The Socialist Party’s political lines are coming apart at the seams and over Europe it is becoming less and less coherent.
Twenty years ago, it wrote off the Labour Party as a bourgeois party, stopped calling for a vote for Labour and started running propaganda candidates under various guises such as TUSC, without ever making a breakthrough. Its analysis ruled out any kind of left development within the Labour Party. Now the Corbyn surge has happened, the Socialist Party “wishes him well” from the side lines, while issuing ultimatums and continuing to field its own candidates in the 2016 elections.
On the EU referendum, the Socialist Party continues with its 45 year-long adaptation to Stalinism and nationalism by advocating the British state withdraw from the European Union (EU) in the forthcoming referendum. Hannah Sell produced the latest compressed version of its arguments in the The Socialist (23 September), part of efforts to promote a TUSC “leave the EU” position.
Sell says that “the EU really is a capitalists' club”. It is in essence, “an agreement between the different national capitalist classes of Europe, with the aim of creating a large arena for big business across Europe to conduct their hunt for profits with as few barriers as possible”. This description is accurate. However this is true of almost every institution within capitalism, to the point where it is largely a platitude.
The missing element is the political economy of capitalism, which strives towards further concentration. This means capitalist states are driven towards integration, as well as towards conflict and war. Which tendency wins out is not predetermined. More significantly, Marxist politics takes the existing reality as its point of departure. It is never part of the Marxist programme to turn the clock back to an earlier stage of capitalism, but rather to push through the actual tendencies of capital and work on the existing terrain of capitalism to fight for workers’ power.
Capital and its states have made limited steps towards integration, meaning there are now some common links and chains melding workers across Europe together. These connections are the material basis for working class internationalism: workers face common enemies on a common terrain. Workers cannot win major reforms or even hold power for long in one country alone in Europe because of those ties of capital. International solidarity is not luxury but an absolute necessity in today’s class battles and in tomorrow’s fight for power. Abstractly in principle, Marxists therefore favour European integration, even on a capitalist basis.
What tactical stance should Marxists take in EU referenda? Again, it is the concrete circumstances that condition our view. In the current situation, some sections of British capital, both in finance and industry, no longer regard Europe as the main market and look to wider global links, with both the US, especially the BRICs and to other states, including those former British empire states that belong to the Commonwealth. These sections of capital believe they can profit more from trade deals and relations beyond Europe.
However these Eurosceptics are clear that workers in Britain will have to suffer a historic reduction in living standards, pay and conditions to make them fit for this new capitalist global utopia.
If British capital is to thrive in the competitive waters of globalised capitalism then workers will have to pay with more flexibility, more insecurity and mobility, less regulation and less protection. The world for workers in Britain (and across Europe) immediately after Brexit will be a cold, harsh world of cuts, unemployment and hard labour.
In these circumstances, workers in Britain face a lesser-evil choice: either remain in the neoliberal EU, with some protections and some links with other European workers; or cast out and face the unbridled onslaught of globalising capital. In these circumstances, a vote to remain within the EU makes tactical sense, defending the gains won and fighting to level up alongside other workers across the continent.
Sell says “the history of the EU has been a succession of treaties each further enshrining anti-working class laws”. The actual history is one where capital has not always got its way – hence the referendums lost and the concessions made to workers. Sell forgets the limited gains made by workers across Europe on working time, agency workers and other safety laws. She forgets the improvements especially for Southern European workers’ living standards or the great gains from labour mobility within Europe. By claiming reform of the EU is “utopian” she is simply rubbing out the actual history of struggle within it and substituting an immiseration thesis that cannot be sustained. Ignoring those aspects of reality that are inconvenient to your case is no basis for working class politics.
The Socialist Party’s stance is to chastise Jeremy Corbyn for making a “serious mistake” in committing to campaigning for staying in the EU in the referendum. Sell rehashes the tired old 1970s argument: “If a Corbyn-led government was to implement some of the policies he was elected as Labour leader on – such as nationalisation of the railways and energy companies – it would immediately face shrieks of outrage from the institutions of the EU that a British government was ‘breaking the law’.”
Corbyn will have a lot more problems to contend with than shrieks from the EU if he enacted these measures. In advance, he would have to explain to workers in France and Germany, who work for Deutsche Bahn, Eon, EDF and other firms owned by capitalists and their states in Europe what he was doing and what it meant for them. He would have to appeal for solidarity with workers in Europe as the necessary counterweight to the hostility of European capital. The pro-EU stance helps that; the “leave the EU” position cuts across it.
Sell makes some terrible concessions to nationalism, despite claims of internationalism and opposition to chauvinism. She states:
“EU measures such as the ‘posted workers’ directive are designed specifically in order to drive down wages. The result is an increase of fear and resentment that workers already resident in a country will see their wages and public services threatened by increased migration particularly from the low-wage economies of Eastern Europe.”
`’The only answer to this”, she says, “is to build a united movement to fight for the rights of all workers; for a £10 an hour minimum wage, the rate for the job for all, and for an end to austerity. This must include defending the rights of all workers who have moved across the continent in search of work to remain, if they wish to do so, with full rights in the country where they now live.”
It is not much of a pan-European programme to lay down the minimum wage denominated in pounds sterling and it is no answer to recycle the myth that wages and public services are threatened by migration. Workers living standards are threatened by capitalists and their states – not by other workers moving to better their own situation. Concessions to chauvinism divide the working class, making a consistent internationalism impossible.
The Socialist Party will register TUSC as a “permitted participant” in the referendum campaign. They are unlikely to share platforms with UKIP and the Tories – although they have not ruled out standing alongside Stalinists and Labour Party chauvinists in a sideshow “independent” “leave the EU” campaign.
Sell claims that “TUSC has a vital role to play in fighting for a socialist, internationalist campaign to exit the EU”. But the Socialist United States of Europe will not be on the ballot paper: it will be a choice between the current capitalist EU and the capitalist globalised nirvana. She argues that “without such a campaign the danger is that workers' anti-EU feeling - and very probably anti-government feeling as the referendum could become in effect a referendum on the government - will be channelled by the right wing 'little Englanders' of Farage and co”.
The danger of a “left” anti-EU campaign is that it provides the ideological and organisational vehicle for workers to capitulate to nationalism, facilitating a far worse outcome outside after Brexit. This path will set back the labour movement in Britain and across Europe by decades.
The real job of the Marxist left is to forge an internationalist consciousness within the working class of Europe that can challenge and then take power from our common capitalist enemies.