August was the seventy-fifth anniversary of the murder of Leon Trotsky by an agent of the Stalinist USSR’s secret police (remembered by his grandson, here). Workers’ Liberty is publishing a second volume of documents from the movement which kept alive and developed the revolutionary socialist politics Trotsky fought for. Just before Trotsky’s death, the American Trotskyist organisation split after a dispute triggered by Stalin’s invasion of Poland. The majority was led by James P Cannon, the minority by Max Shachtman. Shachtman’s “heterodox” side, would later repudiate Trotksy’s analysis of Russia as a “degenerated workers’ state”; but that was not their view at the time of the split. Cannon’s “orthodox” side continued to hold onto the degenerated workers’ state position and from that would flow many political errors. This extract from the introduction to The Two Trotskyisms Confront Stalinism by Sean Matgamna, puts the record of the two sides into perspective:
Above: Shachtman and Cannon, on the same side in 1934
The honest critic of the Trotskyist movement — of both the Cannon and Shachtman segments of it, which are intertwined in their history and in their politics — must remind himself and the reader that those criticised must be seen in the framework of the movement as a whole. Even those who were most mistaken most of the time were more than the sum of their mistakes, and some of them a great deal more.
The US Trotskyists, Shachtmanites and Cannonites alike, mobilised 50,000 people in New York in 1939 to stop fascists marching into Jewish neighbourhoods of that city. When some idea of the extent of the Holocaust became public, the Orthodox responded vigorously (and the Heterodox would have concurred): “Anger against Hitler and sympathy for the Jewish people are not enough. Every worker must do what he can to aid and protect the Jews from those who hunt them down. The Allied ruling classes, while making capital of Hitler’s treatment of the Jews for their war propaganda, discuss and deliberation on this question endlessly. The workers in the Allied countries must raise the demand: Give immediate refuge to the Jews… Quotas, immigration laws, visa — these must be cast aside. Open the doors of refuge to those who otherwise face extermination” (Statement of the Fourth International, The Militant, 3 April 1943).
We, the Orthodox — the writer was one of them — identified with the exploited and oppressed and sided with them and with the labour movements of which we ourselves were part; with people struggling for national independence; with the black victims of zoological racism. We took sides always with the exploited and oppressed.
To those we reached we brought the basic Marxist account of class society in history and of the capitalist society in which we live. We criticised, condemned, and organised against Stalinism. Even at the least adequate, the Orthodox Trotskyists generally put forward proposals that in sum meant a radical transformation of Stalinist society, a revolution against Stalinism. Always and everywhere the Orthodox Trotskyists fought chauvinism. When some got lost politically, as they sometimes did and do, it was usually because of a too blandly negative zeal for things that “in themselves” were good, such as anti-capitalism and anti-imperialism. We mobilised political and practical support for movements of colonial revolt.
French Trotskyists, living in a world gone crazy with chauvinism of every kind, set out to win over and organise German soldiers occupying France. They produced a newspaper aimed at German worker-soldiers: some twenty French Trotskyists and German soldier sympathisers lost their lives when the Nazis suppressed it. The Orthodox Trotskyists even kept some elements of feminism alive in a world in which it was long eclipsed: Michel Pablo, in a French jail for helping the Algerians in their war of independence, applied himself to studying and writing about “the woman question”. Large numbers of people shared the view of the Trotskyists on specific questions and worked with them or in parallel to them. The Trotskyists alone presented and argued for a whole world outlook that challenged the outlook of the capitalist and Stalinist ruling classes. We embodied the great truths of Marxism in a world where they had been bricked up alive by Stalinism. We kept fundamental texts of anti-Stalinist Marxism in circulation.
Read the accounts of the day to day mistreatment of black people in the USA in the mid 20th century – Jim Crow in the South, where blacks had been slaves, segregation in the North, all-pervasive humiliations, exclusions, beatings, burnings, mob lynchings, the systematic ill-treatment of children as of grown-up black people. Work through even a little of that terrible story and you run the risk of despairing of the human race. The Trotskyists, challenging Jim Crow, championing and defending the victims of injustice, showed what they were. To have been less would have been despicable. That does not subtract from the merits of those who did what was right and necessary, when most people did not
James P Cannon and Max Shachtman, the main representatives of the two currents of Trotskyism, were, in my judgement, heroes, both of them. Cannon, when almost all of his generation of Communist International leaders had gone down to Stalinism or over to the bourgeoisie, remained what he was in his youth, a fighter for working-class emancipation.
I make no excuses for the traits and deeds of Cannon which are shown in a bad light in this volume. It is necessary to make and keep an honest history of our own movement if we are to learn from it. After Trotsky’s death Cannon found himself, and fought to remain, the central leader of the Trotskyist movement, a job which, as the Heterodox said, he was badly equipped politically to do. He did the best he could, in a world that had turned murderously hostile to the politics he worked for and the goals he fought to achieve. More than once he must have reminded himself of the old lines, “The times are out of joint/O cursed spite that ever I was born to set it right”. James P Cannon remained faithful to the working class and to revolutionary socialism. Such a book as his History of American Trotskyism cannot be taken as full or authoritative history, but it has value as what Gramsci called a “living book”: “not a systematic treatment, but a ‘living’ book, in which political ideology and political science are fused in the dramatic form of a ‘myth’.”
Socialists today can learn much from both Shachtman and Cannon. In his last decade (he died in 1972), Max Shachtman followed the US trade unions into conventional politics and dirty Democratic Party politicking. He took up a relationship to US capitalism paralleling that of the Cannonites to Stalinism of different sorts and at different times. Politically that was suicidal. Those who, again and again, took similar attitudes to one Stalinism or another have no right to sneer and denounce. Shachtman got lost politically at the end of the 1950s; the Cannonites got lost politically, in relation to Stalinism, twenty years earlier! When Trotsky in 1939-40, living under tremendous personal strain, reached a crossroads in his political life and fumbled and stumbled politically, Max Shachtman, who had tremendous and lasting regard for Trotsky and a strong loyalty to what he stood for, had the integrity and spirit to fight him and those who — Cannon and his comrades in the first place — were starting on a course that would warp and distort and in serious part destroy their politics in the decade ahead and long after.
The Prometheus myth has been popular amongst socialists, supplying names for organisations and newspapers. As punishment for stealing fire from the gods and giving it to humankind, the Titan Prometheus is chained forever to a rock in the Caucasian mountains and vultures eternally rip at his liver. Shachtman picked up the proletarian fire Trotsky had for a moment fumbled with and carried it forward. Generations of mockery, obloquy, misrepresentation, and odium where it was not deserved, have been his punishment for having been right against Trotsky and Cannon.
This book is intended as a contribution to the work of those who strive to refurbish and renew the movement that in their own way both James P Cannon and Max Shachtman tried to serve, and served.
You can order a copy of the book here
Above: former T&G leader Bevin and Prime Minister Atlee in the 1945 Labour government
By John Rowe
Introduction: In the wake of the General election disaster we need an honest and clear-sighted assessment of the left’s response to austerity. At present the loudest voices of the anti-austerity movement persist in agitating for the Labour left and the unions to abandon the Party for some, as yet ill-defined alternative – a New Party (NP). These notes are a contribution to this debate. In them I argue our starting point needs to be the organising a truly social democratic tendency within the Labour Party. In putting forward this case I start by looking at the arguments of the NP left.
The NP view of New Labour
The NP left is not a distinct grouping. Rather it is a loose tendency defined primarily by a negative; the call to break from Labour. Inside this tent we find two very different visions. Some understand the new party as the beginning of a mass revolutionary party, a view held by socialist groups within it. Others, mainly trade unionists, view it more as a refounding of Old Labour. Within each sub-set there are myriad different perspectives.
The premise on which NP advocates call for a break with Labour is common to all and founded on a seemingly powerful point: New Labour’s record and policies made possible, according to the NP advocates, by its ability to function largely independently of the unions. Such an analysis is not just factually wrong; it enables its proponents to reduce all the political problems confronting the working class to a simple matter of representation (i.e. the Labour Party), rather than this being just one element in the systemic crisis of labourism encompassing ideology, the unions, and the method by which ‘the movement’ has sought to advance working class interests. Nor are they willing to confront the root cause of this malaise which is located in the changing working class composition.
Rather than starting with New Labour’s record a more pertinent question is what forces enabled New Labour (NL) to dominate? To answer this we need to consider how the Labour Movement functioned and why it is unable to continue in the same way today. In fact any analysis of Labour’s record needs to start not with the Labour Party but with the unions
The decline of union power
Within a decade NL had replaced social democracy as the Party leadership, enabling it to evolve in two complementary ways: while its policies embraced neo-liberalism organisationally the Party machine came to dominate and determine internal Party life. At first sight one of the most astonishing successes of NL was the eclipse of social democracy, replacing its polices with pusillanimous pronouncements about mitigating the worst excesses of Neo-liberalism and trading in its traditions and ideology with a repackaged social liberalism. Read the rest of this entry »
My old comrade John Cunningham makes an important point (one that needs to be hammered home more often) in a letter published in today’s Guardian:
Above: Serge, anti-Stalinist Marxist
Jonathan Jones (Labour centrists like me aren’t cynics: we’re the left’s only true ethical wing, 8 August) regurgitates, yet again, the tired old myth that Marxism and Stalinism are somehow basically the same. That the one emerged from the other. This is nonsense (as nonsensical as the idea that there is such as creature as a “Corbynite”). The democratic left, the far left, the anti-Stalinist left (call it what you will) in the UK and elsewhere has a solid and honourable record of anti-Stalinism, actually much better and more consistent than either Labour centrists or the right (Labour or Tory). The left’s analysis and critique of Stalinism, through the writings of Isaac Deutscher, Trotsky, Victor Serge, the Critique group in Glasgow, the now defunct journal Labour Focus on Eastern Europe and numerous contributors to the New Left Review (to name just a few of the many voices involved) has been thorough, detailed, nuanced and totally damning.
The centre left and right, by contrast, have had little to offer other than moral outrage, which they were all too ready to drop when circumstances suited them. The left in western Europe has nothing to apologise for in its attitude to Stalinism. As for “the chains of a brutal history”, the left was the first to expose the crimes of Stalin and has fought long and hard to destroy those chains. Stalinism is not a continuation of Marxism, on the contrary it is the absolute negation of it.
The leading American Trotskyist, James P Cannon spoke at a memorial meeting in New York for Leon Trotsky on 22 August 1945. The atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki had just taken place (August 6 and 9), and Cannon used the occasion to express his outrage at the atrocity:
What a commentary on the real nature of capitalism in its decadent phase is this, that the scientific conquest of the marvellous secret of atomic energy, which might rationally be used to lighten the burdens of all mankind, is employed first for the wholesale destruction of half a million people.
Hiroshima, the first target, had a population of 340,000 people. Nagasaki, the second target, had a population of 253,000 people. A total in the two cities of approximately 600,000 people, in cities of flimsy construction where, as reporters explain, the houses were built roof against roof. How many were killed? How many Japanese people were destroyed to celebrate the discovery of the secret of atomic energy? From all the reports we have received so far, they were nearly all killed or injured. Nearly all.
In the [New York] Times today there is a report from the Tokyo radio about Nagasaki which states that “the centre of the once thriving city has been turned into a vast devastation, with nothing left except rubble as far as the eye could see”. Photographs showing the bomb damage appeared on the front page of the Japanese newspaper Mainichi. The report says: “One of these pictures revealed a tragic scene 10 miles away from the centre of the atomic air attack”, where farm houses were either crushed down or the roofs torn asunder.
The broadcast quoted a photographer of the Yamaha Photographic Institute, who had rushed to the city immediately after the bomb hit, as having said: “Nagasaki is now a dead city, all the areas being literally razed to the ground. Only a few buildings are left, standing conspicuously from the ashes.” The photographer said that “the toll of the population was great and even the few survivors have not escaped some kind of injury.”
In two calculated blows, with two atomic bombs, American imperialism killed or injured half a million human beings. The young and the old, the child in the cradle and the aged and infirm, the newly married, the well and the sick, men, women, and children — they all had to die in two blows because of a quarrel between the imperialists of Wall Street and a similar gang in Japan.
This is how American imperialism is bringing civilisation to the Orient. What an unspeakable atrocity! What a shame has come to America, the America that once placed in New York harbour a Statue of Liberty enlightening the world. Now the world recoils in horror from her name.
One preacher quoted in the press, reminding himself of something he had once read in the Bible about the meek and gentle Jesus, said it would be useless to send missionaries to the Far East anymore. That raises a very interesting question which I am sure they will discuss among themselves. One can imagine an interesting discussion taking place in the inner circles of the House of Rockefeller and the House of Morgan, who are at one and the same time-quite by accident of course-pillars of finance and pillars of the church and supporters of missionary enterprises of various kinds.
“What shall we do with the heathens in the Orient? Shall we send missionaries to lead them to the Christian heaven or shall we send atomic bombs to blow them to hell?” There is a subject for debate, a debate on a macabre theme. But in any case, you can be sure that where American imperialism is involved, hell will get by far the greater number of the customers.
What a harvest of death capitalism has brought to the world! If the skulls of all of the victims could be brought together and piled into one pyramid, what a high mountain that would make. What a monument to the achievements of capitalism that would be, and how fitting a symbol of what capitalist imperialism really is. I believe it would lack only one thing to make it perfect. That would be a big electric sign on the pyramid of skulls, proclaiming the ironical promise of the Four Freedoms. The dead at least are free from want and free from fear…
Long ago the revolutionary Marxists said that the alternative facing humanity was either socialism or a new barbarism, that capitalism threatens to go down in ruins and drag civilisation with it. But in the light of what has been developed in this war and is projected for the future, I think we can say now that the alternative can be made even more precise: the alternative facing mankind is socialism or annihilation! It is a problem of whether capitalism is allowed to remain or whether the human race is to continue to survive on this planet.
We believe that the people of the world will waken to this frightful alternative and act in time to save themselves…
The death yesterday of Robert Conquest, author of The Great Terror, reminds us of the pathetic attempt by public school Stalinist hack Seumas Mine to challenge Conquest’s facts about the death-toll brought about by Stalinism.
The following article by Milne, written shortly before the final collapse of the USSR, appeared in the Guardian of March 10 1990. Until we republished it here at Shiraz (29 September 2012) it was not available anywhere else online, nor is it included in the 2012 book, wonderfully entitled The Revenge of History, made up of the “cream” of Milne’s Guardian columns. Conquest was a right-winger and virulent anti-communist: but he was an objective and thoroughly scupulous historian. Milne’s desperate attempt to challenge Conquest’s estimated death-toll (later verified as substantially correct when the Soviet archives were fully opened in 1991) is, perversely, a tribute to an honest man:
In the preface to the 40th anniversary edition of his pioneering work, The Great Terror (first published in 1968) Conquest stated that in the light of documents released since 1991 from the Presidential, State, Party and Police archives, and the declassification by Russia’s Federal Security Service of some 2 million secret documents:
“Exact numbers may never be known with complete certainty, but the total of deaths caused by the whole range of Soviet regime’s terrors can hardly be lower than some thirteen to fifteen million.”
From THE GUARDIAN Saturday March 10 1990
The figure of 25 million deaths that is being attributed to the Stalin regime should be revised in the light of glasnost reports. Seumas Milne analyses new Soviet data that records much lower gulag populations
Stalin’s missing millions
All over South-east of England billboards have appeared in the past week declaring: “Once upon a time there was an uncle who murdered 25 million of his children.” Next to this startling slogan is a photograph of the man who was the undisputed leader of the Soviet Union for a generation, hugging an Aryan-looking Young Pioneer with pigtails.
The advertisement is a trailer for Thames Television’s block-buster documentary series on the life of Stalin, which begins on Tuesday. Forthcoming press publicity will follow a similar theme, setting out the kind of absurdities which could have led to arrest and execution at the height of the Soviet Terror in the late 1930’s.
The programmes come as glasnost has provoked a stream of new information and memoirs about the Stalin era in the Soviet Union itself, 30 years after Khruschev’s secret speech denouncing his former boss led to the first phase of revelations and rehabilitations. For the most part attention in the Soviet media has turned to more pressing problems. But the flood of new horror stories has emboldened an academic and political current which is bent on overturning the consensus view of Hitler and Nazism as the supreme evil of 20th century history.
Not only is it increasingly common for Stalin to be bracketed with Hitler as the twin monster of the modern era, even in the Soviet Union, but in West Germany and Austria a significant “revisionist” academic trend — represented by historians like Ernst Nolte, Andreas Hilgruber, and Ernst Topitsch — goes on to argue that the Stalinist system was actually responsible for the Nazis and the second world war.
Central to these debates is the issue of the number of Stalin’s victims. Controversy about the scale of repression in the Stalin era has rumbled on in Western universities for many years, and has now been joined by Soviet experts who are equally divided. Thames Television, with its 25 million deaths, has opted for the furthest extreme.
Hitherto, the British writer Robert Conquest who in the 1950’s worked for the Foreign Office propaganda outfit IRD, led the field with his view that Stalin was responsible for 20 million deaths. Phillip Whitehead, one of the Stalin series producers, says he is not to blame for the advertising campaign but thinks a 25 million figure can be defended if the Soviet dead in the first three months of the Nazi invasion of 1941 are included on the grounds of Stalin’s negligence.
But even that is not enough for Thomas Methuen, publishers of of the companion book to the series, who bid up the figure to 30 million in their publicity and — in an echo of the German revisionists — describe Stalin as “the greatest mass killer of the 20th century.” The record estimate so far has been 50 million, made in the Sunday Times two years nago.
There are three basic catagories of people usually regarded as Stalin’s victims: first there are those executed for political offences, most of whom died in the Terror years of 1937-8. Then there are those who died in the labour camps or in the process of mass deportations. Finally — and almost certainly the biggest number — there are the peasants who died during the famine of the early 30s.
In the complete absence of any hard evidence from the Soviet Union, estimates for a grand total of all three have been made by extrapolating the number of “excess deaths” from census figures. This process is fraught with statistical problems, including the fact that the 1937 census was supported, and the 1939 census is thought to have been artificially inflated by terrified Soviet statisticians.. Add to that disputes about the size of peasant families and the possibilities for discrepancies multiply.
Among Soviet specialists and demographers in the West, the majority view appears to be that the kind of numbers used by Robert Conquest and his supporters are wildly exaggerated. Prof Sheila Fitzpatrick, of Chicago University comments: “the younger generation of Soviet historians tend to go for far lower numbers. There is no basis in fact for Conquest’s claims.”
Some of the most recent Western demographic analysis, by Barbera Anderson and Brian Silver in the US, estimates that the most likely figure for all the “excess” deaths — whether from purges, famine or deportations — between 1926 and 1939 lies in a range with a median of 3.5 million, and a limit of eight million.
Estimates of that order have found support across a broad range of academic work, from Frank Lorrimer’s pioneering post-war analysis to Prof Jerry Hough’s 1979 study to the 1980s research by the British academic, Stephen Wheatcroft, now at the University of Melbourne. But this growing consensus has been thrown on the defensive by Soviet specialists like Roy Medvedev, who — using the same data — have apparently backed Conquest’s position, or something like it.
When it comes to the famine deaths, an exact figure will almost certainly never be known. But suddenly, after years of working in the dark, specialists are obtainingv some hard Soviet data. Last month, the KGB published for the first time the records of the number of victims of the Stalin purges.
Between 1930 and 1953, the report states, 3,778,234 people had been sentenced for counter-revolutionary activities or anti-state crimes,of whom 786,098 were shot. From his office at the Hoover Institute in California yesterday, Conquest said it was difficult to say whether the figures were right, but he thought “they could be true.”
Even more remarkably, the records originally made by the NKVD (forerunner of the KGB) of those held in labour camps and penal colonies during the Stalin years are now becoming available. An article from a “restricted access” Soviet Interior Ministry journal has been passed to the Guardian, which lists the total Gulag populations during the 1930s and 1940s.
Originally collated for Khrushchev in the 1950s, the figures show how the camp numbers rose relentlessly from 179,000 in 1930 to 510,307 in 1934, to 1,296,494 in 1936, to 1,881,570 in 1938 at the height of the Terror. The population fell during the war, but reached its peak in 1950 when 2,561,351 people are recorded as detained in camps or colonies.
These figures published openly here for the first time are huge: but they are a long way from the 19 million camp population estimated by Robert Conquest. The Soviet report records that an average of 200,000 were released every year, and puts the death-rate in the camps at 3 per cent a year per on average, rising to more than 5 per cent in 1937-8. The camps were mostly emptied of political prisoners after Stalin’s death.
Are the figures credible? In the context of the current political atmosphere in the Soviet Union and the fact that they were in a restricted publication, it seems improbable that they have been tampered with. Of course, they do not cover the famine and other disasters. But they do begin to add credence to the mainstream academic view that the deaths attributable to Stalin’s policies was closer to 3.5 million than 25 million.
Why do numbers matter anyway? After all Robert Conquest may be out by a factor of five or 10, but the repressions were still enormous.
If, however, a figure of 20 million or 25 million becomes current currency, it adds credence to the Stalin-Hitler comparison. Already, anyone who questions these figures — even in the academic debates — is denounced as a “neo-Stalinist.”
As the Irish writer Alexander Cockburn who started what turned into a highly emotional exchange last year in the American journal, the Nation, puts it: “Any computation that does not soar past 10 million is somehow taken as being soft on Stalin.” And by minimising the quantitative gulf between the Hitler and Stalin killings, it becomes easier to skate over the uniqueness of the Nazi genocide and war.
JD adds: This last comment (“it becomes easier to skate over the uniqueness of the Nazi genocide and war”), suggesting that Conquest’s aim was to down-play Nazi genocide, is a simply despicable piece of Stalinist guilt-by-innuendo against Conquest, a proven and consistent anti fascist (which is more than can be said for the tradition Seumas belongs to). It demonstrates just how well the contemptible Milne has leaned from the filthy, lying methodology of Stalinism.
Eighty people attended the London public meeting on Europe held by the socialist organisation RS21 on 15 July. RS21 should be congratulated for organising the event; the class-struggle left needs much more debate on these issues.
Workers’ Liberty members took part, distributed the call for a “Workers’ Europe” campaign we are supporting, and argued for a left, class-struggle “Yes” campaign in the coming EU referendum. It should be said that two of our comrades were taken to speak and that in general the atmosphere of the meeting was friendly and civilised.
There were four speakers: Dave Renton from RS21; Karolina Partyga from new Polish left organisation Razem; Eva Nanopoulos, who is a Syriza member and Left Unity activist in Cambridge; and an independent socialist, Christina Delistathi. Karolina argued to stay in the EU; Eva strongly implied we should argue to get out; Christina made the case explicitly for “No”; and Dave did not come down on one side or the other, arguing that the most important thing is political independence from the two bourgeois camps.
From the floor RS21 members argued a variety of positions, “Yes”, “No”, “Abstain” and no stance on the referendum vote as such. Probably a majority who spoke were for a “No”.
Rather than describe in detail the discussion at the meeting, we will answer some of the “No” arguments that were raised during it and after it.
The EU is imperialist, even colonialist – look at Greece. By dismembering and weakening it we help its victims.
There is an imperialist, big power bullying dimension to the EU, but it is not a colonial empire. It reflects the fact that capitalism in Europe long ago developed and integrated across national borders. Do we want to reverse that? Even in the case of Greece, the answer is not “national liberation” as such. What colonial empire threatens to “expel” its colony? We should demand the Greek government is not threatened with expulsion from the Eurozone or EU, but allowed to carry out its policies inside them. In any case, breaking up the EU would not lead to an end to big power bullying of weak countries in Europe: it would simply mean it happened within a different, probably even more aggressive, violent and unstable, framework.
The Greek radical left is right to argue for exit.
The only two Greek MPs to vote No in the first parliamentary vote on a Third Memorandum were supporters of the socialist organisation International Workers’ Left (DEA) or its Red Network of anti-capitalists within Syriza – who do not support Grexit as a goal but say “No sacrifice for the Euro” and argue to pursue a class-struggle policy even if the confrontation means being pushed out of the EU. The sections of the Syriza left who positively advocate Grexit are not more radical, simply more wrong – and their MPs did not vote against (that time: they did in the second vote). The problem with Tsipras et al is not that they did not immediately carry out Grexit but that they were unwilling to risk it – they did not prepare the Greek people for a struggle, that they did not want a struggle and that they abandoned attempts to win solidarity across Europe. The policy most appropriate for a struggle and for winning international solidarity is not demanding exit but “No sacrifice for the Euro” and “Make the Greek question a European question” – Syriza policies which eg DEA and the Red Network take seriously but Tsipras does not.
You say you are for freedom of movement, but the EU prevents freedom of movement. Look at what is happening in the Mediterranean.
Anyone who does not condemn “Fortress Europe” and argue for migrants to be welcomed to Europe is not left-wing, and betrays basic human solidarity, to say nothing of the interests of the working class. But a Europe of “independent” national states is unlikely to be more open to or welcoming for migrants. As for British withdrawal from the EU, it would not end Fortress Europe, but simply create a stronger Fortress Britain – not help migrants from Syria or Eritrea, but harm those from Romania and Poland. As an RS21 member put it on 15 July: “You can’t defend and extend rights for all migrants by restricting rights for some of them”. That is what a “No” vote in the referendum would mean.
The EU is not a benign institution. It is about creating wider capitalist markets and a bigger pool of labour to exploit. As socialists we oppose that.
Of course the EU is not a “benign institution”, any more than any capitalist state or federation. Who on the radical left argues it is? Of course we oppose capitalist exploitation – but oppose it in what way? We should oppose it by organising workers for a united struggle against the exploiters, not by objecting to the creation of larger units in which to organise.
The EU is not about the internationalisation of capitalism, it is about creating a regional bloc opposed to the rest of the world.
The whole history of capital becoming more internationally integrated is a history of it creating blocs – in the first instance, nation states. When the dozens of petty states in what is now Germany were fused into a united nation, it was done in a reactionary way, by Prussian imperialism – yet Marx and Engels, while denouncing the new regime, explicitly argued that German unification provided a wider, better framework for working-class organisation and struggle. Were they wrong? Why does the same not apply to Europe today? Is what the German Empire did in the world better than what the EU has done to Greece? Of course we oppose the development of EU imperialism – just as Marx and Engels opposed German imperialism – but by fighting the ruling class across Europe, not by seeking to reverse European integration. In addition it is hardly the case that France, Britain, Germany, etc, without the EU would not be imperialist in their relations with the rest of the world as well as each other.
We can perfectly well advocate breaking up the EU but reintegrating Europe once we have socialist states in each country.
Then why did Marx support – certainly not oppose, or try to reverse – the unification of Germany even by Prussia? Why did Trotsky argue that, if German militarism united Europe in World War One, it would be wrong for socialists to argue for a return to separate national states? The reason is that seeking to reverse the international integration of capital means seeking to reverse capitalist development, with all its exploitation and irrationality, yes, but also the new openings and possibilities it creates for workers’ organisation and struggle. It means putting up new barriers to building links with our brothers and sisters across the continent. It means strengthening backward-looking, nationalist political forces. It means weakening the labour movement and the left. That is why breaking up the EU into its constituent parts will take us further away from, not closer to, a united socialist Europe.
Where there is an issue of national self-determination – the democratic right of a people to live free from national oppression – that may trump these kind of considerations. We hope no socialist argues that Britain is nationally oppressed by the EU.
You cite Marx and Trotsky, but quoting scripture doesn’t settle anything.
Marx, or Trotsky, or whoever, might have been wrong at the time. Or they might have been right then, but their argument not apply to the EU now. Simply dismissing reference to their writings as “scripture” is not helpful, however. It lowers the level of discussion. We can and should learn things from the debates our movement had in the past.
There is a tactical case for an abstention or even a Yes vote, given the clearly dominant right-wing, nationalist character of the No drive, but it’s just tactical. In principle, we should vote to get out of the EU.
The character of the push to get out strengthens the case. But why should socialists favour a capitalist Britain separate from Europe to one more integrated into it? What is the “principle” involved?
The EU is a neo-liberal institution. It cannot be reformed.
That sounds very radical, but what does it mean? We need to break down and consider the meaning of terms like “neo-liberal institution”. The United Kingdom state is also a neo-liberal institution! Neither it nor the EU is a vehicle for socialism: only their replacement with new forms of state will make socialism possible. But both can be reformed in the sense of winning changes within them, including some changes to their structure, through struggle.
The EU is far more undemocratic than even the British state. Its structure is designed to be impermeable to popular pressure and make winning left-wing policies impossible.
For class-struggle socialists, the idea that the main barriers to winning reforms are not in the weighty, well-organised ruling class and capitalist state in Britain (France, Germany, etc) but the relatively lightweight bureaucracy of the EU is bizarre. In Britain democracy and workers’ rights have been curbed overwhelmingly by our British rulers, not by the EU. The policies, treaties etc of the EU reflect the fact that its integration accelerated at a time when the working class and left in most European countries are on the retreat and have been for a long time. They reflect the character and policies of its member states. The answer is to regroup, stop the retreat and fight back in each state and internationally, not to convince ourselves that the EU rules mean nothing much is possible. In any case, we can oppose particular EU policies without wanting to reverse European integration or imagining that a Britain outside the EU would provide better conditions for our struggle. As part of that struggle, we need to fight for more democracy – and that is necessary and possible at the local, national and European levels.
On the 29th anniversary of the Sebrenica massacre/genocide, we re-publish this important critique of the role of much the international left towards the Bosnian war at the time. First published by Workers Liberty, June 2011:
31 March 2003: Relatives of some of the 8,000 Muslim men and boys slaughtered in the 1995 Srebrenica massacre search rows of coffins next to freshly-dug graves for loved ones
Ratko Mladic, who commanded Serb forces during the Bosnian war of 1992-5, was arrested on 26 May in a Serbian village, and will now face a war-crimes tribunal in The Hague.
In July 1995, two of the areas which the United Nations declared “safe havens” in the midst of a fierce war were overrun by Serb forces under Mladic’s command. In Zepa, some 200 lives were killed, and the bulk of the population of 40,000 fled.
In Srebrenica, over 8,000 civilians were massacred. In classifying the massacre as an act of genocide the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia outlined what happened:
“They stripped all the male Muslim prisoners, military and civilian, elderly and young, of their personal belongings and identification, and deliberately and methodically killed them solely on the basis of their identity.”
Srebrenica was only the most infamous of the atrocities by Serb forces in the Bosnian war. Like the wars conducted by the Serbian government of Slobodan Milosevic in Croatia in 1991-5 and in Kosova in 1999, that war was an imperialist war in the most straightforward sense: a war by a dominant power to gain control over other nations, conducted without regard to the wishes or the lives of the subject peoples.
By now Milosevic’s wars have few defenders. Although many people in Serbia mourned Mladic’s arrest, Serbia’s government is in no danger of being toppled by protest against it handing over Mladic to The Hague. In Britain, even the Morning Star has reported the arrest in a manner suggesting neutrality or approval.
At the time, though — and the scandal should be remembered, and learned from — large chunks of the left betrayed the left’s basic values of consistent democracy and freedom for oppressed nations. Some sided with Mladic and Milosevic explicitly. Others, including the Socialist Workers’ Party (SWP), gave them backhanded support by way of a form of pro-imperialism posing as “anti-imperialist”. They claimed there was nothing to choose between the forces in conflict within Yugoslavia. The only “imperialist” thing, to be opposed with vigour, was the police actions against Serbia which NATO took to contain the conflict, in 1995 and in 1999. Thus they presented the Serbian state as not imperialistic, but the fighter against imperialism. Read the rest of this entry »
Above: genocide denier Chomsky