EU: time for the UK left to face reality

February 3, 2016 at 7:56 pm (David Cameron, Europe, internationalism, Jim D, left, Murdoch, populism, Racism, Socialist Party, stalinism, SWP, Tory scum)

Portada de The Sun (United Kingdom)

As Cameron embarks on his campaign to sell his “reformed” relationship with the EU, the xenophobes have begun their anti-EU campign in earnest. Today’s Sun gives us a taste of what to expect: denunciations of migrants, demands for stricter border controls and thinly-disguised racism.

It’s time for the left to get real: the anti-EU movement is of necessity nationalist, xenophobic and border-line racist. No matter how much idiots like the Morning Star, the SWP and the Socialist Party try to dress up their anti-EU rhetoric with the word “socialism” and dire warnings about the evils of international capitalism and the “bosses’ Europe” they cannot escape the reactionary logic of their anti-EU stance.

Yet for decades now most of the British left — and the left in a few other European countries, such as Denmark — has agitated “against the EU”. The agitation has suggested, though rarely said openly, we should welcome and promote every pulling-apart of the EU, up to and including the full re-erection of barriers between nation-states.

Yet the possibility of a serious unravelling of the patchwork, bureaucratic semi-unification of Europe, slowly developed over the last sixty years, is more real today than ever before. The decisive push for unravelling comes from from the nationalist and populist right.

And that calls the bluff of a whole swathe of the British left.

For decades, most of the British left has been “anti-EU” as a matter of faith. In Britain’s 1975 referendum on withdrawing from the EU, almost the whole left, outside AWL’s forerunner Workers’ Fight, campaigned for withdrawal. Since then the left has hesitated explicitly to demand withdrawal. It has limited itself to “no to bosses’ Europe” agitation, implying but not spelling out a demand for the EU to be broken up.

The agitation has allowed the left to eat its cake and have it. The left can chime in with populist-nationalist “anti-Europe” feeling, which is stronger in Britain than in any other EU country. It can also cover itself by suggesting that it is not really anti-European, but only dislikes the “bosses’” 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 neo-liberal governments could be anything other than neo-liberal!

As if the material force behind neo-liberal cuts has been the relatively flimsy Brussels bureaucracy, rather than the mighty bureaucratic-military-industrial complexes of member states. As if the answer is to oppose confederation and cross-Europeanism as such, rather than the capitalist, neo-liberal, bureaucratic character of both member states and the EU.

As if the EU is somehow more sharply capitalist, anti-worker, and neo-liberal than the member states. 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.

As if the answer is to pit nations against Europe, rather than workers against bosses and bankers. The anti-EU left loves to gloatingly  remind us of the EU leaders’ appalling treatment of Greece and Tsipras’s capitulation – despite the fact that while in Greece and Southern Europe the EU is indeed 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 (despite the Morning Star‘s dishonest claims to the contrary, the EU has been responsible for real pro-working class reforms such as the Transfer of Undertakings Regulations, the Agency Workers Regulations and the Working Time Regulations – none of which are at any immediate risk as a result of Cameron’s “renegotiation”).

When Socialist Worker, in a Q&A piece, posed itself the question, “wouldn’t things be better for workers if Britain pulled out of the EU?”, it answered itself with a mumbling “yes, but” rather than a ringing “yes”.

Socialist Worker is against Britain being part of a bosses’ Europe”. Oh? And against Britain being part of a capitalist world, too?

Britain would be better off in outer space? Or walled off from the world North-Korea-style? “But withdrawing from the EU wouldn’t guarantee workers’ rights — the Tories remain committed to attacking us”. Indeed. And just as much so as the EU leaders, no?

A few years ago the Socialist Party threw itself into a electoral coalition called No2EU. Every week in its “Where We Stand” it declaims: “No to the bosses’ neo-liberal European Union!”, though that theme rarely appears in its big headlines.

Even the demand for withdrawal 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 (i.e. all the neo-liberal 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 is not what the no-to-EU-ers want. They want Britain completely out. They want all the other member-states out too. A speech by RMT president Alex Gordon featured on the No2EU website spells it out: “Imperialist, supranational bodies such as the EU seek to roll back democratic advances achieved in previous centuries… Progressive forces must respond to this threat by defending and restoring national democracy. Ultimately, national independence is required for democracy to flourish…”

But does the left really want the EU broken up? What would happen?

The freedom for workers to move across Europe would be lost. “Foreign” workers in each country from other ex-EU states would face disapproval at best.

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.

It’s time for the anti-EU left to get real, face facts and pull back from its disastrous de facto alliance with some of the most reactionary forces in British politics.

28 Comments

  1. SD Marschhausen said,

    It always astounds me when I see anti-EU rhetoric from the Left. I’m not sure I know what to say, honestly, more than that. Politically, they should be united with the socialist parties across Europe to fight the plutocrats of the right.

  2. Simon Martin Halstead said,

    My enemy’s enemy is not necessarily my friend

  3. Johnny Lewis said,

    I note hat today’s Morning Star front page (“PM Sells Out Workers Rights” ) continues its dishonest campaign to promote the idea that workers’ rights are being directly attacked as a result of Cameron’s renegotiation. While it was the case that employment and social issues were at one stage in Cameron’s sights, he has clearly backed down on this: of course we cannot afford complacency where the Tories are concerned, but the Star’s alarmism is deliberate dishonesty and part of their despearte efforts to put a “left” gloss on the campaign for a Brexit. The TUC (more reliable than the Morning Star on this question), notes:

    ****

    It is good news that the proposals do not include any attack on workers’ rights, and that’s further evidence that the trade union campaign to prevent Britain opting out of workplace protections, or imposing a moratorium on the development of future rights has been successful. We were clearly right to get in early with our opposition to such changes, which persuaded employers’ organisations to drop their demands for such measures. And our European trade union colleagues did a great job persuading their governments to make clear to Cameron that such changes were non-negotiable.

    As Frances O’Grady said yesterday:

    “It’s good that the Prime Minister listened to trade unions and stopped trying to negotiate away workers’ rights this time. But the proposed ‘red card’ would just be another way for him to try and stop people in Britain getting better rights and protections at work from future EU agreements.”

    We will still have to fight against deregulation, including the infamous REFIT agenda, but that’s been an ongoing campaign for us and the ETUC. And we can use the forthcoming referendum campaign to remind people of the rights that have been secured from the European Union, and the improvements and new measures that will be needed to restore workers’ support for membership of the EU.

    • Steven Johnston said,

      Yet it wasn’t quite like that in 1975, when the majority of trade unions were in favour of the UK leaving the EEC!

  4. Steven Johnston said,

    What motivates all those business men and women who want Britain to stay in the EU? Their love of the workers and workers rights? Am I neither pro or anti EU as it’s a meaningless debate for the working class to take sides in. But what confuses me is the pro-EU ‘socialists’ who are anti-TTIP!

  5. Jim Denham said,

    “But what confuses me is the pro-EU ‘socialists’ who are anti-TTIP!”

    How, exactly, is that a “contradiction” Steven?

    • Steven Johnston said,

      Why would you support free trade within the EU but be against it outside the EU?

      • Jim Denham said,

        …err: we support defence of working class living standards, Steven.

  6. Roger McCarthy (@RF_McCarthy) said,

    I will vote to leave not for the good of the UK – which passed beyond any hope of redemption long ago – but for that of the EU which should never have allowed us to join in the first place.

    Indeed when historians write the Decline and Fall of the European Union a decisive date will be the accession of the UK on 1.1.1973.

  7. Andrew Coates said,

    Well said.

    Apart from all the rational reasons given in the post for voting Yes to EU membership I will vote Yes because if there’s a more repellent group of right-wing, grinding-the-faces-of-the-poor, foreigner hating, loud-mouthed obsessive fools than Nigel Lawson, Iain Duncan Smith, Bill Cash, Nigel Farage and Kate Hoey, I have yet to meet it.

    On the burning issue of would “Britain would be better off in outer space?” advanced workers are looking to Posadism Today’s lead on this issue.

    As far as one can tell they have yet to receive the line from the Mother Ship.

    • Steven Johnston said,

      The trot argument in a nutshell. We must vote yes for fear of being labelled ‘little Englanders’!

  8. Steven Johnston said,

    But does the left really want the EU broken up? What would happen?
    The freedom for workers to move across Europe would be lost. “Foreign” workers in each country from other ex-EU states would face disapproval at best.
    Opinion, not fact. There are already tensions in each member state of this kind.
    There would be a big reduction in the productive capacities of the separate states, cut off from broader economic arenas.
    Again, just an opinion and not fact, no evidence is given as to why this would happen and why the working class should care. Surely it would be an issue for the capitalists.
    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.
    A good thing for Marxists? Who saw the state as the enemy of the working class. They already do this now, the crude cost-cutting, but is there another kind of cost-cutting?
    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.
    Always have been under capitalism and always will be. Again this is just an opinion and not fact. Being in the EU did not stop the member states being affected by the current economic crisis, nor did it shorten the length and depth of the slump
    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.
    Again, just an opinion and you could argue the opposite, but leaving the EU bang goes their argument. Yes, they may feel vindicated but their support would fall away as what now could they blame? If they blamed something else for the problems then they’d end up with egg on their face as they would be admitting that the EU was never the problem.
    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.
    But the economic tensions are still there…being in the EU does not change that. Are you seriously trying to say that if the EU breaks up WW3 breaks out?

    • Jim Denham said,

      Steven: at a certain level it can be argued that *all* discussion of future developments is “just an opinion”: whether it’s well informed “opinion” depends upon our knowledge of past and present developments and understanding of the nature of society and capitalist economic. By those criteria I’d say the article presents a compelling case.

  9. Roger McCarthy (@RF_McCarthy) said,

    As for ‘workers unity across Europe’ the inability of socialists in this one country alone to unite is proven by the whole political lives of you, me and anyone else likely to read this piece.

    And now the Labour Party itself (whose unity was only preserved by it not ever having been a socialist party) is surely in its death throes and facing almost completely certain electoral catastrophe in 4 years time.

    The notion that we could in any meaningful sense unite workers from Scotland to Sicily was a childish fantasy even when the EU’s borders stopped at the Iron Curtain.

    And since the fall of the USSR and the accession of its former western satrapies the overall balance of European electoral politics has shifted massively to the right – and not just to the bourgeois neo-liberal right but an ever more radical populist right fuelled by ressentiment focused on the EU itself.

    But both anti-EU and the Eurofanatic left (now so dominant in the Labour Party that even Jeremy and John – neither noted for their political flexibility – have given up their Bennite convictions of 40 years with barely a murmur of regret) continue to talk as if this is still 1975 and not a 2016 in which the UK, Europe and the world is sliding helplessly towards utter catastrophe.

    Would Brexit accelerate that slide?

    I genuinely don’t know any more.

    But I do know that to sit down in 2016 and type: ‘forward, towards workers’ unity across Europe, a democratic United States of Europe, and a socialist United States of Europe’ is Neil Patrick Harris riding a unicorn into a sunburst levels of delusional.

    • Roger McCarthy (@RF_McCarthy) said,

      Last reference was perhaps overly obscure and is to the idiotic stoner comedy Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay:

      And yes I am all too aware that one man’s delusion is another man’s faith without which he may not be able to go on living at all.

      That I am still politically active at all (and in a CLP whose toxic personal feuds drain every last drop of pleasure from the activity) and still arguing away in places like this rather than throwing myself off Beachy Head shows I must still have some shreds of faith remaining.

      But I do not pretend to myself that they are anything other than faith and have accepted that we have on the left long moved on from being a rational and evidence-based movement to a pseudo-religion based entirely on faith – and whose eschaton is now scarcely any less implausible than that set our in the book of Revelations.

  10. Steven Johnston said,

    Well I think I’ll stick with “workers of the World unite” in favour “workers unite across Europe to support the EU”.
    I’m neither anti or pro Europe as if you are socialist you should be campaigning for socialism and nothing but.

    • Jim Denham said,

      Quote below from Richard Fleming, “Lenin’s Concept of Socialism” (1989): full article to be found at the Marxist Internet Archive:

      *********

      Lenin held that capitalism could not be eliminated and socialism fully established at one stroke. It took time to phase out the old capitalist machinery, set up new economic and political institutions, and remold people’s way of thinking.

      Lenin believed that socialism would eventually replace capitalism worldwide because it would prove economically superior and would provide a better quality of life for its people.

      Realizing socialism’s potential for economic progress required flexibility and innovation. While Lenin upheld the basic Marxist tenets of social ownership of the means of production and “to each according to his work,” he utilized a variety of methods.

      In the political sphere, Lenin held that socialism should be far more democratic than the most democratic capitalist state. Socialism provided rights and freedoms for working people that capitalism did not offer, such as the right to a job, the right to health care and to financial security in old age. Socialism also provided rights capitalism promised but did not deliver, like the right to genuinely participate in the government. Minority nationalities were guaranteed the right to develop their own culture, use their own language and govern themselves. Working people controlled the socialist government through their own political party, the Communist Party. The socialist government defended the rights of the working people and ensured that the overthrown bourgeoisie did not return to power. In fact, socialism could only be built if the majority of the people supported it and were actively involved in building it. Lenin cautioned that Russia’s path to socialism should not be mechanically applied to other countries. Each country had to find its own way, based on its particular situation. In a speech to a gathering of Marxists from other countries at the First Congress of the Communist International in 1919 he said, “In our revolution we advanced along the path of practice, and not of theory.”

  11. Rilke said,

    “…facing almost completely certain electoral catastrophe in 4 years time.”

    Not merely pedantic; a ‘complete certainty’ cannot ever be ‘almost’. It is either ‘certain’ or it isn’t.

    Implies a logical error not a grammatical one.

    Just sayin’

  12. Rilke said,

    Not quite Roger. Inelegance is an issue or matter of taste, fittingness and etiquette. That is not really a matter of debate, at least not here.
    Your use of ‘almost’ implies a hesitation, a slight movement towards questioning your own main proposition of ‘certainty’. This in turn implies that the expectancy is not based entirely on logical or determinate categories or formulae. This is how it should be. All predictions are probable never certain. If they are certain they are not predictions. I will die…this is a certainty not a prediction. I will make it past 70…this is a prediction not a certainty.
    There is always the chance of some dialectical reversal or advance just when we least expect it. There is always that possibility. The great Marxist hermeneutic thinker Ernst Bloch’s Principle of Hope is a wonderful book exploring this aspect of dialectical materialism.

    • Roger McCarthy (@RF_McCarthy) said,

      That hesitation and tiny element of uncertainty was however exactly what I wanted to communicate…

      And it is the very nature of living in these end times that all that we thought solid dissolves into air.

  13. Glasgow Working Class said,

    Just let us get rid of the EU and have the original intended trade agreement. OK a lot of inept sponging politicians will have to find work but it is worth it. I mean they will hiv tae get a joab like the rest.

    • political tourist said,

      Right wingers all sticking together.
      Or is it Better Together?

  14. Steven Johnston said,

    Good news! Apparently TTIP will make it harder for the Tories to reduce the levels of migration! As it will be illegal to stop countries that sign up to it stopping other members of the treaty sending key workers over here!

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