Globalisation and the Enlargement of the European Union: Austrian and Swedish Social Forces in the Struggle over Membership

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Andreas Bieler Globalisation and the Enlargement of the European Union: Austrian and Swedish Social Forces in the Struggle over Membership Routledge, London and New York, 2000, pp. xii + 196. ISBN 0-415-21312-6 ( hbk ) L55.00

Antonio Gramsci has become a fashionable reference for a time now. He is a major influence in the field of cultural studies, an influence present, if unacknowledged, even in the post-, anti-- Marxist strains within this field developed in recent decades (Jameson, 1995: 620-21; Johnson, 1995: 576). His thought underpins the work of Stuart Hall, an influential author (who now claims he was never a `classical, orthodox' Marxist, although Gramsci certainly was; Hall, 1995: 667). Gramsci lies behind the theoretical moves beyond Marxism by authors such as E. Laclau and C. Mouffe (the latter at least combines this influence, among others, with that of Carl Schmitt, a pro-fascist thinker). There is now even a `Gramscianism of the right', exemplified by A. de Benoist, a populist thinker identified with the crypto-fascist `New Right' (Eatwell, 1989: 73; Griffin, 1995: 346-9). And there is the burgeoning literature on international relations by the so called (by critics) 'Italian' or `neo-Gramscian' school, to which Bieler's study belongs. To be sure, nothing in Bieler's book suggests any connection with the other currents. It is a superb theoretical and empirical account of the problems of globalisation and supra-national institutional construction in the European setting, with special emphasis in the Austrian and Swedish cases, and reference to Hungary, Czechia and Poland in Eastern Europe. And it is cast in the familiar Marxist-Gramscian tradition. So Bieler has no difficulty in demonstrating the superiority of a neo-- Gramscian perspective over other theories of integration, like neofunctionalist or intergovernmentalist approaches.

What is it that makes Gramsci such a fashionable thinker for both left and right, and a strangely discomforting and disconcerting one, for that matter? I think the answer to this question lies at the heart of what is 'wrong' with Bieler's study. The argument of the book can be summarised as follows: `Throughout the postwar era, Austria and Sweden remained outside the EU, because both countries considered membership to be incompatible with their neutral status and a threat to their social-democratic achievements' (p. 153).

Against the background of globalisation (global structural change brought about by the transnationalisation of production and finance), Austria and Sweden `experienced the end of the Fordist accumulation regime and endured dramatic economic recessions' in the 1980s (ibid). In this situation, internationally oriented forces of labour and capital colluded to push forward entry to the EU, forming a `historical bloc' in Austria to develop a hegemonic project committed to that end. In Sweden, the structural power of transnational capital made entry the logical last step in the protracted, decades long, hegemonic project launched to destroy the Swedish model. In both cases, the aim was to restructure the economy and state-society relations in a neo-liberal way, something EU membership would make irreversible. The fractions of capital and labour are, basically, the `social forces' alluded to in the subtitle.

That they appear here as `social forces' instead of `social classes' hints at the core of the problem. Because to focus on those categories produces some unwelcome results. The distinction (and opposition) between classes is blurred and mutual processes of class formation are lost from sight. …