support both a Corbyn government and Britain remaining in the EU. Encouraging them to read Lapavitsas’s short book would be a very good way to dissuade them of their belief that the EU is a progressive institution. Since then we have been presented with Theresa May’s deal, which keeps the UK tied to the EU’s institutions and in hoc to its rules regarding state aid.

Lapavitsas has been a consistent critic of the institution; in particular in his Jacobin pieces, from his analysis of what drove the result of the Brexit referendum in June 2016, to his recent attempt to frame the Labour Manifesto of 2017 and the Single Market as an opposition that cannot be resolved. In those and this recently released book, he has made the case for what the Left should do, which is to work to restore sovereignty at national level in order to enact policies that counter the EU’s monetary and fiscal frameworks, in particular as pushed within the Eurozone. Once this is done at national level, he argues that ‘it could signal the emergence of a radical internationalism that would draw on domestic strength and reject the dysfunctional and hegemonic structures of the EU’.[1]

Essentially, he is making the case for the threat of a good example, one which places front and centre the importance of a Corbyn government outside of the EU for the Left Europe-wide. This is in contradistinction to the abject failure of Syriza, which is a lesson in what not to do when faced with the might of the EU. Therefore, he is not in favour of the long march through the institutions approach favoured by DiEM25 (Democracy in Europe Movement 2025) and associated groups such as Another Europe is Possible.

From economic to political crisis

In the first chapter, Lapavitsas sets out the state of play in the EU, via the opening gambit that it ‘currently finds itself in a state of profound and uncommon instability’.[2] He suggests that the difference between the current crisis and previous ones is that it is not just to be found in the area of economics; rather, it is now political. It would be strange if this were not so, seeing as how, to paraphrase Lenin, the latter is simply the most concentrated expression of the former.[3]

A particular example of this that he gives is, of course, Brexit, though he allows that this is not isolated, as various currents from the extreme right have started to make louder noises in opposition to the EU. It is still debatable, nonetheless, the extent to which parties such as FN in France, the AfD in Germany, and others really want out of the EU. It may well be the case that this is more about a cynical playing to the crowd on their part, as Euroscepticism based on genuine concerns about sovereignty and imaginary ones about immigration is such a vote winner.

The initial pages are spent discussing the disparity between how the EU presented itself as a progressive force in last three decades of the twentieth century, and its difficulty in maintaining that image in this one. He shows how 1992’s Maastricht Treaty fitted within the then hegemony of neoliberal theory and practice. He suggests that the treaty was the zenith of Francis Fukuyama’s ‘End of History’ argument (published that year) within the continent, as it seemed to suggest that liberal capitalism had indeed won the battle of ideas, and was entrenched forevermore within a new, liberal and prosperous union of nations in Europe.

The crisis of 2007-9 and the subsequent Eurozone crisis of 2010-12 ‘have left that image in tatters’.[4] How then to explain the fact that the majority of the European left are still broadly in favour of the institution? This cannot be explained simply by the entrenchment of liberal ideas, particularly regarding economics, within the centre left. The rise of the authoritarian right was a reaction to the Eurozone crisis, but much of the European Left was unwilling to accept that this was a reaction to the EU policy response. The EU liberalised further and introduced austerity measures due to its very structures, in particular, the European Economic and Monetary Union (EMU).

The EU and the neoliberal period

All of this took place in a context where huge swathes of the European population have been excluded from the world of parliamentary politics, with the crisis itself deepening the depoliticisation of economic and social policies in favour of technocracy. Of course, all of this occurred within a larger neoliberal framework of the continued shifting of power from labour to capital, after the relative gains made by labour during the post-war period.

Part of this was the reduction of options available to the electorate, with an attendant hollowing out of representation, in a world where parties of the centre left and right tended to follow similar economic policies, all prescribed by the EU. Lapavitsas skilfully connects this to the material reality of the increasing economic marginalisation of the working class since the 1990s, and shows how the EU’s response to the Eurozone crisis has further favoured capital at the expense of labour.

Lapavitsas also sets out the well-trodden arguments regarding why the European Left changed its attitude to the EU so completely, paying particular attention to the failure of François Mitterand’s government in 1981, which was ‘unable to sustain expansionary Keynesian policies in the face of opposition by banks and other established interests’.[5] The conclusion that Mitterand’s finance minister, Jacques Delors, took from this was that the future of leftish social democracy lay within the then EEC, which he saw as a bulwark against the New Right, a position he set out with great success at the TUC in 1988. From his time as President of the European Commission from 1985 onwards, came a drive towards an enshrining of workers’ rights via the Social Chapter.

Lapavitsas also takes the view that the collapse of the Eastern Bloc in the early 1990s fixed this position for much of the Left. Hence, the tendency of some on the left to favour further integration, thinking that this will aid an international push-back against capital. Lapavitsas critiques this notion sharply, suggesting that it assumes a certain neutrality and malleability in the EU’s structure and institutions, and gives Syriza as the concrete example of the failure of this position.

The book sets out the counter-position to that favoured by much of the Left in the last thirty years. Chapter one makes the case that the EU and EMU are not reformable from the Left, which needs to propose new policies that reverse the transfer of power from labour to capital, and from public to private.

The ideas of Friedrich Hayek are crucial to understanding the nature of the EEC and the EU, as Lapavitsas explains at the start of chapter two. Hayek’s 1939 essay, ‘The Economic Conditions of Interstate Federalism’, helps Lapavitsas show the reader the extent to which a reduction in national sovereignty – with all caveats regarding that under capitalism – is a structural necessity for the free movement of capital. He also makes the point that one of the reasons Hayek’s model has not worked in practical terms is that the EU has not federated defence and foreign policy, while also going further than Hayek recommended in terms of monetary policy by creating the EMU, to which he objected when first proposed in the 1970s.[6]

Money and monetary union

The creation of monetary union is the focus of the second half of chapter two. He begins with some opening remarks concerning money, making the point that in one sense the development of policy in this area during the neoliberal era has gone in the opposing direction to other government policy, which of course has favoured the private individual at the expense of the collective. The final means of payment for governments, though, is fiat money, over which it has a monopoly.

He makes the point that despite ‘the relentless emphasis on competition and free markets during the last four decades, there is no competition in issuing this most important traded entity in contemporary capitalist states,’[7] and that this money is predicated upon self-referentiality, since gold ceased to be used after the collapse of the Bretton-Woods Agreement in the early 1970s. He follows these comments with a brief history of what happened after this collapse, which clearly sets out the environment into which the EMU made its arrival in the 1990s.

Prior to this, the most important step was the setting up of the European Monetary System (EMS) in 1979, which included the European Exchange Rate Mechanism (EERM). A key component of the thinking behind this was to reduce divergence in interest rates between core nations, specifically France, Germany and Italy. Lapavitsas points out that any such system must have a country that functions as an anchor, due to the aforementioned lack of convertibility into a produced commodity, like gold, particularly when capital flows freely between countries, as it began to in the 1980s.

Germany had the GDP and current account surplus to do this, but failed to manage its own monetary policy with the other countries in mind, meaning the EMS did not work well, leading to the situation by the early 1990s where the Deutschmark had effectively a controlling role over the whole EMS. Rather than Germany acting as the anchor, the system had been reshaped with its monetary interests in mind.

From the start, the EMU had two principal concerns, argues Lapavitsas: the Euro was designed to favour monetary factors and tough fiscal discipline was required from member nations. It was felt, though, that what the EMU could achieve was equality among member states, as it would remove the need for an anchor country because decisions on monetary policy would, it was assumed, be taken with all countries’ needs in mind. France was the main political driver here, as it assumed the EMU could be a brake on increasing German power, seen as particularly important after unification in 1990. However, this was to reckon without the Euro’s architectural flaws, which Lapavitsas sets out in the next section.

Flaws in the EMU: political and economic

A variety of flaws are listed: lack of mutualisation of public debt; no banking union; no unified system of fiscal transfer between states. To take banking as one example, despite the European Central Bank (ECB) being the prominent institution in the EMU, legal responsibility for assets is still at the national level. Moreover, the second most important institution, the Stability and Growth Pact, set up to regulate fiscal performance across member states, has singularly failed to do so.

The no bailout clause in the Maastricht Treaty has been hardened by article changes in the Lisbon Treaty, and no debt is taken on centrally. Lapavitsas compares this with the Federal Reserve in the United States, in order to argue that the European system is manifestly deficient. In making this comparison, he also points out the problem of there not being a unified polity and demos in Europe, unlike in the US. Lapavitsas is at pains to point out that none of this is very surprising, as fundamentally the people of Europe are not one people or a state, so consequently:

‘It would take major historical events for the peoples of Europe to accept that the public debt of one country would be the direct responsibility of the government and the people of another’[8].

Furthermore, the EMU has been created during a period of the rise of finance capital, and at a time when the mantra of ‘flexibility’ has led to the most deleterious conditions for workers, with the Euro functioning as a way of ‘imposing discipline on workers’in the name of competitiveness.[9]

The centrality of the German economy

In chapter three, Lapavitsas sets out in detail exactly how and why Germany has achieved hegemony in the EU, particularly in the EMU, and at what cost, both for its own labour force and the other members of the EU, especially the countries of the southern and eastern peripheries. The principal point is that Germany’s success is not down to significant growth in productivity, nor due to investment or technological progress. Instead, it is built on ‘a particular variant of financialized capitalism, which has allowed it to dominate the EU but nonetheless produced a historically mediocre performance’.[10]

This relative success is in comparison to the rest of the bloc and the USA, due to the strength of its industrial base, specifically, its manufacturing for export. Another related peculiarity is the extent to which its financial system is still bank-based, rather than market-based. This has made it easier for corporations and banks to have relationships, and has made state intervention easier to pursue, as shareholders and the stock market tout court do not have to be placated. When the relative lack of mortgage finance in housing, the low level of household debt, and the small amount of private savings used in stock-market transactions, are taken into account, a picture emerges of a country where what Lapavitsas calls ‘the financialization of everyday life’ has not taken place to the same degree as in France or the Anglo-Saxon countries.[11]

What does this mean for the EMU and the balance of power within it? The preparation for its introduction involved an increase in financialisation and saw an attendant decrease in the power of labour, marked by worsening conditions, downward pressure on wages, and a rise in inequality and the growth of precarious labour. The historical background to the suppression of labour was specifically reunification in 1990. The East German economy was devastated by this, with huge levels of unemployment further increasing the downward pressure on wages. The opening of the former Eastern bloc to German manufacturing capital has had a deleterious effect on those countries and on wages in Germany itself.

While, of course, other countries have benefitted from the increased internationalisation of supply chains, Germany has done so the most. This chapter is the most data-driven in the book, but what emerges is an EMU that has created the hegemony of German industrial capital while being a ‘historical failure in terms of promoting stability and convergence in Europe’[12].

The crisis of the Eurozone

The fourth chapter concerns the Eurozone crisis and covers a well-trodden path. What separates Lapavitsas’s analysis from some broadly left critiques is his emphasis on the institution’s response being a clear example of the prioritisation of class interests. He sets out what happened, giving special attention to what happened being a ‘sudden stop’ crisis caused by the withdrawal of lending by private providers, who instead attempted to ensure payment on existing loans.

This led to a loss of liquidity in financial markets, taking Greece, Portugal and Ireland out of financial markets in 2010, making borrowing in order to service public debt impossible. The response from the EU transformed the crisis into a full-blown ‘economic and social disaster for the periphery, especially in Greece’[13], predominantly due to its protection of banks in order to ensure that the Euro and monetary union did not collapse. This led to a tightening of the fiscal regime, and what is now nearly a decade of austerity.

The excuse for the imposition of swingeing neoliberal policies on the southern periphery was the EU’s belief that the crisis had been created by weaknesses at national level in the relevant countries, such as inadequate taxation systems, collective bargaining, generous pensions and over-regulation in goods and services. Of course, this was led by the unelected, unaccountable Troika of the EU Commission, the ECB and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

A great deal of detail is provided on the Troika’s response, particularly regarding the setting up of the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF) and following that, the permanent European Stability Mechanism (ESM). The latter body – again, completely unaccountable to the people affected by its decisions – has the capacity to provide loans to countries in crisis, with extreme conditions attached. As well as these immediate measures, the Stability and Growth Pact was created in 2010 to impose sanctions on countries with overly-large deficits, and has ‘manifestly failed’ to ensure stability or growth.[14] In short, the poor have paid for all of this.

The crisis in Greece

Chapter five outlines the crisis in Greece, with which of course Lapavitsas, a former Syriza MP, was intimately involved. In the broader context of much of the left’s view of the EU, specifically during and after the Brexit referendum, it is worth reminding ourselves that there were a number of centre-left voices in the British corporate media prior to the Brexit referendum campaign who were extremely critical of the response of the EU to Greece’s ‘no’ vote in 2015 against the conditions for bailout, as it was such a stark example of the institution’s ignoring of democracy.[15] This briefly gave the impression of being the start of a sea change in attitudes to the EU on the Left in Britain, but those voices in the UK swiftly switched to ‘remain and reform’ positions by the following year. Nonetheless, all over the continent there was disgust at the treatment of Greece throughout the first half of the decade.

Lapavitsas tells the now well-known story of Greece’s abjection with not a little passion. The material facts of the crisis have been central to debate on the Left, but attitudes in the Troika, and why Greece took the path that it did, deserve comment. Following that, we will concentrate on what Lapavitsas considers to have been the mistakes made by Syriza in its negotiations with the EU, as they are a salutary lesson for the Left throughout the world.

It is also worth stating that the book makes the case that Germany was the dominant force in shaping lenders’ attitudes to Greece. These were predicated upon its ‘entrenched ideological belief that its ‘success’ in the 2000s was due to the painful reforms of the 1990s and 2000s, which it believed should be implemented in Greece, and indeed throughout the bloc.[16] Again, class interests were concretised in the absolute priority given by the Troika to protecting lenders from losses.

Why did Greece accept the EU programme?

In order to understand the acceptance by the Greek ruling class of the initial programme proposed in 2010, Lapavitsas uses Gramsci’s model of the ‘historical bloc’ to look at the particularity of Greek capitalist interests since it joined the EU (then, the EEC) in 1981. He outlines a system of party patronage, one in which big and small to medium capital had spent years securing itself favourable tax regimes. In this context what the historical bloc was not prepared to do under any circumstances was to leave the EMU due to a complex of factors: the Greek banks’ prioritisation of liquidity via the ECB; the importance of the Euro in matters of Greek identity, that is, how its place in the EMU allowed it to feel modern and European; lastly, plain and simple fear. All of these factors contributed to Greece being in the position in which it found itself a few years in to the crisis.

So, what of Syriza? In one of the book’s most useful sections, the capitulation of the first government of the Left in Europe since the neoliberal period began is plainly explained. Syriza rose on the back of the ‘occupy the squares’ movement and seemed to be a genuine expression of the will of the working class to stand up to the EU, and indeed to the economic model which underpinned it. Lapavitsas notes that its origins meant it was not connected to the existing Greek power mechanisms, giving it the ability to speak ‘the language of wholesale reform and even rebellion in Greece and Europe’[17].

It tapped into the working class’s desire for a radical response that privileged sovereignty, was prepared to countenance default and exit, and looked to the Left for leadership. In this context, the Greek Communist Party, the KKE, talked itself out of the game by refusing to respond to the reality of the situation, instead taking an ultra-leftist position that argued that only a complete overthrow of capitalism could alleviate the crisis. Pasok, the traditional social-democratic party, had seen its vote collapse in 2012 to 13%, having won the 2009 election with nearly 44%, and consequently been in government for the initial stages of the crisis. Into this vacuum came Syriza.

The failure of Syriza

How then did it fail so badly? Lapavitsas describes the two currents in the party: one congregating around Alexis Tsipras, its leader, and a minority faction known as the ‘Left Platform’. The leadership proposed a reversing of austerity, a raising of wages and a restructuring of the debt through a policy of tough negotiation with the lenders. All of this was to be done while staying in the EMU, and by extension the EU.

The Left Platform, on the other hand, wanted to default unilaterally and exit the EMU. Lapavitsas points out that this ongoing debate took place in parliament and within the party, and not on the street, nor the workplaces and neighbourhoods of those most affected. This positioned Syriza as a traditional party, and not the insurgent rupture that it had appeared to be. The organisational weakness of the Left Platform also contributed to the less radical option being the one taken.

The Syriza leadership’s failure when its approach was tried immediately upon gaining power in January 2015 is described as ‘total and irrevocable. Indeed, the strategy could not even survive the first contact with the Troika’[18]. The contradictions in the position of the Syriza delegation, led by Yanis Varoufakis, are sharply outlined by Lapavitsas: it wanted to take a tough line in refusing fresh loans while demanding debt relief, and in so doing was prepared to be expelled from the EMU, while making it clear that it was absolutely adamant that it must stay in the EMU.

Effectively, it was asking the Troika to change its terms and conditions, but had nothing with which to threaten it if and when the Troika did not. Syriza got nothing and were routed, with Varoufakis signing a deal committing Greece to its obligations. The Left Platform voted in an internal meeting to reject it, which would have left Tsipras without a majority in parliament. Tsipras simply did not bring the deal to parliament and continued on the path of working with the lenders. Lapavitsas argues that to have done otherwise would have required a sharpening of class opposition and a groundswell of support on the streets, an approach which he suggests was not within the worldview of Tsipras.

Further months of useless negotiation followed, leading to the referendum of July 2015, in which 61% voted no, with the vote being drawn along class lines. The leadership did not have the strength to see this through, and signed up to a bailout with worse conditions than the one that had been voted down. The referendum and the failure of Syriza is the clearest example of the democratic deficit that is central to the EU at all levels: from its parliamentarians not being able to propose legislation, to its serial obliviousness to referenda, the EU is not a democratic institution.[19]

The EU’s democratic deficit

This brings us to Lapavitsas’s concluding chapter, in which he summarises the EU’s failings and considers that most important maxim: what is to be done? He begins by pointing out that the structural problems of the institution are there in plain sight: the executive bodies are not properly elected; the ‘legislature’, which he puts in quotes to draw attention to its failure to be precisely that, is either not elected – such as the Council, which is effectively part of the executive – or done so through unsatisfactory processes. He argues that European parliamentary elections are ‘not an arena for ideological political contestation reflecting social interests’[20], and have no relationship to a notion of the demos.

The judiciary of the EU, which decides European law, has no democratic credentials, is top-down, and does not correspond to the democratic contestation that led to law at the national level. This situation has led to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) becoming the enforcer of neoliberalism across the bloc, particularly since Maastricht curtailed the ability of states to create policy at the national level. Social policy which is not in line with economic efficiency has been the victim. The democratic deficit of the EU has worsened considerably since the Eurozone crisis, giving us an institution in which supranational bodies are now effectively the minders and supervisors of national states.

To illustrate further this argument, Lapavitsas points to the refugee and migrant crisis that began in 2015, which he sees as illustrating that ‘the crucial role played by the lack of a European demos in the evolution of the EU became sharply visible’ adding that:

‘If any of the highfalutin notions about the EU were actually true, the refugees ought to have been treated in accordance with EU law, consensus, and institutional solidarity’[21].

Instead, the ‘Dublin regulations’, which state that an asylum seeker entering the EU has to apply for asylum in the country in which they first enter the bloc, were enforced. This created more problems for Greece, the principal point of entry. It became clear that the real policy of the EU was to prevent a relatively small amount of people from reaching the core countries, which took very small numbers. There was no integrated policy that privileged the rights of those refugees. Routes were blocked, and refugees were prevented from leaving Turkey and entering the EU, with a deal in 2016 paying the former for its policing of those trying to enter, and to take back refugees from Greece who had already reached the bloc.

Is reform possible?

Lapavitsas considers reform of European institutions to be an impossibility, and the demands of DiEM25 to be ‘the failed Syriza approach writ large’[22], with no more chance of success than they had last time. Its approach meets the concrete reality of the machinery of the EU, which is designed to prevent or at least limit contestation. Another centrist attempt at reform is the approach of Emmanuel Macron. Lapavitsas argues that his attempt to revivify a Franco-German axis of power in the EU, and in so doing to reverse France’s economic decline since German ascendancy, is doomed to failure, as it is not in Germany’s interests. Furthermore, he presciently argues that Macron’s attacks on labour will only create problems for him at home, with no concomitant positive effect on France, which is still hampered by its decision to push for the EMU, due to ‘its persistent competitiveness gap, weak current account, and steadily rising debt’[23].

Lapavitsas argues that despite its institutionalising of capital over labour, there has been no European-level capitalist class that has benefitted from the EU; rather, some historical blocs have done better than others. Even on its own terms, the EU is failing: class relations are still determined at a national level. Lapavitsas contends that the European Left needs to revisit Marx and Engels, and remember that the working class exists at a national level, even though workers do not have a country, and that this is not contradictory:

‘The internationalism of capital is about competition and profit leading to national antagonisms, while that of labour is about solidarity and united action’[24].

He makes the salient point that there has been no mass movement of workers in favour of the EU, while the professional layers have conflated the EU with a notion of progress. This has led to a situation where much of the Left is cut off from its core constituency, instead seeing social liberalism and progress under capitalism as substitutes for radicalism, at a time when the economy has been depoliticised across the continent.

In such a situation, the working class will seek a political voice elsewhere, hence the rise of various parties of the extreme and far right across the continent; also, the collapse of social-democratic parties of the Left across Europe, with one notable exception, the British Labour Party. In this context, sovereignty has regained much of its currency for ‘the plebeian classes of Europe’[25], who rightly see it as the base from which to assert itself in the first instance, as its path to having a democratic voice collectively. In this context, the decision of elements of the Left to disparage it as some sort of form of simplistic yearning for an imaginary past is a particularly grievous error.

Left programmes and the EU

So, what is to be done? First and foremost, the European Left must learn from the complete failure of Syriza. As a first step, reject the EMU, the continuing existence of which makes anti-capitalist policies more difficult to implement. This is of particular importance for the periphery. Lapavitsas then makes the case that improved economic performance in the EU requires a proper anchor country and capital controls, which of course would mean a rejection of the Single Market in its current guise.

However, and this is key to debates taking place in the UK currently, in order for the EMU to be dismantled, ‘there would … have to be domestic programmes that directly challenged the power of capital’.[26] Austerity must be abandoned. Demand must be boosted domestically, as part of a programme of income redistribution to shift power from capital to labour. Taxes must rise on corporations and the wealthy.

In this context, the Left ought to propose two responses at a national level, and tailored accordingly: the public ownership of banks in a bid to reverse the financialisation of economies and public ownership of and investment in key resources. The first is necessary to generate an investment wave across Europe, the second to renew infrastructure, get the most out of new technologies and protect democratic rights. Essentially, Lapavitsas, as he states himself, is proposing a variant of ‘Left Keynesianism’ in order to shift power back from capital to labour. It is certainly the case that Marxists can support this as an important first step after years of defeat for the Left, and Lapavitsas makes it clear that he sees this as a challenge to class relations as they have become entrenched in the neoliberal era.

The EU and the British ruling class

Somewhat obviously, the EU will not tolerate this, which brings Lapavitsas around to the notion of exiting. In order to consider how this might work, he considers Brexit, with particular emphasis upon the negotiations that have taken place since the decision to leave was taken in June 2016. He considers the specificity of the British ruling class, which has been split on the question of Europe for decades. He has a nuanced position on this, and understands that the majority of its core sections remain in favour of membership, with a minority in favour of exiting.

He rightly describes the referendum as ‘one of those rare historical moments when a rift within the ruling layers allows a deeper rift in society to manifest itself’[27], and sees the vote to leave as being one against the position of the dominant section of the ruling class: a vote against austerity, industrial decline and poor working conditions. The result has been an implacable EU coming up against a confused ruling class, which wants the benefits of the Single Market and Customs Union, but (for the section of the ruling class that wants out) without the regulations that prevent economic independence, and without addressing the economic concerns that drove the vote among the working class, which predominantly voted leave.

The EU and the Labour Party

This situation led to Corbyn’s Labour, with a relatively radical programme addressing austerity via state investment, gaining its largest vote since 1997 at the 2017 election, and the Tories their largest since 1992, with the centre collapsing. The split did not sit along a leave/remain axis, despite the attempt by the corporate media then and since to situate Brexit as the proximate cause of everything, rather than an effect.

Lapavitsas sees an answer to this problem in a rejuvenated Labour Party outside of the Single Market, applying a Left-Keynesian, anti-austerity programme. He does not see this as a return to nationalism and competing states in Europe, but rather as the chance to enact the ‘radical internationalism’ referred to in the first paragraph, with European interaction dependent on the internal politics and structure of the various states involved. In short, the interests of the workers depend on capitalism being challenged domestically, in the first instance. After that, an internationalist, socialist federation would come on to the horizon in Europe.

The ongoing crisis

Since the book was published, May’s deal has been put on the table, which represents an attempt to create a compromise between the competing interests of the different ruling factions in Britain. Its rejection is likely. Labour’s policy is to push for a general election, and after that, go back to the EU to renegotiate. The question then becomes what it will attempt to put on the table, if and when it is in a position to do that. Its members are predominantly pro-remain, while the leadership has not fully outlined the benefits of leaving: moves have been made in that direction, then they have rowed back.

The tactics are clear here in the context of the split in the Party; the question then becomes what the overall strategy is, once a general election is won. It can only be hoped that Lapavitsas’s book is on every shadow-cabinet member’s Christmas list, and indeed every member’s, as it is a key text in explaining how the EU is inimical to socialism, and how the success of the Corbyn project, attacked as it is from all sides, has a great chance of success outside of the EU, and practically none within it. More broadly, the European Left’s paramount task of reconnecting with its social base can only be aided by a swift absorption of this case against the EU, which has begun within new parties of the radical Left across the continent. Let us make this a principal task in the struggle to come.


[1] Lapavitsas, C (2018) The Left Case Against The EU. Cambridge: Polity Press, p.140

[2] Ibid. p.1.

[3] Lenin, V. I. (1920) ‘On the Question of Trade Unions and their Organization’. Available Online.

[4] Lapavitsas, op. cit. p.3.

[5] Lapavitsas, op. cit. p.7.

[6] Ibid. p.18.

[7] Ibid. p.23.

[8] Ibid. p.36.

[9] Ibid. p.38.

[10] Ibid. p.41.

[11] Ibid. p.43.

[12] Ibid. p.65.

[13] Ibid. p.70.

[14] Ibid. p.77.

[15] For example, see Owen Jones, ‘The left must put Britain’s EU withdrawal on the menu’. Available Online. and Matt Dathan, ‘Greek debt crisis: The dark forces of the EU have subjected Greece to a coup – Caroline Lucas condemns austerity package’. Available Online.

[16] Lapavitsas, op. cit., p.98.

[17] Ibid. p.105.

[18] Ibid. p.108.

[19] The EU has ignored and/or asked for second votes regarding referenda in a selection of countries, including core states like France and Holland. These have pertained to a number of things, including ratification of the Lisbon Treaty and joining the single currency.

[20] Lapavitsas, op. cit. p.114.

[21] Ibid. p.118.

[22] Ibid. p.121.

[23] Ibid. p.123.

[24] Ibid. p.128.

[25] Ibid. p.130.

[26] Ibid. p.133.

[27] Ibid. p.138-9.