As Galloway and Farage Unite: Vote Yes for a Social Europe.
For a Social Europe: Against Brexit.
“Consider again the profile of this general left-wing stance. Its basic dilemma is that of a felt equidistance between the alternatives of simple left-wing nationalism and the Common Market—that sole and unpalatable way of transcending nationalism which the existing historical situation seems to present.”
Tom Nairn. The Left Against Europe. 1972. (1)
As David Cameron announces the “successful” conclusion of negotiations with the European Union (EU) the British left appears faced with an unpalatable choice. The coming Referendum debate will be largely held on either endorsing membership of the EU on these terms, or the Brexit alternative. That is, between plans to limit benefits to European migrants, the Government’s wider package for a ‘special for the UK and its free market policies within a European framework, or exit, national sovereignty, and more restrictions on migrants and freer market policies in a global economy.
The appearance of George Galloway at Nigel Farage’s rally last night indicates the way one section of the ‘left’ has decided to campaign. We wonder how many others will follow this ‘Enoch Powell” moment (Grassroots Out unites politicians – the ones we normally try to avoid.
Alex Callinicos argued last year “Socialists in Britain will have to take a stand on the entire project of European integration.” For some time voices on the British left hostile to that project have become louder. Perry Anderson, once an opaque supporter of Europeanism, even Trotsky’s backing for a capitalist United States of Europe, has more recently muttered warnings against the EU becoming a “deputy empire”, with an economic “semi-catallaxy” free-market internal order, distant from its populations. In sum, the European ‘social model’ is inexorably moving in the direction of “oligarchic rule” by the Council and Commission, contemptuous of democracy. Another New Leftist, Susan Watkins, has argued that the restrictive ‘fiscal pact’, German autocratic control of the EU’s financial instruments is at the core of the management of the Euro crisis, mass unemployment and austerity. The European Parliament is an “unaccountable co-decision assembly serving as a democratic façade.” (2)
For some on the left the Greek crisis reinforced the view that European integration is a process directed against the left. The European political blocs, principally the Christian-democratic/Conservative, Liberal and Social Democratic alliances the radical left plans of Syriza and forced on Greece another round of austerity. They put the decisions of these political actors, – including those more directly economic fractions in charge of financial decision-making – within the ingrained logic of a supranational drive for a neo-liberal Europe. It is true that if Greece wanted to remain within the Monetary Union it would have to accept policies that those in charge of the Euro would accept. But the balance of political forces arrayed with the EU’s institutions determined the terms to which Tsipras was forced to accept. (3)
In parts of Europe some of the left has discovered the merits of ‘sovereigntism’. A central plank is the idea that the power of economic decision-making should be held by national Parliaments. Popular on the British left during the 1970s, and written into the Alternative Economic Strategy (AES) as a pillar of the Socialist Challenge, this did not stop short of advocating import controls – a form of protectionism now proposed by the French Front National. Working class power requires saving the independent Nation Stat. This means Exit.
Without ready appeal to the celebration of the Nation in the 1789 Révolution, few in Britain are as explicit as the programme of the Trotskyist Parti ouvrier indépendant, and its latest split, the Parti Ouvrier Indépendant Démocratique, in evoking the nation’s rescue from the failures of the EU. But the thought is there. It is echoed in the quietly uttered view that there is a great deal of truth in UKIP’s complaints against Brussels. That the “free market of labour” is a device of the bosses; that good old collective bargaining is diverted if not hampered by Europe-wide EU regulated works’ councils. Galloway indicates just how far some of these people are prepared to go.
A ‘left’ attempt to capture the progressive side of the discontent Nigel Farage feeds on was behind the vanity election slate, No2EU/Yes2Democracy in the last European Elections. It sunk without trace.
Those who cite Greece to boost their support for Brexit, ranging from Tariq Ali (who advocated an “out” vote last year) to James Meadway, face one massive problem. The most radical critic of the Syriza capitulation, and, as the former Greek Finance Minister, not the least, Yanis Varoufakis, stands for a radical plan to tackle the lack of democracy in the EU by radically transforming its structures. We may admire, rather than be wholly convinced, by the detailed proposals of DiEM 25 We may voice great suspicion that one nationalist crew at least, the SNP, backed by erstwhile New Leftist Tom Nairn, has clambered onto the social Europe bandwagon out of its own selfish interests. (4)
Yet – this needs underlining a hundred times – the cause of Europe is now being rethought. Internationalist projects filled with generosity for the present and hope for the future, grounded on left values, are emerging.
The coming referendum will not be about a utopian vision of a social Europe. But it will be about whether we can lay hold of the mechanisms that would create the possibility of one coming about. That can only be through the European Union: allied with our comrades across the Continent in an effort to transform its basis and structures.
In debating Callinicos (above) comrade John Palmer made the following points:
• For socialists voting in the EU membership referendum the question then is simple—which vote would encourage and strengthen the racists and ultra-chauvinists most, a Yes or a No?
• There can be no doubt that if Britain leaves the EU many European regulations restricting working hours and other employment and social reforms will be scrapped. Again the question for socialists is clear—which referendum outcome will most threaten the interests of women’s equality and those of the organised labour movement—a Yes or a No?
• Which referendum outcome would represent the greatest setback to human rights in Britain—a Yes or a No to continued EU membership?
• Which referendum vote would best strengthen future working class unity, a No or a Yes? I think the answer to all the questions posed above is clear: Vote Yes. Then let the struggle for a different Europe redouble. (5)
Indeed: internationalists have no choice but to follow Palmer’s advice and vote Yes.
Imagine a Brexit and the celebrations of the winners: the non-stop media coverage, the endless Flag waving, the speeches, the anti-EU George Galloway having sexy-time with Nigel Farage on Russia Today, and the boot of Reaction smashing into our Faces for the foreseeable future. …
(1) Tom Nairn. The Left Against Europe. New Left Review. Series l. No 75.
(2) The internationalist case against the European Union. Alex Callinicos. International Socialism. No 148. 2015. Chapter Ten. “Prognosis.” The New Old World. Perry Anderson. Verso. 2009. Susan Watkins. The Political State of the Union, New Left Review 2015. Series II/90. S ection of Watkins’ analysis of the Parliament is reproduced in the latest Le Monde Diplomatique. Le Parlement européen est-il vraiment la solution? February 2016.
(3) Les Leçons du plan d’ajustement imposé à la Grèce par l’Union Européenne.Phillipe Lamberts. Le Monde Diplomatique. October. 2015.
(4) Link: DiEM’s Manifesto.
(5) The EU referendum: The case for a socialist Yes vote. John Palmer. International Socialism. No 148. See also: Best fight on the EU terrain. Elliott Robinson. Alliance for Workers’ Liberty.