SEXIT – Socialists for exiting the EU
The Leave campaign to exit the EU is based on British nationalism and patriotic illusions in British ‘democracy’. According to this, the country would be better if sovereignty was fully restored to the Crown-in-Parliament. This would enable “Britain” to control its own borders, restrict immigration and stop interference from Brussels. Reducing immigration will then force employers to increase wages.
Boris Johnson presents himself as the leader of the British freedom movement, waging a national liberation struggle to escape the evil Euro-capitalist empire. Make June 23 “Independence Day” became the closing slogan of their campaign. Whether the Tory referendum is won or lost, the Tory right sees this as a long term battle.
The Leave case is reactionary no matter how progressive it presents itself. It does not recognise the fundamental issue is productivity. The latter depends on investment and increasingly on integration and organisation at a European and global level. The Leave campaign fuels popular misconceptions about ‘sovereignty’, how government fails and how working class organisation affects levels of pay and conditions.
European integration, like globalisation, is a result of capital accumulating and spreading across national borders. The EU is the political means by which corporate capital manages the process. Reactionary politics wants to halt integration and return to small scale competitive national capitalism, imagining a fantasy world without big ‘super’ states and large multinational corporations.
Reactionaries blame the EU for neo-liberalism and migrant workers for low pay and poor housing. They say the main enemy is not at home but is imported from abroad, destroying ‘our’ democracy and taking our jobs. All reactionary arguments have this kind of displacement, taking the real problems of anti-social capitalism and directing blame at an array of foreign scapegoats.
The contradiction at the heart of the EU is the mismatch between a more integrated advanced European economy and the backwardness of European democracy and political organisation. The solution lies in European democracy, not leaving the EU, hoping to restore the old failed British parliamentary democracy and its mythical ‘sovereignty’.
George Galloway, socialist leader of the Respect party claims “only Brexit would deliver true democracy for British voters”. He says “We want our people to choose our government and thus our direction. I’d rather take my chance with changing things in Britain than waiting for change in Bulgaria or in Poland or in Germany”. Thus he (https://www.politicshome.com/news/uk/social-affairs/politics/news/58879/george-galloway-why-im-backing-brexit) combines British patriotism with conservative ideas about British democracy and nostalgia for a lost past.
Galloway was not alone in a reactionary socialist camp. Arthur Scargill and Jim Sillars conceived socialist politics in purely British or Scottish terms from which the EU was a diversion, distraction or barrier. There is nothing progressive about promoting illusions in UK democracy or the fantasy that leaving the EU would restore democracy. Galloway says the EU is “built on neo-liberal economic principles” rather than on the drive for capitalist profit. He has chosen to forget that the British state has been the vanguard of European neo-liberalism. Anglo-American imperialism has led the way to the free market since Thatcher and Reagan. Leaving the EU is not a defence against neo-liberalism. The solution is building working class unity across national borders.
Instead of promoting international working class struggle Galloway claims that in the EU neo-liberal principles “are iron-clad and unchangeable”. Nothing is unchangeable especially ‘principles’. Capital will re-think its ‘principles’ in the face of organised working class action. Galloway inflates British ‘democracy’ as he denies the power of the working class to wreck all capitalist theories and principles.
Galloway does not conceal his patriotic appeal to British over European values. He has no compunction of joining up to campaign with his ‘British’ bedfellows such as Nigel Farage, Peter Bone and Sir Bill Cash. Like them he wants the UK to be able to decide “how many immigrants we have, who we deport, what the levels of taxation are and what our foreign policy should be”. (https://www.politicshome.com/news/uk/social-affairs/politics/news/58879/george-galloway-why-im-backing-brexit)
Ultra Leftism and UltraExit.
There is a Marxist version of reactionary socialism. This is ultra leftism, attacked by Lenin for undermining the revolutionary working class. Lenin identified this with a petty bourgeois moralistic response to the evils of capitalism. It has its roots in anarchism where the natural preference is for individualism, heroic minorities, ‘small is beautiful’ and breaking up of large organisation.
Ultra leftism is ultra revolutionary socialism, going so far to the left that it has become reactionary. Ignoring the development of capitalism, it approaches issues with high principles and moral purity. The revolutionary minority must take action to overthrow capitalism regardless of the balance of class forces or the readiness of the working class. The minority must substitute for the majority and the individual must act where the minority will not.
UltraExit is the term for ultra left ideas applied to the European Union. Marxist arguments are deployed to ‘sex up’ the British right wing’s ‘dodgy dossier’ for breaking up the European Union. The largest Marxist organisations and some smaller ones have adopted an UltraExit position in a united front campaign, officially called Lexit, involving the Socialist Workers Party, the Communist Party of Britain, the Socialist Party, Counterfire and Tariq Ali etc.
Counterfire makes a concise summary of the case saying the EU is an “inherently neo-liberal institution”, it is “not democratic”, and it is “irreformable” and is “a bulwark against change”. We can disagree with ‘inherently’ neo-liberal rather than ‘inherently’ capitalist. Yet these problems can be resolve by revolution. Instead the ultra case is to propose leave, as a British policy. UltraExit does not recognise the possibility of European revolution or propose a European working class perspective.
The central argument is that the EU cannot be changed. Nothing is fixed. The EU has changed, is changing and will continue to change. But UltraExit 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 suggests that leaving the EU is a revolution which will overthrow Cameron and destroy the Tory Party. Of course Cameron may be sacked by the Tory party or 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, the idea that leave is revolutionary ignores reality. 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.
The Socialist Workers Party puts forward an UltraExit in a pamphlet “EU: A left case for exit” written by Joseph Choenara. Like all good anti-capitalist arguments it describes the EU as a capitalist club – “a business arrangement, an agreement between different capitalist ruling classes”. (EU: A left case for exit Joseph Choenara p17). It is described by the SWP’s Alex Callinicos as “a dysfunctional would-be imperialism”. (EU: A left case for exit Joseph Choenara p20).
The SWP says “we must start from our principles and determine our tactics based on those principles” (EU: A left case for exit Joseph Choenara p25). It says “In principle, as I have argued, there are extremely compelling reasons to oppose the EU” (EU: A left case for exit Joseph Choenara p25). Yet we can find no elaboration of these ‘principles’.
Ultra leftism is like a religion, standing for good against evil on the basis of high moral principles. Condemning the EU as neoliberal is not a programme for change. Irish Marxist, James Anderson, criticises the SWP case. He says “In broad historical terms the choice boils down to whether you fall into defensive backward-looking insularity or move to hopeful forward-looking internationalism”. (Socialist Review September 2015 James Anderson). This is why it is not enough to condemn capitalism it is necessary to understand the direction of travel.
The SWP says “we will campaign for exit “because, in the basis of the debates in the party, and discussions with those we work with in the wider movement and with or comrades abroad, we believe it is the principled position to take.” (EU: A left case for exit Joseph Choenara p30). It seems that leaving is itself seen as a principle.
Anderson recognises the undercurrent moralism in the SWP case. Highlighting the EU’s treatment of African and Asian migrants who drowned in the Mediterranean is to be condemned. But he continues “the real practical and moral issue is not whether the EU is “good” or “bad” – it’s not some popularity contest – but whether it is better to leave or stay and fight”. (Socialist Review September 2015 James Anderson
Opposing or Leaving
The SWP claims that “there are extremely compelling reasons to oppose the EU”. This is because “the EU is one part of that system of exploitation, crisis and oppression”. Hence “the EU has to be fought in Britain or in Greece, in the streets of Berlin or the squalor of the Jungle in Calais” (EU: A left case for exit Joseph Choenara p30). Yes but there is no conception beyond Germany, Greece and Britain of a common, co-ordinated, EU wide struggle. There is no demand for EU wide trade unions, an EU wide general strike and EU wide socialist parties. The SWP’s concept of class struggle is national in the sense of separate uncoordinated struggles taking place autonomously in different states.
‘Fight or flight’ is always a basic choice in any battle. Leaving the EU is not the same as opposing it. As trade unionists opposing our employers is not a reason to resign and get a job somewhere else. The SWP does not show why the best way for the European working class to oppose the EU is for the British working class to leave.
The SWP asks “What happens if we leave?” They say the right will gain but it won’t be as bad as some predict – “it is true that there may be further restrictions on migrants if Britain leaves” but in any case Cameron would attack migrants if he wins. Possibly the left may gain and “might we see an opportunity for a Corbyn-led Labour government”? (EU: A left case for exit Joseph Choenara p30).
The SWP recognises that “Britain will still be neoliberal if we leave”. But the party says “Breaking up the EU would not make our rulers or their (neo-liberal) policies disappear but it would weaken them”. (EU: A left case for exit Joseph Choenara p25) Unfortunately there is no explanation why neo-liberalism would be weakened with Boris Johnson in charge of a country.
The SWP fails to make the case that leaving the EU will ‘weaken’ the British ruling class. It is assumed that it is obvious. The ruling class will be damaged by the actions of petty bourgeois reactionaries. This is not a victory for the working class. The only progressive ‘weakening’ of the ruling class would be a growth of strike action and political mobilisation by the working class movement. This is not what is happening.
Of course you don’t have to be in the same state or semi-state to act as internationalists. This point was made during the Scottish referendum. However living in the same state under the same government with the same rights and liberties can facilitate working class co-operation. This cannot be ignored or disregarded.
The SWP is right to say that “solidarity does not rest on capitalist institutions such as the EU”. (EU: A left case for exit Joseph Choenara p26) Grass roots cross border co-ordination, or ‘internationalism from below’, is much more important. But the existence of the EU makes a difference. As the SWP recognises the European Parliament can be useful focal point for progressive actions such as the anti-racist protests in March 2016.
These protests were organised on a European basis not in America, China or India. It is mistaken to think that the integration of economics and politics that has taken place in Europe in the last twenty years has made no difference to European wide action. Indeed it would be cavalier to disregard the significance of changing material factors on people and consciousness.
The SWP takes on the socialist remain argument that the EU is not democratic but can be reformed. They cite Yanis Varoufakis, the left wing former Greek finance Minister, whose comments against the EU are as hostile as the SWP but who concludes “this malevolent edifice can be democratised”. (EU: A left case for exit Joseph Choenara p27).
The SWP notes that the European Parliament is vaguely democratic because, although elected, it is weak and feeble. They recognise that power lies with the unelected bodies in the European Commission, and the European Central Bank. This is no different, in principle, to the much larger and more powerful bureaucracy that runs the UK, in the Crown and the Bank of England and its own armed forces.
The SWP claims that the EU is “unreformable” and that “a break with racism and neo-liberalism can only take place through a challenge to the power of the ruling class in various particular states”. (EU: A left case for exit Joseph Choenara p27) This is a national perspective which sees struggle against austerity starting and then winning in Greece alone – “a movement of Greek workers focused on winning in Greece….rather than a uniform pan-European movement orientated on the structures of the EU”. (EU: A left case for exit Joseph Choenara p27).
The word “uniform” puts an impossible condition on any movement. International mass movements develop necessarily in a combined and uneven way. The focus of the SWP is entirely and exclusively on local and national government and forgets the structures of the EU. This is like saying Greek workers should focus exclusively on the Greek Central Bank and ignore the European Central Bank, the European Commission and the International Monetary Fund. Workers action must be national and cross European and not substitute one for the other.
Opposing European democracy
If the EU was a democratic United States the SWP would recognise the EU as a “genuine state”, instead of one in transition to a genuine state. The SWP would then recognise a case for taking the European Parliament seriously and “for orientating on it as a place from which to wrest reforms and in which to win left representation”. (EU: A left case for exit Joseph Choenara p27).
The SWP recognises the revolutionary argument that “a European state created from below by the struggles of workers across the continent is a different matter”. (EU: A left case for exit Joseph Choenara p28). However the party recognises this only to dismiss the argument that “we should seek a single unified Europe”. So the SWP would support a European democracy if workers created it. But the party is not in favour of fighting for it, seeing revolution as a purely national event on a British road to socialism.
The SWP says “racist arguments will feature of both sides”. (EU: A left case for exit Joseph Choenara p25). Racism is not just about ideas but is expressed in practical measures including laws, restrictions on rights and liberties, employment practices and the use of police powers etc. This is underestimated. Both Cameron’s reformed EU and the Tory-UKIP exit will take measures against migrant workers. So it is not just racist arguments that socialists can distance themselves from. When we enter the polling booth we are asked to cast a vote behind one set of anti-worker racist policies or another set. This is the case for socialists opposing both right wing options on the ballot paper.
In summary, all the reactionary arguments against the EU share a common strand. The EU is condemned for various reasons and therefore we must leave take our country back for national independence or national revolution. Reactionary nationalism wants to leave the EU to restore ‘our democracy’ and control immigration. Reactionary socialism wants to leave to restore British democracy (with its Mother of Parliaments, Monarchy, House of Lords, Privy Council and Royal Prerogatives) to bring in socialism. UltraExit says the EU is unreformable and leaving will defeat the Tories and make national revolution possible. As the Communist Manifesto predicted this will end in a “miserable fit of the blues”.