Thursday, 23 June 2016

Vote Remain – But Remain or Leave The Fight Goes On

Vote Remain

Yesterday afternoon, someone from “Britain Stronger in Europe” rang me. “Can we count on your vote to remain?” they asked. “Yes,” I responded immediately. There was a pause, before they asked, “did you say yes?” When I confirmed my answer, they said, “And will you definitely be voting?” “Yes,” I again immediately replied. “That's great,” they said seemingly stunned. “You're the first person that's said that today.”

I shouldn't think that was part of his canvassers' script, but it illustrates a point I have made several times recently, which is that the opinion polls, even with a 50-50 split, seem to be significantly overstating the support for Remain. As someone who is passionately in favour of Remain that is not something I am happy about, but it does, nevertheless, appear to be a fact. I think that people will wake up to a shock tomorrow, and that shock will hit the financial markets hard, given that they have been rising strongly over recent days, in an apparent belief that Remain has it in the bag.

But, Jeremy Corbyn had it right in his speech on Wednesday, when he said that, on Friday, whatever the result, our task remains to work with other socialists across Europe, be it Syriza, Podemos, the Left Bloc, or workers in general, fighting austerity, to build a different kind of Europe.

I am passionately in favour of a vote to Remain in the EU, not because I am passionately in favour of the EU itself, but because I am passionately in favour of the unity of workers in Europe, and for the breaking down of outmoded national borders, which keep workers penned up inside them, and inhibit the free movement of workers, maintaining divisions between them.

In the 1960's, when Britain first began making applications to join what was the the EEC, the position of Marxists was one of abstention. The slogan adopted was “In or Out, The Fight Goes On”. It symbolised the recognition that the solution for workers, in Britain, or any other country, to their problems could not be found by joining together in a larger capitalist bloc.

If we think about it in terms of workers in a company, Marxists would not say to those workers, if it was proposing a merger, “You should favour being part of a bigger capitalist company.” Nor would we recommend to workers that they should support the firm being nationalised by the capitalist state. Our position is that, instead, we favour workers taking over their firms themselves, by turning them into worker owned co-operatives.

At the same time, we do recognise that some forms of capitalist organisation are more developed, and so more historically progressive forms of capital than others. Whilst we do not argue for a move forward to one capitalist solution rather than another, as opposed to a move forward to workers ownership and control, we certainly do have a reason to oppose a move backwards to less developed more reactionary forms of capital, which take us in the opposite direction to that we seek to travel.

In “Imperialism”, Lenin makes this point clearly, in arguing against Kautsky's argument for breaking up monopolies. Lenin quotes Hilferding, and says, that the monopolies are a more developed form of capitalism, which themselves develop out of capitalist competition. Even if it were possible or desirable to advocate the breaking up of monopolies, it would simply result in those smaller companies once again going through the process of concentration and centralisation of capital to again becoming monopolies.

Lenin makes the same point elsewhere. We do not advocate the establishment of cartels Lenin remarks, but nor do we advocate their abolition, rather we seek to go beyond them. We see cartels, monopolies and trusts as more developed, more progressive forms of capitalist organisation, a more rational organisation of the means of production, and a means thereby of moving beyond them to workers ownership and control on a more adequate and rational basis.

Trotsky made the same argument in another context. When the USSR invaded Poland, Trotsky argued that it was not an action that Marxists could support. It strengthened the Stalinist concept of spreading “socialism” by bureaucratic and militaristic means. However, Trotsky argued that after the event, Marxists should oppose the reversal of the actual forward movement that had been achieved. In other words, the Red Army had eradicated landlordism and capitalist private property in Poland. It had been by means we do not support, but that is no reason to support a reversal of those advances.

Marx makes a similar point about the way, throughout history, the revolutionising and transformation of the productive forces is undertaken by the most brutal means, over the bones of the majority of society. But, the difference between the scientific Marxist approach, based on historical materialism, and the moralistic, subjectivist approach, is precisely the recognition that history moves forward in this way, and provides the basis for progress and ultimately for the abolition of exploitation itself.

Trotsky's approach in relation to the Red Army invasion of Poland, is just a further application of that method, and of his argument in “The Programme for Peace”.

“Let us for a moment admit that German militarism succeeds in actually carrying out the compulsory half-union of Europe, just as Prussian militarism once achieved the half-union of Germany, what would then be the central slogan of the European proletariat? Would it be the dissolution of the forced European coalition and the return of all peoples under the roof of isolated national states? Or the restoration of tariffs, “national” coinage, “national” social legislation, and so forth? Certainly not. The program of the European revolutionary movement would then be: The destruction of the compulsory anti-democratic form of the coalition, with the preservation and furtherance of its foundations, in the form of complete annihilation of tariff barriers, the unification of legislation, above all of labor laws, etc. In other words, the slogan of the United States of Europe-without monarchy and standing armies-would under the foregoing circumstances become the unifying and guiding slogan of the European revolution.”

The position adopted towards the EEC, in the 1960's, therefore, had a long history supporting it in Marxist theory. But, during the 1960's there was also a growth of left reformism and syndicalism. The former was represented by the existing implantation, at the industrial level, of the Communist Party, which also extended into its fellow travellers amongst the Tribunite, and subsequently Bennite Left, in the Labour Party. It also was represented by the Militant Tendency, whose reformist programme revolved around calls for the election of a Labour government that would pass an enabling act to nationalise the 200 top monopolies.

The growth of syndicalism was reflected in the growth of the International Socialists/SWP, whose solution for everything became increasingly calls for “more militancy” and build the SWP.

In 1973, the Heath government took Britain into the EEC. You had to be there to understand just how intense a political period this was. In the late 1960's, workers had defied the top courts in the country, and secured the release of trade union militants from jail; they had prevented the Wilson government from introducing its “In Place of Strife” anti-union laws; in 1972, a huge miners' strike, which saw the re-introduction of the flying picket and mass picket, as tactics, won a big pay rise for miners; women workers at Ford's Dagenham, struck for equal pay and won; and in 1974, the miners struck again and brought down Heath's government.

In this febrile atmosphere organisations such as The Militant and the SWP went from a few hundred members to each having a few thousand members, many of them young industrial militants like myself. In fact, I originally applied to join what was then the International Socialists, and as an increasingly prominent local militant I was repeatedly targeted for recruitment by the Militant. In 1973, one of the blokes who worked in the next office to me would, each week, bring me copies of Tribune and Socialist Worker, which we would discuss, and which I would take to college and discuss and pass around to other students on day release from the coal board, and other workplaces.

For many militants, including myself, at the time, there was a powerful incentive to go with the flow of industrial militancy, and the ideas that flowed from it. It is then not surprising that in this milieu, in which workers were being drawn by a Communist Party and Tribunite left that was still powerful at an industrial level, accommodation started to be made towards the nationalistic solutions that were being put forward.

The Communist Party put forward its programme of national socialism in “The British Road To Socialism”. The Tribunite Left, and elements of the New Left put forward their own rendition of that tune in The Alternative Economic Strategy, which was, in its main variant, a programme for national socialism based around a protectionist scheme of nationalisation, withdrawal from the EEC, and imposition of import controls.

The organisations of the far left that had seen rapid growth from within the ranks of this radicalised industrial working-class, were keen not to lose the gains they had made and hoped to continue to make. It bred opportunism. When the provisional IRA began its operations against the British troops sent to occupy the North of Ireland, both the Militant and the SWP abandoned their principles in the face of widespread hostility by British workers to the IRA's activities.

Similarly, after the Wilson government came in in 1974, and proposed a referendum on EEC membership, those organisations again abandoned their principles in the face of widespread support for the national socialist agenda of withdrawal. Having originally applied to join IS, I actually ended up joining the International Communist League, comprising the fused organisations of Workers Fight and Workers Power. At that time, they had comprised the majority of what had been the IS in Stoke.

And, in fact, one of the reasons that Workers Fight had been expelled from the IS was over this opportunist collapse of the IS leadership. The I-CL, whose paper at that time was Workers Action, was one of the few to hold the line of Marxist principle, and to continue to argue for an abstention in the 1975 referendum.

Given the circumstances, a call for abstention was justified, as Britain was not really integrated into the EEC having only joined in 1973. But, a call for abstention today cannot be justified. Britain has been a part of the EEC/EU for forty years. It is fully integrated into that structure – even allowing for the various opt-outs. The EU itself has developed from the EEC, and is on the way to becoming a European state.

The task for socialists today is not to divert workers into the dead end solutions of nationalism, which the proponents of so called Lexit advocate, but to drive forward through the existing structure of the EU towards a United States of Europe, for a struggle of European workers for a European Workers Government, and from there to the establishment of a Socialist United States of Europe.

Whatever the result of the vote today, that struggle and the need to build workers unity across Europe continues. It is simply much easier to conduct that struggle on the basis of being with our fellow workers inside the EU, than being isolated from then on the outside.

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