They did end up singing "The Internationale" at last weekend’s meeting in Toulouse - the members of the French Left Party. With a raised fist, as is the tradition, C'est la lutte finale (let us the face the final fight). Up until then the party leader hadn’t missed an opportunity to declare war on "Actually Existing Internationalism" – the European Union. France is no longer an "independent country" according to Jean-Luc Mélenchon. The French people must once again decide for themselves: "faced with the choice between the Euro and sovereignty, we choose sovereignty!"
In some corners of the European Left the discourse has become more deeply radicalised since Alexis Tsipras agreed to a new aid package and all the conditions that went with it. As a result left-wing nationalism has emerged condemning the EU as the cold-hearted perpetrator of endless neoliberalism.
The head of the French Left Party is not alone in his rhetoric. Even in Germany the latest decision on the Greek crisis was seized upon by Sahra Wagenknecht to cast fundamental doubts on the EU. According to the designated parliamentary leader of the German Left Party everything is moving towards "more and more integration which is wiping out every nation’s sovereignty". The former Greek finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, accused Wolfgang Schaüble in DIE ZEIT of trying to "nullify the sovereignty of the European People" through his plans to introduce a European finance minister (ZEIT no. 29/15). And in the UK the Left’s newest star and potential new leader of the Labour Party, the 66-year-old Jeremy Corbyn, had been swaying between fighting for or against the UK leaving the EU, refusing to commit to one or the other. He’s since decided he wants to stay but only to reverse market integration. The mixed feelings of the Left towards deeper integration within Europe are nothing new. Ever since the creation of the Single European Market in the early nineties they have strongly suspected a neoliberal EU. When France and the Netherlands held a referendum on the European Constitution in 2005, it wasn’t only Mélenchon, still a member of the French Socialist Party at the time, who fought against the step; the Dutch socialists voted "no" as well.
What is new, however, is how openly and resolutely the radical Left are playing the national card. They are re-establishing a national framework through which they can force through their own economic political approach – a lesson learned from the failed attempt by Syriza to push the EU to the Left. At the centre of left-wing nationalism we find a backward-looking, nostalgic super-charged sovereignty. Re-nationalising banks or businesses, as labour’s Jeremy Corbyn has demanded, goes hand in hand with re-nationalising politics.
In doing so left-wing nationalism has put forward one recurrent argument which is beyond reproach: democracy. Some time ago the political theorist Gerrit Voerman analysed how democratisation instead of nationalisation became the main ideological focus of the Left. He said the Left "believe that the democratically legitimate state has to protect its power against the obtrusive European Union." All too similar arguments are now coming from Wagenknecht, Varoufakis and Mélenchon. In their eyes only national states retain democratic legitimacy, which European politics supposedly lacks. It doesn’t seem to worry them that their rhetoric and ideologies are moving ever closer to the extreme right. "Brussels does not dictate to us!" is now the slogan that unites right- and left-wing nationalists.
And according to the left-wing nationalists the European people are suffering under the yoke of one thing in particular: the Euro. On this point they're entering territory occupied by radical right-wingers like Marine Le Pen and Geert Wilders and consequently, calls for a 'left-wing Grexit' are becoming louder. In other words a Greek exit from the currency union determined by Greece in order to regain (economic) political sovereignty. And it’s no coincidence that the fractures caused by the ‘for or against’ Euro debate ultimately caused Syriza to split. Mélenchon has already discussed a "break" which he now sees as essential. On 12th September he wants to consult Varoufakis and Oskar Lafontaine on the issue – a small 'internationale' of left-wing nationalists.
Translated by Jonathan Brackett