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The European Union: a Marxist Utopia?

Date de publication: 20.04.2011


European integration:  a Marxist Utopia?


John Laughland 


The Monist, Vol. 92 No. 2, April 2009


I had a feeling, stronger than I can possibly convey, that what was happening in Moscow must happen everywhere.  That it was the focal point of drama of our times, whose essential pattern was being shaped there.  That these blank faces processing noiselessly through Moscow’s blank streets were mankind processing through the twentieth century.  So it has proved to be.  The Revolution has triumphed in an unexpected way, its ferment working rather through history than through the hearts and minds of men; its enemies’ citadel surrendering and the garrison opening the gates and putting out white flags without any need for a siege or an assault.  Jericho’s walls tumbling down of their own decay before any trumpet sounded.


Malcolm Muggeridge, The Green Stick (1972) Chapter 5 [memories of Moscow, 1933],


            With the rise of the modern international system, many of the landmarks of European history in the modern age have been treaties or summit meetings which have marked the end of conflicts:  Westphalia (1648), the Congress of Vienna (1815), Versailles (1918), Yalta (1945) and of course the Treaty of Rome (1957).  Within the European Union, however, since the mid-1980s, a new treaty has been drawn up every three or four years, while of course summits occur every few months.  The member states of the EU have now signed six major treaties in two decades and several other minor ones.   

Unlike the great treaties of the past, these treaties have not been peace agreements marking a new arrangement in the international system.  Instead, they are obscure and technocratic texts about institutional change and bureaucratic procedure, usually drafted to correct perceived failures in functioning of the EU itself.  Since the Single European Act in 1986, the EU has signed the Treaty of Maastricht (1992), the Treaty of Amsterdam (1997), the Treaty of Nice (2000), the Treaty Establishing a Constitution for Europe (2004) and now the Treaty of Lisbon (2007).    Following the rejection of the Lisbon treaty in a referendum in the Republic of Ireland in June 2008, the institutional wrangling is set to continue for the indefinite future.

The membership of the EU has also changed radically, and may change further:  three new member states joined in 1995 (Austria, Finland and Sweden) and ten more in 2004 (the Eastern European states plus Malta and Cyprus).  Turkey and the remaining successor states of the former Yugoslavia are also in the queue.  Accessions themselves require new treaties, the 2004 enlargement, for instance, was provided for by the Treaty of Athens of 2003.  Finally, the Schengen agreement abolishing border controls is also a treaty:  it was originally signed in 1985, amended in 1990, and extended to nine new states in 2007. 

So great have the changes in the institutional and legal structure of the EU been, indeed, that one is reminded of the famous 19th century cartoon in the satirical magazine, Punch, which caricatured the frequent changes then made to the French constitution (changes which have continued in the 20th).  The cartoon shows a man going into a library and asking for a copy of the French constitution.  “I am sorry, Sir,” the librarian replies disdainfully, “We do not stock periodicals.”

As is the case in most European states, this state of change is a reflection of the culture of permanent revolution, accurately caricatured by Pierre-André Taguieff as le bougisme [i] - reform for reform’s sake – and which characterises the political culture of many EU states and therefore of the EU itself.  The EU’s institutional changes are thus part of a deliberate policy, a policy which is defended with the use of the metaphor of a bicycle:  the European construction, supporters say, is like a bicycle which must keep going forward or else it will fall over.  This image has been adapted from a saying attributed to Che Guevara about the Marxist revolution itself.

Unlike the pre-Trotskyite concept of permanent revolution, which saw revolutions as single acts bringing about decisive change once and for all, this culture of movement encourages permanent change.  It is, indeed, a key component of the so-called “Monnet method” of European integration:  making constant small incremental transfers of power in supposedly neutral areas of policy which do not arouse popular opposition or hostility.[ii]  The Monnet method allows Europe to be constructed on the quiet, so to speak, by progressively de-politicising areas of policy and subjecting them to technocratic control.  The first area of policy subjected to the Monnet method was coal and steel production; the most recent has been the currency.  In all cases, the view is that politics is itself a cause of conflict and that the path to peace therefore lies in de-politicisation or anti-politics. 

This view is in fact fundamental to liberalism in the broadest sense – the view that all men’s interests are fundamentally the same (and basically material) and that there are therefore no great cosmic choices to be made in political life.  As Carl Schmitt argued in Politische Theologie and elsewhere, political liberalism assumes that politics can be dissipated away into administration, and that political life consists essentially in endless discussion and debate which never comes to any important conclusions.   He contrasted this with the belief - which he characterised as typical of counter-revolutionary thought, and to which he clearly subscribed himself - that politics is in fact precisely about taking decisions between absolutely incompatible choices – “good and evil, God and the devil, between life and death …”[iii]  Schmitt writes sarcastically, “This liberalism with its inconsistencies and compromises … lives only in the short interim in which it is possible to answer the question ‘Christ or Barabbas?’ with a petition to hold a meeting or with the creation of a committee of enquiry.”  [iv]

For Monnet, of course, and for other supporters of European integration, it is nation-states which, as the essential embodiment of the political, must themselves be subsumed into a higher unit, the European Community or Union, and thereby de-politicised, in order for there to be peace.  If war is but the continuation of political by other means, then politics itself must be overcome.  This is why the European construction has remained resolutely unpolitical from the very beginning.  In fifty years of European institution-building, its key element remains its fundamentally technocratic nature.

This technocracy does not consist merely in the power of the unelected European Commission, a body which has no constitutional equivalent anywhere in the democratic world.  It consists also - and perhaps more importantly - in the fact that the EU construction is based on a complete confusion between the executive and the legislature.  The main lawmaking body of the EU remains the Council of Ministers, composed of national government ministers who meet and vote in secret.  EU laws are proposed by the EU bureaucracy, the Commission, then negotiated between state bureaucracies and voted on in secret in the Council by ministers.  For this reason, the Eurosceptic claim that the EU is evolving towards a superstate is precisely wrong:  although the creation of a federal European state would no doubt pose a whole set of problems of its own, it would at least establish clear lines of political accountability.  In spite of now fifty years of institutional upheaval, and with a single important and short-lived exception, there has never been a serious attempt to create a fully constituted European state.   The attempt instead is to dissolve the structures of political statehood without replacing them with new ones, at least not overtly.

The European construction, then, is fundamentally unpolitical, in that it seeks to achieve political ends by proclaiming them not to be political at all.  This is particularly clear in Britain, where the political class has constantly pretended since 1972, and continues to pretend, that the EEC-EU is merely a trading bloc with the occasional foreign policy add-on and few or no constitutional implications.  Repeated by the Brown government in 2008, which explicitly denied that the Lisbon treaty had any constitutional implications at all, this position has been accurately described by the very pro-European historian, the late Hugo Young, as “in essence, a lie”. [v] 

The latest developments in the European construction – I am referring to the history of the Lisbon Treaty - have only further emphasised this, the EU’s fundamentally unpolitical nature.  In the period 2001-2005 – and this is the single exception I referred to above - European leaders abandoned their tried and tested Monnet method when they a European Convention met to draw up the “Treaty Establishing a Constitution for Europe.”  As is well known, the Constitution was rejected in referendums in France and the Netherlands in 2005; the abandonment of the Monnet method led to a spectacular failure. 

What was the reason for this defeat?  The proclamation of a Constitution for Europe clearly excited a special form of political opposition.  The EU leaders tried, in the Constitution, to give the EU all the attributes of a state – apart from the document itself, which was symbolic enough, the EU was to have a flag, a national anthem, a citizenship and so on.  A constitution is the expression of an enduring political entity; it is an openly proclaimed public document which is intended to found a political (public) order and to encapsulate stability and fixity.  There can be little doubt that it was the overtly political nature of this project which caused it to fail.  In France, people from the Left and the Right united against the EU’s perceived dissolution of the French state:  the Socialists who voted No did so because they opposed the free market fundamentalism of the European Commission, while those on the Right opposed the anti-national ideology at the heart of the European construction.  In the Netherlands as in France, hostility to the prospect of more Muslim immigration (especially from Turkey, which is slated to become an EU member state) was also a factor.  No doubt these positions were partly incompatible with each other; but the Constitution’s clearly political nature, plus the sense that core European values (genuinely European ones, not those of the EU) were under threat, focussed people’s minds on the things about the EU they disliked and especially on the sense that it dissolves existing political orders.  The promulgation of the Constitution made it impossible to pretend any longer that all decisions would be lost in a welter of potential counter-decision, debate or policy review;  it was precisely the Constitution’s political clarity which caused it to be rejected.

Now, stability is one of the defining characteristics of a political order; it is one of the very core principles of law, at least from the “counter-revolutionary” perspective discussed by Schmitt.  In the words of a handbook of moral theology, the law should be “honest, just and stable”.  [vi]  This sense of stability is, of course, also expressed by the etymology of the word “state” in many languages (from stare, to stand).  The proclamation of the Constitution was therefore the very antithesis not only of the Monnet method’s inherently unpolitical and technocratic nature, but also of its belief in permanent institutional change. 

It was therefore highly symbolic that European leaders quickly realised their mistake and decided, following the rejection of the Constitution, to resort to subterfuge, and to return to their old methods, to attain their goals.  There is indeed no other word than subterfuge to describe the decision to draw up the Lisbon treaty.  Having badly misjudged the level of popular dislike of the EU in two founding member states, European leaders decided to disguise the key elements of the constitution in a new treaty which was specifically designed to be unclear and indeed incomprehensible to the ordinary voter.  Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, the former French president who, as President of the European Convention, drew up the European constitution, confirmed in an article in Le Monde in October 2007 that the EU leaders had instructed jurists simply to re-write the Constitution in the form of treaty amendments to the existing treaties.  “The jurists,” Giscard wrote, “started with the text of the constitution, took its elements apart one by one, and made them correspond by means of amendments to the two existing treaties, Rome (1957) and Maastricht (1992) … The result is that the institutional proposals of the constitutional treaty – the only things which mattered for the members of the European Convention – are in the Lisbon treaty in their entirety but in a different order and inserted into previous treaties.”[vii]  According to Giscard, the purpose of “this subtle manoeuvre” was “first and above all to escape from the constraint of having to hold a referendum by dispersing the articles and by renouncing the constitutional vocabulary.”  In other words, the decision was taken to downplay the political importance of the changes where the constitution had emphasised them.  “The complexity of the text [the Lisbon treaty] and its abandonment of grand ambitions” would, he said, be sufficient to neutralise opposition.

This covert strategy was confirmed by the current French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, who addressed the French nation on television on the day it was ratified in the French parliament.  “In order to convince all our partners to accept this new simplified treaty which we were proposing and which was no longer a constitution,” Sarkozy said - continuing with his pretence that the Lisbon treaty is more simple than the constitution, which it is not, and that it was a French initiative, which it was not - “we had to promise to ratify it in parliament if we reached an agreement.  If the condition had not been fulfilled, no agreement would have been possible.” [viii]  In other words, EU leaders got together around a table and agreed that there must not be a referendum on the new treaty.  The governments of other states which might have held referenda – Britain and Denmark, for instance – also collaborated in this deliberate decision to avoid a popular vote. 

The decision to circumvent the voters is bad enough; but the key phrases in the quotations from Giscard and Sarkozy are “renouncing the constitutional vocabulary” and “which was no longer a constitution”.  They confirm the attempt to return to the EU’s old strategy of emphasising its unpolitical nature, indeed its statelessness.  The fact that the Lisbon Treaty abandons the formal references to the symbols of unitary statehood - the constitution, the anthem and the flag (although these latter both exist in practice) - only serves to underline the fact that it is a retreat from statehood, from the vocabulary of constitutionalism, and from the clarity and stability which such a statehood or constitution would imply.  The fact that that treaty in fact contains significant new foreign policy powers for the EU, i.e. a clearly political element, only underlines the subterfuge.  As it turned out, it was these political elements which explained the defeat of the Lisbon treaty as well, in a referendum in the Republic of Ireland in June 2008:  Irish voters are committed to their country’s political and military neutrality.  In other words, the attempt to deceive the voters by the pretence at stateleness did not work.

This statelessness has numerous advantages.  First, it tends to neutralise opposition because people are told that there will be no hard political choices but just a welter of benevolent administration.  Second, it increases the amount of unaccountable power which European leaders can wield.  There is far more discretionary power in the EU’s deliberately nurtured gap between inter-governmental and federal structures than there ever would be in a properly constituted federal state.  “Europe” is a mechanism which allows governments to pass laws for which they would prefer not to argue in public, safely away from the glare of democratic scrutiny and parliamentary opposition.  In other words, while the European ideology states that nation-states must be overcome in order for Europe to be at peace, the plan is not for them to be replaced by a European state.  Instead, it is to escape from the very logic of statehood itself.

            Many pro-European commentators emphasised this very point, welcoming precisely the fact that the EU is in a state of indeterminacy and permanent flux.  Examples of this are very numerous.  For instance, the former Italian Prime Minister, Giuliano Amato, who was a Vice-President of the European Convention which drew up the ill-fated European Constitution, has used the term “multilevel constitutionalism” to emphasise and to welcome the fact that the EU now offers overlapping levels of power and authority, and a new de-centralised and diffuse form of politics which stands in positive contrast to the supposedly harsh decisionism of post-Westphalian statehood. He has also said that the EU is “a UFO, an unidentified flying object, whose nature cannot be ascertained but which flies nonetheless”.[ix]  The British diplomat, Robert Cooper, has argued that the EU (like other forms of supranationalism) is “post-modern”[x].  This post-modernism, he says, consists precisely in the EU’s vagueness - in the fact that it does not “emphasise sovereignty or the separation of domestic and foreign policy”; in “the breaking down of the distinction between domestic and foreign affairs”, “the growing irrelevance of borders” and in “security based on transparency, openness, interdependence and mutual vulnerability.”  For Cooper, the EU is the result of the “deconstruction of the state”, part of a general process of regional and individual autonomy and of a general reduction in the role of the centralised state.  Another Italian, the philosopher and MEP, Gianni Vattimo, has also emphasised that the EU is by definition in a state of permanent change:  what he likes about the EU is its invented quality, for this makes it an “antinaturalist” political system, i.e. not fixed by inheritance, territory, history or ethnicity.  Vattimo says that those Eurosceptics who are attached to the existing political arrangements should realise that the nation-state is itself transient and that no political order is fixed;  there is therefore no reason not to embrace the new political order of the EU. [xi]  Finally, the German political scientist, Ulrich Beck, has written that the EU represents a fundamentally new form of politics, cosmopolitanism.  Welcoming what he says is the “separation of state and nation,” Beck has written that, “Just as the secular state makes the exercise of different religions possible, so too must cosmopolitan Europe guarantee the coexistence of different ethnic, religious and political forms of life across national borders based on the principle of cosmopolitan tolerance.”[xii]  Beck articulates the common view that it is precisely the dislocation of national sovereignty which is to be welcomed in globalisation and EU integration.

            What all these commentators share - and they are very typical [xiii] - is a love of indeterminacy, multiplicity and permanent change, and a dislike of the (in their view) inadequate, old-fashioned and simplistic certainties of classical sovereign statehood.    How are we to understand this attachment to what one might call political Heracliteanism?  Many of the authors quoted above have, perhaps inadvertently, left clues to their true ideological inheritance.  For Beck, “Europe is Europe’s last remaining realistic political Utopia”; for Cooper, the new order is “an extraordinary revolution”; for Vattimo, Europe is “perhaps the only valid substitute for the Marxist project of construction a disalienated society.”  The idea of a post-national stateless political system in a state of permanent revolution is, in short, Marxist.

At first sight, such a claim is doubtless surprising.  Marxism is associated with Soviet dogmas like the planned economy, heavy controls on trade and the international class struggle.  Apart from the fact that it is prosperous where the USSR was poor, the EU (especially the Commission) implements precisely the opposite – privatisation, worldwide free trade and multilateral cooperation.  In fact, however, the planned economy was never the true ideological core of Marxism.  As Alexander Solzhenitsyn wrote in his 1973 Letter to the Leaders of the Soviet Union, the key thing about communism was not state socialism or the class struggle, but instead ideology.  And as Milovan Djilas, the great Yugoslav Communist intellectual who quickly turned against the system and became a dissident, the ideological core of Communism lay not in statist economics but instead in metaphysics – in a specific view about the nature of reality, a view which went by the name of dialectical materialism and which consisted in “the belief in the primacy of matter and the reality of change.”  [xiv] 

How are we to understand such a claim?  A good place to start is by observing Karl Marx’s funeral service in Highgate cemetery in London on the morning of Saturday, 17th March 1883.  A small group gathered for the ceremony and the main funeral oration was pronounced by Friedrich Engels. Others present were relatives and comrades.  But there were also two men whom Engels described as “representatives of the natural sciences,”[xv] Professor Edwin Ray Lankester (later knighted) and Professor Carl Schorlemmer.  Schorlemmer was both a professor of chemistry in Manchester and also an old Communist associate of Marx and Engels and had fought at Baden in the 1848 uprisings.  But Lankester was neither a friend of Marx nor a political ally.  Instead, he was instead a prominent young evolutionary biologist and disciple of Darwin and Huxley.  Lankester rose swiftly in his career, becoming the Director of the Natural History Museum in London from 1898 to 1907.

Some scholars have rubbed their heads in vain to understand why these scientists were asked to attend.[xvi] But Engels himself explained the riddle in his funeral oration.   “Just as Darwin discovered the law of development of organic nature, so Marx discovered the law of development of human history,” he said.  That law, Engels told the mourners, was that social and political arrangements, and indeed even law and culture itself, were dependent on the level of economic development.  It was, in Engels’ words, “the simple fact, hitherto concealed by an overgrowth of ideology, that mankind must first of all eat, drink, have shelter and clothing, before it can pursue politics, science, art, religion, etc.; that therefore the production of the immediate material means of subsistence and consequently the degree of economic development attained by a given people or during a given epoch form the foundation upon which the state institutions, the legal conceptions, art, and even the ideas on religion, of the people concerned have been evolved, and in the light of which they must, therefore, be explained, instead of vice versa, as had hitherto been the case.”  In Marx’s own famous formulation of the theory, “The hand-mill gives you society with the feudal lord; the steam-mill society with the industrial capitalist.”  [xvii]

But why did Engels consider it necessary to emphasise this seemingly abstruse aspect of Marxism in his funeral oration?  Surely there were other, more important Marxist beliefs.  The explanation is twofold.  First – as Wilhelm Liebknecht  said in his own speech to the small group of mourners – Marx thought of himself principally as a scientist, and it was this which made his doctrines so revolutionary.

It is precisely his  [Marx’s] immortal merit that he freed the proletariat, the working people's party, from phrases and gave it the solid foundation of science that nothing can shake. A revolutionary in science and a revolutionary through science, he scaled the highest peak of science in order to come down to the people and to make science the common good of the people. Science is the liberator of humanity. The natural sciences free us from God.  But God in heaven still lives on although science has killed him. The science of society that Marx revealed to the people kills capitalism, and with it the idols and masters of the earth who will not let God die as long as they live.

Second, although this point was not made clear around the grave, Darwin himself had provided the Marxists with the crucial supposedly scientific basis for dialectical materialism.  Engels explained this key point in his main theoretical works, especially the Anti-Dühring (1877) and the Dialektik der Natur (written 1873 – 1883) In the latter work, Engels explained how Darwin’s theories of random genetic mutation and had revolutionised the very understanding of nature itself.

The new view of nature was ready in its basic outlines:  everything rigid was dissolved, everything fixed has evaporated, everything which had been held to be eternal became transitory, the whole of nature was proved to be moving in eternal flux and circulation.   [xviii]

“The whole of nature,” Engels went on, “has its being in restless movement and change.”[xix] Specifically saying that Darwin had brought philosophy back to the view the pre-Socratics had held (although now “confirmed” by scientific analysis), Engels went so far as to quote Mephistopheles in Goethe’s Faust saying “Everything which arises merits destruction” (Alles was entsteht, ist wert, daß es zugrunde geht.)  Engels said that the first person to understand this was Heraclitus:  “Everything is and is not, for everything flows and is in constant change, conceived in constant becoming and disappearing.”  [xx] 

He emphasised that this view of nature had important philosophical consequences.  In particular, it altered the very concept of truth itself:  truth was no longer “an aggregate of finished dogmatic statements” but instead “lay now in the process of cognition itself … which mounts from lower to ever higher levels of knowledge without ever reaching, by discovering so-called absolute truth, a point at which it can proceed no further …”  By the same token, all “successive historical systems” were themselves “only transitory stages in the endless course of development of human society from the lower to the higher…”  This, of course, was a point of view which owed a great deal to Hegel, whose dialectic also abolished the rule of non-contradiction.  [xxi]

All successive historical systems are only transitory stages in the endless course of development of human society from the lower to the higher. Each stage is necessary, and therefore justified for the time and conditions to which it owes its origin. But in the face of new, higher conditions which gradually develop in its own womb, it loses vitality and justification. It must give way to a higher stage which will also in its turn decay and perish. Just as the bourgeoisie by large-scale industry, competition, and the world market dissolves in practice all stable time-honoured institutions, so this dialectical philosophy dissolves all conceptions of final, absolute truth and of absolute states of humanity corresponding to it. For it [dialectical philosophy], nothing is final, absolute, sacred. It reveals the transitory character of everything and in everything; nothing can endure before it except the uninterrupted process of becoming and of passing away, of endless ascendancy from the lower to the higher.  [xxii]

Engels made it clear that he was proposing a system of logic and ontology radically incompatible with the Aristotelian view, which he referred to dismissively as “metaphysics”:   

For the metaphysician, things and their images in thought, concepts, are individual objects of enquiry which follow one other without the other being observed:  they are fixed and unchangeable.  The metaphysician thinks in purely unmediated sentences:  he says ‘Yes, yes, No, No.’  For him, a thing either exists or it does not.  A thing cannot be itself and another thing.  Positive and negative exclude one another completely; cause and effect stand in similarly stark opposition to one another. [xxiii]

Engels is of course quoting the Gospel in his rejection of “metaphysics”:  “But let your words be Yes, yes, No, no, for whatever is more than these comes from evil.” [Matthew 5: 37]  Marx and Lenin both developed this idea.  In The Poverty of Philosophy, Marx offered his famous formulation of the dialectical triad

Once it has managed to pose itself as a thesis, this thesis, this thought, opposed to itself, splits up into two contradictory thoughts — the positive and the negative, the yes and no. The struggle between these two antagonistic elements comprised in the antithesis constitutes the dialectical movement. The yes becoming no, the no becoming yes, the yes becoming both yes and no, the no becoming both no and yes, the contraries balance, neutralize, paralyse each other. The fusion of these two contradictory thoughts constitutes a new thought, which is the synthesis of them. This thought splits up once again into two contradictory thoughts, which in turn fuse into a new synthesis … Apply this method to the categories of political economy and you have the logic and metaphysics of political economy ...[xxiv]

Lenin wrote of “the identity of opposites … in all phenomena and processes of nature (including mind and society)”[xxv] and of “the struggle of opposites” as one of the principal characteristics of reality:  “The struggle of mutually exclusive opposites is absolute, just as development and motion are absolute.”  [xxvi] 

It was as a consequence of this Heracliteanism that Marxists believed that political arrangements (states) were in a state of permanent flux too.  Marx of course argued that they were mere superstructures which flowed from certain themselves transitory forms of economic development.  Social relations, said Marx, were “as little eternal as the relations they express. They are historical and transitory products.”  He wrote, “There is a continual movement of growth in productive forces, of destruction in social relations, of formation in ideas; the only immutable thing is the abstraction of movement — mors immortalis.”  [xxvii] 

It was partly this belief in the permanence and primacy of change that led Marx and Engels to be supporters of free trade and what we would today call globalisation.  This is a point often forgotten today.  Marx addressed the Free Trade Conference in Brussels in 1847 and concluded his speech there saying, “We are for free trade…”[xxviii]  This was because he thought that free trade would give maximum effect to the ineluctable laws of economics, and that it would thereby destroy the traditional social order.  On the basis of this destruction, it would be possible for the new order to be constructed.  In The Communist Manifesto (1848) Marx and Engels explained that “the bourgeois revolution” was an unstoppable force which would dissolve traditional social structures, especially the nation and the family.  “The worker has no country,” they wrote.  “National differences and antagonisms between peoples are daily more and more vanishing, owing to the development of the bourgeoisie, to freedom of commerce, to the world market …”  [xxix] 

As the Cold War came to an end and the political and economic system created by Stalin started to crumble – not least because a new generation of leftists started to regard it as an excessively conservative social force, especially because of Stalinism’s national and traditional great-Russian geopolitical programme[xxx] – Marxists and others went back to their founding texts of their creed and found there good reason to support the new creed of “globalisation”, so eagerly proclaimed by the West in the 1990s.  They remembered Marx’s and Engels’ position on free trade and they recalled that Lenin had been friendly towards Western capitalists in the very earliest years of the revolution.  [xxxi]  As Milovan Djilas wrote in his account of the end of Communism, The Fall of the New Class

Every Marxist, going back to Marx himself and forward past Lenin, regarded the creation of a world market and all that it brought about (strengthening each and every link among peoples, tearing down the barriers between nations, etc.) as a progressive fact of capitalism and a necessary condition for proletarian internationalism itself and the true convergence of peoples in socialism.  [xxxii]

But it was not just the fact that globalisation was internationalist and therefore progressive which attracted Marxists to it.  Like Marx and Engels, the New Left also specifically liked its Heraclitean qualities.

The bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionising the instruments of production, and thereby the relations of production, and with them the whole relations of society … All fixed, fast-frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify.  All that is solid melts into the air, all that is holy is profaned… The bourgeoisie has through its exploitation of the world market given a cosmopolitan character to production and consumption in every country.  To the great chagrin of Reactionists, it has drawn from under the feet of industry the national ground on which it stood.  All old-established national industries have been destroyed ... In place of the old local and national self-seclusion and self-sufficiency, we have intercourse in every direction, universal inter-dependence of nations … National one-sidedness and narrow-mindedness become more and more impossible… [xxxiii]

Engels made this thought even clearer in another essay.  Arguing that capitalism would destroy nationhood and prepare the way for full freedom, he expressed himself using a modern form of the old alchemists’ formula, solve et coagula:

The disintegration of mankind into a mass of isolated, mutually repelling atoms in itself means the destruction of all corporate, national and indeed of any particular interests and is the last necessary step towards the free and spontaneous association of men.  [xxxiv]

This is nothing but the well-known Marxist doctrine of the withering away of the state.  For Marxists, indeed, the state is by definition a mechanism of oppression and freedom therefore cannot be achieved until the state withers away. Engels wrote: “The administration of things and the direction of production processes replaces the government of persons.  The state is not “abolished”, it dies off.”[xxxv]  Lenin wrote, “So long as the state exists, there is no freedom.  When there will be freedom, there will be no state.”[xxxvi]  Elsewhere, he wrote, “A United States of the World (not of Europe alone) is the state form of the union and freedom of nations which we associate with socialism – until the complete victory of communism beings about the total disappearance of the state, including the democratic state.”  [xxxvii]  Elsewhere, he elaborated on this famous thought: 

Accounting and control – that is the main thing required for “arranging” the smooth working, the correct functioning of the first phase of communist society … The whole of society will have become a single office and a single factory, with equality of labour and equality of pay.  [xxxviii] 

In other words, the European construction holds for many the same appeal as Marxism did.  It offers the indeterminacy which comes from the denial of any natural order and indeed of truth itself; a concomitant apparent escape from politics and from the decisionism associated with it; a political system in a state of permanent flux; the withering away of the (nation-)state; and its replacement by a new system based on supposedly unpolitical administration.  The overcoming of the nation-state, a programme which is central to the European ideology, in fact turns out to be the overcoming of the state tout court and its replacement by a European - and perhaps, one day, a world - statelessness.  With numerous former Communist apparatchiks now heads of government and heads of state in EU countries, eagerly cooperating in the dissolution of statehood at both the European and world level, it is clear that the transition from Soviet Union to European Union was easier for many than one might initially have guessed.


Dr John Laughland is the author of “A History of Political Trials from Charles I to Saddam Hussein (Oxford:  Peter Lang 2008), “Schelling versus Hegel:  from German Idealism to Christian Metaphysics” (London:  Ashgate 2007), “Travesty:  the Trial of Slobodan Milosevic and the Corruption of International Justice” (London:  Pluto Press, 2006),  “Le tribunal pénal international:  gardien du nouvel ordre mondial) (Paris:  François-Xavier de Guibert, 2003), “The Tainted Source:  the Undemocratic Origins of the European Idea” (London: Little Brown, 1997) and “The Death of Politics:  France under Mitterrand (London:  Michael Joseph, 1994)

[i] Pierre-André Taguieff, Résister au bougisme.  Démocratie forte contre mondialisation techno-marchande (Paris:  Mille et Une Nuits, 2001).

[ii] François Duchêne, Jean Monnet.  The First Statesman of Interdependence, (London – New York:  W. W. Norton, 1994), passim;  Christophe Réveillard, Les première tentatives de construction d’une Europe fédérale, des projets de la Résistance au traité de C.E.D. (1940-1945), Paris:  François-Xavier de Guibert, 2001, especially pp. 190ff.

[iii] Carl Schmitt, Politische Theologie:  Vier Kapitel zur Lehre von der Souveränität, (1934 edition, Berlin:  Duncker & Humblot , 1990), pp. 70-71.

[iv] Carl Schmitt, Politische Theologie, p.78.

[v] Hugo Young, This Blessed Plot.  Britain and Europe from Churchill to Blair (London:  Macmillan, 1998), p. 129.

[vi] “Lex debet ergo esse:  possibilis, honesta, iusta, stabilis …,” Summarium Theologiae Moralis, Tractatus III, De Lege, The Newman Bookshop, Westminster, Maryland, USA, 1944, p.25, emphasis added.

[vii] Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, Le Monde, 26th October 2007

[viii] The allocution of the president of the Republic was posted on the Elysée Palace web site,, 10th February 2008.

[ix] Giuliano Amato, ‘L’originalità istituzionale dell’Unione europea’ in Un passato che passa?  Germania e l’Italia tra memoria e prospettiva (Proceedings of an international seminar organised by the Rome City Council in collaboration with the Goethe Institute and the Basso Foundation, Rome, November 1996), (Rome: 2000, pp.81-91); quoted by Roberto de Mattei, De Europa.  Tra radici cristiani a sogni postmoderni (Florence:  Le Lettere, 2006), p.87.

[x] Robert Cooper, The Post-Modern State and The World Order, London:  Demos 1996, 2000.  See also Robert Cooper, ‘The Post-Modern State’ in Re-Ordering the World.  The Long-Term Implications of 11 September, ed. Mark Leonard (London:  The Foreign Policy Centre, 2002)

[xi] Gianni Vattimo, ‘Intanto a Strasburgo: sguardo sull'Europa,’ L’Unità, 24 January 2002.

[xii] Ulrich Beck, ‘Nation-state politics can only fail the politics of the modern world,’ The Guardian, 15 January 2008.

[xiii] They are discussed at greater length by Roberto de Mattei in De Europa.  Tra Radici Cristiani e sogni postmoderni, (Florence:  Casa Editrice Le Lettere) 2006, p. 87-88.

[xiv] Milvan Djilas, The New Class, Thames & Hudson, London, 1957, Chapter 1, “Origins”, p.1.

[xv] “Karl Marx’s funeral,” by Friedrich Engels, Der Sozialdemokrat, 22nd March 1883,

[xvi] “A Darwinian gentleman at Marx’s funeral” by Stephen Jay Gould, Natural History, September 1999,

[xvii] Karl Marx, The Poverty of Philosophy (1847) Chapter 2, Second Observation

[xviii] Friedrich Engels, Dialektik der Natur, Marx Engels Werke Band 20 (Berlin:  Dietz Verlag, 1990) p. 312.

[xix] Ibid., p. 320;  see for English translation.

[xx] Engels, Anti-Dühring, in Marx Engels Werke Vol 20, Dietz Verlag, Berlin, 1990, p.20

[xxi] See Georg Friedrich Wilhelm Hegel, Wissenschaft der Logik, Erstes Kapitel, C. Werden, Einheit des Seyns und Nichts.  See also my commentary on this in John Laughland, Schelling versus Hegel:  from German Idealism to Christian Metaphysics, (London:  Ashgate, 2007), p.112.

[xxii] Friedrich Engels, Ludwig Feuerbach and the End of Classical German Philosophy, Part I, Hegel (1886, this translation from Progress Publisher, 1946,

[xxiii] Engels, Anti-Dühring, in Marx Engels Werke Vol 20, Dietz Verlag, Berlin, 1990, p.21

[xxiv] Karl Marx, The Poverty of Philosophy, Chapter 2, The Metaphysics of Political Economy, First Observation.

[xxv] Lenin, On Dialectics, p.271 (translation slightly altered - AJL)

[xxvi] Lenin, On Dialectics, in Marx, Engels, Marxism, p. 271, p. 272

[xxvii] Karl Marx, The Poverty of Philosophy (1847) Chapter 2, Second Observation

[xxviii] Friedrich Engels, ‘The Free Trade Congress at Brussels,’ The Northern Star, No. 520, October 9, 1847,

[xxix] Marx & Engels, The Communist Manifesto, p.102

[xxx] On this see Natalia Narochnitskaya, Za shto i s kem my voyevali (For what and with whom we fought), Moscow 2006;  translated into French as Que reste-t-il de notre victoire? (Paris:  Editions des Syrtes, 2008).

[xxxi] Armand Hammer describes his meeting with Lenin in August 1921.  “What we really need,” his [Lenin’s] voice rang apparently stronger and his eyes brightened again, “is American capital and technical aid to get our wheels turning once more.”  Armand Hammer with Neil Lyndon, Hammer, Witness to History, (New York:  Simon & Schuster, 1987), p.117.

[xxxii] Milovan Djilas, Fall of the New Class, Alfred Knopf, 1998, p.135

[xxxiii] Marx & Engels, The Communist Manifesto, Penguin Classics, p. 82-84

[xxxiv] Friedrich Engels, The Condition of England:  the Eighteenth Century; Marx & Engels Collected Works, Volume III, p.476, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1975-1979;  quoted in Paul Phillips,  Marx and Engels on Law and Laws, Oxford:  Martin Robertson, 1980, p.24.

[xxxv] Friedrich Engels, Anti-Dühring, Dritter Abschnitt, in Marx Engels Werke (Berlin:  Dietz Verlag, 1990) Bd. 20, p. 262

[xxxvi] V. I. Lenin, State and Revolution in ‘Marx, Engels, Marxism’ (Moscow:  Progress Publishers, 1965) p.335

[xxxvii] Lenin, On the Slogan for a United States of Europe, in ‘Marx, Engels, Marxism,’ p. 270

[xxxviii] Lenin, State and revolution, p. 340


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Conference on the "populist wave" in Central Europe (IDC, 19 December 2017)

The Russian revolution and the civil war (IDC, 8 November 2017)

Conference at IDC on the Korean crisis (21 September 2017)

"Trump and Macron on Syria: what is new?" Conference at IDC, 12 July 2017

Conference on the end of globaliation, 21 June 2017

Conference in the Vatican on Catholics and Orthodox (24 May 2017)


John Laughland discusses the Catalan referendum on RT (4 October 2017)

John Laughland discusses NATO expansion on TRT World TV (31 July 2017)