The long recessionary phase initiated by the financial crisis of 2008 led, by lasting longer than the recessionary phases of previous decades, to two interrelated political effects: the rebellion of the petty bourgeoisie, which took a thousand forms and became practically global, and – where this rebellion was difficult or was poorly redirected – the emergence of cracks, if not fractures, between the heart of the state and its political apparatus. It is within this framework that we must understand current European concerns about the Rule of Law.
The most relevant case was Turkey, where Erdogan and his Islamist movement had already represented since the 1990s the rise of a new petty bourgeoisie willing to reform the Kemalist state in its image and likeness. Under the strength of this class were the new opportunities that Turkish imperialism was developing in the new Turkish republics of Central Asia and the expectation of progressive integration into the EU market. The sudden access to new markets first facilitated the transformation of a part of that small, peasant, commercial bourgeoisie into an industrial bourgeoisie – it was the time when Turkey became Europe’s China – and, almost immediately, turned into a new aspirant to lead finance capital.
But as soon as economic expectations were dashed, dissent over the imperialist orientation strongly emerged. The hard core of the drive towards Central Asia, the Hizmet, a religious brotherhood acting as a real party and bank of that social class and more linked to the US, began to question Erdogan. The political battles, first of Erdoganism alongside Hizmet against Kemalism, then of Erdoganism against both, would inevitably translate into a progressive deepening of the fracture between the judicial and military core of the state and the political apparatus in general. Already in 2006 the government had serious frictions with the prosecutors and was accused of attacking the rule of law.
But the outbreak of the financial crisis in 2008 accelerated the process towards something that shortly before was unthinkable. The clashes with the prosecution would be followed by new political battles and purges at different levels. The fracture became more acute from 2009 onwards, and it was becoming entrenched and radicalized in the regime’s attempt to shape the state from within the political apparatus. The factional battle reached its climax with the failed coup of the US-backed Hizmet in 2016. The coup was followed by a season of massive purges and a referendum consecrating the passage to a presidentialist republic which, by the way, razed the established judicial power to the ground. After this true countercoup, Erdogan, already president, led and systematized the purge and centrifugation of judges, until he ended up creating a disciplined, aligned, and proactive judiciary.
The rift reaches the EU
If the Rule of Law issue has become a central issue of the conflict between states and national capitals within the EU, it is because it is the main German argument to discipline the leading countries of the Visegrad Group which are also, economically speaking, true German semicolonies. But the issue is far from being a mere invention in the propaganda battle of the different imperialist interests. If Hungary and Poland have reached such a level of confrontation between their judges and governments, it has been the product of a phenomenon similar to that of Turkey.
In both countries, the parties currently in power arrive at the government in 2010 and 2015 respectively, supported by a petty bourgeoisie that is increasingly furious and cornered by the global crisis. Constrained by the judicial apparatus and the laws, from the first moment they will begin a series of legal changes that point to the heart of the organization of the state: the constitution, the electoral system, mass media and opinion-making. The fracture with the judicial heart of the state became inevitable. In 2018 the battle rages: three thousand of the eight thousand judges in Hungary resign in protest against the executive’s pressure. The president creates a parallel judicial circuit for everything concerning the political apparatus where the government itself chooses who will become a judge. Poland will follow, with a judicial reform that begins with massive retirements and which is in reality a true battle plan to remake the structure of the state and to remould and submit the high bureaucracy, the true thread of continuity of Polish state capitalism since the 1920s.
Once again, the same model as in Turkey: the rise of parties that represent the revolt of the petty bourgeoisie clashes with a state that is essentially conservative and a judiciary that exercises counter-power. The crisis accelerates the fracture between the political apparatus of the state and the heart of the judiciary, which ends up culminating in massive purges and the imposition of authoritarian reforms in the internal organization of the state.
In Spain the fracture between the political apparatus and the judges begins with the last PP government. The revolt of the independent Catalan petty bourgeoisie went in crescendo since 2012 with the Rajoy government unable to redirect it. The 2017 fake declaration of independence put the state as a whole in real existential danger. The government suspended the Catalan autonomy in extremis and organized elections in the hope of normalizing the situation. But the defeat of the unionist forces in the elections of December 2018 consolidates the political defeat of the state and gives way to a generalized discouragement in the Spanish bourgeoisie which only the Christmas intervention of the King manages to revert.
From that moment on, what is set in motion is the response of the state as such, outside of the government and the political apparatus. The Supreme Court sets in motion the indictment of the independentist leaders: , also called the Llarenazo/a>, which will end in the trial and conviction of the accused. But the bang on the table of the state is not enough to heal the open wound with the political structure. On the contrary, after the fall of the Rajoy government in a censorship motion justified by its latest judicial scandal, the first Sánchez government deepened it, leading the parallel battle between the judges to the government. Then, when a deal with the PP was imminent to change the leadership of the judiciary, everything was blown up reflecting the set of petty kingdoms the state was turning into. The political apparatus itself is already in a chronic crisis and keeps threatening to collapse.
After two elections and a brutal outbreak of the crisis, Sánchez throws a direct hit at the judiciary: he modifies the law on the election of the General Council of the Judiciary to reduce the necessary majority and does so with the parliamentary support he has. The proposal immediately opens a partisan battle. The PP, Ciudadanos and Vox present themselves as the last guardians of the foundations of the 1978 Constitution and ask the EU for protection. Meanwhile, Vice President Iglesias is campaigning with his European partners to denounce the judicial harassment against the government of which he claims to be a victim due to his own judicial affairs, including the financing of the party. He threatens to provoke a new political crisis and to demolish the government to which he belongs if the Supreme Court asks for his plea.
Where is all this about the Rule of Law going?
The Spanish case reflects, with particularities typical of the territorialization of the petty-bourgeois revolt in the country, the same mold we have seen in Turkey, Hungary and Poland. The progression itself is significant: from the periphery to the center of Europe.
The judicial raid on the homes and private offices of the former Macronite ministers Olivier Véran, Agnès Buzyn and Sibeth Ndiaye, and of the former Prime Minister himself, Édouard Philippe, investigating whether the government abandoned its functions during the first weeks and failed to stop the pandemic, points out that in the near future the fracture between the judiciary and the political apparatus will continue to spread throughout Europe. And with it the temptation to remodel the state to the needs of their governments. Moreover, the famous ruling of the German Constitutional Court last May, declaring unconstitutional the collaboration of the German central bank with the ECB in the policy of massive purchase of assets, suggests that the states can even defend themselves from the institutional transformations imposed by the permanent forward flight of the different European imperialisms within the EU.
It is normal that Brussels, beyond seeing an excuse to discipline the eastern nationalists, is genuinely concerned about all this. Already at a discursive level it would mean an undermining of the European positions: imperialist tensions are increasingly violent and European war ideology pretends that the EU is the last democratic bastion in the face of Russian authoritarianism, Chinese totalitarianism and American drift. But the most important thing is that the new wave of the crisis has an increasingly distant horizon of escape, the revolt of the petty bourgeoisie can only get worse, governments have less and less room for maneuver and capital has more urgent needs.
That is, the Turkish or Hungarian developments show a horizon in which the economic crisis is translated into a political crisis and the political crisis into a crisis of state, or what is the same, a crisis of cohesion of the ruling class. And that, ever more likely, is dangerous for all concerned at a time when the measures to revive capital – different forms of transferring income massively from labor to capital – risk rekindling the class struggle of workers.