Marc Glendening is Campaign Director of the Democracy Movement
Expect the history wars that have broken out this week between Michael Gove and Tristram Hunt over the causes of the First World War and whether or not Blackadder Goes Forth should be shown to school children during the anniversary year of the start of the conflict to intensify.
World War One is in the process of becoming intensely politicised, since the EU has already started its drive to use the conflict to justify a further centralisation of power. During the run-up to the Euro elections and a possible UK referendum on membership, the pro-EU lobby is seeking to unleash a big scare campaign to parallel the one it is running about Britain becoming economically isolated should it choose independence.
For example, the President of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz, when asked to comment on the Gove-Hunt dispute said – I assume with absolutely no sense of irony – “One essential difference between 1914 and 2014 is that we have the EU to ensure that democratic values cannot and will not be undermined … European integration is the answer to the catastrophe of the first half of the 20th century, where our continent was facing wars, the Shoah [Holocaust], totalitarianism, poverty and injustice.”
Brussels can really plumb the depths of bad taste concerning this type of stuff. In a last ditch attempt to swing the French and Dutch referendums in 2005, Margo Wallstrom, a Commissioner, organised a publicity stunt in a Nazi concentration camp and said: “There are those today who want to scrap the supra-national idea. They want the EU to go back to the old purely intergovernmental way of doing things. I say those people should come to Terezin and see where that old road leads.” Mass race-based homicide, needless to say, did not follow on the streets of Paris or Amsterdam following the declaration of the results.
In its preparation for a possible referendum. the pro-independence movement needs to take on the great foundational myth of the EU – namely, that it has saved Europe from war and genocide. We must argue that it was the defeat of German and Austrian imperialism in 1918, and of fascism later, that ultimately paved the way for the peace. Nation-violating ideologies caused wars, not the existence of independent countries per se. The subsequent peace has had absolutely nothing to do with the EU, which in any case did not start to manifest itself until about ten years after 1945, and which has had no responsibility for collective European security.
We need to show that it is precisely the project that the Brussels elite is pursuing with unhinged messianic vigour, one that combines an up-dated form of imperialism with the emasculation of democracy, that could lead our continent back to dark times. Not, obviously, full-scale wars – but probably the unleashing of extremely unhealthy forces within some of the member states. This is likely to intensify as the EU gains more control in the years ahead without the democratic mandate of referenda. It will be the Martin Schulz types who we should then point the finger at if fascistic parties do well in the forthcoming Euro elections and beyond.
Our second key task is to deconstruct the Brussels thesis that an international system of diplomacy based on nation states led to the two big Twentieth Century wars. The EU is very keen to challenge and silence an analysis of WW1 that identifies the specific genesis of the conflict in terms of the ideological motivations of the German political elite. Tristram Hunt is not just smart but charming. He took the trouble to come and speak to a small society I help run, the Sohemians, about his great biography of Engels, so I’m something of an indebted fan.
However, his attack on Gove serves to bolster this disingenuous line. In his response, Hunt argues that “any attempt at a First World War blame game is futile”. He tries unconvincingly in a very post-modern way to muddy the waters by talking about “multiple histories” and whether Russia and Serbia were also factors. He is, however, entirely right when he says that we shouldn’t engage in an orgy of music hall circa 1914 “Bash the Hun” jingoism, but then who is saying we should?
Hunt and his allies therefore seek to establish a moral equivalence between many of the countries that went to war in 1914. When I participate in the schools-based and other debates, the claim is often made that Brussels has succeeded in achieving peace by binding together France and Germany. The implication is that France was equally to blame for having been invaded in 1870, 1914 and 1940. Just be thankful, then, that Belgium, Holland and Luxembourg signed the Treaty of Rome, who knows what they might have done had they not.
Of course, this post-modernist getting away from the cause and effect specifics of the causes of World War One doesn’t work so well when it comes to the Second World War. Even the most X-Factor obsessed youth knows exactly who started that one. So, the Brussels apparat has to employ a slight modification. The trick now is to present fascism as having been the logical extension of the commitment to the nation state – namely, ‘nationalism’. This is conveniently defined not just as a belief in upholding national sovereignty but as a belligerent ideology that wishes to visit aggression on outsiders. Though, interestingly, no explanation is given as to why such an ideology has only manifested itself in some countries and not others.
There is another problem with this strategy: Fascists didn’t believe in nations. There is a spooky parallel between the mindset of many within the pro-EU camp of today and the outlook of fascists in the inter-war period, as John Laughland in his book The Tainted Source of Europe: The Undemocratic Origins of the European Idea (Warner Futura, 2000) made clear. An international system based on sovereign states was seen by fascists, among others, as having been analogous to dangerous chemicals being kept within close proximity of each other in a rather poorly-managed laboratory.
What was apparently required instead were overarching, transnational structures that would keep the individual elements under control. Fascists applied their rejection of pluralistic liberalism at the level of society to the international sphere. They wanted their idea of the omnipotent corporate state writ large on a continental basis. As Laughland pointed out, this was why so many of the early enthusiasts for the idea of European political unity; the Belgian Paul-Henri Spaak (one of the so-called ‘founding fathers’ of the EU), together with Delors, Mitterand and d’Estaing, had personal histories of fascist involvement. Here, the British Fascists under Mosley’s leadership called for ‘Europe a nation’.
Fascists were among the trailblazers for Pan-European unity. The vast majority of EU enthusiasts are not politically totalitarian and certainly not racist; they have no desire to stomp around in strange uniforms (though there is something of a flag fetish problem in Brussels). There are, however, authoritarian tendencies within the EU elite: a rejection of the idea of an international spontaneous order based on flexible, voluntary co-operation and trade. There is an enthusiasm for top-down, technocratic structures that strictly contain the expression of democracy – an clearly, too, a desire to prevent the peoples of Europe from deciding in referenda if they wish to be part of a Pan-European system of governance.
Jose Manuel Barroso has himself famously claimed that this emerging system has ‘the dimension of empire’. It is a new manifestation of this concept: not built this time like the Roman, Habsburg, British and other empires on violent conquest, but rather by a coming together of a new political class, a cabal from across the EU that wishes to by-pass democracy within their own countries. The EU is an neo-imperial structure that emanates from a class interest, not a military force emanating from a particular people. It is a post-modern empire built on the foundation of treaties and passerelle clauses to which the ordinary peoples of the member states are not invited to give or withhold their consent.
The First World War was kicked off by an imperialist ideology and one hundred years later a more successful, subtle and far less bloody, thankfully, version of it is in the process of creation. But what will it lead to?