The end of the tart called Europe?

I remember some time back in 2003 or thereabouts, pundits were wondering whether a renewed and united Europe might challenge US dominance, acting as a counter-weight to the last one standing after the Cold War. The drive to unity seemed strong, eastern European countries were joining in the grand project, the constitution was being bounced around, economic figures seemed promising. How quaint all that discussion now seems. The truth is that ever since 1945, Europe has been the US’s tart. While the USA enjoyed global economic power, it could buy it’s tart (one of many) fancy clothes, nice cars, penthouse apartments, in exchange for a few ‘services’. And Europe could pretend that it was doing reasonably well on its own, that it was a respectable dame, to the extent of thinking it might go out on its own. But now that the pimp has begun to find cash a little short, to realise that its control of the streets is slipping, the tart has found that the good life really is over. All that the rolling crisis since 2008 has done is strip off the baubles, repossess the fine cars and evict the tenant from the penthouse.  (Here it is worth remembering that as soon as a major power needs to use military force, it has already begun the long slide downhill; the reason is that use of force is a signal that others dare to challenge it. That would mean the decline of the USA began in the 1970s).

The problem is that it is taking a while to realise this. Like passengers on a ship who refuse to believe that the alarming tilt of the ship is more than a roll, people assert that the ‘euro will not collapse’, that ‘they will do something’. Might be worth going up on deck to see what is going on. Or, to shift the metaphor, all that the EU managers are left with is trying to emulate God at the moment of creation: merely saying that the crisis will be averted, that the Euro will be saved, that Europe will survive, is somehow regarded as enough to make it actually happen.

I would suggest that the Greek situation (or indeed Spanish or …) is part of this larger picture. Rather than some short-circuit that may revive Europe, it is better seen as a clear indication of the marginalisation (or peripheralisation) of Europe on the world stage. Why? The problem is not Greece but Europe as a whole, which is pretty much cactus – as any time spent there soon reveals. Further, the possibility that there may be a revolution in Greece, even if it is crushed initially, signals precisely that marginalisation. Recall that all of the successful communist revolutions have happened on the global peripheries thus far. But rather than make the most of this situation, a goodly number on the Left remain residual Eurocentrics. Having given up on other parts of the globe as the locus of any progressive promise, they hold vainly onto the belief that Europe will lead the way. Better to embrace the marginalisation and go hell for revolutionary leather.


16 thoughts on “The end of the tart called Europe?

  1. It seems that after 1989, Europe didn’t really get anything from the US. Even before that, once the Marshall Plan had ended, Europe was far less economically reliant on the US than Egypt, Israel, Pakistan, Iraq, Colombia, Mexico, etc. are to this day. Those funds haven’t diminished, as far as I know, post-2008 (having escalated post-2001). If anything, it’s resource scarcity, food prices, and new neo-liberal tax policies combined with old welfare states that have caused instability around the world in recent years. (Not that I’m disputing a relative decline in both US and European [not to mention Japanese] power and affluence.)

    1. Granted. But I am not talking so much about direct assistance as about the restructuring of the global economy (Fordism etc) that eminently suited the USA and propped up European dependency. Of course, at a deeper level, it is a manifestation of the perpetual crisis under which capitalism operates, crisis that is managed in various, better or worse, ways. And I should have written ‘Western Europe’, since when we still use ‘Europe’ when we really mean its westerly region, that part of the world better known as the small peninsula on the Eurasian continent.

      1. Some off-the cuff thoughts.

        I’m not so sure about straightforward European ‘dependency’ in economic terms where the US is concerned (in the specific context of the eurozone) Certainly there is military dependency.

        Perhaps the creation of the eurozone reflects an attempt on the part of the dominant western European powers (France-Germany) to make the rest of Europe into their own periphery? Why?

        The US is the declining hegemon, China the emerging one. For the next couple of decades there will be an interstitial economic space between the competing hegemons. Tying oneself to the declining hegemon is not a promising strategy, and one does not want to cast one’s fortunes too early with the emerging hegemon.

        The best way to exploit this interstitial space if one is a European economic power is to create your own European periphery, to dragoon their economies so that these are chanelled into the formation of your own surpluses.

        In the end it is going to come down to the control of surpluses, and if I were a German political strategist I’d be aiming for the scenario just described.

        Alas centre-periphery economic relations can unravel, and this is exactly what is happening between Germany and its Mediterranean periphery (Greece, Spain, Italy, Portugal).

      2. Good point re the internal dynamic of Europe. It seems to me that the expansion of the EU into eastern Europe, following on the heels of deindustrialising that zone, initially provided the much-needed expansion of the periphery within Europe (in Germany of course that is internal). One could argue that Greece, Spain et al are or were being pushed into that status as well. But not everyone likes playing by the rules. I think it’s also a case that Europe as a whole has been semi-peripheral (to use Wallerstein’s terms for a moment) on a global level for quite some time. The test case here is Germany, where all is not quite as good it seems. Thus far at least the financial structures have enabled the flow to go to Germany at the expense of the others, but that is also under threat.

      3. Tuppence worth of further thoughts.

        The core-periphery distinction needs significant reformulation given the fact that capitalist accumulation is now occurring through two sub-systems of accumulation– one production-based and the other finance-driven—each with their own cores and peripheries. The two sub-systems interact and even overlap, but in ways that are uneven and somewhat ad hoc.

        To mention the production based sub-system first. This is still largely national, and by and large the standard core-periphery distinction still applies here. Hence Germany is the core of the European sub-system, with the rest of Europe (but especially eastern and southern Europe as its periphery).

        Where Asia is concerned, China is clearly at the core, but its periphery can be divided-up in terms of a set of diverse economic functions which extend beyond Asia: Africa because it supplies raw material for China’s economy (as does Australia); and even the US because its debt-driven consumption draws in a huge proportion of Chinese exports, and therefore the US is semi-peripheral with regard to China.

        Where the Americas are concerned, the US is no longer a core centre of production– we can anticipate that it’ll be overtaken in the next 2-3 decades by Brazil, with Argentina also featuring in this scenario (since 2002 Argentinian economic growth rates have been double those of Brazil’s).

        The finance-driven sector has an almost completely different character. Its cores are city-based, unlike the production-based cores which have nation-states as their foci: Singapore is the Asian core, London is the European (but also the Commonwealth) core, and New York is still the financial core for the entire world.

        Interesting divergences of interest are revealed by this two-strand model:
        Europe has two cores: Germany (production) and London/UK (finance), which perhaps accounts for the tensions and ambivalences between the two in the current euro crisis.

        Asia also has two cores: China (production) and Singapore (finance), but since the size of China’s economy is vastly greater than Singapore’s, here China is clearly dominant overall with Singapore belonging in general to a kind of semi-periphery.

        The Americas: The US is living on borrowed time, for now staying above water because of its huge superiority in the financial sub-system worldwide. But this can be overturned overnight. E.g. if China is really annoyed by some US action (over Taiwan say), all it has to do is throw into the currency markets $1 trillion of its US dollar currency holdings. This will involve massive setbacks to China’s economy, which it can survive at great cost, but the US’s economy will be sunk like a stone. The impact on the rest of the world will be catastrophic, since most other economies hold dollar reserves. But China is in a position to survive here, whereas the US is not. It is clear who calls the tune here.
        Moreover, resources and capacities in the one sub-system can compensate for deficits in the other. The prime exemplar here is the US, which uses its primacy in the financial sub-system to compensate for what it lacks in the production sub-system. The UK does something similar vis-à-vis Europe, as does tiny Singapore with regard to Asia.

        All in all: For now the US is the hegemon in the one subsystem, China in the other. At any rate, although the model outlined here is just a cursory sketch, the standard core-semiperiphery- periphery needs substantial modification.

      4. So rather than M-C-M being also (possibly) a cyclical pattern of capitalism, it may also describe competing simultaneous systems. That makes sense, since my experience and study of container ships – the prime mode of moving solid crap around – indicates that production is higher than ever.

  2. Yeah, the use of unilateral force, the pre-emptive strike, the Bush doctrine, etc, only came about after other states no longer respected the tactics of the Cold War policy of containment. This coincides precisely with the rise of more ardent and fervent religious commitment and rhetoric; religious ideology expands as real power contracts. Or to take Bruce Lincoln’s example from the decline of the Achaemenian Empire: “Sooner or later, the day comes when the king is driven to brandish his critic’s shit as evidence that the man was a demon, the king himself presumably being shitless and divine.”

    1. I adore that book by Lincoln. It impelled my work on Haggai, Zechariah & Malachi. I learned Old Persian in part because of that book. I wish all my colleagues studying Persian period biblical texts would read it.

      1. Ditto! Except I confess that I’m hypocritical about learning Old Persian – I now realise it is shamefully understudied in BS comparative work, and I haven’t got around to it. One day…

      2. Hmmmmm… I was walking around today wondering how to get into studying Old Persian.

        What do you recommend, if you’re still reading, Dr. M?

      3. Thank you. That book looks like it will do the trick nicely.

        So are you learning Avestan in your next sabbatical?

      4. Fascinating how language passions take us on different paths. I always have one or other language that entices me to learn it – for about half an hour a day. Danish, now Russian (can’t beat the cursive script’s total divergence from the printed) and Mandarin. They are, of course, the two great languages of communist revolutions.

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