Reply to Owen Jones on the EU

July 15, 2015 at 1:15 pm (capitalism, Europe, Germany, Greece, Guardian, internationalism, Jim D, populism, socialism, workers)

Dear Owen,

Despite your relative youth, you are (to judge by your piece in today’s Guardian) representative of an old UK left — and the left in a few other European countries, such as Denmark — who have for decades been anti-EU but in recent years have kept fairly quite about it for fear of seeming to ally with Ukip and the Tory right. They have suggested, though rarely said openly, that the left should welcome and promote every pulling-apart of the EU, up to and including the full re-erection of barriers between nation-states.

The EU leaders’ appalling treatment of Greece, and Tsipras’s capitulation has given a new lease of life to the anti-EU left despite the fact that while in Greece and Southern Europe the EU is a force for neoliberal austerity, in the UK no-one can point to a single attack on the working class that has originated with the EU against the will of a British government: indeed the EU has forced reluctant UK governments to enact limited but real pro-worker legislation.

You seem to think the left can have its cake and eat it: to chime in with populist-nationalist “anti-Europe” feeling, which is stronger in Britain than in any other EU country, but also cover ourselves by suggesting that we are not really anti-European, but only dislike the present neoliberal, capitalist character of the EU.

As if a confederation of capitalist states could be anything other than capitalist! As if the cross-Europe policy of a collection of neoliberal governments could be anything other than neoliberal!

In Britain more than any other country we have seen successive national governments, both Tory and New Labour, repeatedly objecting to EU policy as too soft, too “social”, too likely to entrench too many workers’ rights.

Even the threat of withdrawal that you propose is a soft-soap, “tactical” gambit. In principle Britain could quit the EU without disrupting much. It could be like Norway, Iceland, Switzerland: pledged to obey all the EU’s “Single Market” rules (ie: all the neoliberal stuff) though opting out of a say in deciding the rules; exempt from contributing to the EU budget but also opting out from receiving EU structural and regional funds.

That (as I presume you’re aware) is not what the serious anti-EU-ers of left and right really want. They want Britain completely out. They want all the other member-states out too.

What would then happen?

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

Governments and employers in each state would be weaker in 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.

Despite your fantasy of a “populist”, independent left anti-EU movement, in reality nationalist and far-right forces, already the leaders of anti-EU political discourse everywhere, would be vindicated while the left – if not completely ignored – would be seen as complicit

The left should fight, not to go backwards from the current bureaucratic, neoliberal European Union, but forward, to a democratic United States of Europe, and a socialist United States of Europe.


Jim D


  1. Mike Killingworth said,

    Yup, socialists should abandon socialist utopianism for, err, utopian socialism.

  2. mark taha said,

    JIm, Mike -ever heard of the right to self-determination?

    • Steven Johnston said,

      Ever heard that the workers of the World have no country? That you cannot take away from them something they don’t have?

  3. Politics Tourist said,

    Is freedom of movement that great.
    You only get the freedom if the boss class allow it.
    Seems to me the EU says one thing and does another.
    Not unlike AWL.
    As for the left lining up with UKIP etc, didn’t the AWL/WRP do the same at the Scottish referendum.

    • Jim Denham said,

      Socialists in principle oppose all borders and certainly oppose the creation of new ones. That’s why principled socialists oppose the reactionary anti-working class bourgeois nationalists of the SNP and their deluded “left” bag-carriers.

      • Political Tourist said,

        Hmm, let’s blame Scottish voters for the Brit Labour Party being right wing.

  4. Laban said,

    “Opposing all borders” = “labour arbitrage by employers” = “lowered wages in UK”.

    “employers in each state would be weaker in world-market competition”

    *faints in shock*. How exactly is Starbucks or TopShop competing globally?

  5. Andrew Coates said,

    Spot on Jim.

    Owen may write the ballot paper in his head as much as he likes, but I find no evidence of an option in the Referendum for a vote for ” campaign would focus on building a new Britain, one of workers’ rights, a genuine living wage, public ownership, industrial activism and tax justice. Such a populist campaign could help the left reconnect with working-class communities it lost touch with long ago. ”

    “New Britain”: that just about sums up the “populism” of this unedifying rubbish.

  6. PW said,

    Odd to see self-described leftists and socialists opposing greater international economic and political integration, even on ‘progressive’ grounds.

    • Steven Johnston said,

      Capitalism is global and has been for hundreds of years! Since when does it need greater integration?

      • PW said,

        No one said capitalism needed anything. Try again.

  7. Political Tourist said,

    Greater political unity in a super neo con.
    Right on comrade.
    Spare a thought for workers in Greece who are finding out what the EU really means.

    • Steven Johnston said,

      But its not the EU that is imposing austerity on Greece its capitalism. All the Greek workers are finding out is what capitalism really means!

    • Glesga Keeping Scotland Free From Loonies said,

      What workers in Greece, they are moving onwards and out of Greece. Greece is now a State of pensioners some now without a pension. And all down to corruption by the right and the left. None of them could come up with an idea that you have to pay tax to have a decent society.

  8. Steven Johnston said,

    It hasn’t attracted too many workers in the last 150-180 years. How are you going to dispose of all that false consciousness?

    Mike, that is true, but the workers want what they are voting for, whether they get it is another story. Until they decide to try socialism I guess the left will have us running around on the treadmill, chasing the chimera of fairness in capitalism. Trouble is the system is weighted against the worker, no matter how you try to reform it. Welfare state? NHS? Bah, profits keep on accumulating, you’d think that they introduced these reforms to make economies more competitive…but that wouldn’t be true, would it?

  9. Jim Denham said,

    Mark Osborne of the AWL reports on the EU debate at the SWP’s ‘Marxism’ event:

    Last weekend, at the SWP’s much-reduced Marxism event, the SWP discussed the forthcoming EU referendum.

    Paul McGarr, one of their leaders, put the case for a “socialist no vote”. Having advocated this position in their paper, and — apparently — met significant opposition, the SWP top brass have declared a period of discussion on the question in the run up to their December conference.

    Ominously, he declared that this debate would take place, “in the best democratic traditions of the SWP.” And in the spirit of that tradition he began a 35 minute speech in favour of a “no vote”; those advocating “yes” were limited to three minutes each from the floor.

    It is not clear that the “yes” supporters found anything unusual about this procedure, although in the AWL the leadership would not be allowed such a privilege, and opposing views would be allocated equal time from a platform.

    Perhaps the “yes” supporters were just glad to get some sort of hearing. They were tentative and we got a glimpse of what they might expect as a couple of leadership supporters wound themselves up for rhetorical effect.

    McGarr told us the EU was a neo-liberal bosses’ club. He did so in such a way that made me understand he thought the vote would be on a question he’d written. Perhaps the choice in his imagination is: “Neo-liberalism or socialism?” The real choice, in the real world, will be between an existing EU, with all its faults, and a tiny, isolated capitalist Britain with a government led by Tories who are even worse than Cameron and a resurgent UKIP and fascist right.

    Why would socialists want to help that happen? Why would we want to help the far right to put up further barriers between the UK and the rest of Europe? Generally the job of socialists is to reduce and remove borders.

    McGarr and co. want us to make an equation between the Greek Oxi (No in the recent Greek referendum) and a British No. There are just two problems with this: 1. the questions are different; 2. what is popularly understood by Oxi-No is different.

    The 5 July Greek referendum was a vote on whether to accept the harsh austerity conditions advocated by the IMF, EU and ECB. The Greeks voted “no”, which was understood as a left vote made along class lines by the working class (despite some support from some of the smaller right wing parties). The UK referendum will be on membership of the EU (and, given the nature of the campaign, on our attitude to foreigners). A “no” vote in the UK will be seen as a vote for UKIP and the Tory right (despite support from some very small far left parties).

    A”no” vote in the UK will produce a big political shift to the right and an across-the-board assault on migrant workers’ rights.

    McGarr rubbished this idea, suggesting a possible attack on migrants is of little interest, as the EU is already racist against migrants fleeing Africa in small boats headed for Europe. However, EU withdrawal will do nothing at all to alter EU policy towards African migrants, but will do a great deal to alter, for the worse, UK policy towards Polish and Romanian migrants.

    McGarr went on to complain that those who are bothered about a “no” vote producing a racist backlash in the UK have illusions in the “yes” camp. McGarr told us it was absurd to think Cameron is an anti-racist!

    If I’d been allowed to speak I would have made a couple of very simple points on this matter. First, Workers’ Liberty has no illusions at all that Cameron is an anti-racist, which is why we told the SWP’s leadership it was wrong to get his signature on the founding statement of Unite Against Fascism. Second, while we have no illusions in the official “yes” campaign, it will be fragrant in comparison to the “no” campaign. All we ask is that the difference is noted.

    McGarr then told us his partner and his child are Danish. I guess Copenhagen is not so far away and perhaps he figures after a “no” victory he’ll be able to visit them during school holidays.

    Certainly he can’t possibly believe what he actually said: that a “no” vote will be a big blow against Cameron, and one which will throw open British politics and provide an opportunity for the left. Indeed a “no” vote will be a big blow for Cameron; the idea that Cameron’s fall will be to our benefit is fantasy. If Cameron goes after a “no” victory, someone worse will get his job.

    Finally, it is not clear to me that the SWP’s famous ability to sniff out the next recruit, if necessary by abandoning tiresome political principles, isn’t failing. As the referendum nears the “no” campaign will become more-and-more rabid.

    I can’t see radical students and youth being willing to go anywhere near a “Socialist No Campaign”.

    • John R said,

      Interesting article by Mark Osborne.

      As for “radical students and youth” being attracted to a “Socialist No Vote”, I think the “Left No” campaign will go along the SWP lines. Sadly, those Lefts at the top of NUS will go along with it.

      The slogans will go something like this –

      1. Support Greece! Vote No.

      2. No to the Boss’s Europe! No to Austerity! Vote No!

      3. Cameron says Yes! We say No!

      4. No to immigration controls!

      Any arguments about borders, Eastern Europeans and a stronger UKIP will be dismissed, as above along with a “Get Out of Jail Free” card (“Look we said we’re against immigration controls, didn’t we?”).

      I’ve still not seen or heard a definitive statement from the Corbyn camp as to how the man himself will vote. The irony is, if he goes “No”, those who think his campaign will help turn Labour and the UK to the left might well find that he helps UKIP and the Tory Right instead.

      Btw, I did email the Corbyn campaign a few weeks ago about his view on the EU Referendum. No reply has been received.

      • Mike Killingworth said,

        It’s a referendum in which the right wing controls both “yes” and “no”. This tells us all we need to know about the effectiveness of the British left.

  10. dagmar said,

    Jim writes to Owen: “It could be like Norway, Iceland, Switzerland: pledged to obey all the EU’s “Single Market” rules (ie: all the neoliberal stuff) though opting out of a say in deciding the rules; exempt from contributing to the EU budget but also opting out from receiving EU structural and regional funds.”

    Being in EFTA or the EEA doesn’t come for free (or for cheap) though: EFTA/EEA countries obviously don’t contribute directly (as members) to the EU budget, but they certainly do indirectly, as well as to the European Commission, via the fees for being in the EEA. And as there’s not much (note: not “no”) “money back” from EU structural funds it’s probably more expensive to be “out” than it is to remain “in”.

    There is also the EFTA court which can put member countries in line if they break agreements (Iceland is currently ‘on trial’ over the non-implementation of certain rules).

    One estimate (based on comparisons with Norway) suggests the membership fees of EFTA/EEA would be 2 billion Euro annually.

    There’s a bit more detail here:
    and at

    So the argument is more like: “It could be like Norway, Iceland, Lichtenstein, etc.: pledged to obey all of the “Single Market” rules though opting out of having (much of) a say in desiging the rules, while still significantly contributing indirectly to the EU budget (through Single Market membership fees) while opting out from receiving anything from most EU structural and regional funds.”

  11. dagmar said,

    My other comment has probably gone into moderation due to the links, but this was also a good quote

    “What’s happening in Greece should drive us towards greater solidarity, not less. We must join Podemos and Syriza in calling for the EU to be rebuilt, not retreat into our corner and cut off ties with our fellow Europeans.” – Caroline Lucas

    • Jim Denham said,

      Earlier comment now released from spam filter. Always let me know if that happens.

  12. Steven Johnston said,

    It’s a referendum in which the right wing controls both “yes” and “no”. This tells us all we need to know about the effectiveness of the British left.

    Can you explain what it is they control? Surely under capitalism neither the left or the right is in control.

  13. Greece and the Left, the fight against Austerity continues through the EU, not for a ‘new Britain’. | Tendance Coatesy said,

    […] As Jim Denham rightly says, “The left should fight, not to go backwards from the current bureaucratic, neoliberal European Union, but forward, to a democratic United States of Europe, and a socialist United States of Europe.” […]

    • Steven Johnston said,

      Bureaucratic and neoliberal? Man, I’ve never heard that before. I thought the neoliberals wanted to cut through the bureaucracy.

      • dagmar said,

        I hope there’s irony involved there. Next you’ll be telling me the neoliberals want consumer choice and competition

  14. Steven Johnston said,

    I’m only going to tell you that capitalism does not obey either neoliberals or the left…it does it’s own thing and woe betide anyone that thinks differently.

    • Glasgow Working Class said,

      Of course capitalism does its own thing even when pretend left governments are in power. It is the steady rock of capitalism that makes profits and pays the salaries of the lefties. The left make noises and con the masses into thinking they are something different.
      The workers moan and a leftie jumps on the bandwagon next the leftie is elected and fucks the workers. And the SNP have jumped the bandwagon big style.

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