The European Left and the Global South: An Existential Take
Matteo Cappasso, Orinoco Tribune, October 28, 2023 —
When looking at the current geopolitical moment, it is a rather painful exercise to figure out what role Europe and the remnants of its progressive force can play. Can Europe become a somewhat progressive force for the good of the world, or is the entire continent destined to be consummated by the NATO-led appetite for war?
If we were to start with the writings of a rather influential figure in European leftist circles, Slavoj Žižek, the situation would be rather grim. When discussing the war in Ukraine and the more recent series of coups in Africa, Žižek has not minced his words in various op-eds. As for Ukraine, he called for a stronger NATO and the military defeat of Russia, arguing that “Pacifism is the wrong response.” As for Africa, he had no problems declaring that the nature of these coups is even more reactionary than French neocolonialism. Such opinions keep saying that, faced with two bad options, it is more advisable to opt for the lesser evil and it does not really matter what alternatives can emerge from the Global South, as they cannot really lead us out of this historical moment. Whether its NATO or French (neo)colonialism, the lesser evil is always tied to Europe and its so-called liberal values. To put it differently, it is like telling the Palestinians that supporting the “liberal side” of the Israeli protests against the proposed judicial reform will somehow improve their lives. Similarly, to entertain the idea that Russia and China are imperialist players in our current era also makes war palatable to the European working masses. After all, in such an inter-imperialist competition, it is better that we stay ahead of them.
Such political propositions incarnate the political and ideological crisis of Europe, which forcibly continues to hang on to a vision of the world in which the West remains the central site of civilization and progress. For these reasons, I believe that a therapeutic (and thus painful) moment of reflection is needed for Europe. I propose to engage with the work of the Egyptian Marxist thinker, Samir Amin, who already in 2004 was able to foresee that a major choice confronted Europe and its future. Locating Europe’s history in the world history of capitalism, Amin drew on Charles de Gaulle to describe how the continent was faced with a choice between two alternatives. On the one hand, there was the alternative of Atlantic Europe, in which Europe would become an appendage of the US project. On the other, there was the option of a non-Atlantic Europe, one which would be able to live peacefully with its neighbors, including Russia.
Back then, Amin suggested that this conflict over alternatives was still not resolved. If we fast forward to the present, almost twenty years later, I suggest that we can comfortably say that this conflict appears almost resolved. It has been resolved in favor of the Atlantic project. For some, this seems quite unsurprising, considering the umbilical cord that unites European colonialism to US imperialism. Yet, it goes without saying that, considering the visible decline of US unipolar dominance, the resolution of this conflict has not made the existence of other contradictions within Europe disappear.
Atlanticism has naturally consolidated the fascistic side of Europe. Once again, can we really talk about Europe not being fascist? In fact, we are perfectly aware that, for many countries of the Global South, it is hard to digest that Europe has turned fascist only now, because the history of colonialism and neocolonialism tell us otherwise. Yet, this new wave of fascism has new features as well. There are certainly overlaps between fascism today and that of the 1930s, but fascism today is also the direct result of the failure of the neoliberal project. Utsa and Prabhat Patnaik aptly point out that this new fascism is based upon three major conditions that enable its rise: first, the existence of a crisis, this being the crisis and decline of US imperialism, which is now faced with the rise of countries of the South, including BRICS+, that are demanding to be treated equally in the world; second, the incapability of the Western ruling class to overcome this crisis since it would mean accepting them as equal actors; and third, the complete state of disarray of the left in Europe. The latter is what I personally consider the most critical aspect.
The European Left appears lost, completely out-of-sync with much of the world. The Italian thinker, Domenico Losurdo, argued a long time ago that the creation of so-called Western Marxism only generated a new form of cultural imperialism. By excommunicating most of the world (including the South and its state-led models of development) from the “true Left,” this conscious move has accelerated the end of Western Marxism. One of the key aspects is the increasing incapacity to differentiate between the importance of the national question for the development of progressive forces in the Global South (a key feature of anticolonial struggle) and the turn toward fascist nationalism.
Therefore, when discussing this new wave of fascism that is facing us, we could talk of a so-called fascism with European characteristics, the main features of which are twofold. The first is the increasing centrality of war to the economy of Europe. Ukraine is only the latest stage of this process, which includes NATO-led bombings of Libya and Syria, as well as the creation of “Fortress Europe.” While European ruling classes have developed a voracious appetite for war, they also completely forgotten about the plight of their working classes. In such a scenario, war is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it is indeed the response of the ruling classes to a crisis, telling us that war must be normalized as the most obvious and objective response. On the other hand, war also translates into chaos, it creates uncontrollable scenarios that might (or not) offer an opening for a progressive alternative.
A second feature is a renewed sense of an ideological mission for humanity. The war between NATO and Russia in Ukraine is attempting to revamp the same old discourse of democracy versus authoritarianism, reconfigured and adopted in other numerous scenarios (that is, Libya, Syria, Iraq, and so on). While this renewed wave of European-led salvation is not being digested silently by the working masses, it is nonetheless the ideological weight of war that impinges on the daily lives of people. On this note, we should also think about the disgraceful statements that the EU top diplomat, Joseph Borrel, has been making in recent times, that:
“Europe is a garden… Most of the rest of the world is a jungle, and the jungle could invade the garden.”
At the same time, as Atlanticism and fascism have consolidated, there are also new contradictions emerging. There is an increasing and clear division, usefully played up by various US administrations, between New Europe (comprising the ex-republics of the USSR and the Baltic states) and Old Europe (meaning France, Italy, Germany, and so on). Having emerged as an idea among numerous conservative political figures in the United States from Donald Rumsfeld to Victoria Nuland, this division alerts us about the existence of potential frictions. We have seen, for instance, how NATO chose Vilnius, Lithuania, for its last meeting and how the United States has been pushing to have the former Estonian prime minister head NATO. It remains rather unclear what the outcome of this contradiction is going to be, but it might only further fragment the regional project of the EU. In such a context, the war-driven economy is undoubtedly crashing down on the working and middle classes of numerous states in Europe as the increasing inequality and protests emerging in France and Italy demonstrate. Hence, while the objective conditions for revolt exist, the ideological syntax needed to articulate the goal of these protests is predominantly fascist. In other words, we go back to the starting point: the state of disarray in the European Left.
Overall, the state of Europe is worrying because war is a major contradiction. While all the progressive forces must be focused on pushing back against the Ukraine war, there is a complete division on such an important issue. Unsurprisingly, in his essay on contemporary imperialism, Amin bluntly stated that “The policy of Russia to resist the project of colonization of Ukraine must be supported. However, this positive Russian “international policy” is bound to fail if it is not supported by the Russian people. And this support cannot be won on the exclusive basis of “nationalism.” This war is not a football match; we cannot simply support one side or another, but must fight against the idea of war itself. Before leaving us, Fidel Castro, when referring to a possible US-led war on Iran, warned that “the US would lose the conventional war and the nuclear war is no alternative for anyone. On the other hand, nuclear war would inevitably become a global nuclear war.” These words resonate with the present conditions.
So, is the European Left an enemy of the Global South? Personally, I struggle to answer with a firm “No!” On the contrary, I am constantly faced with the fact that Europe, and the West at large, appear more and more as a jungle of fascism, breeding injustice and requiring something like Nazi fascism to hold itself together. If Europe is not on a path of soul-searching, this time it is going to become an enemy of humanity as a whole, not only of the Global South.
Matteo Capasso is Marie Curie Fellow between the University of Venice, Italy and Columbia University, @capassomat.