Austria’s EU Presidency, Work and Welfare
Date sent: Mon, 10 Nov 1997 16:09:36 +0100
From: Anarchistische Buchhandlung
Send reply to: rbh[at]inode.at
Organization: I-Node Internet Providing Vienna
Subject: again fron rbh/vienna
There is a group in Vienna which has formed in September ´97 to prepare for Austria´s EU-presidency ´98. At the moment, the group consists of people from “autonomous” and anarchist groups (meaning the so-called independent, undogmatic, leftwing spectrum).
We want to take advantage of the (long) time which is left until July ´98, to discuss extensively and with as many people as possible about various topics connected with the European Union. We also want to start this discussion because we had the impression that there was little debate or analysis within the radical leftwing opposition before and during the EU-summit in Amsterdam (in July ´97).
With this discussion, we want to define our viewpoint as opposed to reformist leftwing groups and concepts. But nevertheless, we will take part at meetings of “Euromarch” – groups (the Viennese group is called “Initiative for a social, ecological Europe of equal rights” now) and try to contribute to it from a critical distance of solidarity.
We want to try to discuss and establish contacts in all parts of Austria and internationally from the very beginning for 3 reasons: First, we don´t want to stew in our own juice. Second, more brains have more ideas. And third, we are not capable of dealing with every topic in detail. Ideally, a discussion should develop and go on continuously within the EU and especially with groups outside EU-borders. We are looking for all kinds of groups and persons interested. If you are in contact with people from the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Slovenia, etc. please send them our texts and/or let us have their adresses.
For the time being, we send you 2 texts. The first one is written by a few people from the group mentioned earlier. We broach some points which are important to us (“Some ideas about Austria´s EU-presidency ´98”). The second one, a critique of the first one, is written by the Revolutionsbräuhof – RBH, (“EU-presidency: Work/labour and money”). We will publish these texts in local media. Whatever you can and want to make of it… we would ask you for criticism.
Of course we already consider actions, campaigns, projects to fit the occasion. But these ideas are not fully developed yet.
There will be (an) action against the summit in Luxemburg (21st/22nd nov.) in Vienna. Details and leaflets will be sent to you soon.
We are planning an Austrian-wide meeting at the end of ´97 and an international meeting at the beginning of ´98. You will be given notice of the exact dates.
Until then, good luck and sorry for translation mistakes
Vienna, 22nd oct. 1997
Infoladen 10, Ernst-Kirchweger-Haus
“Gegen den EU-Gipfel ’98”
1. Some ideas about Austrias EU-presidency ´98
The following text is an attempt to start a discussion about Austrias EU-presidency (starting in July ´98) and to point out some priorities. The text should be taken as an approach to all the complex topics connected with the European Union, capitalism, racism, etc.
To us, the discussion about different conceptions of “work” or “labour” seems to be a crucial point. It was obvious even at the demonstration against the EU-summit in Amsterdam that there are strong differences within the leftwing EU-opposition: propagating paid work on the one hand or objecting to it on the other were the two positions.
Many people see no alternative to paid work. They fell it is not a matter of force, but a matter of course (Although everyone is complaining about bad working conditions and low wages). In former times, before the “benefits” of a human bourgeois society, people were also forced to work, but the structure of exploitation was different from the means of discipline used in a “free” enterprise economy. “Working morale” and the compulsion to work had to be brutally enforced upon the proletariat. In course of time it was achieved that the exploitation of industrial workers was guaranteed not primarily by external overseeres, but by a high degree of self-control. On the one hand, this compulsion is due to existential necessities – in this case it also applies to work which is not paid (like subsistence economy or housework). On the other hand it is due to social pressure and the internalisation of a working morale.
Work/Labour, as we find it today, has little to do with joy. The constant repetition of the same capitalist work is a prison for our abilities, it steals precious time. It leaves us only with “spare time”, which is there to absorb our inactivity. And even this is strongly commercialised – for the profits of a so-called “leisure industry”.
We are not making demands like “Full employment is the most important goal!”. Our aim is a fundamental criticism of what “work”, in a capitalist sense, is all about anyway. What´s the use of work? Who gains what? Our conception of “work” includes more than just paid work, it includes reproduction and housework as well. We are oriented not by the demands of capitalism, but by the demand of developing an emancipatory social climate.
We want to “liberate work”: Unlike common judgements, it isn´t the case that people who are “out of work” don´t want to get involved in any activity (in addition to the invisible reproduction field which is necessary anyway). Life and society (re)produce “living work” even without the silent compulsion to earn money. This isn´t possible within the system, but only if you go beyond the inner and outer limits of the system. This means individual, but especially collective rejection of work (as far as possible) and the attempt to (self-)organise opposition.
We criticise the demand for full employment – but are there other demands which can rather help us overcome the system? The demand for a basic salary for everyone is more likeable, because thus, there would be no more compulsion to earn money. But in the current situation of capitalism a basic salary also means to support capitalists indirectly, because they would have to pay lower wages. Anyway, the discussion is only beginning…
Another topic is the discussion about referring to national concerns in the countries of the EU. Nationalism (be it on a nation state level or EU-level) is nothing we can refer to. On a nation state level, nationalism means discrimination of migrants, emphasising “one´s own culture and tradition”, chauvinist behaviour towards other “cultures”. On a European level nationalism means surveillance of all outer EU-borders in order to make them “leakproof” (as it happens in Austria now), it means a Europe-wide standardisation of police methods in order to fight so-called illegal immigration, “organised” crime, drug traffic,etc. (All of this is laid down in the Schengen treaty which should come into effct in Austria on 1st of April ´98.)
The ideological pseudo-struggle about the “EURO” also plays an important role: it isn´t pure coincidence that the richest countries produce the strongest opposition against the EURO. People are supposed to fear the poor, who could benefit from a weak EURO. For leftwing people, the question EURO – yes or no – should be secondary. There are no own values clung to “money”, but only those values that produce social conflicts everyday. This means that the values that are clung to “money” can be changed. “EURO” is only an expression of an abstract value which dictates human relationships. “Money” is still “money”, whether it is called EURO or “Schilling”.
Even if a great ammount of trade still happens within the EU, the development of capitalism already goes beyond European borders. A struggle against the EURO involves two dangers: On the one hand, there is the danger of supporting national concepts and institutions, on the other hand the danger of a fixation: European institutions as a new limited and limiting field of activity. The Unions, as well as political and social movements were always restricted to nation state contexts – despite all internationalistic rhetoric. For both EURO-opponents and supporters there is the danger of remaining within a European level. Our aim is to make it clear from the very beginning, that we have nothing to do with national concepts – be it a nation state or the EU.
A social union (as demanded by reformists) is nothing else than a conventional social democratic keynesianistic project on a European level: a transfer of nation state concepts. Projects like this can only work when other parts of the world are excluded. This is already superseded by the development of capitalism, but it is also a step towards a new kind of nationalism/racism (like in the concept of “struggle of cultures”).
Pro-European supporters of a social union (“competitive Europe”) find themselves shoulder to shoulder with opponents, who want to organise work/labour on a nation state level (“Austria first”).
A fixation on this topic increases the pressure (which is already strong) on those who have a job (“accept lower wages to keep the job”) and it also puts pressure on those who are out of work to take any job. With the job situation getting worse, the institutionally organised compulsion to work gets stronger.
One aspect of the discussion about the EURO are the criteria of stability, which are allegedly necessary to keep the currency stable. This is all about putting through neoliberal programs, which are necessary with or without EURO under the pressure of international capitalism. Alternatively, they have their sights on a redistribution within the individual states. Yet the (neoliberal) demands of rightwing populists are very similar to those measures demanded by government in order to put through the EURO.
As for the social measures allegedly necessary for putting through the EURO: it has to be made clear that problems are not caused by the EURO, but by the development of capitalism. Thus, the movement against the EU-summit should put a main emphasis on the struggle against social cutbacks in general, with or without EU.
The EURO could founder on a big social opposition in the individual states of Europe, so that neoliberal measures cannot be put through, so that the EURO is not “stable” enough according to capitalist criteria. But the EURO could also founder on other reasons: if the EURO founders because there are “good” arguments against it which have developed in the richer nations because people fear the new currency could be “weak” or if the arguments are based on sentimentality for the own currency and identity, there will be only nationalistic (or regional) narrow-mindedness left.
The EU-summit provides us, radical movements, with a dilemma: if we are focussing on a struggle against EU-institutions, nationalistic movements (esp. in rich EU-countries) can take advantage of it. If our main emphasis is “another Europe”, we support reformists who want to create a Europe of different cultures in different nations, especially if we are dealing with a “critical accompanying” of the ruling class.
To support struggles against concrete injustice (be it regional or international) can be a way out of the dilemma. This includes a struggle against measures of everyday capitalism, like strikes or demonstrations against the redundancies at Renault Vilvoorde, but it also includes opposition against all the consequences of European policy, like racist measures (e.g. restrictive anti-migration laws) which must be seen in direct connection with the Schengen treaty.
There is still almost one year left for us to prepare for the EU-presidency, or rather the EU-summit. We won´t waste this time, we will meet and work continuously from now on. Of course next year, it won´t be over from one day to the next – capitalism and its European form will still exist then, most probably. Therefore, international alliances of antiracist, feminist, independent groups, initiatives of people out of work, action groups etc. have to combine and exchange forms of opposition – as a long-term project.
2. EU-presidency: work/labour and money
When Austria takes over the EU-presidency next year, it will be necessary to protest not only against the latest social cutbacks caused by EU-policy. Campaigns of such kinds can be expected from the Unions, the Churches and all kinds of abstruse groups. Various nationalists will also take the opportunity to spread their reactionary propaganda.
Radical leftwing criticism must not be restricted to current events, but we must include the EU in general – as a capitalist project – as well as Austria as a nation state. We must make it clear that:
On the one hand, Austria as a nation state is not at all willing to protect “its” proletariat from exploitation by “non-Austrian” capitalists, but Austrian capitalists will use their state Austria to gain a competitive advantage from a repression (which is adequate from their point of view) of the Austrian proletariate.
On the other hand it is exactly in accordance with Austrian capitalists´ wishes to push ahead European integration in order to assert themselves against competitors with the help of the EU.
Both options require an increased “class war from above” to make work cheaper and thus to raise profits.
The conception of work/labour is necessarily a central point of a campaign dealing with Austria´s EU-presidency, taking into account the orientation of the EU and its capitalist policy. The EU simply is a capitalist project to exploit labour more efficiently. Putting work/labour in the centre means to propagate a struggle against work/labour. There is no existence more wretched than that of a labourer. Capitalist work is always alienated work and you can never gain from it. It is always an overexertion as a means, it never satisfies any needs directly. Work/labour means to sell yourself. And it doesn´t help to “expand” the term; find a positive meaning which includes things that don´t fit in capitalism. Reproduction is (partly!) seperated from the exploitation of labour and therefore it is not regarded as (social) “work”. This is useful for capitalism, because certain work is supplied more or less for free. Capitalism uses so-called “superstructural phenomena” like religion, family, various cultural crap etc. so that this work still serves its capitalist purpose. And there is almost nothing which can´t be subordinated to this purpose. And the more it seems to be critical, admonitary or even revolutional, the better its function as being integrable into the exploitational context. And isn´t it really splendid when the people involved don´t know anything about this function.
All these battles about EU, EURO and globalisation are nothing more than a cunning attempt at covering up an enforced class war of capitalists against workers. So both fractions, defenders of any national culture and identity as well as propagandists of “tearing down borders” and of European integration, are parts of the same strategy: an increased exploitation by (also indirect) cuts in wages, improvement (Verwohlfeilerung) of capitalist circulation by reducing “bureaucratic borders”, a split of the working classes by of nationalism and racism to make use of regional differences in the social structure of society.
All of this is not new: Neither capitalism nor exploitation have changed much. Of course: capitalist propaganda is efficiently spread: “The end of history”, the fall of the Berlin Wall, victory. And now there should be nothing else. And what´s new about it? Capitalism controls the world market – that was old hat even in the days of Lenin. Capitalism affects all areas of life – the basis of Marx´ criticism of capitalism (Kapitalkritik). And this is new: the totalitarianism of products (Waren) is declared a law of nature, hidden in the genes or somewhere, and totalitarianism only means to equate fascism with communism. Any usage of the term “total” (won back by the revanchist reaction) is rejected – especially within the Left as well – and therefore the global trap is presented (suited to the media and talk-show-compatible). And an anti-capitalist policy can´t work like this. A denial of class war by reinterpreting it implies the impossibility of liberation from exploitation and suppression.
It isn´t nationalistic to be against the formation of a new “super state” which will have a monopoly on violence/power that is modernised and extended by the introduction of new instruments of power (Schengen treaty!). Just as it isn´t internationalistic to guarantee free trade. Cause it is surely not the intention of the EU to support or obstruct the united boozing of Finnish and Portugese people. And it isn´t the object of the EURO to spare us the nuisance of exchanging money in our holidays. And there is one thing that EURO, Schilling and money in general have in common: we have bread etc. not because of money, but at best in spite of money.
As an absolut wareform (Warenform) money expresses the human existence of a total ware. Here it doesn´t matter whether the money is called EURO or Schilling. But that doesn´t mean that it doesn´t matter that capitalists put a new reserve currency on the world market. Neither Schilling nor Austria can protect you from exploitation. A struggle against the EURO cannot mean a conservation of the Schilling, but a struggle against money – as such. The name doesn´t matter, what matters is the economic power/violence which presents itself in this special manifestation of money as EURO. And the EURO will be a more efficient means of power than the Schilling ever was.
About the campaign: We could ask ourselves: who do we want to reach with our protest? Do we want to celebrate an “autonomous” festival of opposition? Or do we want to struggle together with those who are on the receiving end of EU, labour and EURO? If we choose the latter, we have to destroy some illusions. Which is arduous, no doubt. We have to convince people, by agitation and propaganda, in other words: public relations work in every form, but massively. This means radical political criticism, carried out with strictly legal methods. Why? Because we can achieve incomparably more, because we can reach incomparably more people, because we could really change something politically. This is all about instigating the widest public debate about the EU. About the fact that the EU isn´t simply an economic alliance, but a new form(ation) of state, a new world power, which is incomparably more powerful than the old nation states ever were and which therefore can cause incomparably more damage. We think that there is every chance of leading a political campaign against the EU during Austria´s presidency.
Brief Edited Reply
Thank you very much for your e-mail and we return your anarchist greetings!
As you probably know, there is also an attack on welfare benefits in many European countries, this being one of the reasons for the riots in France in 95/96. In the UK, the New Labour government is experimenting with USA style ‘workfare’ schemes, where you have to work for your benefits. This is only really being attacked by anarchists, as many of the left-wing parties have a labourist ideology. That is why your comments about the need to attack the idea of work under capitalism are so important.
The point made about the danger of siding with the nationalists accidently, by opposing the European Monetary Union is also important.
Members of the ACF were on the Euromarch in Amsterdam this year. One criticism we have of the Euromarch is, again, the problem of calling for fairer jobs, more employment & a minimum wage by the Left and trades unions. In Britain, even if there is a minimum wage, this will exclude people aged 18-25, who will also be the main group the New Labour government is targetting with its ‘New Deal’, which includes workfare and work for companies or the local government, disguised as training.
There are also plans to take action against the G7 summit in January, which has been convened to discuss employment issues in the EU, under the presidency of Tony Blair.
I hope to hear from you soon,
For revolution and an end to wage slavery.
Mike (ACF Computer Network Secretary).