To define a new foreign policy, adapted to the contemporary left’s fight against the financial sector, it is helpful to apply a Gramscian approach to the events which are shaking the socio-economic sovereignty of Europe. It’s a question of disrupting the current hegemonic superiority of the financial system over the economic and military system in order to overcome the new class relations which are pushing us back to the 19th century. The State, even the republican State, since the fall of Louis Philippe, was denounced in 1849 by Victor Hugo as the criminal overseer of a rise in poverty: a violence and a slow murder of families and the children of the population, by starvation and by the squalid living conditions reserved for the poor. He demanded that republican laws end poverty in absolutely radical terms .
The French NO in the May 2005 referendum on the European Union Constitution is still valid and the manner in which it was bypassed is similar to a coup d’état. The current situation of French interior politics depends directly on this event, which was only eleven years ago. In order for the political and social principles of the virtual French left to avoid lapsing into a lack of realism, an alliance was also needed at the European level and, no doubt, a federation of European leftists. All this was skillfully diverted by a deft maneuver on the part of the global financial and ideological system.
In globalized social struggles, the bases of hegemony are no longer directly built on the military and economic power of the most important countries in the international system. We are living in the absolute triumph of neoliberal and neo-Darwinian communication, accompanied by some twenty small massacres, five or six of which in the Middle East, usually outsourced to local States. The military actions of the United States seem to all end in local defeat, except the Iraq wars, which, despite the speeches made, have been victorious from the neoliberal point of view. The only truly desired objective there was to make an example by destroying a nation state which had successfully transitioned towards independence and modernity through nationalized oil production.
The current situation, dominated by massacres in the Middle East, contrasts with an immediately valid definition of “the left” for the “foreign policy” of a European nation. I believe we must not choose between Assad and Daesh when naming the principal enemy. We cannot accept supporting Assad and Putin as allies in charge of restoring Syrian sovereignty; we must not be pushed to choose between Putin and Obama, to support one imperial “side” over another. Turkey itself offers us a binary “Turk/Kurd” choice and another choice of “Islamism/Kemalism”, neither of which follow clear left/right polarities. Kemalists and Kurds, at the moment in any case, cannot work together against Islam. There are, therefore, three sides. What can we do?
What must govern any leftist choice in the Middle East, throughout the Syrian war and the recent peace negotiations, is that to be realistic two things must be kept in mind: the danger of a Third World War and the defense of human rights.
Danger of a Third World War
It would be true to say that the situation following the crisis which began in 2007-2008 resembles that of the beginning of a world war, like in the period 1929-1939, but a world war very different from the Second. First of all, there is no Hitler, Mussolini or Franco, who covered Europe with the threat of a fascist invasion. Next, there are no longer the colonial empires capable of spreading a European war over all the continents, as there were until well into the Cold War. We can say that there are little Hitlers which have sprung up in several different forms, identifiable by their taste for genocide and police or military torture, but they are incapable of conquering the world, being themselves subject to the hegemony of the neoliberal system.
In the current phase, we are witnessing the military expansion of Daesh’s criminal armies, as a protest by armed uprising, against the “Western” warmongering stranglehold the region has endured for three generations. This bloody power defies the “West”, to the point where it has attempted to create a new caliphate in the Fertile Crescent, which will in time spread throughout the world. This operation seems doomed to fail by the erosion of all legitimacy by the massacres, public executions and unmitigated torture, in the name of Sharia law. We can hope for the future failure of Daesh and the future failure of Assad’s murderous regime as a victory for peace, and the possible return of a local democratic left with responsibilities. But there is also the risk that instead we are witnessing a return to the hegemony of the global financial system in the form of Putin/Obama or Putin/Trump, which would not guarantee a democratic and social peace. We can then envisage the impossibility of restoring peace in the martyrized space of the Mashriq, given over to the weak military pressure of Europe, Russia, the United States and criminal gangs which remain in these destroyed States, and we may fear that the contamination of war might spread to Iran and central Asia, Greece and the Balkans, not to mention Ukraine.
The catastrophe scenario
The political and ethical space that the communist or socialist left has retained in the democratic states has been greatly curtailed with the expansion of the financialized delocalized economics of corporations, challenging state sovereignties and all that is left of third world developmentalism.
The transnationalism of capital has accompanied the rise of dominant financial classes to real power. This new rentier nobility is now “without citizenship”: we now note the sudden appearance in “foreign policy” of a discreet actor, with no diplomatic status, but who is nonetheless dominant. Not only without a center but delocalized, nowhere is this actor foreign. It is only imposed, it appears, by the consensus of “corridors”: the consensus of the upper levels of the global employers and important politicians, which is not a democratic authority nor a conspiracy but rather a class privilege. Military violence and the suppression of uprisings remain, in fact, outsourced to local or regional wars of example, striking territories which refuse to be integrated into the deterritorialized system.
The United States, the country the most in keeping with the transnational model of global financial power, is gently pulling out of the Middle East to avoid the subordinate responsibilities that come with a return to peace. Putin, in his own way, imitated the US by abruptly deciding to cease his air strikes in March 2016, after having saved Assad. But he has retained his military bases.
The full concrete burden of the following scenario could befall Europe before the continent is able to unite as a confederation, as was formerly proposed, a project which has clashed with nationalisms and financial internationalism.
The weight of the constraints resulting from the state of war on its doorstep has started to increase, rather than reduce, divisions within the European Union. At the same time, Daesh’s recruitment space is extending to cover all of Europe. Of course, this is not an Islamic triumph: it’s a problem arising from European youth, deprived of a future and a cause, while another illusionist formula provokes, in the opposite way, the reappearance of neo-Nazism in Europe. These two opposing illusory and criminal drives are working together to split the Union apart.
One can talk of a “systemic causality” which leads step by step to a generalized agonistic behavior, which may grow from within States and by the compounding of neighboring local wars, progressively filling up the ubiquitous fringes of the ecumene.
This system, which is the modern right, weakened in Europe by military and police crises, may become incapable of halting this movement towards fascism by itself, and is therefore capable of taking its helm.
A decentralized, delocalized world war
We are therefore at risk of a world war without a head, or rather bearing ten mortal heads which can be cut off, but with one immortal head which will forever grow back, like the Lernaean Hydra temporarily defeated by Hercules. The principal program which is absolutely urgent for the foreign policy of the left of the left, is currently the battle to maintain peace while knowing its causes, in three ways:
- Combatting unflinchingly the known actors of the extreme right, those with a penchant for massacring civilians by bombing, and those proponents of torture to the death in military hospitals or along desert routes, until they start to put down their weapons and negotiate.
- Moving in parallel towards an indictment of those responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity at the UN and before the competent courts.
- Processing and resettling refugees collectively and correctly, without leaving them to build up from now into the future at the borders of Practical Europe (meaning Greece), and without putting them in the hands of the current Turkish regime which is fighting an internal war against the Kurds and the left, and is not a “safe” place from a human rights point of view.
But what positions should be taken after all, given the endless wars prevailing over much of the old continents and what research into peace might help us make decisions which align with our vision of the left?
Three-sided wars: generalized
In these tragic times, awareness is growing: it’s the neoliberal system that indirectly or directly produces violent conflicts at all political levels - continents, federations, nations, provinces, towns -, and at all levels of “cultural” identity (political, linguistic, religious).
And all this, we see it from the top window, from that of the leaders at the global level, as well as from the bottom window, that of popular opinion, as this danger is not really hidden but censored, including by some researchers who stubbornly hold to the view that everything is still carried out at the level of the middle window, which is to say diplomatic ceremonies among the statesmen’s class.
To stay at the level of “state foreign policy” is to allow the current wars to be described as arising from and able to be controlled in the Middle East. This suppresses the fact that our planet, for the first time in history, is dominated by a global social class, which seeks to weaken states. Even if the same causes produce different effects depending on the place, we are all threatened by a kind of latent civil war which, through its global causes, spills out over the “insular” definitions of each state.
We know that a world war has always meant extreme violence against civilians on both sides, but now, contrary to wars of the past, there are instead three sides in all the regional conflicts, due to the rise of a religious side which, theoretically and theologically, likes to think itself universal, like capital: extremist Islam from the Middle East. The complexity also arises from other historical, cultural and local factors.
This “ternary” strategy emerges in part from some strategic choices. In Iraq for example, the United States sought overtly to create three autonomous territories (Kurdistan, Shiastan and Sunnistan), with the aid of the minority Shia. A machine for the creation of civil wars of which, no doubt, the aim was to “liberate the oil”, under American mediation. In Syria, where the Assad (so-called Shia), anti-Assad (Sunnis) and Daesh (criminal Sunnis) triad is in battle, the war is also characterized by the intrusion of three large fractions of the global plutocracy, which are themselves opposed on certain points (Putin’s Russia, Europe, the United States). The opposition of the United States’ Muslim allies to the colonial structure of Israel forms a local, cumbersome triad (Israel, Iran and Saudi Arabia), which plays a background role.
The formation of this triad is not a “trend”, but a primordial definition of combinative complexity. It forms part of a fundamental strategic paradigm with the purpose of protecting the global financial hegemony by the complexity of alliances (what in layman’s terms we call “divide and conquer”) and by obstructing a simple binary geographical polarization. Ternary oppositions are also arising within internal systems; in France (left, right, Front National) and in the United States (Democrats, Republicans, Trump). It’s the more or less conscious product of the fact that within a genuinely localized system, dominated by politically irresponsible global classes “without a place to call home”, we seek to avoid local oppositions becoming global, binary oppositions: the wealthy classes against the poor classes. Collapse of the consensual hegemonic power of finance. Therefore, danger of a world war.
The military bipolarity of the Cold War era was cooled by nuclear bipolarity (bombs neutralizing each other as means of dissuasion).
The only way to cool local wars is to heat them up locally in a way that is impossible to reproduce elsewhere, at least as a universal model for revolt.
Today’s financial system does not explicitly seek a three-sided war, but it manages to provoke and favor this particular conflict that is always proclaimed to be a ‘local’ nightmare, over the nightmare of a world class war, which would be binary, bad for business and would create production demand and building sites for super-powerful states (state intervention for weapons purchases, destruction, reconstruction) which are serious sins within the neoliberal religion.
Threats of internal European conflicts
The left, in any country, must therefore take the threat of civil war seriously, a threat constructed in the right’s offensives: by “employer” transformations of workplace legislation, including the violation of this legislation by a return to forms of slavery; by bringing down public service budgets; by allowing employers to collect taxes; and in the case of Europe, by training armed European forces to repress internal troubles through NATO’s “war games” maneuvers. Will we accustom ourselves to the hegemony of these “finance corporations” which are not necessarily banks, but speculative organizations and which, by their name, as if they were economic enterprises of production, we pretend to consider as normal.
Added to these concrete measures, is the habit social movements have of turning criminal, the mutation of the street has become a neo-Darwinian spectacle: the normalization and the increasing or feigned indifference of passers-by, impotent with regard to the agonizing spectacle of crowds of refugees living in slums, crushed, reduced to begging with their children, with a precarious visa status, added to the Roma, the unemployed, the homeless, delinquent youth, and to the rise of racist neo-Nazis ready to flatten them if they move in here and in other European countries.
Here are several machines already for the production and maintenance of hardship and violence, not employment. The orientation of mass capital is pushing, perhaps “to its great regret”, towards a fascist uprising.
The left must act within each society to shape “foreign policy”, which we would do better to call international policy. As can be seen throughout this analysis, it is impossible to separate the within from the without in terms of economics and defense and security policy.
A policy of external social policies and even of internal diplomacy could be applied today at the highest level of the political system, but also at the same time at the lowest level, where its importance grows in proportion to the slow disappearance of public policies.
One difficulty for the empowerment of the left is that the pacifist struggle against a world war cannot come about through a policy of national neutrality such as before the Second World War or even the Cold War, as there are more than two sides. The impetus to war comes from the unlimited complexity of the transnational system. Also, only the unlimited relevance of popular democratic culture can hold it back.
Under these conditions, the current definition of the left is first and foremost pacifist (in Greek ‘ireno-poets’: crafters of peace) from the point of view even of the concern to maintain a conscience of class struggles. Peace is a necessary art of non-war social conflict in the face of a political right pushing for the multiplication of small wars. This pacifist orientation is in no way the will of the bleating lamb which, with a knife to its throat, accepts the blessing of God. The current Pope, a Jesuit becoming a Franciscan, seems to have understood this. It’s a battle which must include a strategy of real resistance, but we are only just beginning to become aware of it.
The fight against the financial system will take unexpected paths. One of the capacities of our era is to act, thanks to the internet, by local involvement with transcontinental convictions. This is everywhere coupled with the current tendency to seek a grassroots political independence (this recourse does however exist within all the ideological movements and at all levels, on the left as on the extreme right and among the sectarians of Daesh. The left must be constantly present and must hold its own in this zone of independent judgment. It’s a place which can be compared to a council of judges, suddenly thrust by a game of chance onto the throne of representing the sovereign people. The net must be occupied by persistent voices from the left and by these innovative voices, which may arise within families, neighborhoods, regions or nations, agitating as citizen breakaways from the mindset of power, overrun with standardized neoliberal convictions.
These convictions usually lead to a repression of those excluded from progress - by the fatalist neo-Darwinian acceptance of a law of natural selection. A horribly placid, anti-popular neo-fascism.
Whatever its voter numbers might be, the left can occupy the spaces of communication. It can oppose, in a basic sense, the nationalist tendencies of Front National voters, who deserted the left as the left deserted the people. These voters are falling back on the territory of the nation state of old and are counting on the patriotism of entrepreneurs, ready to rally the people to protect and relive the good life as it was before. It’s a quasi-suicidal belief for the “population which has become right-wing”, as it ignores the sinister transnational power of the neoliberal system. Therefore it is an electoral lie that at worst can only triumph once, as once the Front National is in power it will have no other means than to yield with the classical right to the demands of the “off board” financial system, all the while adding its own touch of racism.
Faced with the return to this completely artificial “right-wing nationalism”, we have the urgent obligation to raise an international solidarity consciousness among the peoples of Europe and to practice it energetically as a good-natured foundation of democracy, through actions carried out at a local rather than institutional level: with the Portuguese, the Spanish, the Greeks, the Italian anti-fascists, the Thüringen and the Scots and even with the English, counting on the left of the Labour Party to push and challenge, by for example chaining a cargo ship holding refugees from Calais who were seeking family reunification.
Remaking Europe as a democracy
To rearm our currently demolished democracy a regional regrouping of states must be pushed for, groupings which can gain in strength by banding together, by a delegation of political sovereignty. The creation among them of a genuinely democratic institution capable even at the local level of resisting pressure from the neoliberal norms through a specific identity, at the very heart of the neoliberal definition of competition. This definition could be that of Cuba, but here, we know, this condition alludes to a re-creation, at the Union level, of democratic, not just bureaucratic, institutions that will be described as the Europe needed for a sovereign struggle for peace. This peace would come about through a new Constitution giving Europe the power to contest the all-powerful violation of democracy created by the constitutional preeminence of the European Central Bank. The Bank’s status forbids it any economic policy specifically in favor of “poor” countries or provinces within the Union, as nation states normally do to assist their devastated provinces. The Bank depends on the IMF to cancel debts set in an arbitrary manner and can only directly approve short term liquidity loans, with each nation state considered as a business more or less on the verge of bankruptcy.
The example of Greece, condemned to famine or now, under Turkish coercion, to the role of principal dumping ground for migrants from Syria or Afghanistan, will be reproduced elsewhere at the expense of another state which accepts its fate as the border police of a liberal Europe, if nothing changes.
Europe already contains some potentially secessionist states. It is more important to keep within the Union those countries which seek to give Europe the status of a democratic and social confederation, with a Parliament, a budget, and a shared political and economic program, allowing for autonomy in the merciless universe of sovereign finance corporations. To make this happen, we need alliances. This project would start with a Mediterranean alliance, but which might possibly include Scotland, Thüringen and Belgium, debatably, as if secession generally might be a legitimate pressure where the political and economic integration they sought has failed.
Europe, as the substantial geographic entity it has become, could at least have the monetary autonomy enjoyed by the United States or China in the global system. Such a Europe would no doubt begin to withdraw immediately, in chunks, from clandestine negotiations on the agreement between the United States and the European Union, the Transatlantic Partnership Agreement (TPA), which has been in negotiation since July 2013 with the accession of President Hollande. This refusal would be the end of a dependent Europe, a weak limb, its democratic legitimacy voluntarily removed by successive treaties, and a singular framework for the autonomous power of the transatlantic financial and commercial oligarchies able to enslave “Brussels” without the burden of needing popular support.
Evidently, this could begin by violating the treaties which are leading Europe into decline, since we have already begun to violate the Schengen agreements in the wrong direction, up to the Länder, restoring their borders in the face of unexpected events arising from the wave of refugees coming from the Middle East. But the left must push democratic change to the fullest extent, starting with forming aggregations and alliances among regional autonomies or among states, to create or reinforce by example the legitimacy of a common politics.
The Swiss “federal” practice of local popular referendums, which is absent from our Constitution, might one day serve to multiply interregional collusion in Europe. Jacobinism can sometimes even hide within local authorities, against the level of the Girondin nation state, subservient sometimes at higher levels of authority, to the transatlantic powers.
International law and defending human rights
This is the path that the left must take, obvious since last year, in the face of war in the Middle East and the wave of refugees into the pacified space of Schengen Europe and the Eurozone.
The fact that the left is not necessarily leading in the polls does not prevent it from strongly and loudly defending a security policy founded on maintaining peace and holding to account the warmongers, religious or liberal, acting like criminals in organized gangs. We must trust that normal ethics will lead to a condemnation of those who smuggle children, only to die on the beaches of the Mediterranean or be made victims of the guards along the barbed wire border of Macedonia; that they will also lead to means of “dissuasion” capable of saving youths from the exile of crazed “converts” who wish to live or die in a murderous Syria.
The prevalence for a struggle for peace means that we now must put pressure on the UN and apply the UN in the memory of the antifascist struggles which defeated the Axis in 1945. It also implies that members of the Resistance must solemnly affirm those convictions, religious or otherwise, which go hand in hand with a culture of democracy and peace.
Active defense of citizens, dubbed “disposable” (like supermarket razors), must relentlessly combat the mercantile mindset of “liberal” society which is a threat to us and which feeds on poverty with a return to the bourgeois ideology of the 19th century.
The necessary advancement of a transnational criminal law must be positioned against the global scale of offending financial structures and will come about in several ways. One way would be to create procedures for scrutinizing the organizational structures which enable international financial or industrial authorities to commit crimes. For this to be achieved, new concepts must be promoted, for example that of systemic criminality of financial institutions, defined by the scientifically predictable consequences of their decisions. These decisions are taken as the modalities of good financial management, but they provoke economic catastrophes, massacres, famines, ecological disasters and perfectly predictable wars.
This idea, which might seem a dream for the monolithic loyal adherents to Roman law, might one day find its way into laws through the customary imagination of judges in English-speaking jurisdictions, who are better placed to oppose the barbarous anarchy of the civilized world.
For the future
One might expect that a “strategic” standpoint, which I still hold, should recommend an evaluation of the military forces in the world, in order to weigh up the chances of defeating the enemy - the proponent of war - which any peace movement might have.
However, on the one hand, “war for peace” does not depend on military superiority, but on moral superiority and the superiority of the morale of supporters of the Resistance and what we might call the superiority of their program.
On the other hand, the grotesque global financial system places in power, in a visible - that is, obscene - manner, a billionaire class belonging everywhere and nowhere, living off the revenue of a world casino, manipulating unlimited profits embodied in delocalized puppet shows. This class resembles a group of masked characters from the ‘comédie italienne’, and might be considered overall and in the end very fragile, as it has absolutely no legitimacy.
The left’s counter-offensive in the face of a possible new world war will proceed with the addition of local power struggles, favorable to the “uprising” (in Stéphane Hessel’s sense) of political and social forces. This political generation is one of uprisings. There are traces of it in all the struggles for protecting the environment, for the push for local economies, and against the commodification of public utilities. Uprisings of trade unions and young people against the political parties, the surrender of the “political old hands”. Maintaining the “land of peace” requires being able to collectively resist the system’s counter-offensives where it counts.
We know that where a serious systemic divergence occurs, the “system’s” reprisals might also take a harder line by making use of its pawns in foreign military actions or internal paramilitary campaigns, where the populist offender is isolated. It is, in a way, the quasi-mafia nature of the financial system, an outlaw in no man’s land, which produces the financial pirates’ culture of greed and violence, to which one must be ready to respond with a culture of privateer watchdogs and an army of super-trained peacekeepers. This would be the subject of another article.
The essential thing for the left, which must be imaginative in international politics in the coming decade, is to keep a close watch on its moral assets and its rational conscience, to be ready to act when the system’s bubble bursts and to avoid in this instance a generalized war becoming the only escape from the financial powers and human despair. Some have already started recruitment programs in preparation for a holy war which cannot be the next heir to the Abrahamic religions. We are still searching for the draft of a fourth holy book, the story of the global future of humanity.
Alain Joxe, Recherches internationales, n° 105, octobre-décembre 2015, pp.75-88.