Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Reasons To Remain – Peace and Security

The Punchline

The EU may resolve conflicts within its borders bureaucratically, but that is better than the resolution of conflicts by resort to war and violence as has previously been the case. Britain outside the EU will face a series of such conflicts and challenges, wherever its borders, on land, sea or air adjoin the EU. But, in such future situations an isolated Britain of 50 million people will confront a powerful EU superstate of 500 million people.

If You Are In A Rush

  • Boris Johnson was right when he gave a history of previous attempts to unify Europe. He was wrong in not recognising that those attempts indicate an underlying historical economic and political logic behind the drive for the creation of larger states. It is, of course, the nature of conservatism to stand, like Canute, trying to resist the inevitable march of progress.
  • The United States having undertaken a revolution to overthrow a King (George III), then found itself not long after fighting an even more bloody civil war to establish a single Federal State, and the subordination of the individual states to it.
  • Having undertaken bourgeois revolutions themselves, a part of which was the establishment of nation states, European states suffered a series of wars whose actual purpose was the establishment of a large single European state, under the domination of whichever was the dominant European power at the time.
  • In all these struggles, including that of the United States, where the British ruling class aligned itself with the confederates, the intention of an hegemonous British state, was the prevention of the creation of such large, unified states, which could challenge its economic and military dominance.
  • When the Napoleonic Wars took place, a Britain still ruled by a Monarchy, and still dominated by the political power of the landed aristocracy, did not challenge Bonaparte because he was a dictator, but because his project of a unified, bourgeois republican Europe, threatened the continued dominance of British colonialism, and industrial power.
  • When Britain intervened in World War I, against a Germany, it was not because the British Royal Family's German cousin was an autocrat and despot, but for the same reason that a unified industrial Europe, would quickly eclipse British imperial power.
  • When Britain engaged in war against Germany in 1939, it was not because Hitler was a fascist or an anti-Semite. Churchill's anti-Semitic views were little different to those of the Nazis, and the British ruling class had eulogised over both Hitler and Mussolini throughout the 1930's, when it was a matter of them attacking communists, socialists and trades unionists. The real reason again was the fear that if Germany unified Europe, it would quickly eclipse a declining Britain.
  • Its no wonder people like DeGaulle actually opposed Britain joining the EEC, as it was, given its role throughout history of wrecking European unity. The Tories have continued that role until the present day. But there is no reason that British and European workers should pay the price of those power games played by their ruling classes. It is workers who suffer when those conflicts break out into war.
  • No one should think those conflicts are a matter of the past. Its only thirty years ago since Britain was at war in the Falklands in a minor dispute over a god forsaken piece of rock thousands of miles away, which cost the lives of many British and Argentinians troops. It is only forty years ago that Britain was engaged in a dispute with Iceland over fishing rights in the North Sea, which broke out into the so called “Cod Wars”.
  • Throughout the 1960's through to just 20 years ago, the North of Ireland was racked by a civil war that divided workers, and led to bombing of British cities, that was far more effective than anything that Islamist terrorists have been able to achieve. A large part of the achievement of an end to that civil war was the fact that both Ireland and Northern Ireland were part of the EU, and free movement of people meant that Republicans living in the North were able to walk across the border, and work in the Republic. An end to British membership will reimpose all of the problems associated with that border.
  • Similarly, for years, the issue of Gibraltar was a bone of contention between Britain and Spain, that has been subdued by the common membership of the EU. The next time such a conflict arises, and Spain closes the border to Gibraltar, and similar conflicts could arise over, for example, the Channel Islands, it will not be Britain versus Spain, but an isolated Britain, versus a unified 500 million people in an EU superstate.
  • An isolated British state will not just accelerate its own economic and political decline, but it will make itself increasingly irrelevant in terms of global power relations. The Brexiters talk about increasing sovereignty, but in fact an isolated Britain will find itself increasingly dictated to by others, and whose only resort when faced with conflicts around its borders will be a resort to violence.

If You Have Time

A couple of weeks ago, Boris Johnson provoked opprobrium for having brought Hitler into the discussion over Europe. In fact, Bojo had given a much lengthier, historical tractatus on attempts to create a unified European state, going back to the Holy Roman Empire. Bojo's thesis was that these various failed attempts showed that there is no adequate basis of a common European identity, as a foundation for the establishment of a European state. The thesis has two obvious flaws.

Firstly, every existing nation state came into being, not on the basis of such a common identity, and the harmonious coming together of peoples, but of war and revolution and the domination of weaker nationalities within the state to a dominant group. The English nation state arose on the back of centuries of conflicts between competing tribes, of competing kingdoms and so on. The British nation state only arose on the back of further violent conflicts, the subjugation of the Cornish nation, the Welsh nation and so on, and years of conflict with the Scottish nation, before a peaceful union with it was effected in 1707. Cultural and class differences resulted also in a Civil War, which was itself a fundamental element in creating the basis for the establishment of the British nation state, which only properly came into existence on the back of a foreign invasion from Holland, during the Glorious Revolution of 1688

France was comprised of around 200 different nationalities, that were unified under the Franks, who were themselves a Germanic tribe. Italy was only formed as a nation state, as was Germany and other European countries, in the 19th century, as a result of civil wars and revolutions. The United States itself only came into being following a bitter and bloody civil war. So, the idea that a united European state is not possible because it lacks some kind of common cultural heritage is false, because the reality has always been that such identities are created after the formation of a nation state, not as a precondition for them.

Secondly, the most obvious retort to Bojo's thesis is that such a coming together has already occurred, and has occurred peacefully. Yes, its true that this peaceful coming together is not complete, the EU does not exist as a nation state in the way that the United States, or the United Kingdom or France, or Germany etc. exists, but that is largely due to the fact that this coming together has been one brought about on a peaceful and voluntary basis, whereas all those other nation states were brought about by violence, war and revolution, whereby a dominant group subjugated weaker nationalities to their own rule, and thereby imposed a dominant culture.

What made Lenin believe that a unified capitalist Europe was impossible, was precisely the fact that at the time, Europe was dominated by a number of colonial powers, such as Britain and France, and would be colonial powers such as Germany, each of which would be too busy protecting their own interests to be able to forge such a unity. That was effectively correct, although it was not that each of these powers was a colonial power that was the significant factor here, but the fact that each were individually, more or less equal economic and military powers, whilst the United States was still not an hegemonic power. 

Britain had a reason to keep Europe divided so as to maintain its own global hegemony, whilst both Germany and France had reason for wanting to create a united Europe only under their own domination much as each had arisen themselves as nation states. Increasingly too, the United States as the rising global power had reason to keep Europe divided so as to facilitate its own rise to global power. That is why it waited until the European powers had exhausted themselves in WWI, before coming in on the losing side, to tip the balance against Germany. It did the same thing in WWII, after years during which US factories in Germany had been churning out war supplies for the Nazis.

See Ford and the Nazis

See GM and the Nazis

After WWII, Britain was sued for the damage it had done as a result of bombing these US plants churning out Nazi war supplies.

The conclusion that Bojo should have drawn is that the process of creating ever larger economic and political units, and the requirement, therefore, for increasingly large states is a powerful historical process that has equally powerful objective, material foundations. Standing in the way of such processes is conservative, whilst attempts to turn the clock back to some former stage of history, when they have already occurred, is not just conservative, but reactionary in the true sense.

As Trotsky put it in “The Programme for Peace”, we would not have supported Germany in World War I, or advocated such a means of bringing about a united Europe, but had Europe been united by the Kaiser, neither would we have been calling for that unity to be broken apart. Rather we would be arguing for going beyond that unity on a capitalist basis, and engaging in a struggle within such a unified capitalist Europe, for a United States of Europe, for a struggle for a Workers Government across the whole of Europe, on the way to establishing a Socialist United States of Europe.

Similarly, there is no reason why a socialist would argue the reactionary position of breaking apart the existing European unity that exists, any more than socialists would argue for the breaking apart of monopolies in favour of small private capitalist businesses. Our task is not to move backwards, but to argue for a democratisation of the existing European structures, for the creation of a United States of Europe, and within it to unify the European working class in a struggle for a European Workers Government, and a Socialist United States of Europe.

The fact that the EU has been forged so far on the basis of bureaucracy, and consequently suffers a significant democratic deficit, is itself largely a result of the fact that it has been built peacefully, and on the back of national compromises between these competing capitalist powers, rather than on the basis of a unity forged under the heel of a single overwhelming economic and military power. However, those same historical forces continue to operate, and more intensely given that European economies today face huge global economic powers such as the United States, China, and growing economic and political blocs in Asia, Latin America, and Africa. In the end, that bureaucratism is a preferable alternative to the wars that dominated Europe in the past, as part of attempts to create a European state.

The drive to create a single European state, after WWII, was not only driven by a desire to avoid war, but was also driven by a recognition that in the current world, the nation state has passed its sell-by date. War weakened European economies not only faced a powerful US, but also what appeared at the time a powerful USSR. The establishment of the EEC, was part of a general social-democratic recognition of the need for longer-term state regulation and planning of the economy, and a recognition that this and the huge scale of investment of capital required in the modern world, can only be rationally undertaken on at least a continental scale.

It is that which provided the basis for creating a single Europe, and for subordinating national and regional antagonisms within it. The current problems within the EU, in fact, reflect a failure of European social-democracy to press forward with that philosophy. It has been the introduction of Anglo-Saxon economic models, and in particular the introduction of austerity, as opposed to fiscal solidarity across the EU, which has led to the build up of antagonisms, such as those between Greece and Germany, but also of regional antagonisms, such as those in Spain, or Britain. One reason for remaining in Europe, is for workers across the continent to demand that the original social-democratic principles of social solidarity, of the need for systematic regulation, and fiscal intervention, by a centralised European state be restored, as a means of promoting economic growth across the whole of Europe.

However much the Brexiters may have romantic delusions of Britain's imperial past, the fact is that Britain has been a declining power for more than a century, and in the modern global economy it is a minnow. The global economic forces that led European powers to pool their fortunes in a single European market had already shown just how weak Britain had become by the 1970's, which were one reason that its economy was more badly affected than most by the end of the post war global boom. It was again one reason why Britain was led to seek to join that European union itself, and whatever the Brexiters now claim, it was clear that what Britain was joining was not just a Common Market, but a European Union on both an economic and political basis.

From being a country able to take on the world a century earlier, the extent of Britain's power was shown in the Cod Wars against tiny Iceland over fishing rights, each of which resulted in the victory of tiny Iceland over the once Great Britain.

The last Cod War concluded with a highly favourable agreement for Iceland, as the United Kingdom conceded to a 200-nautical-mile (370-kilometre) Icelandic exclusive fishery zone. Similarly, Britain barely beat a third rate military power in Argentina, in 1982, in a conflict over control of the Falkland Islands. Reminiscent of the inadequate industrial power of Russia in WWI, Britain was about to run out of ammunition for its troops on the Falklands, at the point that the Argentinians surrendered.

But, one thing that Britain has not had to worry about during such disputes has been its EU partners. The existence of the EU, has meant that Britain has negotiated as part of a 500 million strong bloc of people. Within that bloc, even on the basis of the bureaucratic evolution, it has been able to deal with a range of conflicts. Conflict continued in the North of Ireland from the time that the Republic was established and flared up again in 1969, running through until the late 1990's, when the Good Friday Agreements came into force. A large part of the reason those agreements were possible was the fact of Britain and Ireland being within the EU, and with free movement of people across borders Republicans living in the North could feel themselves to be Irish and European, able to walk across what was increasingly a meaningless border, every day, to work, play and consume.

If Britain leaves the EU, despite what the Brexiters claim, it will become inevitable that the border will once more have to be closed, and closed even more tightly than it was even during the troubles. If the Brexiters really believe all of their scaremongering about continued floods of migrants coming to Britain, from Turkey or wherever else, they must believe that if the border to the EU is shut at Calais to free movement, then EU migrants will instead travel freely to the Republic, and from there simply walk across the border into the North of Ireland. The only way that Britain could then prevent those migrants entering the rest of Britain would be to close the border to the Republic. The consequence will inevitably be a reintroduction of all of those frictions which led to the outbreak of the troubles in the late 1960's.

Similarly, three has been a history of conflict between Britain and Spain over Gibraltar, as there continues to be a conflict between Britain and Argentina over the Falklands. There is no reason why a Britain outside the EU will obtain support in any diplomatic negotiations over the Falklands, let alone any future military conflict, especially from those countries such as Spain, which have their own historical connections with Latin America. Nor is there any reason why the EU would play any role to mediate future conflict between Britain and Spain over Gibraltar. 

The next time some dispute arises, and Spain closes the border with Gibraltar, Britain would stand alone, whilst 500 million members of the EU would stand behind Spain. If Britain lost out to tiny Iceland during the Cod Wars, in the 1970's, they have little chance of success in such disputes over fishing rights or anything else, with an EU state of 500 million people!

For a socialist, its not the fact that a capitalist British state would lose out to a capitalist EU state in such circumstances. It is, however, that such conflicts always impact upon ordinary working people on either side of such conflicts. Moreover, an isolated British state, impotent to win anything diplomatically against such a powerful European bloc, and facing economic and other sanctions whenever any such disputes arise, would be more likely, as has happened in the past, to feel that its only resort is to military force. As with the Cod Wars, that may start off as merely what is intended to be policing actions, or as with the Falklands sabre rattling, but such conflicts have a habit, as happened with the latter, to descend rapidly and uncontrollably into outright shooting wars, which then have a dynamic of their own.

The supporters of Brexit are fond of saying, when it comes to the possibility of Turkey joining the EU, for example, that the vote is about what happens in the future decades from now. That is true. But a look at what has happened only in the last two or three decades, shows what can happen in the near future, and the potential conflicts that an isolated Britain may find itself entangled in against a much larger, much more powerful EU neighbour.

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