Euro referendum: Active abstention

Submitted by on 12 August, 2002 - 4:30

By Martin Thomas

We explain the background and history to this critical debate as well as the arguments against both a "socialist yes" campaign (which some in the SA will advocate) and the "socialist no" campaign.
In the Socialist Alliance over the next two months we have the first large, systematic, organised discussion within a common organisational framework that there has been for over 30 years. We have a chance to educate and convince. Secondary though the euro issue is in itself, the need and the opportunity we have to wage a veritable intellectual jihad for the principles of internationalism and working-class political independence is not secondary at all.

It will be no great tragedy if a majority in a euro referendum votes to save the pound. It will boost the Tories, and especially their Tebbit-Thatcher right wing. Fundamentally, it will be no more than a demonstration that the sectors of British capital more geared to trade and capital flows with the USA are stronger in their ability to mobilise public opinion, than the sectors more geared to trade and capital flows with Europe.
No tragedy, unless you think joy and grief are regulated by which section of the thief-class comes off better.

It will however be a great tragedy if large sections of the left enlist with the pound-savers.

The Socialist Workers' Party, after long silence on the issue, has come out for the pound. Of course, they, and other socialists who are backing a "socialist no" campaign say they are not "really" voting for the pound. They detest the Tories. They are only voting against the evil plans of the European Union chiefs and the European Central Bank.

That is nonsense. Voting against the euro in the referendum will inescapably mean voting for the pound - not for the socialist abolition of money, but for the pound. The evil plans of the British capitalists - including their anti-euro Tebbit-Thatcher wing! - are not one bit less bad than those of the Euro-bosses.

There is no possibility of an independent working class "no" campaign or of an independent working class "yes" campaign. "Yes" or "no" ties us to one or the other ruling class factions. There is no way the working class can control and shape the consequences of either a "yes" or a "no" vote: the ruling class will do that. Socialists should not even by implication express confidence in either the "yes" or "no" factions of the ruling class.

The conclusions for socialists are straightforward. When Blair announces the referendum, we announce that we are not willing to give even the slightest part of our time and energies to boosting either capitalist cause. Not one iota of political trust, not one minute of our time, not one joule of our energies, to the smarmy New Labour advocates of the euro; not one iota of political trust and not one minute and not one joule of energy either to those who want to save the pound.

Under either the euro or the pound, the essential issues for workers will be the same. Differences will only be differences of detail - trade-union rights, privatisation, capitalist globalisation, jobs, wages, democracy.

We must use the referendum campaign, not to add our weight to one capitalist faction or another, but to alert workers to the need for Europe-wide working-class coordination across the borders to counter the remorseless social consequences of capitalist integration across the borders, for social "levelling-up" across Europe, and for consistent democracy in the European Union.

How does it come about that sincere socialists end up campaigning to "save the pound"? By two mental quirks, both inherited from Stalinism.
The first is devil-worship. Medieval peasants sometimes worshipped the devil, on the grounds that the enemy of their landlords' god must be their friend. On the same principle Stalinists urged workers to back the USSR. Since British and other Tories so hated the USSR, so they said, its police-state "planned" economy must be good.
Now the principle is extended to seizing upon any "anti-imperialist" or "anti-capitalist" disturbance - instead of mapping out independent working-class assessments and positive aims, and allying with others only in that frame.

When the British left was cheering on Hamas, or the Taliban, or Slobodan Milosevic - "critically", of course - part of the problem could be put down to ignorance or misunderstanding of faraway places. But when we are presented with the movement of the all-too-familiar Tebbit-Thatcher Tories and the Murdoch press as the "anti-imperialist" wagon of the day, then what was farce has become tragedy.

The other mental quirk, needed to sustain the first one, is something akin to the Christian doctrine of transubstantiation. Just as in the private vision of the Catholic devotee, the wafer and wine of Mass mysteriously change into the body and blood of Christ, so in the private vision of the europhobe leftist his or her vote to save the pound becomes a vote for a socialist Europe.

The working class, so Karl Marx once wrote, "needs courage, self-confidence, pride, a sense of personal dignity and independence, even more than it needs daily bread." Never were those words more relevant than in this era of the labour movement and the left finding ourselves anew after the night of Stalinism.

Never were they more contradicted than by the europhobe leftists' telling workers that, instead of going on their own two feet, we should jump on the anti-euro wagon and pretend to ourselves that its direction-board says "socialist Europe" rather than "save the pound."

Solidarity advocates an "active abstention" campaign in any referendum on the euro. We advocate workers spoil their ballot papers, writing "Workers Europe" or "Socialist Europe" across those papers.

During the campaign period we will argue for a positive working class programme to fight the terrible inequality and racism favoured by bosses in Europe.

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