Republicanism in Europe

The working class cannot simply lay hold of the ready-made state machinery, and wield it for its own purposes.

Karl Marx

Lea Ypi of the LSE has written a interesting blogpost arguing that the electoral left’s accommodation with the capitalist state, the movement’s left’s evaporation into the global ether, and the communist left’s condensation around Cold War nostalgia have all contributed to the collapse of civic republicanism and the rise of ethnic nationalism. The national route to socialism has failed, and only the European one remains.

There’s much to agree with in the piece. Ypi is absolutely right that the left needs ‘to rejoin its critique of the capitalist economy with a critique of the neoliberal state.’ And this is one of the central themes in Labour’s broader programme in the UK. The party is trying to begin a wide-ranging conversation about the constitution of the national state in which it finds itself. For different reasons both labourism and communism have been disastrously incurious about this structure, too quick to dismiss it as a shadow cast by business that will vanish with the abolition of private property, or to seize on it as an instrument that can be used for socialist ends. And of course, the left needs to think at once internationally and constitutionally – to replace the existing global institutions with structures for cooperation that bring international relations under review by national and transnational publics. National democracy cannot survive in a global system characterised by domination.

But I am not sure who the piece is arguing with. The Labour Party is committed to respecting the EU referendum result because it is – rightly – fearful of the electoral consequences of not doing so. A small number of people made a left-wing case for Brexit in 2016. More have tried to make the best of a bad situation since then. But there is little appetite for leaving. It will make things much more complicated for a future socialist government in the immediate term. (It is much safer to break state aid rules within the EU than outside, after all.) Labour’s responsibility right now is to survive as a nationally viable civic republican and socialist project.

[Update: I am not at all sure that civic republicanism will succeed in Europe without support from national governments who are committed to it. And anyway, I am not sure that the EU is the appropriate scale for international coordination. Surely our ambitions ought to be global?]

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