Irving Welsh sums an abstention case (“However we vote, the elites will win the EU referendum” Guardian 30 May 2016) when he says “whether you back red or black in the tawdry, crumbling casino of neoliberalism, and whatever the slimy croupiers of the mainstream media urge, it’s the house that invariably wins”. At the crooked wheel keep your money in your pocket and not on red or black.
I enjoyed the analogy but it doesn’t really cut the mustard. There is much more to this than gambling on 23 June. It is better to start with the medium and long term, where the working class can be next year or in five years time. There are two different debates that socialist should have.
First is the argument between reactionary, conservative and revolutionary views of the future. Then there is the immediate vote for Exit, Remain and Abstain. Of course the Tories have only offered people a binary choice between Remain and Leave. The media national debate is between these two. However millions of people will not vote and the larger the abstention the worse it gets for those who own the crumbling casino. Those calling for abstain [or boycott] are demanding that workers do not simply follow in the choices the Tories have given us.
The big picture is that the EU is in crisis and cannot stay as it is. It will have to break up or become more fully integrated. It is a ‘half way house’, neither fish nor fowl. In the next year or five years the EU may break up and Europe disintegrate. Alternatively the EU may become or be part of a United States of Europe, a federal republic of Europe.
A United States of Europe is a realistic possibility because it is rooted in the real world of capitalism and is the logical extension of the process of European integration that has been going on for the last fifty years. It is revolutionary because it requires a break with the present. Of course it is no more than an idea and many kinds of United States are possible. It only becomes a revolutionary reality by the intervention of people and social classes.
Boris Johnson has talked about the future of the EU with a sense of history and a longer term perspective. Therefore he better understands the present choices. He rejects the United States of Europe and elaborates the reactionary case for taking the UK back to the past as an independent ‘sovereign’ country. He omits to mention this would be in the pocket of Washington, continuing our role as the fifty first state of America.
Of course Johnson presents himself as the progressive leader of the British freedom movement engaged in national liberation struggle against the evil Empire. He declares he is not anti-European and even sings in German. If Hitler tried to unite Europe under the jackboot, Boris is full of the Dunkirk spirit and ambition to lead Dad’s Army.
So what about the conservative future for the EU? Carry on as before but try a bit of change? This is the best conservatives can offer – remain and tinker about with petty fogging reforms. In essence neither forward nor back. In the conservative centre, Cameron and Corbyn are together in an unhappy Viennese waltz pulling in different directions. Cameron wants to take one step backwards and Corbyn one forward. But get real. Cameron is in charge of this little dance.
Voting in the Tory referendum is really a strategic choice between reactionary and conservative options. These are the only two on the ballot paper, hiding under the words ‘Leave’ and ‘Remain’. But in reality Cameron has not given us a conservative option because we are voting on his reactionary negotiated ‘dirty little deal’. Those socialists backing reaction or conservatism are not facing reality.