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.
Corbyn and the Middle East: the hypocrisy of the right, a challenge for the left
By Sasha Ismail (at the Workers Liberty website)
(You can watch it on the Channel 4 website here.)
Corbyn responded to interviewer Krishnan Guru-Murthy asking about his description of Lebanese Islamists Hesbollah and Palestinian Islamists Hamas as “our friends” by stressing that peace in the Middle East requires negotiations with all sorts of people.
The first thing to say is that, however one assesses the performance and motives of Guru-Murthy and Channel 4, there is clearly a right-wing push against Corbyn on these issues. If the Corbyn leadership campaign continues to perform as strongly as it has so far, the right-wing outcry is likely to get louder.
The motivations of these attacks are made clear by the fact that those making them are not bothered by the friendly relationship of the entire New Labour hierarchy with the Saudi dictatorship, or the links between all kinds of bourgeois British politicians – particularly Tories – and unpleasant regimes around the planet. They are targeting Corbyn because he looks soft on the ‘wrong’ people, and above all because they are bothered by the success of a left-wing campaign that is bolstering labour movement confidence.
The left must expose such cynicism and hypocrisy, both for general reasons and to defend the Corbyn campaign. At the same time, we should say that – judged by our own standards, not those of the right – Corbyn’s stance on the controversial issues is wrong.
In the March 2009 speech to a Stop the War Coalition meeting in which Corbyn talked about “friends” (on YouTube here) he said:
“Tomorrow evening it will my pleasure and my honour to host an event in Parliament where our friends from Hesbollah will be speaking. I’ve also invited friends from Hamas to come and speak as well…
“The idea that an organisation that is dedicated towards the good of the Palestinian people, and bringing about long-term peace and social justice and political justice in the whole region, should be labelled as a terrorist organisation by the British government is really a big, big historical mistake…”
“Our function is to support those people who are supporting and defending and representing the Palestinian people… part of [that] is inviting and welcoming our friends from Lebanon and from Palestine to London…”
The issue is not this or that phrase, nor the legitimate idea that getting peace often requires negotiations with people you don’t like – nor, of course, Corbyn’s absolutely correct opposition to repressive “anti-terrorism” legislation. It is the lack of sharp hostility to – and indeed praise of – brutally reactionary political forces. The problem with the likes of Hamas and Hesbollah is not that they are “terrorists” but that they are violently anti-women, anti-semitic, anti-working class theocratic bigots. In 2009 Hamas was engaged in a brutal clampdown on women and workers’ organisations among others in the Gaza strip: see here.
That a socialist could describe Hamas as “dedicated… to social and political justice” and describe working with them as a “pleasure and honour” is ridiculous. So is the comparison Corbyn made with the ANC. From a socialist point of view there were many problems with the ANC even before it took power, but to compare it to Hamas or Hesbollah is a slander.
We suspect that in this speech Corbyn got carried away, and that his underlying thought is that Hamas and Hesbollah are bad, but peace is the priority, Western imperialism and Israel are the chief evils, and so it is necessary to be diplomatic.
The problem with such diplomacy is that it means representing militaristic forces as peace-loving, and promoting bigoted reactionaries busy smashing our comrades – working-class activists, the left, feminists, etc in the Middle East – as progressives. People with Corbyn’s politics in Gaza face physical attack, prison or exile!
We want peace in the region, yes, and an end to the oppression of the Palestinians, but we also want to help the left there battle against Islamism. In addition, being able to vigorously denounce such forces would put the left in a stronger position to point out the hypocrisy of the right.
These kind of failings are not just a problem with Corbyn, but with wide sections of the left, from liberals through to self-styled revolutionaries. Those leading the Stop the War campaign have played a central role in spreading such ideas.
Against that approach we need to restate the basic Marxist idea of international working-class solidarity: “We shall never forget that the workers of all countries are our friends and the despots of all countries are our enemies” (German workers’ resolution during the Franco-Prussian War). The working-class movements, socialists, feminists and democrats of the Middle East are our friends, not Hamas and Hesbollah.
None of the candidates in the Labour leadership election are good on foreign policy; Corbyn at least opposes British militarism, nuclear weapons, etc, and despite his comments he is the most likely to support solidarity with working-class activists around the world. This in addition to his policies and record on austerity, workers’ struggles, migrants’ rights, and so on: a vote for Corbyn is a vote to break from the New Labour consensus on these issues, and rally the left and labour movement for a fightback.
Your protests needed right now – Iran arrests leader of teachers’ union
Esmail Abdi, a leader of the Iranian Teachers’ Trade Association, was arrested on 27 June following his attempt to obtain a visa to attend the 7th Education International World Congress in Ottawa, Canada in late July.
After his passport was confiscated at the border, he was ordered to return to Tehran to meet with prosecutors. However, upon reporting to the prosecutors’ office he was arrested while more than 70 teachers waited outside in support.
Protest now: http://www.labourstart.org/go/esmail
Abdi’s arrest comes after nationwide rallies were held earlier this year to protest wages that leave the majority of teachers below the poverty line.
The Education International is deeply concerned about the repression facing representatives of the Coordinating Council of Iranian Teachers Trade Associations and has asked us to launch this very urgent campaign.
It will only take you a minute — please send your message off now:
Please share this with your friends, family and fellow union members — and with any teachers you know.
Well-respected Labour movement activist Paul Mackney, former general secretary of the UCU and currently secretary of the Greece Solidarity Campaign, has written this sharp letter to the Morning Star which was published in today’s edition:
I am in Greece, where the people are preparing, more or less on class lines, to vote in the referendum on EU austerity demands next Sunday.
I was appalled to read your editorial mirroring the position of the KKE which voted in parliament not to have a referendum.
After years of reporting which ignores the realities of the new social and political movements in Greece, with regret, I have decided to cancel my daily copy of the Star.
The facts are that the KKE got 5 per cent of the vote in the last election and that Syriza got 36 per cent.
Syriza was clear with the people, who were overwhelmingly pro-EU and pro-euro, that it would try initially to find a solution within the Eurozone, which has involved negotiations which have been transparent.
We have to stand with the Greek people.
As the Greece Solidarity Campaign slogan has it: “In or out of the Eurozone, Greeks will never fight alone.”
PAUL MACKNEY London N22
Brian Denny of the nationalist No2EU campaign, claims (MS June 24) that “Cameron is already building an alliance for his strategy which stretches from the CBI to the more unhinged parts of British Trotskyism”
I presume by “the more unhinged parts of British Trotskyism” Mr Denny is referring to people like myself and the Alliance for Workers Liberty, who refuse to endorse his reactionary nationalist anti-EU stance. Would Mr Denny care to provide one single shred of evidence for his claim that we are in an “alliance” with Cameron? If he fails to do so (as he must) I shall expect an apology. And readers may care to consider who, in this debate, is in reality “unhinged”.
The Communist Party of Britain and its mouthpiece the Morning Star, are all over the place on the forthcoming EU referendum. Never mind their contortions over Tory plans to withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights (and – yes – I am aware that the ECHR is separate from the EU, but the Stalinists’ arguments about ‘unaccountable transnational bodies’ and the need for ‘national sovereignty’ logically should apply as much to the ECHR as to the EU).
As recently as its May 9-10 edition, the Morning Star carried this wretched piece of ‘analysis’ of the general election result, including the following criticism of Labour:
“Support for an EU referendum and a more critical attitude towards EU anti-democratic institutions and neo-liberal policies might have stopped at least some working-class voters defecting to Ukip.”
Now, have a read of this, from today’s (May 25) Morning Star:
No vote for membership for EU citizens
Labour drops opposition to in/out vote
by Our News Desk
MOST EU citizens living in Britain will be barred from voting in the referendum on whether to sever ties with Brussels, Prime Minister David Cameron said yesterday.
The franchise for the referendum, promised by the end of 2017, will be based on that for a general election — meaning Irish, Maltese and Cypriots resident in Britain will get a vote, but other EU citizens will not.
Details about the planned public vote were revealed as European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker was due to hold talks with Mr Cameron at Chequers, the Prime Minister’s country residence.
Legislation for the referendum will be introduced to Parliament on Thursday — the day after the Queen’s speech.
A Number 10 source said: “This is a big decision for our country, one that is about the future of the United Kingdom. That’s why we think it’s important that it is British, Irish and Commonwealth citizens that are the ones who get to decide.”
It comes after Labour’s acting leader Harriet Harman announced a U-turn on the issue, saying her party would now support Mr Cameron’s planned in/out referendum on EU membership.
She said: “We have now had a general election and reflected on the conversations we had on doorsteps throughout the country.
“The British people want to have a say on the UK’s membership of the European Union. Labour will therefore now support the EU referendum Bill when it comes before the House of Commons.”
Ms Harman added that the party will “make the case for our continued membership” and does not want to see Britain “stumble inadvertently towards EU exit.”
But unions have warned against Labour kowtowing to Tory wishes on the issue after Ms Harman accepted she shared some of the PM’s concerns about the need for reform, including freedom of movement.
GMB general secretary Paul Kenny said Labour “must not give Cameron a blank cheque and should beware of the CBI agenda to turn the clock back on employment rights.”
He added: “Labour is sleepwalking into a two-step Europe, with UK workers having the worst rights in the EU for which a big price will later be paid by the party at elections.”
It’s difficult to know were to start in commenting upon this level of political incoherence: having urged Labour to drop its opposition to the Tories’ referendum, the Star now (fairly obviously approvingly) quotes unions warning against Labour “kowtowing to Tory wishes on the issue” and the danger of “turn(ing) the clock back on employment rights.”
Didn’t you realise that attacking employment rights (along with attacking immigrants) is what the campaign for a referendum has always been all about, you Stalinist muppets?
The pitiful incoherence of the little-England Stalinists would be almost laughable, if it wasn’t so dangerous to working class interests.
We need a socialist campaign to critically defend the limited working class gains that have come from EU membership, and to oppose the little-England, racist and anti-working class anti-EU campaign of both right and “left”.
NB: See also Comrade Coatesy
The author is a leading member of the United Secretariat of the Fourth International, an organisation that has not always been clear-cut in its analysis of Islamism, so this article is of great significance. It first appeared in International Viewpoint:
After the attacks on Charlie Hebdo and the Hyper Cacher Jewish supermarket: thinking through the new and rethinking the old
By Pierre Rousset
We should start with a worrying observation.
Heads of state understood the importance of the events of January. Representatives of “democracies” and dictatorships alike, they came to Paris and locked arms together to show solidarity “at the highest levels”. A spectacular gesture if ever there was one!
On the other hand, a significant segment of the radical Left thought it was just business as usual. To be sure, some organizations published declarations of solidarity (and deserve genuine thanks for this) as well as articles grappling with the significance of the events. But many others felt it was enough to score debating points, correct as they may have been (against cross-party national unity, for example); or had as their first concern the need to distance themselves from the victims (declaring “Je ne suis pas Charlie” [“I am not Charlie”] in flagrant disregard for the message intended by those saying “Je suis Charlie” [“I am Charlie”]); or, far worse, felt the urgent task was to assassinate morally those who had just been assassinated physically.
Soon after the events, I co-wrote an article with François Sabado in which we specifically sought to understand what was so unique about the event and its implications in relation to our tasks.  No doubt, much more needs to be said on that score, but I’d like the text that follows (and which deals in large measure with the state of radical-Left opinion) to be read in conjunction with the previous one to avoid pointless repetition.
The unique character of the event
I’ll be referring in particular to an interview with Gilbert Achcar, with which I agree on many points of analysis, but which also contains a number of surprising blind spots. The first of these has to do with the unique character of the event. Gilbert seeks to trivialize the whole affair. “The reaction [to the attacks] has been what anybody would expect. […] These were quite similar reactions from appalled and frightened societies [the USA after 911 and France now] — and, of course, the crimes were appalling indeed. In both cases, the ruling class took advantage of the shock […] There is nothing much original about all this. Instead, what is rather original is the way the discussion evolved later on.” 
Gilbert is quite right to point out [elsewhere in the same interview] that it is extremely exaggerated to place the Charlie Hebdo attack and the September 2001 destruction of the World Trade Center Twin Towers on the same footing. And yet millions of people spontaneously took to the streets following the French events, unlike what happened following previous no less atrocious attacks, such as the murder of children in front of a Jewish school in Toulouse.
Make no mistake: ex-Royal Marine, Konstandinos Erik Scurfield, who was killed on Monday, fighting with the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) in Syria, was an anti-fascist hero.
His comrade, ex-US soldier Jordan Matson, also a YPG volunteer, wrote on Facebook:
“Kosta as we call him was from the United Kingdom and was born a Greek citizen. He served in both the Greek army and as a British Royal Marine commando up until he came here. He served with me in Jezza and Shengal.
“Kosta volunteered for every attack and guard duty opportunity. He wanted nothing more than to bring the fight to the enemy.
“I’m going to carry on your legacy brother, I will; never forget you. I love you man.
“Save ne a place up there big guy.”
Scurfield had been fighting in an area southwest of the town of Tal Hamis, which Kurdish forces seized from the ISIS/Daesh fascists last week, when (it is thought) the vehicle in which he was travelling was hit by mortar fire.
The death of this hero reminds us of how shamefully the Kurdish forces have been neglected by the West and that, despite their courage and superior fighting skills, they are often simply out-gunned by the well-equipped forces of ISIS/Daesh.
In memory of Kosta, we must demand of our government: Arm The Kurds!
Brian Parsons died on Saturday morning, after a long illness (a brain tumour).
Brian had been very politically active in the 1970s and was, briefly, associated with the libertarian-left group Big Flame. He was also a great champion of a wide range of music and pioneered appreciation of what became known as “world music” by means of his Bongo-Go disco (with occasional live sessions), which for many years were a hugely popular feature of Birmingham night-life, at the Moseley Dance Centre. He also supported live jazz and blues: I last saw him about a year ago at a gig featuring the Kinda Dukish Big Band – apparently he’d long been a passionate enthusiast of the music of Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn – something I’d never realised.
Meanwhile, he never lost his political commitment and remained a friend of equality and justice all his life.
So long, old friend and comrade!
H/t Terry Lilly