Pete Glover offers his opinion on the Left with regards to the upcoming EU Referendum
‘There go the people. I must follow them, for I am their leader’ -Ledru-Rollin
‘This is a local shop for local people. We’ll have no trouble here.’ -League of Gentlemen
The shared ‘Marxist’ Left position
In or out of Europe, capitalism is king. The real battle for the working class is not being fought by either side in this referendum campaign. The real battle is against capitalism in whatever political form it cloaks itself. Typically though, large swathes of the Left have mistaken political appearance (the EU) for capitalist reality (production for profit) in their quixotic windmill tilting (Cervantes’ Don Quixote mistook windmills for giants). The TUC’s position is unashamedly pro-business. But, shamefully, instead of arguing for a socialist position, socialist organisations and some trade unions are taking an equally anti-worker stance in the opposite direction: for Brexit. They are ignoring the consequences for millions of migrant workers living in the UK and the consequences of a steep rise in nationalism should their campaign be successful. The Communist Party, Socialist Party, Socialist Workers’ Party, RMT, ASLEF and the Bakers’ Union all fiercely support exit from the EU. Their arguments are broadly similar.
The Socialist Party position
‘The Socialist Party argues ‘An ‘out’ vote would strike a mortal blow at the government. It could lead to the calling of a general election and the downfall of the detested Tories from power. So voting ‘out’ is particularly important.’ (Editorial of The Socialist, issue 890)
The Socialist Party General Secretary, Peter Taaffe said: ‘Why should [Boris] Johnson automatically gain from a vote to leave? Cameron’s removal could precipitate a general election and the possibility of a Labour victory.’ (Socialism Today, June 2016)
Perhaps Brexit could lead to a general election. But then again it might not. Remember that Thatcher was removed by the Poll Tax uprising and yet the Tories changed leaders and still clung on to power. The Tories are just as likely to close ranks after the referendum. They might ditch their leader but it’s very unlikely that they would opt for an immediate election unless they believed they had a chance of winning it. Where does this post-Brexit revolutionary scenario come from? I suggest is it born from a powerlessness of the Left which is a consequence of a complete failure of any of their perspectives. This in turn was due to the disregard of the works of Marx, common in these organisations. This has gradually eroded Marxist theory and made so-called Marxist leaders suspicious of ideas and reliant on mindless activism. To even quote Marx in these organisations often brings suspicion down on one’s head.
Rising nationalism, the loudest voice
Even supposing the ‘Socialist’ Left are correct and a general election were called, who would be the winners of such a general election? Jeremy Corbyn and Labour have called for an ‘in’ vote. If Cameron is discredited over Europe then it follows Corbyn would be too. The real beneficiaries will be those whose voices have been heard the loudest in the referendum campaign. The real beneficiaries will be those who have stirred up nationalist and anti-immigrant sentiment until it has become almost a national sport. The Left voice in the campaign has been totally marginalised. The real victor in the event of a Left-backed Brexit would be rampant nationalism. For example, debate in almost every public or internet forum veers inevitably to the final destination of immigration. Looking at the ‘Labour Leave’ Facebook group, for instance, one might assume that the group would discuss topics such as nationalisation and internationalism. Instead each thread starts with an issue such as the NHS and then swings violently towards Union Jacks, ‘sovereignty’ and immigration. Unlike a general election, the referendum campaign has taken the nationalist genie out of the bottle and it is going to be difficult to put it back in again. It won’t stop with Eastern European migrants. This is the starting off point.
The argument that Brexit would lead to a Labour victory is a very long odds gamble if you are a Polish worker in the NHS. Maybe 3 million workers will face a horribly uncertain future. Under the latest Tory legislation, if you are applying for a Tier 2 visa (a visa that allows you to work in the UK) you have to earn a salary of at least £35,000 to apply for settlement. If the UK leaves the EU and these visa and immigration regulations are applied to EU migrants, it would exclude vast swathes of low paid workers from the right to work and live in the jobs they currently do in the UK. In this case alone, an exit would be a huge assault on the working class in hospitals, care homes, NHS and factories.
The SWP position
The Socialist Workers Party have an even more optimistic and abstract position: ‘Socialist Worker is pushing for Britain to leave the EU on a socialist and internationalist basis.’ (Socialist Worker, February 2016). And I’m pushing for Santa to install a gold toilet in my house. It ain’t gonna happen. The ballot paper has two choices, in or out, not ‘out’ and ‘out on a socialist basis’. Where is the path to internationalism after Brexit? How will internationalism get on to the agenda of the working class? If nationalism wins then the only agenda internationalism will appear upon will be as a discussion item at Marxism 2017 entitled ‘How do we stop the deportations?’
The Communist Party position
The Communist Party’s position is even more cynical and echoes the language of the far right with calls for ‘sovereignty’ so beloved of UKIP.
The Communist Party don’t understand or ignore the fact that the sovereignty of national governments is conditional upon the laws of capitalism. The EU’s policy towards Greece is not a unique property of the EU. In 2001, Argentina defaulted on multi-billions of dollars in loans. GDP dropped by over 50%. Argentina was unable to pay its debts. A debt restructuring deal was concluded with 93% of bondholders. Some of those who refused the debt deal with the Argentine Government had bought bonds at discounted rates, after Argentina had defaulted, and took the government to a US court demanding full payment. These investors earned the nickname ‘vulture funds’. They bought up cheap debt at pennies on the dollar and then demanded full payment using a battery of expensive lawyers and US courts. Argentina settled this case and paid out $2.28 billion- investors paid a mere $177 million. That is return of over 1,000%. What does this show? The EU is not a unique ‘neoliberal’ institutional evil. There are other political institutions that underpin the financial political architecture of capitalism, the IMF, the US, the WTO etc. Marxists recognise that capitalism is transnational but look for answers beneath the surface of these organisations. Marxists identify the underlying problem within Europe as a problem of declining profitability, not primarily within the political structure of pan-European institutions.
Therefore, the claim that ‘national sovereignty’ will be in some way restored in the event of an EU exit is totally mistaken. In or out of the EU, the decisions of national governments are subject to the laws of capitalism. Marx explained that the fundamental law of political economy is M-C-M’.Capital needs to valorise to make a greater amount of money. Capitalism does this by investing a sum of money in machinery, raw materials and labour power to create an additional sum of money on top of this initial investment of money. By avoiding addressing the underlying laws, because they do not understand them, the Communist Party and others have to rely on old-fashioned nationalist ideas. They imply that before the EU there was some sort of golden era of workers’ rights. But was there ever a golden era?
The Legacy of Bob Crow
Bob Crow’s political legacy is mixed. He transformed the RMT into a fighting trade union. Unfortunately his position on immigration was nothing short of a disgrace. Because Bob has now been sanctified as a socialist saint in the pantheon of the ‘uncritise-able’, along with Tony Benn, it is impossible to raise his shortcomings without untruthful accusations being made by Stalinists about hating the RMT or being a Tory. If you disagree with Bob Crow’s views on immigration, it doesn’t follow you are against the RMT! Bob helped to lay the groundwork for the current ‘Left’ position in the referendum on the BBC ‘Question Time’ programme in 2013. He said:
‘..the reason why they are opening the borders (the EU) is to allow Bulgarians, Romanians, Polish is irrelevant…the people who are coming into this country are economic migrants who are coming into this country looking for work but by virtue of the fact they are coming to this country they are lowering the rates and conditions for those people who are working here. We should be absolutely clear that a person who wants to come to this country, why are we saying to the likes of Chelsea and Arsenal that your footballers can’t come and play for you because they are immigrants? They come here because they’ve got a work permit. And the simple way round it (?) is to say that if you want to come to this country you have a work permit. You couldn’t go to Australia without a work permit. You couldn’t go to Cuba. So why should people come to Britain?’ (BBC ‘Question Time’, 07/03/13)
That sounds very much like the comedian Stuart Lee’s parody of nationalism “Comin’ over ‘ere, stealin’ our jobs”. Does anyone who call themselves Marxist agree with this garbage?
The Brexit debate is about immigration not democracy
Free movement of workers within the EU is now a right. Why would any working class or socialist organisation campaign for an outcome that would get rid of this? It’s like campaigning against Health and Safety legislation because if there were more accidents at work it might make David Cameron unpopular and lead to his downfall. The whole Brexit debate is a debate about immigration by proxy. It’s nothing to do with the NHS, Democracy, TTIP etc. The Tories under Cameron, for example, have done a brilliant job on their own of smashing the NHS. The main focus of Brexit on every TV show in every facebook thread is immigration, immigration immigration. The tiny Left organisations preposterously think they can ride that tiger.
‘Left Leave’ leave reality
Silence about the threat to the rights of the huge working class migrant population in the UK is a defining moment for the SWP/SP/CP distortions of Marxism. All of these groups try to disguise this bizarre political position. One way they try to do this is by claiming that the EU is a racist conspiracy. We therefore are left with some bizarre and deliberately misleading claims. The ‘Left Leave’ campaign, for example, try to cover their nationalist tracks thus: ‘In the current state of the referendum campaign the left should be shouting out from the rooftops about how the EU created this migrant crisis and the racism of its response.’(http://www.leftleave.org/)
Incredibly stupid and deeply misleading claims such as these deny that capitalism is the root and the real basis of racism. Such claims are also the product of a conspiracy fantasy. If anyone from ‘Left Leave’ does manage to climb to any rooftops, then they will find them populated by UKIP supporters and Boris Johnson followers. These organisations could have campaigned on the issue of rights for migrant workers. You cannot hold back a surge of nationalism while following in its wake.
The terrible tail-ending of the nationalists is reminiscent of the workers leader Alexandre Ledru-Rollin , who eventually ended up on the side of reaction during the 1848 revolution. Bewildered by the crowds marching below his bedroom window he is reported to have said: ‘There go the people. I must follow them, for I am their leader’. Ledru-Rollin was at least tail-ending revolutionaries. The present coalition of the left have repeated history, but this time as farce. They are tail-ending not revolutionaries but UKIP and Boris Johnson.