The Brit Left and the EU: sleepwalking towards racism and nationalism

November 20, 2012 at 2:39 pm (Europe, Jim D, labour party, left, populism, Socialist Party, stalinism, SWP, Tory scum)

Will the “left” play into Gove’s hands on Europe?

Since the 1960’s it has been an article of faith for most of the British left to sort-of oppose the EU and its foreunners, starting with the Common Market. The basis of this ‘sort-of’ opposition has sometimes been superficially leftist (“it’s a bosses club,” etc), sometimes psuedo-democratic (“Brussels bureaucrats,” etc), but always fundamentally foolish and reactionary: based on the ludicrous notion that separating a country from the rest of Europe will insulate it from the laws and trends of global capitalism. Very occasionally, the more fanatical of the “left” opponents of the EU let slip their real agenda: a Westphalian defence of the nation state and opposition to all forms of supranationalism.

The results of this confusion on the “left” have usually been pretty irrelevant, as the anti-EU agenda has always been set by the nationalists and racists of the hard-right. But it has resulted in grotesque spectacles like the No2EU campaign, the Socialist Party and the RMT supporting the People’s Pledge, an anti-EU campaign drawn up by right-wing Tories.

There is some evidence to suggest that the saner (or more cynical, depending on how you look at it) elements of the anti-EU “left” are aware of what a foolish stance they’ve adopted, and are doing so mainly for opportunistic reasons. But, opportunist or not, the anti-EU “left” seems likely to soon be put on the spot. With the eurosceptic Tory right (encouraged by Michael Gove) on the offensive and polls showing a majority of UK voters wanting to exit, Cameron seems almost certain to go into the next election offering a referendum on continued membership. And given Miliband’s craven appeasement of the eurosceptic right, Labour may well do the same. Then it will be make-your-mind-up-time for the UK’s anti-EU “left.”

I described the UK “left” opposition to Europe as “sort-of” opposition because it rarely spells out where it stands on the central issues: do they welcome and support the re-erection of barriers between nation-states and a “repatriation” of powers, resulting in the abolition of swathes of employment protection legislation? Most of the anti-EU “left” limits itself to “no to the bosses’ Europe” sloganising, thus avoiding the central issue. They have their cake and eat it: they chime in with populist-nationalist sentiment amongst the most backward sections of society (including lumpen elements of the working class) while suggesting that they’re not really anti-European, just against the “bosses'” character of the EU.

As if the EU is somehow less capitalist, anti-worker and neo-liberal than its component member states. In Britain more than any other EU country we have seen successive governments, Labour and Tory, repeatedly objecting to EU policy and legislation as as too soft, too “social”, too concerned with civil liberties and workers’ employment rights. That wilkl be the basis upon which the anti-EU camapaign around a referedum will be conducted.

So now we have to ask the idiot -“left”: do you really want to see the EU broken up? Think about the consequences seriously, for once in your lives.

The freedom for workers to move across Europe would be lost. “Foreign” workers in each country from other ex-EU states would face massively increased, and state-approved, racism.

There would be a big reduction in the productive capacities of the separate states, cut off from broader economic arenas.

Governments and employers in each state would be weaker in capitalist world-market competition, and thus would be pushed towards crude cost-cutting, in the same way that small capitalist businesses, more fragile in competition, use cruder cost-cutting than the bigger employers.

There would be more slumps and depression, in the same way that the raising of economic barriers between states in the 1930s lengthened and deepened the slump then.

Nationalist and far-right forces, already the leaders of anti-EU political discourse everywhere, would be “vindicated” and boosted. Democracy would shrink, not expand. The economically-weaker states in Europe, cut off from the EU aid which has helped them narrow the gap a bit, would suffer worst, and probably some would fall to military dictatorships.

Before long the economic tensions between the different nations competing elbow-to-elbow in Europe’s narrow cockpit would lead to war, as they did repeatedly for centuries, and especially in 1914 and 1939.

The left should fight, not to go backwards from the current bureaucratic, neo-liberal European Union, but forward, towards workers’ unity across Europe, a democratic United States of Europe, and a socialist United States of Europe.

3 Comments

  1. Roger McCarthy (@RF_McCarthy) said,

    Keynes is supposed to have said “When the facts change, I alter my opinion – so what is it that you do?”.

    My fundamental problem is that much of the above could have been taken almost verbatim from the first serious political book I ever read: Tom Nairn’s The Left Against Europe published 40 years ago.

    But Europe has changed vastly in those 4 decades and the EU which now operates as the political arm of the German central bank imposing monstrous politicies of austerity and privatisation across Europe
    has even less in common with the somewhat progressive federalising EU of the social chapter which many of us were converted to supporting in the late 80s and early 90s as it does with the Common Market so much ink and hot air was expended on attacking and defending in the early-mid 70s.

    Even more than national governments (which are subject to popular pressure) all such trans-national institutions are just special committees of the bourgeoisie and just as in my lifetime we have seen capital become truly as opposed to just rhetorically global, so it is shifting the organs through which it rules from the national to transnational states.

    While there is some abstract logic to arguing that this is the plane on which they must be opposed, in reality that is nothing more than wishful thinking as a broken and divided Left is incapable of organising itself internationally and has no practical option but to fight nationally.

    Above all how would these old, old arguments now sound in Greece?

    If you were to make them to a crowd occupying Syntagma Square you would at worst have rocks thrown at you and at best be laughed at.

    The bottom line is that with the EU as much as with Israel we have to recognise that not just in our lifetimes but in the last half decade the world has changed radically and irrevocably.

    So positions that did make real sense in the 90s (or in embryo back in the 70s) simply no longer fit the monstrous new world that the global plutocracy is making for us.

    And yet both the AWL and the Know Nothing Left it defines itself against remain locked in the places they assumed in the days of Thatcher and Major if not Wilson and Heath.

    I am not at all sure what our position on the EU now should be (other than that we need to turn first to comrades in Greece, Italy and Spain where they actually have a mass opposition to find it) but I am sure as can be that these exchanges are not doing anything useful to formulate one.

  2. Jim Denham said,

    “I am not at all sure what our position on the EU now should be (other than that we need to turn first to comrades in Greece, Italy and Spain where they actually have a mass opposition to find it)”…

    But the comrades of Syriza would seem to broadly agree with the postion I put forward in the main post, wouldn’t they, Roger?

    Reality has indeed changed since the 1990’s, but certain fundamentals still hold true (re the EU and also Israel, for instance). Yours seems to be a counsel of despair, Roger.

    • Roger McCarthy (@RF_McCarthy) said,

      Of course Syriza agrees with the forward to a Socialist United States of Europe slogan – so would I suspect would most of the anti-EU leftists you lambast (even the Socialist Party is in favour of a ‘European Socialist Confederation’).

      But a slogan is not a position.

      A Socialist United States of Europe is in 2012 just pure fantasy politics.

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