Sunday, 23 October 2011

Vote Yes For An EU Referendum

Tomorrow, Parliament will be voting on whether to hold a referendum on EU membership. Were I an MP, I would vote Yes. I would do so for several reasons. Firstly, opinion polls show around two-thirds of people want one. As a consistent democrat, I believe that British people have as much right to self-determination as anyone else. If they wish to exercise that right by voting on whether to be in or out of the EU, I support them. Secondly, Britain's membership of the EU – and that of most other member states – has always been based upon a false prospectus.
It was always claimed that all Britain was signing up to was a Common Market. In reality, as most of the original members states knew, it was always much more than that. It was established for political reasons. But, because that was never spelled out openly, the EEC, and then EU developed on the basis of bureaucratic manipulation. Thirdly, and following on from that, the current Eurozone Crisis shows why that kind of fudge cannot continue. If the EU is to continue, the crisis of the Eurozone has to be resolved, which can only be done via Fiscal and Political Union, and if fiscal and political union is to be brought about and be sustainable, it can only be on an EU wide basis. There can be no two-speed Europe, for anything other than a very short period.

In his writings on Self-Determination, Lenin was quite clear, and in my opinion correct. Lenin had no truck with the bourgeois-liberal notions about self-determination, which underpin the positions of organisations such as the AWL, or the SWP today.
For Lenin, it was not an absolute principle that Marxists had to advocate come what may. It is, in the end, merely a bourgeois democratic demand, not a socialist demand. Like all other bourgeois democratic demands, Marxists support it, only in so far as it assists the working-class in its struggle for Socialism. As Trotsky put it,

“But the formulae of democracy (freedom of press, the right to unionize, etc.) mean for us only incidental or episodic slogans in the independent movement of the proletariat and not a democratic noose fastened to the neck of the proletariat by the bourgeoisie’s agents (Spain!).”

The Transitional Programme

Lenin, followed Marx and Engels in believing that the small states were an impediment to historical development.
Just as the concentration and centralisation of Capital into monopolies was historically progressive, so too was the merging together of these small states into larger federations, or single states. On this basis, Lenin argued that Marxists should defend the RIGHT of nationalities to independence, but should argue AGAINST that right being used to establish new bourgeois democratic states, which would be historically reactionary, and lead to a division of the working-class. So, in just the same way that I would defend the Right of Scots to self-determination, as a Marxist, I would campaign against the separation of Scotland from the United Kingdom, because it would be a reactionary step. In the same way, I support the right of UK citizens to self-determination in relation to the EU, but I would campaign vigorously against the UK leaving the EU, because it too would be a reactionary step. In just the same way that Marxists do not advocate a return to a free market, and small industry as an alternative to monopoly and oligopoly, but instead argue for a move forward to workers' ownership of the means of production, so too we do not argue for a step backwards from larger states to smaller nation states, but argue for a move forwards to a more consistently democratic, and ultimately socialist United States of Europe.

The EEC, and then EU was established for two basic reasons. Firstly, the rise of the USA demonstrated to European Capital that if it was to compete on a global scale it needed the same kind of economic and political advantages that came with the size of a single state such as the USA. The USA had originally developed as a loose federation of states, such as the EU is.
But, as the US industrialised, it became obvious to US industrial Capital that it required a single centralised state. It was on that basis that the Civil War was fought to bring that about, and assert its dominance over the rights of the individual states. Had Napoleon or Hitler succeeded in their ambitions, a single European State would have been established in the same way. In reality, the export and interpenetration of Capital that occurred from the latter part of the 19th Century, meant that there already was in large part, a distinct European Capital. But, Big Capital, in particular, recognised that the continuation of national economies, national interests and so on hindered this development. It always threatened to break out into renewed conflict, which would further strengthen the US.

The EEC was a pragmatic response by Big Capital. It aimed at creating a single European State, but without the kind of Civil War that the US had undertaken, and without any one single country imposing its will militarily upon the others. But, herein lay the problem. By nature of the historical conditions under which the project took place, large sections of national capital had vested interests in continuing the protection they had, or sought from their own nation state. For, countries like Britain, and France with long Imperial histories the idea of ceding political power to a European State, was never going to be one they adopted gladly. And, with national identities, and cultural differences being fairly entrenched, it would require a considerable campaign by Big Capital to convince populations that they should support such a single state.

To have done so would have meant that Big Capital would have to have come out in open conflict against those within its own class, who were still in thrall to the ideas of nation, and Empire and all of the reactionary crap that goes along with it. For the small Capitalists, in particular, there were very real economic motivations for those ideas.
The Big Capitalists already operated across borders, whereas the small capitalists, often inefficient and reliant upon penny pinching measures, to stay in business, had their horizons set no further than the national market, and the protection they obtained from the nation state. The Big Capitalists had incorporated the Trades Unions via Fordism, and it was no problem for them to accept ideas of equality, free movement of labour and so on – the problems that women workers had in obtaining equal pay and status were frequently as much to do with the attitudes of male Trades Unionists as those of management in big companies – but for the penny pinching small capitalist, racism and sexism played an important part in dividing workers, so as to oppose Trades Unions and so on.

Engels described it well when he said,

“Thus the truck system was suppressed, the Ten Hours’ Bill [2] was enacted, and a number of other secondary reforms introduced — much against the spirit of Free Trade and unbridled competition, but quite as much in favour of the giant-capitalist in his competition with his less favoured brother.
Moreover, the larger the concern, and with it the number of hands, the greater the loss and inconvenience caused by every conflict between master and men; and thus a new spirit came over the masters, especially the large ones, which taught them to avoid unnecessary squabbles, to acquiesce in the existence and power of Trades’ Unions, and finally even to discover in strikes — at opportune times — a powerful means to serve their own ends. The largest manufacturers, formerly the leaders of the war against the working-class, were now the foremost to preach peace and harmony. And for a very good reason. The fact is that all these concessions to justice and philanthropy were nothing else but means to accelerate the concentration of capital in the hands of the few, for whom the niggardly extra extortions of former years had lost all importance and had become actual nuisances; and to crush all the quicker and all the safer their smaller competitors, who could not make both ends meet without such perquisites.”

Engels – The Condition of The Working Class in England

But, although the interests of Big Capital and Small Capital diverge in this way, and whilst Big Capital is happy to screw over its smaller brethren, it is still a part of that class, of whom the smaller Capitalists make up the larger proportion. It is one thing to screw them by what appear to be means of purely economic competition, or via bureaucratic means via access to the levers of the State, it is another to openly break the United Front that Capital seeks to present towards its class enemies. In the conditions of the Long Wave Boom, of the 1950's and 60's, the EEC could largely ignore these issues. It could proceed as a Common Market, with limited political intervention, whose major goal was to address the needs of Big Capital, and of those sections of the population where opposition might arise. The European Coal and Steel Community, was established not just as a means of promoting economic growth, but also of controlling those industries, which had been fundamental to the ability to wage war. The Common Agricultural Policy was a deliberate piece of regional policy aimed at the farmers, and peasants of Southern Europe. The development of Atomic Energy in Europe, was done so as to create the kinds of size of market, and economies of scale that would enable competition with the US.

But, economic competition within a single market necessarily implies that some level playing field exists for those doing the competing. When the Long Wave Boom came to an end, and competition becomes more sharp, the necessity for such common rules likewise becomes intensified. The establishment of those common rules requires some kind of centralised political decision making body to bring that about.
Without it, the kind of bickering, and demands for opt outs, such as those insisted on by the UK over the last 30 years, become inevitable. Big Capital needs a single European State, but the political dynamics make arguing for it difficult. Only a major political campaign waged by Big Capital, which would mean confronting some of the reactionary, nationalist prejudices that continue to dominate small capital, sections of the middle class, and the more backwards sections of the working-class would be capable of overcoming those difficulties, and winning a majority for the idea of a United States of Europe. I favour a referendum, precisely because it would force Big Capital to make that choice, to break with the small Capitalists, and the other reactionaries and nationalists.

That is important for the working-class, because whilst a single European State is in the interests of Big Capital, it is also in the interests of workers. Indeed, as Engels suggests, from the latter part of the 19th Century, there has been a confluence of interests between workers and the Big Capitalists, which is represented by the ideology of Social Democracy. It is in workers interests that Capital develops as rapidly, and efficiently as possible, because that raises workers living standards, and creates the conditions upon which the transition to Socialism is made easier.
It is not in our interests that continued competition between nation states continues, and that the concomitant of that – a race to the bottom, of wages and conditions – is allowed to proceed. Instead of the opt outs that British Governments have sought, we need to insist that British workers obtain the same rights and benefits as other European workers.

On TV today, I had Robert Winston argue that the Working Time Directive had been disastrous for medical training of Junior Doctors in Britain. This is the same training that had seen those doctors working 70 hours a week, some of them falling asleep on the job, and resorting to stimulants to stay awake. But, what is it about British Medical Training that was so inefficient that it could not cope with doctors working reasonable hours?
France has probably the best Health Service in the world, yet it does not seem to have had trouble training its doctors whilst complying with the Working Time Directive. The Health Service in Germany, Holland, Spain and elsewhere are also not too shabby, certainly they are superior to the NHS, yet they too have not had problems training their doctors whilst complying with the WTD. Workers need a single European State, with common rules and regulations to protect them wherever they live, for precisely these reasons, to prevent penny-pinching Capitalists, and inefficient bureaucrats making up for their own inefficiency, by imposing worse conditions on their workers.

This is the other reason we need a referendum on membership of the EU. As part of that referendum, and campaign around it, we do need to renegotiate Britain's relation to the EU. That renegotiation needs to be one, however, that workers across Europe are part of. We need a United States of Europe that will meet workers needs. We need, conventions called across Europe to discuss the type of Europe, we the people of Europe, want.
Constitutional Conventions should discuss the Constitution, and basic principles upon which it should be founded. We need to renegotiate Britain's relationship with Europe, in order to scrap all of the existing opt outs, and to ensure that all future decision making is done by a democratically elected European Parliament, that in turn elects a European Government. The Capitalists Europe, established the power of the Brussels bureaucracy, of the proto European State in the form of the European Commission, because they were not prepared to wage a political struggle to win clear support for the establishment of a democratic European State. We the workers must now correct that democratic deficit, by calling for the scrapping of the Commission, and for a thorough democratisation of all EU institutions.

In order to bring this about, we need to build Europe wide, Labour Movement organisations – a single European Trade Union Movement, a single European Workers Party, and a single European Co-operative Federation. Such a Labour Movement, as Marx and Engels did with the First International could make considerable headway in insisting upon, and taking action to establish a Minimum Programme of demands.
Common, enforceable Trades Union rates of pay across Europe, a common retirement age for all workers, a 35 hour week across the continent, common pensions and benefits throughout Europe, common rights for Maternity and Paternity Leave, and so on. In place of a race to the bottom, a single European State facilitates a struggle for a levelling up, and a common struggle of all Europe's workers.

* Yes to an EU referendum
* Yes to a single European Labour Movement
* Yes to a United States of Europe


Jacob Richter said...

And campaign for a European Central Bank monopoly on all financial services in Europe!

Boffy said...

If there were an EU Workers Government, or if we were talking about a Socialist United States of Europe I would agree. However, as the current experience of nationalised Banks by the Capitalist State shows, and as Trotsky argues in the Transitional Programme, there is no advantage for workers in having Banks owned by a powerful Capitalist State - which acts on behalf of the most powerful Capitalists - as opposed to them being owned by a range of Capitalists competing against each other.

Personally, until we have that Workers State, I would prefer not to have the Capitalist State holding that economic power, and all that goes with it. I would rather Workers be free to own property in their own name collectively. I would not want Worker Owned Co-op Banks, Building Societies, Credit Unions, Friendly Societies etc. to be taken out of the workers hands by a State Capitalist Financial Monopoly.

I prefer to stand on the ground of Marx and the First International, who spoke out vigorously in its Programme, and in the Programme of the French Socialists for that State to keep its greedy hands off the workers Friendly and Mutual Societies.

Jacob Richter said...

We already had a debate on Engels and the non-negatives posed by permanent *capitalist* nationalizations.

Too many people are right now entertaining fetishes about co-op banks, credit unions, mutuals, etc. as opposed to the imperative for an (admittedly state-capitalist) institution that would make the historical Gosbank look like a pipsqueek.