As we move into the final countdown for 23 June we need to take stock of the three basic positions in the socialist movement, which are reflected in the Republican Socialist Alliance. First there is the reformist case for Remain backed by Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour left, Left Unity and Socialist Resistance. Second there is a revolutionary case on the EU which is expressed around “Boycott and Abstain”. Variations of this are promoted by the CPGB, Fight Racism Fight Imperialism, and International Socialist League. Third we have the ultra left case for leave, or UltraExit, supported by the Socialist Party, SWP and the Communist Party of Britain.
Of course within these three broad trends, reformist, revolutionary and ultra left, are variations and ‘internal’ contradictions. Although millions of people will abstain or boycott the ballot, in the working class movement comrades are polarised between the reformist and ultra left positions.
The ‘Reformist-Remain’ position is that the only way to fight to remain in the EU is to vote for Cameron’s anti-immigrant and pro-City of London deal. This is by far the largest and most influential in the labour movement and has created a popular front between liberal big Capital represented by Cameron’s Tories, the City and big Corporations and the organised working class in the right wing of the Labour Party, the trade union bureaucracy, and socialist reformism.
The popular front is based on the idea that all classes benefit from the EU both capital and wage labour. It is accepted by Corbyn that the EU is not perfect but Labour can reform it to serve the working class. In reality this promise of ‘jam tomorrow’ is empty because there is no means by which the Labour Party can delivery on their promissory note. It is a promise that the EU will carry on in the way it treated the Greek working class.
UltraExit is a mirror image of reformism. Whilst reformism says the EU can be reformed without having any plan or means of achieving it, the ultra left claims it cannot be reformed and so have no plan either beyond its assertion. Like reformism, UltraExit denies the possibility and necessity of a European democratic revolution.
The revolutionary camp is not in good health either because it is divided between anarchist and revolutionary democratic arguments. There are two anarchist arguments. First some anarchists say a “plague on both houses” and refuse to vote, as a moral argument. They have no perspective beyond the polling booth. Second there are revolutionary anarchist arguments which simply think that breaking things up is revolutionary like smashing the crockery or having smaller businesses. This ‘revolutionary’ mash it up is firmly in the UltraExit camp.
UltraExit is seriously flawed. The EU has changed, is changing and will continue to change. But the ultras claim that permanent change is and can only ever be in one direction, worse or backward. This is to deny the potential power of the working class, more than capable of extracting a few crumbs from the bosses table, and bringing democratic and social revolution. UltraExit denies and opposes the possibility of European revolution led by the European working class.
UltraExit claims that leaving the EU will overthrow Cameron and destroy the Tory Party. Of course Cameron may be sacked by the Tory party but they will keep him if he can still deliver for the City. We should not underestimate the ability and determination of the Tory Party to keep its grip on power. Worse, it ignores the reality that if Cameron is ousted he will be replaced by Johnson, not the SWP nor the SP. A victory for exit, with the present balance of forces, leads to the right. Despite its own radical intentions, ultra leftism sounds ‘revolutionary’ but delivers its voters for Hedge Funds, smaller businesses, right wing politicians and adds votes to the anti-immigrant mood.
UltraExit claims that the EU is worse than capitalism. The EU attacks the working class, imposes neoliberal policies and austerity. But unlike ‘ordinary’ capitalism, as in the UK, this EU capitalism cannot be reformed nor overthrown by revolution. If this is true the entire world will be taken over by the EU and capitalism will remain unchanged for ever.
UltraExit is built on intellectual pessimism about the potential power of the working class. This is quite understandable, given the defeats suffered by the working class in the UK. Various socialists have lost confidence in the international working class and no longer see it as the agent of change – reform or revolution – in Europe.
There is a world of difference between saying “Remain by Voting for Cameron’s reactionary policy” and saying ‘Remain’ but oppose the Tory policy by not voting for it and calling for militant class struggle opposition to Brexit, if necessary, after 23 June. Whoever wins on June 23, the economic classes will have their say whether in the form of a financial crisis, a strike of capital or workers general “strike against Exit”. Given the situation of striking workers in France there is no better time for a militant fight linking up with French workers.
Before anybody claims that workers strike action would be illegitimate by defying the democratic decision of the people we need to remember that 2.3 million EU citizens have been excluded from the ballot. If women were not allowed to vote in this referendum would we accept it as a legitimate democratic result? Why should we accept the exclusion of EU citizens from this ballot is anything other than Tory gerrymandering?