"The Frightening Birth of Europe"
Stefan Bertram Lee September 21, 2022
Part One: The Strength of a Europe Under Attack
‘Europe’ is apparently under attack. On September 4th, 2022, President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky warned that ‘This winter, Russia is preparing for a decisive energy attack on all Europeans.’ In the BBC article reporting on this statement, they said that “Zelensky was speaking hours after Russia said that its main gas pipeline to Europe would not reopen as planned.” “Europe accused Russia of using its gas supplies to blackmail Europe amid the Ukraine conflict, which Moscow denies.” “Europe is attempting to wean itself off Russian energy in an effort to reduce Moscow's ability to finance the war.”
What is most remarkable about the BBC reporting here is the apparent subject making accusations against Russia. There is no mention of the European Union, and no particular European countries are named. Instead, the accusations are attributed to Europe and Europeans in general. It appears that in the fires of Ukraine, Europe has finally been born. This newly Ukrainian-born Europe, the alleged representative of democracy and freedom, is born under attack from oriental despotism.
The creation of ‘Europe’ as a nation out of ‘Europe’ the continent, required first reaching a totality. No longer is there, as ironized by Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek, a border between Mitteleuropa and the Balkans, a border between peace, freedom and democracy, and despotism and chaos. Instead, there is just Europe and not-Europe. Even the punished state of the 1990s, Serbia, is waiting patiently to join the EU. Other states like Hungary bark and shout and kiss Russia and China upon the cheek, but in the end, march in lockstep with Europe. Europe is united, even if this required the amputation of the largest nation in Europe from the Europe-concept.
As Europe was taking shape, formed out of the apparently free action of European states, which took the progressive step away from narrow nationalism to something greater, it was easy enough for some on the left to rebel, even if most failed even here. For example, Owen Jones briefly advocated for leaving the European Union, but when confronted with the political prospect in reality, he balked. He needn’t have worried. The events of 2022 have demonstrated that being in or out of the European Union doesn’t really matter.
In the minds of progressive soon-to-be Europeans, from the dearly departed ‘People’s Vote’ to ‘Volt Europa,’ the European Institutions that will form the backbone of the European Nation State, represent the only force holding back narrow nationalism within their more limited nations. Given the rise of right-wing Nationalism within Europe, this assessment isn’t precisely wrong, but any escape into Europe will amount to moving from one form of nationalism to another.
Europe is under threat! And so every squishy dissident runs to the European Union and NATO, for now, we are at war there is no need and no desire for a loyal opposition. Those states who were in the European Union but not NATO rushed off to join, while Britain reestablished its fidelity to Europe despite Brexit. The invasion of Ukraine has unified Europe via the image of a Russian threat, but we shouldn’t confuse the image of a threat to Europe with actually being under pressure. The invasion of Ukraine has shown that the barking of states like Hungary is empty, it has shown that the ‘neutrality’ of peripheral states like Sweden is a mirage, it has shown that Brexit was meaningless. The extent of political division in Europe is what percentage of Russian gas imports you’d like to keep and what percentage of Russian tourists you would like to keep out.
The war is a victory for Europe. The only political downside for Europe is that the conflict places a limit, perhaps a temporary limit, on European expansion. From its inception, the limits and boundaries of the European Union were never clear, with even primarily Asian states like Turkey included in its expansion plans. However, now there is a real material boundary. The border of Europe is now being contested, but it is clearly present. The border of Europe is being drawn by Russian and Ukrainian tank columns. Still, while an open frontier can be useful for an empire, so too can a hard barrier. After all, such barriers are useful for holding back barbarians. And this is the function that Russia is fulfilling for Europe. Putin is the despot over the hill whose existence will justify all manner of emergency measures in Europe
Part Two: Good Europeans?
Nietzsche counseled us to be good Europeans. He did so in reaction to the idea of being a ‘good German’. He did so in opposition to Wagner and antisemitism. To be a European was, for Nietzsche, to see past narrow nationalisms, and to escape the vision of doom Nietzsche could sense, and that was realized in the first two world wars. However, now we are at a moment where the project of Europe is nearly completed, it has become impossible to be a Good European. To be a Good European today is to embrace what Nietzche aimed to reject. To be a good European today is not to reject nationalism, but rather to loyally follow the greatest achievement of nationalism to date, the construction of ‘Europe’ from myth into reality.
Before the invasion of Ukraine, it was easier to argue that Britons had nothing more in common with a Lithuanian than they did with a Moroccan. But today, the commonality between Lithuanian and Britain has been achieved. The unity of Britons and Lithuanians is a concrete one. It is physical. This unity is built out of concrete border walls and the corpses of the drowned. The unity of Europe has been established with batons and bullets, and above all, flows of capital and resources from state to state. While we Britons might feel closer to Americans culturally, we are materially linked with Lithuania via rocketing gas prices. Our unity is objective. Our subjectivity will soon follow along. After all, every national project that works is a self-fulfilling prophecy.
The consolidation of Europe was never possible during the cold war. During the cold war, it was the ‘European Community, a set of diverse nation-states, that were united by a terrifying Russian threat and shared economic interests. Today there are no mere shared interests, instead, we have a continent united under the God that is the market, and the devil that is Russia. Europe becomes ever more real as Ukrainian and Russian blood is poured out into the Inhulets river, its borders formed from destroyed tanks and shattered bodies. Who is European becomes ever more real, and almost more importantly, who is not. New visa measures restrict Russians in Europe physically, while they are gradually excluded mentally. The possibility of there being a figure who was both a ‘Good Russian’ and a ‘Good European’ simultaneously can barely be comprehended. We can no longer imagine Russia in Europe, and therefore Russia is cast once again as the ‘prison of nations. The acceptance of the territory that currently forms Russia into Europe can only be imagined by first dissolving Russia. Each Oblast would first become a new nation; only then could the Russians, in a piecemeal fashion, be swallowed up by Mother Europa.
Perhaps this vision thrills some of us on the left. But, we should remember that once this process begins, there is no stopping it except by external force. When the prescient Nietzsche was filled with disgust with the German victory and his service in it in 1871, the rest of Germany was thrilled. The Germans could not recognize that they were merely 80 years away from their own defeat, a much more harrowing defeat, one that would permanently stain Germany. Victory over Russia would create no more of lasting peace for Europe than victory over France created for Germany. The great enthusiasm our rulers have for the European project comes from its capacity to organize and coordinate the imperialistic impulses of capitalism in Europe. The appeal of ‘Europe’ is not based on a vision for peace among men, but upon the capacity to develop an imperial power that does not rely upon America. As the world heats up, we should not delude ourselves that this projection of power will have even the veneer of peace about it.
Part Three: A Russian World?
We must always of course, resist simple moral reversals. Europe casting Russia as a pure villain should not lead the left to recast them as heroes. ‘Russkiy Mir’, or the idea of the ‘Russian World’, represents exactly the same vision as the idea of Europe. A Russian world would also require the transformation of what was once an association of Republics in the USSR into a single nation. A Russian world would also take the form of a modern capitalist empire.
Aleksandr Dugin is held up by many in Russia and the West as a man who thinks outside of modernity, and who sees beyond the frame defined by capitalism. He is presented as something alien, whether he’s considered a menacing villain or a great dissident. Everyone seems to agree that he is, proposing something radically different from what’s on offer in the west. However, his supranational nationalism is exactly in alignment with the EU and with European Progressives. The only distinction, the only disagreement, between Dugin and the Europeans involves where the border should be drawn, but not over what kind of limitations should be put in place. And both Dugin and Europe agree on how the border should be constructed.
Of course, the difference between ‘Europe’ and ‘Russiky Mir’ is that Europe is going to win and Russiky Mir lose. This competition between Europe and Russia over Ukraine has a different character for each player. For Europe, taking Ukraine would amount to little more than the addition of one more peripheral state. For Russia, taking Ukraine is perceived as a life-and-death struggle. Ukraine is the second largest part of what was meant to be the Russian world. At best, the Russians have lost half of Ukraine since 2014 and demonstrated the weakness, mental and physical, of the Russkiy Mir Concept.
But we should be entirely clear that those who say that because ‘Russkiy Mir’ knocks upon the door, we must run to Mother Europa are wrong. The reverse is true. The fact that Russia is not yet dead, but still attempts to impose her will on the borderlands of Europe with force, and that Europe resists this force with force, signals the need to flee from this new idea of Europe. If Europe’s expansion were resisted weakly, then we would merely have the problem of a vast capitalist empire, but when strongly resisted by Russia, Europe's expansion rushes toward nuclear war.
The recognition of this, the fearful totality of world blocs united not by convenience and ideology, but truly united, as supranational national states, is opposed by many. Some vague recognition of the new totalized Europe was behind Brexit and informsTrumpian ‘America First’ sentiment. Even some Western Socialists have attempted to resist the new totality, embracing the style of left-wing nationalism of the second and third world and rebranding it for themselves as ‘patriotic socialism.’ But most Marxists hopefully still understand that there is no going back. We can only ever go forward. When faced with the fearful project of a united Germany ready to roll across Europe, the first Marxists did not make any attempt to defend the Kingdom of Bavaria and Hannover against ‘Prussian Imperialism.’ Rather they emphasized that they belonged to no one but the international working class. Back then, Marxists reacted to Prussian Imperialism by organizing international working class politics within the German State.
For us, it is far too late to be running from one nation to another, be it those who flee from their own nation for the dream of ‘Europe’, or those who flee from the nightmare of ‘Europe’ to their nation. Our task remains as it was when Socialists were confronted by the nationalisms of the 19th and 20th centuries, to reject joining with any bourgeois camp, and instead participate in the struggle of the workers for the workers. There is no other path forward for socialists other than internationalism, true internationalism, not the one that bears its name in service of Western Imperialism.