Workers Hammer No. 245
For a workers Europe!
Fake socialists on EU: when leave means remain
In defiance of the decisive popular vote to leave the EU, three years later the British ruling class still has its seat in the bankers’ and bosses’ cartel. With the Brexit deadline kicked back to October, the dominant sectors of the bourgeoisie, centred on the City of London, are demanding continued access to the single market and the rest of the EU spoils. Theresa May’s resignation has set off a leadership contest, with a wing of the Tories, encouraged by US president Donald Trump, pushing for more independence from the EU treaties in hopes of better competing against German and French imperialism (and no doubt with their own political fortunes in mind).
In contrast, the entire Labour Party leadership is carrying the banner for the City of London by supporting the EU. Momentum, deputy leader Tom Watson and the Blairites are all furiously denouncing Corbyn for not being pro-EU enough. But Corbyn’s “constructive ambiguity” over Brexit is designed to allow him to pursue a pro-EU programme while maintaining the support of Labour’s working-class base, which is fed up with the EU’s devastating impact on living standards and working conditions. The absence of an organised working-class opposition to the EU has put wind in the sails of racist, right-wing demagogues like Nigel Farage and outright fascists.
Corbyn betrayed his working-class supporters by campaigning for remain in the 2016 referendum; he stands for Britain staying in a permanent customs union and full alignment with the single market, ie no Brexit; and he has been very clear that he supports a second referendum to overturn the result of the first. No second referendum! Britain out now!
The EU is a set of treaties designed to maximise profits by increasing the exploitation of workers across Europe. For the European imperialists, centrally Germany and France as well as (so far) Britain, the unstable EU alliance is a means to increase their competitiveness against their imperialist rivals, the US and Japan, while further subjugating the weaker countries. At the same time, the EU acts as an adjunct of NATO and is a source of great profits for the US imperialist bourgeoisie. The conflicting national interests of the imperialists constantly threaten to tear the alliance asunder.
The EU’s nature can be seen in the rape of Greece, which today has less national sovereignty than neocolonial Mexico; the economic devastation of Ireland after the 2008-09 financial crisis; the transformation of Poland and other East European countries into reservoirs of super-exploited labour; and the fall in living standards for working people in the imperialist centres including Germany and Britain.
In advocating a leave vote in 2016, we noted: “Amid the growing chaos besetting the EU, a British exit would deal a real blow to this imperialist-dominated conglomerate, further destabilising it and creating more favourable conditions for working-class struggle across Europe — including against a weakened and discredited Tory government in Britain” (Workers Hammer no 234, Spring 2016). The prolonged crisis of the Tory government has created an advantageous situation for working-class struggle, which could also drive Britain out of the EU. But rather than taking advantage of the opportunity to advance the interests of the oppressed and exploited, the misleaders of the proletariat in the Labour Party and the unions have instead provided an invaluable service to the British bourgeoisie by promoting illusions in the EU while isolating and demobilising strikes.
The struggle to forge a new leadership of the unions, one based on the understanding that the interests of labour and capital are fundamentally counterposed, cannot be separated from the struggle for a revolutionary party that champions all those ground under the heel of the capitalists, including immigrant and minority workers who are among the most oppressed and the most militant components of the proletariat.
Marxists oppose the EU because it is an alliance of the enemies of our class. Its breakup would be a defeat for the imperialist rulers. Our support for Brexit flows from our perspective for the liberation of humanity through a series of proletarian revolutions that sweep away the capitalist rulers in Britain and internationally. For a Socialist United States of Europe, united on a voluntary basis!
The City’s “socialists”
The Communist Party (CPB), Peter Taaffe’s Socialist Party and the Socialist Workers Party all claim to be for Brexit but constantly contradict that claim in practice. These groups’ nominal “left exit” stance in 2016 was carefully calibrated to avoid confrontation with Labour’s remain campaign. Now they all clamour for a general election to replace the Tory government with a pro-EU Corbyn government. Like the traitors of the Second International who sided with their “own” ruling classes at the outbreak of World War I, these ostensible socialists are nothing but social-chauvinists “who are helping ‘their own’ bourgeoisie to rob other countries and enslave other nations” (VI Lenin, “Opportunism and the collapse of the Second International”, January 1916).
Holding elections to the EU’s sham “parliament” on 23 May was an open display of ruling-class contempt for the populace. Reflecting working-class resentment over this farce, the CPB called for a “people’s boycott” of the elections. But lest the “people’s boycott” be mistaken for genuine opposition to the EU, in an 18 May article in the Morning Star, CPB general secretary Robert Griffiths insisted: “It is not a question of opposing participation in EU elections in principle.” Griffiths upheld the party’s previous campaigns for the EU “parliament”, which he falsely equated with standing for election to the actual Parliament in Westminster.
The so-called EU “parliament” is not a parliament at all. It is a forum for diplomatic manoeuvring which the European imperialists use to falsely present their cartel as a democratic union transcending the nation state. Any participation in EU “parliament” elections is a betrayal of the principle of proletarian class independence. Such participation can only mean seeking to serve as a diplomatic representative of a capitalist state and promoting illusions that the imperialists’ treaties reflect the interests of the population as a whole (see “Down with the EU! No participation in its pseudo-parliament!”, page 2).
When the CPB is not explicitly defending participation in EU bodies, their support for Brexit comes down to a defence of British sovereignty. So for example, as reported in the Morning Star (22 March), Griffiths groused about “the governments of Germany and France telling us when we can leave and on what terms”, which he gives as an example of “the power of the EU opposed to popular sovereignty”.
To state the obvious, if the British rulers wanted to, they could leave the EU tomorrow. Britain is not an oppressed country like Ireland or Greece, dominated by imperialist powers; it is an imperialist power in its own right, albeit a senile and decrepit one. Britain has remained in the EU not from any lack of national sovereignty but because the British imperialists want to keep their fingers in the pie.
It is the bourgeoisie in this country that tramples on the democratic aspirations of the population. As the 1919 Platform of the Communist International explains:
“The highly touted general ‘will of the people’ is no more real than national unity. In reality, classes confront each other with antagonistic, irreconcilable wills. But since the bourgeoisie is a small minority, it needs this fiction, this illusion of a national ‘will of the people,’ these high-sounding words, to consolidate its rule over the working class and impose its own class will on the proletariat.”
Peter Taaffe’s Brexit crisis
The Socialist Party (SP), whose predecessor the Militant tendency spent decades buried in the Labour Party, calls for Jeremy Corbyn to implement a “socialist”, “pro-worker” Brexit. This is obviously absurd, given that Corbyn supports the EU. At the same time, the SP echoes Corbyn’s opposition to a “damaging Tory Brexit”. For example, the March 2018 editorial in Socialism Today insists: “The workers’ movement must maintain an independent class opposition to a Tory Brexit, ‘soft’, ‘hard’ or ‘no deal’.” All this comes down to opposing Brexit when it’s actually posed. To paraphrase Lewis Carroll’s White Queen, it’s Brexit tomorrow and Brexit yesterday — but never Brexit today. No surprise from an organisation whose Irish section served in the EU’s fraudulent “parliament” for years!
The SP also does its part to bolster support for the EU by parroting the doom-mongering of the remainers over the dangers of “a chaotic ‘no-deal’ Brexit”, for instance in the 10 April editorial in the Socialist. The EU treaties have meant crushing austerity for working people across Europe. Their rollback would be a blow against imperialist devastation. And the SP doesn’t just panic-monger over the potential economic consequences of Brexit. The Taaffeites in both Britain and Ireland are busy whipping up fears that leaving the EU will result in a “hard border” on the island of Ireland, warning, for example, that “However a physical border is re-established, it would inflame sectarian tensions” (Socialism Today, May 2019).
Ireland has been divided by a border since British imperialism partitioned the island in 1921. To talk of this border being “re-established” is reformist nonsense, promoting the myth that the EU has somehow transcended the national divisions among its member states and brought peace. The British imperialists exercise control over the border of Northern Ireland, as do the Southern Irish bourgeoisie. Dark-skinned people and Republicans are regularly subject to harassment when crossing the border. In the Brexit negotiations, it is the German imperialists who have been demanding that the Republic of Ireland act as the customs guard for the single market as they and the British compete over the subjugation of Ireland.
As revolutionary socialist James Connolly predicted, the partition of Ireland resulted in a “carnival of reaction”. Since its inception, Northern Ireland has been an Orange statelet based on the oppression of the Catholic minority, part of the Irish Catholic nation. Catholics still live under constant fear of violence from Loyalist thugs as well as from the RUC/PSNI backed up by the British army. The 1998 Good Friday Agreement, which was premised on the continued presence of British troops, copper-fastened sectarian divisions and Catholic oppression, while not doing the Protestant working class any good either.
We stand for mobilising the working class — both Protestant and Catholic — against Catholic oppression and British imperialism as part of the struggle for the proletariat to liberate itself from capitalism. At the same time, we recognise that until capitalism is overthrown, there can be no equitable solution to the conflicting aspirations of the Irish Catholic nation and the Protestant community. Our perspective is for an Irish workers republic, part of a voluntary federation of workers republics in the British Isles, leaving open where the Protestants may fall.
In contrast, the inveterate Labourites of the Socialist Party deny the threat that the repressive forces of British imperialism pose to working people, while railing against Republicans. In what could pass for a Home Office press release, an article titled “Brexit and the Irish border: a warning to the workers’ movement” on their Northern Irish affiliate’s website says: “Dissident republicans would seek to exploit any border infrastructure, targeting buildings and border staff with bomb and bullet” (socialistpartyni.org, 23 November 2018). The starting point for Marxists is to oppose their own ruling class and its forces of state repression, including “border staff”. We demand: All British troops and bases out of Northern Ireland!
SWP: apostles for “humanitarian” imperialism
The Socialist Workers Party (SWP) falsely present the immigration agreements between countries in the EU as “anti-racist” and demand that any Brexit deal retain the “freedom of movement” supposedly enshrined in the EU. “Freedom of movement” is a myth used by promoters of the EU to imply that borders no longer exist within the EU and that the imperialist alliance is a defender of immigrants.
Contrary to the SWP, control over borders is a basic prerogative of the state. No capitalist class will voluntarily relinquish control of its own borders, and individual states in the EU have not done so. The individual bourgeoisies assert their own rule, although for the weaker countries, their rule is curtailed by the imperialists. Insofar as a great power can force a weaker state to open its borders, this allows for increased penetration of imperialist capital and eliminates the sovereignty of the weaker country, as has been the case with Greece and Eastern Europe under the EU. For the many thousands of migrants languishing in concentration camps in Greece and elsewhere set up at the behest of Germany and the other imperialist powers, the idea that the EU grants “free movement” is a macabre joke.
Marxists do not have a positive programme for immigration within the framework of capitalism, and certainly not one based on upholding aspects of the imperialist-dominated EU! To advance the unity and fighting capacity of the international proletariat, we demand full citizenship rights for everyone who has made it to this country and call for the trade unions to organise foreign-born workers on a full and equal basis. No deportations! At the same time, the communist perspective to address the poverty, unemployment and economic devastation of oppressed countries is not emigration to the rich countries, but a struggle against the imperialist oppression that ravages their home countries. Only international proletarian revolution can lay the basis for the elimination of scarcity and for the withering away of the state, and with it borders themselves.
There is a sharp contradiction between the global market created by capitalism and the nation-state through which capitalism developed. Individual capitalist states, each ruled by a national bourgeoisie, have long been an obstacle to the expansion of the productive forces. This contradiction cannot be resolved under capitalism. Only through a series of socialist revolutions can the proletariat end capitalism and open the road to a world without exploitation and oppression. The working class in power will develop an internationally planned, collectivised economy enabling a vast increase in the productivity of labour and the end of material scarcity.
The necessary instrument to bring the working class to power is a Leninist vanguard party comprising the most dedicated and class-conscious layers of the proletariat, a section in Britain of a reforged Trotskyist Fourth International. Such a party can only be built through the most intransigent struggle against all political currents that seek to subordinate the working class to the interests of its capitalist exploiters.