Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Labour, The Left and The Nationalist EU Trap

The Tories appear to be in meltdown, following the meltdown of their Liberal coalition partners. Rather like Nero fiddling while Rome burned, the Tories are squabbling while the UK economy goes up in flames; flames which they and their Liberal partners sparked with their austerian economic policies. Unable to offer any rational response to the economic chaos they have created, they instead resort to the age old tactic of the small-capitalist – divide and rule. Under pressure from their right-wing, and its provisional wing – UKIP – the Tories have retreated to that last resort of the scoundrel, Patriotism. In doing so, they seem to be trying to also lay a trap for Labour, by daring them to vote against a proposal for an EU referendum. There is an easy, and progressive response to that dare.

The Tories like UKIP are stoking up fears over immigration, and appealing to Little Englander Nationalism over the EU. Neither of those offer anything good for British workers, or for the dominant sections of British Capital. A withdrawal from the EU would be catastrophic for the UK economy. Big, multinational capital, of which British firms are an integral part, would really like to establish the kind of political arrangements that flow logically from its needs, and from the reality of a global economy. They would like to establish a single world state. But, history shows the problem of achieving that. The US went through a bloody civil war to establish its centralised federal state; Europe has gone through wars since the beginning of the 19th Century, that have essentially been about trying to establish a single European State. The continuance of national cultures, based upon the continuance of national economic, political and strategic interests of various nationally based interest groups, means that simply getting agreement, even for the voluntary establishment of an EU state is not straight forward. Nevertheless, big multinational capital has established a range of global, quasi state bodies, such as the UN, IMF, World Bank, WTO etc., and the dominant states, within this imperialist system of states, provide the bodies of armed men, required to enforce the Rule of Law, required by big multinational capital for capital accumulation on a global scale.

Within that context, and understood in the dialectically, contradictory manner by which such processes unfold, via combined and uneven development, the creation of the EU has been a relative success, for that dominant section of capital. It is not going to give it up that easily. The extent to which the Tories – and other right-wing populist parties and movements adopt a similar position across Europe – seem to have set their face against the EU is itself a reflection of the fact I have emphasised many times over the last few years. The Tories are not the representatives of Capital, certainly not of its dominant sections. Their opposition to the EU, like their advocacy of austerian economic policies, is the ideology of the small capitalists, the frightened and angry petit-bourgeois, the reactionary sections of the middle-class, that make up their core membership and electoral support.

As I've set out recently, the Tories undoubtedly feel they have to push this line to avoid losing votes to UKIP. They must know they have lost the next General Election, and that is reflected by the calls from some frightened Tories like Nadine Dorries for an electoral pact with Farage. But, in reality, all they can really hope to do is to try to consolidate their core. Come the General Election, UKIP's real support will be shown for what it is, which is probably around 8%. It is only that high, because in order to try to grab audience share, the BBC have become more like the voice of UKIP, with Farage's face never missing on any day of the week from some BBC programme. Remember what happened in similar circumstances before the 2010 Election. But, then the media jumped on the bandwagon that was Cleggmania. Clegg could do no wrong, and everyone clamoured to proclaim that they agreed with Nick. Once again, it demonstrates the paucity of political culture in Britain, and why we ought to think seriously about some kind of Civics qualification that everyone needs to pass before they are let loose with a ballot. If it was a mistake to chase after cheap, and very short-lived popularity by associating with Cleggmania, how much worse a mistake to succumb to Faragephilia.

The chaos in the Tory Party has been illustrated by the fact that on top of the old crusties like Lawson and Lamont, who set records themselves in economic dystopia, and today's adventurists like Gove and Hammond, coming out in favour of leaving the EU, Cameron faced his party putting down an amendment to his own Government's legislative programme! An amendment he was having to tell even his own front bench they didn't need to vote against!!! But, Cameron's own General Haig's have come up with a cunning plan. They hoped to persuade their own side not to mutiny, by putting down a motion calling for an EU referendum in 2017, thereby daring Labour and the Liberals to vote against it.

The wisdom of this move depends upon two things. Firstly, that the rest of the population are as infatuated with the question of whether Britain is in or out of the EU, as the Tory Right, and UKIP. They aren't. In opinion poll after opinion poll Europe comes a poor 6th or 7th in terms of people's concerns, way behind concern over the economy, jobs, the NHS and so on. Secondly, it depends on those that say they want to leave Europe, being absolutely fixed in that opinion. They aren't. When a full discussion over Europe takes place, and when the big guns of capital, mobilise to ensure that the message is heard loud and clear, a majority for staying in Europe will quickly be generated, and no vote is likely before it is.

In fact, as I've said before, I think an “In/Out” vote is required, but only if its clear that a majority of people, desperately demand it. Scotland joined England, more than 300 years ago, and is only just voting on whether it wants to continue the relation. By comparison its only 38 years since the British people voted overwhelmingly to get hitched to Europe. In historical terms, a divorce now would be rather like a celebrity marriage, and once again say something about the political culture and maturity of the British, more than it would say about Europe.

And, its on that basis that Labour and the Left should respond to the trap that the Tories think they are setting. Too often Labour has responded to right-wing, populist attacks on Europe, by themselves competing for the reactionary, nationalist cloak. Some on the Left like the national socialists of the Communist Party, and of No2EU, etc, have taken that even further. Listening to their arguments, you would think that British Governments and the British state were the friends of British workers, that they did not impose, austerity policies, anti-trade union laws, privatisation and so on! The response of Labour and the Left should be to stop falling for the old divide and rule tactic, stop arguing on the ground of what is in Britain's interest, or even British workers' interest, and instead argue on the ground that British workers interests are the same as the interests of every other worker in Europe, and those interests are best served in the establishment of a United States of Europe, and the forging of greater unity of workers across such a United States, with the aim of creating a Workers Europe.

The Tories say they want to negotiate changes in Europe. Labour and the Left and the Trades Unions should agree, but we should stress that the changes we want to negotiate are not changes from the narrow standpoint of British national interest, but changes that benefit all workers across Europe. We want a single European State, with national states reduced to the level of the states in the US, so that we can have a truly level playing field across the continent, with common laws on taxation, benefits, interest rates and so on, in place of the sham of a single market that exists currently. In order, as a start, in introducing at least the minimum of even bourgeois democratic accountability of such a state, we want the Executive of such a state to be drawn from, and accountable to the European Parliament. And, in order that such a Parliament should be seen in the serious light it should, the Labour Party along with other Workers Parties across Europe, should revitalise the Second International, and establish a single European Workers Party, just as we should build a single European Trades Union Movement, and a single European Co-operative Federation, as separate but united wings of the European Labour Movement.

Labour and the Left, should say yes, we will vote in favour of an In/Out Referendum, if and when the majority of the British people vociferously demand it, and in such a referendum we will campaign along with the workers and socialists across Europe for a vote to stay in and fight with our European comrades, to bring about the kind of democratic and social changes needed to meet the interests not just of British workers but of all workers across the Continent. Just as we reject the attempts of small minded bosses to undermine our unions, and workers solidarity with their tactic of divide and rule, and appealing to individual and sectional interest, so we reject that same small boss mentality, used by the Tories, to undermine the unity and solidarity of workers across Europe.


Unknown said...

I really agree with your article Arthur but I don't really think the current Labour party is capable of adopting this position, which is a shame. I fear they will just twist themselves into knots trying to appease the populist press while kowtowing to the to the transnationals.

Boffy said...


Good to hear from you again. Its probably not even the case, for the reasons given, that sections of the Left are capable of adopting such a position. Past experience suggests they will adopt a reactionary, nationalist position too. I understand Bob Crowe is looking at dropping TUSC, at least temporarily, for a resuscitating the disastrous No2EU, for the 2014 EU elections, for example.

But, all Marxists can do is set out what they think workers and their organisations, should do, and work in a non-sectarian, non-ultimatumist, way to try to convince them of those ideas. Its why I think all Marxists should be in the LP doing just that.

Having said that, I was quite pleasantly surprised when the other week on Question Time, Harriet Harman responded to a question about the Bangladesh tragedy, by saying the answer was not consumer boycotts, but international workers solidarity, to support the development of strong, free unions in Bangladesh, able to demand and enforce decent Health and Safety laws.

Quite right, now the LP should do the same across Europe!