British worker militants have an interest in campaigning for a workers’ “no”, and particularly in pushing Jeremy Corbyn that way.
It is David Cameron who is demanding a “yes” vote. It is not a “yes” to “Europe”, but a “yes” to keeping the country in a EU which offers maximum guarantees to the City and deprives hundreds of thousands of migrant workers of social rights, thus pushing down wages in Britain. Concretely it is a matter of saying “yes” to that, and to the leader of the current government.
Some say that “no” would be worse. It would advance the xenophobic surge by Ukip, the Tories, and the like. Thus we must say “no” to the “no”, which means “yes”. We heard that in France in 1992 [the Maastricht referendum] and 2005 [referendum on the draft EU constitution]. Some of those people are already in the government. A victory for “no” would appear as their victory and would be used by them against migrant workers if, and only if, we give them the possibility of monopolising the call for a “no” vote.
Obviously we should confront them, and certainly not have common platforms with them, as the always-disastrous Galloway does. But there is another movement in Britain today: that of the anti-cuts protests and of the Corbyn victory in the Labour Party, a movement which is also partly expressed in the surge for Scottish independence. Are the interests of that movement to be assimilated to the defenders of the established order, of the existing EU, which has been revised and worsened in a xenophobic direction by the “concessions” won by Cameron? Or to be the factor by which the “no” wins?
Besides, isn’t there a risk that a Labour “yes” campaign will be taken up by the party machine and by the Parliamentary Labour Party, who will make it an excellent means to “renormalise” the party and try to neutralise the impact of Corbyn’s victory. It would good if British comrades would stop imagining that in saying “yes” to the EU they are saying “yes” to Europe. Internationalism is also solidarity with the peoples who have already broadly said no, including the French people — with the Greeks, the Spanish, the Portuguese, the Irish, and all those who more and more oppose the EU.
And with those who combat the logical evolution of the Schengen “fortress” Europe and of a series of little fortresses. Obviously it is not a question of just campaigning for “no”. It is a matter of working for it to be the working class, and not the protectionist sectors of capital, who defeat Cameron on this issue and can open perspectives: Of a Labour government which would meet urgent demands; Of a new contract of association between the nations within Britain (for the question of Scottish independence links to that of the EU); Of the place of Britain in a free and democratic union of the nations and peoples of Europe.
* Originally published as part of a discussion amongst French socialists in the bulletin Arguments pour la lutte sociale, no.35.
The main enemy is at home
Martin Thomas replies to Vincent Présumey
In France the most influential paper of the left calling for the country to quit the EU is La Tribune des Travailleurs. According to La Tribune, the EU is bad because it is... under the thumb of the City of London! So leftists in France should want France to quit in order to elude the grip of the mainspring of capitalism, located in Britain? And leftists in Britain should want to quit to escape the grip of the mainspring of capitalist power, located... where? In “the Brussels bureaucracy”? Hardly.
In the early 1970s, when would-be left agitation about “the Brussels bureaucracy” as the force that would impose capitalist policies on Britain was at its peak, Tom Nairn commented drily: “the employees of the Common Market Commission were approximately one fifteenth of the number working in one British Ministry”.
With 28 states in the EU, the European Commission staff has grown. It is still less than 8% the size of the British civil service. And unlike the British civil service, it has no police or armed forces or speedy means of legal enforcement to aid it. Even if we had a strong would-be left surge of anti-EUism in Britain — as we did in the 1970s — it could lead nowhere positive. A working class mobilised to see deliverance through high national frontiers to ward off “the Brussels bureaucracy” would be helpless against its actual chief capitalist enemy “at home”.
In 2016, the idea of a left “no” is fantasy. Ukip and the Tory right have many voters behind them, mobilised on simple slogans: keep out immigrants, reduce “regulation”. The few Labour MP Brexiters work with the right-wing “out” campaigns. On the 16 April anti-austerity march, some left-of-Labour Brexiters were distributing leaflets from “Vote Leave” [the official Tory “out” campaign].
A recently-published poll shows majorities against Brexit of 74%-to-7% in Portugal, 72%-to-10% in Ireland, 70%-to-6% in Spain, and 50%-to-15% in Greece. Of course the EU has capitalist policies. A voluntary confederation of capitalist states, with much-lowered borders between them, is capitalist. It is, however, a better starting point for the struggle for social levelling-up, for democracy, for solidarity, than the same 28 capitalist states with high borders between them.