The publication of the manifesto in September by the former Czech president, Václav Klaus, and signed by various European politicians and academics, which criticised an article by Daniel Cohn-Bendit, the German Green Member of the European Parliament, was not the first occasion the two men have crossed swords. In December 2008, a famously bad-tempered exchange took place between them in Prague Castle, on the eve of the Czech Republic’s assumption of the EU rotating presidency. Klaus was attacked by a trio comprised of Cohn-Bendit, an Irish deputy and Hans-Gert Pöttering, the then president of the European Parliament, for having had contacts with Declan Ganley and his “No to Lisbon” referendum campaign in Ireland in 2008. Klaus responded robustly, accusing Cohn- Bendit of behaving in a manner which reminded him of the Soviets.
In his September manifesto, Klaus took Cohn-Bendit to task for an article he had published in the New York Times, which announced the launch of a movement called “Europeans Now” and whose slogan is “Young Europeans, unite!” The manifesto called on the peoples of Europe to cast aside their national differences and to move to “the next stage of European integration”. Cohn-Bendit and his co-author, an Austrian-American public relations consultant based in Paris, wrote: “The nation- state is fast becoming an obsolete political structure.” They called for Europe to embrace “a new, post-national era” as the pre-condition for the continent’s survival and said they wanted to see a “transnational, transgenerational, transpartisan, grassroots and crowdfunded movement to take European integration to the next level”. Irony is evidently not their strong point: apart from their choice of vocabulary, which seems to owe as much to the Rocky Horror Picture Show as to The Communist Manifesto, the two authors seemed to find nothing odd in publishing their rallying cry for Europe in an American newspaper, or in the fact that, aged 68, Cohn-Bendit is hardly in a position to speak on behalf of the young.
But the latest sparring between the man who dominated Czech politics for 20 years and the man whose name will forever remain linked to the events in Paris in May 1968 is not a mere clash of personalities. It is instead a deeply ideological confrontation which throws light on the great European drama of the 20th century, the battle between internationalism and the nation-state. In this conflict, the experience of communism and its defeat play a decisive role. However, that role is often misunderstood and misrepresented. In my view, President Klaus is the only European leader who understands the counter-intuitive truth that the post-Cold War ideology of the end of the nation-state through the free market, espoused by Cohn-Bendit and all pro-Europeans, and the pre-Cold War ideology of communism are, in fact, closely related.
This truth is not understood because of the caricature which is often made of the ideological battle known as the Cold War. According to this caricature, a statist system in the East was defeated by the forces of liberty in the West. Like many caricatures, it contains some truth; but it also obscures the true relationship between Marxism-Leninism, on the one hand, and the state and the free market on the other. In particular, it is a mistake to believe that Marxism-Leninism was a statist doctrine. Whatever the practice may have been, Marxism-Leninism was, on the contrary, radically anti-statist. Like the French revolutionaries before them, Marx, Engels and Lenin believed the state was only an instrument of repression. They argued that man would be free only when the state had withered away, as it surely would as a result of the ineluctable laws of history and economics. For Lenin as for Marx, the future of mankind was to be found in internationalism and cosmopolitanism. Marx made it clear that he supported the forces of world-wide capitalism because he was convinced that they would tear down the traditional social structures of family and nation. Engels argued that the destruction of the nation-state was the necessary precondition for “the free and spontaneous association of men”.
In contrast to this anti-statist leftism, conservative political movements have always argued in favour of the state – that is, in favour of the particular structures and habits of political societies which have grown up over time and which determine, at least in part, who individuals are. Conservatives reject the abstract universalism and the sheer indeterminacy of internationalism, in favour of the reality of human life. Edmund Burke famously defended not only “the little platoon” but also the great social contract uniting the living and the dead, i.e. the nation whose life transcends that of the individual, and which unites him with his ancestors and with future generations. Conservatives are aware that political life is not determined by choice alone but rather people are born into a nation they have not chosen, just as they are born to parents they do not chose.
The Cold War caused this old distinction to appear to break down. East and West cross-dressed. While the supposedly internationalist East in fact became autarkic, statist and socially prudish, the supposedly conservative West profiled itself as the more progressive of the two blocs. It not only beat the Soviets in material terms – the very issue over which Khrushchev laid down his famously foolish challenge to Richard Nixon in 1959, when he said, “We will overtake America and then, as we pass, wave bye-bye!” – but also, in effect, tried to be more left-wing than the official leftists. It did this in many ways, including by waging a modernist cultural war against the Soviet Union and its satellites, which were derided for promoting classical symphonies and realist painting long after the West had adopted atonal music and modern art. Equivalents of the Beatles east of East Berlin provoked censorship and banning.
In the 1980s, the confusion deepened with the arrival on the political scene of the twin ideologies of Thatcherite privatisation and of European integration. The rivalry between these two projects obscured their ideological closeness, like the rivalry between liberalism and communism itself. Just as Mrs Thatcher had declared that she wanted to “roll back the frontiers of the state”, so Jacques Delors caused the frontiers of the states of Europe to be rolled back by means of the single market. Delors introduced his ambitious Single European Act in the same year as the Big Bang revolutionised the financial sector in the City of London, and ultimately it was the Thatcher revolution which brought grist to Jacques Delors’ mill.
By the time of the events of 1989, therefore, international liberalism was very much the dominant ideology in the West. In the minds of many Western politicians, globalisation was (and remains) an instrument for dismantling the nation-state and for changing society. These political actors agreed with the diagnosis of the brilliant former communist, Milovan Djilas, who wrote in The Fall of the New Class that “Every Marxist, going back to Marx himself and forward past Lenin, regarded the creation of a world market and all that it brought about (strengthening each and every link among peoples, tearing down the barriers between nations, etc.) as a progressive fact of capitalism and a necessary condition for proletarian internationalism itself and the true convergence of peoples in socialism”. True Marxists, in other words, were anti-Soviet.
This new hegemony of international liberalism was partly the result of the change in generations. The libertarian ideology of 1968 had a massive influence in Western Europe in the 1980s and 1990s, when those who had been students in the 1960s came to power. But it is often forgotten that such people were often anti-Soviet because anti-Stalinist. Like Trotsky, they hated Stalin for his social conservatism and for having abandoned the project of world revolution. Although orthodox (pro-Moscow) communist parties remained strong in various countries across Western Europe, the future political class which started to wield power and influence in Europe in the 1980s came largely from the various anti-Soviet communist movements which had so prospered in the West. I am thinking of people like Cohn-Bendit himself, who denounced les crapules staliniennes of the CGT Trade Union in 1968; the anti-Stalinist former communist, Bernard Kouchner, who became Foreign Minister of France under the supposedly pro-free-market Nicolas Sarkozy; the former Maoist leader, José Manuel Barroso, now president of the European Commission; and intellectuals like the former Maoists, Bernard-Henri Lévy and André Glucksmann. Jürgen Habermas, prophet of the end of the nation-state and a product of the neo-Marxist anti-Soviet Frankfurt School, is also a case in point.
Just as the anti-Soviet left was completing its long march through Western institutions, a similar movement was taking place in the East. Critical Marxists (critical, that is, of the actual regimes in power in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, but not critical of Marxism as such) played a key role in discrediting the practice of communism in Eastern Europe while upholding much of the theory. Many of the leading dissidents, especially those popular in the West, were leftists. Such people continue to be fêted today – the Sakharov Prize is awarded by the European Parliament to icons of political correctness like Nelson Mandela, Alexander Dubcek, Ibrahim Rugova, Reporters Without Borders and so on – while patriotic anti-communists like Solzhenitsyn or Alexander Zinoviev have been dropped down the memory hole. The fame and popularity in the West of Václav Havel was precisely due to the fact that he unambiguously came from the political and cultural left; and to the fact that he profiled himself, in the 1990s, as a vigorous supporter of the post-modernist end of the nation-state advocated by NATO in justification of its bombing attack on Yugoslavia.
So broad and deep has this movement been, one might even say that Trotsky’s expulsion from the USSR in 1929, and his subsequent emigration to the West where he lived until 1940, has proved to be more of a spark igniting the ideology of world revolution than Lenin’s arrival at the Finland Station was. It is certainly true that the post-national, one-world ideology of John Lennon has proved more powerful, in West and East, than the same ideology peddled by Vladimir Lenin. The events of 1989, therefore, did not mark the victory of conservatism over communism but instead of international liberalism over more or less nationalist socialism. As a poster in a Prague shop window in 1989 eloquently pointed out, “89” is nothing but “68” turned round.
Indeed,as communism collapsed, the great fear in the West was that free nationhood would cause instability. Just as the British Prime Minister, John Major, attributed the civil war in Yugoslavia to “the collapse of the Soviet Union and of the discipline which that exerted over the ancient hatreds” (he had evidently never heard of Tito’s split with Stalin in 1948), so Helmut Kohl forced Europe to centralise its power over its nation-states supposedly in order to prevent war. The strengthening of the EU by means of a “hard core” of states, tied together through the euro and exerting a gravitational force on the periphery, was the geopolitical response to the perceived danger caused by the void left by the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact.
In fact, precisely the sort of “convergence” between East and West which people like Andrei Sakharov and Edward Shevardnadze had been calling for in fact occurred. While many people in the East eagerly adopted the tenets of capitalism, which they rightly regarded as more socially revolutionary than communism, in the West many people eagerly adopted ideas which had previously been dismissed as Soviet propaganda, especially the concept of revolution and the doctrine of peace through internationalism. A huge panoply of international structures was put in place, from the EU and the euro to the supranational New Strategic Concept of NATO. Yugoslavia was attacked and international tribunals were set up in the name of the very humanity eulogised by the Internationale. Colour revolutions, inspired by May 1968, were supported and often paid for by the West against the reactionary authoritarianism which supposedly still emanated from Russia. As one commentator wrote, NATO became a peace movement.
Moreover, just as supranational organisations were strengthened – everything from the OSCE and international tribunals to the New Strategic Concept of NATO and the creation of the WTO was inspired by supranationalism – so, within states, non-governmental organisations were promoted, especially in Eastern Europe, with the aim of making it difficult for states to deviate from the post-modernism Europe and Euro-Atlantic structures now demanded. Official organs – especially electoral commissions and the forces of law and order – were discredited, as if there was something inherently suspicious about the properly constituted structures of a state. Meanwhile, the proliferation of human rights law also took political disputes out of the properly public arena and put them instead in the hands of judges (not necessarily with any legal training) deliberating behind closed doors. This strategy worked for a long time and has met its first major hurdles only recently, in the persons of Viktor Orbán and Vladimir Putin, who instead plead in favour of traditional Christian values and a strong state rooted in national history.
By means of these various movements, the post-national ideas so dear to Cohn-Bendit in his youth – when he declared that the French tricolour was there to be burned – have now migrated from official status in the chancelleries of Warsaw Pact countries, and from unofficial status in political science faculties all over Western Europe and the USA, to become the dominant ideology of our times. It is because these left-wing intellectuals have moved on to Marx’s core belief about the withering away of the state that they have abandoned traditional Marxism, which in any case they looked down on as too working-class. Perhaps the most obvious indication of how these ideas now hold sway is the way in which the entire communist experience is now reduced, in the general imagination, to nothing but Russian imperialism. In an incredible intellectual conjuring trick, the fashionable and progressive ideology of communism, which inspired people for generations from Havana to Hanoi, and which continues to hold power in the most populous country in the world, has now been transformed into nothing but a reactionary geopolitical game played by Moscow.
Václav Klaus has never bought into any of this. Unlike the dissidents so fashionable in the West, Klaus never supported any kind of Marxism, reformed or otherwise. A noted Eurosceptic, he saw the dangers of replacing a defunct supranational structure with a new one. He has expressed strong hostility to the global warming lobby, which he considers a threat to liberty just as serious as communism. He opposed NATO’s attacks on Yugoslavia and Libya. He has maintained cordial relations with the new Russian leaders and with Russia generally; he has been reserved towards the German Christian Democrats who call the shots in Europe but who harbour within their ranks people who bear historic grudges against the Czech state. Remarkably for a liberal economist, Klaus understands the importance of the state as a source of national identity and, of course, of law. For all these sins, he is excoriated by the post-modern left of which the Franco-German ecologist Member of the European Parliament, Dany the Red, still remains one of the most emblematic representatives.