Editors:Paweł Kaczmarski, Łukasz Moll
Abstracts submission date:April 30, 2023
Manuscripts submission date:September 30, 2024
Planned date of publication:June 2024
In 1975, E. P. Thompson wrote:
"The first person who enthused to me, some years ago, about ‘going into Europe’ went on to enthuse about green peppers. This gave a clue as to what the great British middle class thinks ‘Europe’ is about.
It is about the belly. A market is about consumption. The Common Market is conceived of as a distended stomach: a large organ with various traps, digestive chambers and fiscal acids, assimilating a rich diet of consumer goods. It has no mind, no direction, no other identity: it is imagined as either digesting or as in a replete, post-prandial states easily confused with benevolence of idealism."
Even today, these and similar observations reveal a fundamental difference in how the European Union is, and has historically been, perceived on the Left and in the mainstream of bourgeois politics. What is at stake is thus not just a difference of opinion, but a profound difference in the very level of political analysis - with the frenetic idealism of the ruling class contrasting harshly with the socialist critiques of the EU as a complex network of material, socio-economic interests. Whereas the bourgeoisie has always seen the European Union primarily in terms of unbridled consumption, socialists have understood its impact on the relations of production, the trade union movement and popular sovereignty; whereas for bourgeoisie the relationship to the EU itself is largely symbolic - signalling general "worldliness" of its members - for socialists it has been nothing short than a matter of political survival.
Meanwhile, socialist critiques of the EU have become largely detached from the political forces of the European Left. Challenging the core dogmas of the EU has become the reddest of the red lines in the mainstream political discourse of many European countries, including both the members of the "old" as well as the "new" EU. Criticism of the European Union from the Left is seen as legitimate only up to a certain point - that is, as long as its underlying premise is the idea that on the balance, one's membership in the European Union is a good thing (or, at the very least, it is in practice preferable to any radical solution). From "remain and reform" to "remain and rebel" - a demand for the latter is tolerated precisely for as long as it preceded by a stated desire for the former. In crucial moments of actual social self-determination - from national elections to EU-related referendums - the Left is expected to overcome any reservation they might have about the nature of the Union, and toe the liberal party line by joining the pro-EU forces. Any refusal is met with accusations of "backwardness", nationalism, and foreign interference.
Moreover, centrists and "liberal-left" alike equate being "pro-Europe" with being "pro-EU". Thus any form of internationalism within the European framework is reduced to a liberal agenda of multiculturalism, anti-nationalism, a shared currency and the common market; it is as if democracy, international solidarity, and material prosperity could not be imagined outside the structures of the EU.
What is at political stake in rejecting this kind of reductionist political blackmail, is the very possibility of denaturalising social hierarchies and hegemonies within Europe and between Europe and the outside world. Those who have been historically branded "anti-European", or otherwise harmful to the EU itself - "lazy" Southerners, "troublemaking" Easterners, "greedy" pensioners and "spoiled" millenials; "irresponsible" trade unionists and "unpredictable" migrants, "extremist" socialists and "naive" climate activists - have all created heterogenous Eurosceptic counternarratives, which the upcoming issue of Praktyka Teoretyczna aims to examine and compare.
These counternarratives should be recognized in all their particularities – as coming from both new and old member states, originating from the core as well as peripheries, and articulated in both universalist and exceptionalist terms. For instance, in both "old” and “new" Europe, the political traditions of the Left are more often than not attached to a feeling of longing for a stronger national sovereignty, which in turn remains associated with a more welfare-oriented model of the nation-state. However, whereas in the “old Europe” this phenomenon may take the form of a post-imperial nostalgia of sorts, in its “new” counterpart the nostalgia is of a post-communist nature. In both cases, left-wing Euroscepticism is too easily rejected as dangerously nationalistic or chauvinist. The difficult past is thus seen as a justification for further EUropeanisation, seen now as a progressive overcoming of various atavisms: it serves to dismantle the remnants of the former empires, as well as hold back the reemerging nationalist sentiments in the former Eastern bloc.
Irrespective of differences between socialist critiques of the EU, what needs renewed emphasis today, is the observation that - whatever their practical conclusions may be – they are rooted in an tradition of thought and politics which remains radically independent from its liberal and conservative counterparts; it is neither an ally to right-wing critiques, nor a "progressive" supplement to centrist ones. As such, for the upcoming Euroscepticism from the Left issue of Praktyka Teoretyczna/Theoretical Practice, we invite researchers from all fields - sociology, cultural studies, economy, history of political ideas, and more - to submit papers on various strands of Left Euroscepticism: its history, as well as original approaches.
We believe that such open debate may be productive in more ways than one.
First, it provides the Left in general with a foothold in one of the most contested political areas of our times; arguably, it was the lack of a convincing narrative on Europe and the EU that led to the ultimate failure of some of the most promising Left political projects in recent memory (Corbynism in the UK, Syriza in Greece).
Second, we believe that only the Left may provide a convincing, thorough analysis of the key moments in the history of populist Euroscepticism, including the most recent ones like Brexit. Thus it is the Left euroscepticism that is capable of delivering both a convincing counternarrative to the ultimately superficial Euroscepticism of the Right, and a way of channelling the populist Eurosceptic impulse into a progressive, rather than reactionary, politics. Rather than condemn the Eurosceptic segments of the working class to the domain of irrational angst and self-reproducing hatred, it is the Left that is capable of grasping moments such as Brexit as a result of a complex interplay of material interests, valid social anxieties, and ultimately rational choices.
Third, a proper Left critique of the European Union serves to subvert various myths and taboos surrounding the origins, history, and the internal workings of the EU. Following Perry Anderson, it is the role of contemporary Left intellectuals and academics to remind their readers about the crucial reactionary tendency that has shaped the EU since its very beginning (contrary to the popular liberal narrative about the "betrayed values" of the "original" European project). It is after all the Left that has consistently called out the lack of democratic accountability in various institutions of the EU.
Fourth, whereas liberal apologists of the EU and its conservative critics alike tend to see the issue of the Eurozone in mostly symbolic terms - either as a part of the "natural order of things", or an abstract manifestation of the European bureaucracy's alleged neoimperialist ambitions - it is the Left that insists on its proper analysis as the material core of the entire European project. In recent years, authors such as Thomas Fazi have combined a robust critique of the European political economy with a deep understanding of the history of the EU, to once again place the idea of a shared currency at the very centre of any serious socialist narrative on Europe.
Finally, we need to renew our interest in the impact the EU has historically had on what we consider a politically possible future. Post-political, technocratic and Eurocentric views have been ingrained deeply in the very nature of European treaties and institutions, to the point where we can rarely imagine a possibility of a different Europe. An unapologetic criticism of the history of European integration to date is thus exactly what we need in order to regain some much-needed optimism in the Europe yet to come.
Suggested topics include - but are by no means limited to - the following: