Jeremy Corbyn has adopted a principled position in relation to the EU referendum, and it is causing his opponents considerable problems. The way they are dealing with those problems is to justify their positions by forming a series of unholy alliances, and by an even more disgraceful misrepresentation of Corbyn’s position than usual.
For a very long time, I have been arguing that Marxists should adopt a very positive attitude towards the EU, as the basic framework within which the European working-class should forge itself into a European labour movement, in place of competing national labour movements. Capital exists on an international scale, and the EU is just one manifestation of the way imperialism, as a global capitalist economy, has forged itself into a series of large competing economic units, as a means of resolving the contradictions that arise from an inability to create a single global state.
These economic units, of the size of the EU, are the minimum starting point for any consideration even of being able to start to build socialism, which requires the productive relations to be established on an even larger scale than achieved by capitalism. The idea that socialism could even begin to be created by first moving back to smaller economic units, such as the nation state, is, therefore, both utopian and reactionary. Utopian, because it is simply not possible to achieve, reactionary, because it involves proposing a move back to earlier, less mature forms of capitalist development and organisation, and inevitably involves giving succour to all kinds of reactionary nationalist ideas.
An example of that is the way some of the arguments themselves are phrased. The Brexiters of left or right talk about an advantage of a separate Britain being that “we” could be free to make “our” own decisions. But exactly who is it that forms this “we”, and what decisions are they that are equally “ours”. The whole way the argument is phrased is to suggest that there is some homogeneous British people whose decisions are based upon “our” common interests, as opposed to those of “others”, in the rest of Europe.
But, of course, that is nonsense, as Cameron’s own farcical renegotiation showed. What Cameron sought — in so far as it was not just a measure to say he had undertaken such a negotiation — were demands which benefited a very small percentage of the British people — the 0.001% who own the vast majority of interest-bearing capital — and those measures most certainly were not in the interests of the vast majority of British workers. As with previous conservative opt outs from EU regulations, they were measures which attacked the rights of British workers currently enshrined in EU regulations.
When the Brexiters talk about a renegotiation after Britain left the EU, they do not mean a renegotiation undertaken by British workers, but by the British government, and that government would undertake such negotiations not on the basis of a consideration for the interests of British workers, but purely of British capital. In all of the talk about a Norway option, Swiss option, or Canadian option, in each case it is a negotiation between a British government looking to the interests of British capital, as against an EU government looking after the interests of EU capital. By definition it excludes the working-class, and the middle class from the process.
By contrast, when socialists talk about negotiation within the existing EU, it is, from the beginning, the same as the basis of the negotiation for reforms that the working-class undertakes with the boss class and its representatives within existing nation states. It is, from the beginning undertaken on the basis of a recognition that our interests, as workers, for better wages and conditions, for better systems of pensions and benefits, for better human and democratic rights, for better control over socialised capital, and so on, are not the same interests as those of the boss class.
Jeremy Corbyn has been quite right, therefore, to state, from the beginning, that he is not a fan of the existing EU. No socialists could be. But, nor can any socialist be a fan of the existing British, French, German, Dutch, Italian, or any other nation state, precisely because they are all capitalist states.
The Tory media’s attitude to Corbyn’s principled position has been as confused and disgraceful as it was to the position of Syriza, which insisted that it opposed austerity, and yet equally insisted on opposing that austerity from within the EU. The Tory media have no problem with the idea that Cameron could be critical of the EU, and even suggest that if the EU were not to agree to his demands, to be even more at arms length from them, he would recommend Brexit. Yet, when Corbyn states his criticism of the existing EU, not as a basis for leaving it, but as the basis for reforming it, and consolidating it, the media insist that this means he is not really pro-EU!
They don’t really believe that, they simply frame the argument in this way to give the impression that the only way to be pro-EU is to be an advocate of the existing EU, complete with all of its capitalist market relations, its state bureaucracy and so on. That was why they also tried to portray the idea from the beginning that Syriza, a left-wing movement, opposing austerity, had to be anti-EU. There is nothing more dangerous to conservative politicians and regimes than the idea that it is possible to be pro-EU, and simultaneously anti-austerity. It means that workers, across Europe, and so also in each nation state, can be given a positive view of the future, in which austerity is rejected, and economic stimulus is provided, on a rational large scale basis, across Europe.
By standing on such a pro-EU, anti-austerity platform, Corbyn has quite rightly refused to share any platforms with Tories for whom such a programme is anathema. Had Labour adopted the same stance during the Scottish referendum, they would be in a much stronger position in Scotland today. Yet, that principled position has also put Corbyn’s opponents within the Labour Party in an awkward position too.
Right-wing Labour MP’s like Gisela Stewart, and Graham Stringer, even after Corbyn had just spoken last week to set out his support for staying in, and refusing to share a platform with Tories, were proclaiming that Jeremy was not giving his real views, and that he was only trying to justify his lining up with the Tories. But, of course, that is a disgraceful perversion of the truth. Firstly, Jeremy has made no secret of his critical attitude to the EU. He repeated it, at his press conference, last week. All socialists would share those criticisms. But, to hold those criticisms does not at all mean a requirement to advocate leaving. It means joining with other workers and socialists across the EU to deal with those criticisms, and to forge a better Europe, a Workers Europe by those methods of solidarity that workers have also seen as the basis of their strength.
And that is the difference between the principled position that Jeremy has put forward, and the unprincipled, conservative, nationalist position that right-wing Labour MP’s such as Stewart and Stringer have put forward, not to mention the reactionary position of demagogues like Galloway, who actually do have no qualms about standing on the same platforms as reactionary Tory MP’s, and UKIPPERS.
But, as I suggested recently, the reason we need A Socialist Campaign For Europe, is that even within the Labour supporters of the EU, the limitations of their social-democratic agenda limits the extent to which they are prepared to advance a rational and consistent programme. When Jeremy, last week, for example, argued that the answer to the objection of Brexiters to workers coming to Britain, was to have a common Minimum Wage across Europe, right-wing Labour MP’s were quick to jump on the suggestion, and try to claim that Jeremy had not meant it, and so on.
But, of course, he is right to advocate such a European Minimum Wage, precisely because it does help to forge a common European working-class, fighting as a single class for its interests, as against the interests of capital. It does thereby mean that this is something that workers across borders can join together to fight for, rather than relying on the governments of nation states to negotiate, supposedly for their benefit. It does directly undermine the argument of the nationalists against the free movement of labour.
A European Minimum Wage does not have to be the same nominal amount everywhere, in just the same way than in Britain, there is “London Weighting” to allow for the much higher cost of living for workers in the capital. It is quite possible to have a European Minimum Wage that takes into account different costs of living across the continent, and that in itself opens up the requirement for committees of workers across the continent to come together to establish such measurements of the cost of living and to develop workers cost of living indices, much as the London Co-ops did alongside the London Trades Councils, after WWI, with the establishment of the Food Price Vigilance Committees.
Corbyn’s principled position on the EU is causing his opponents within the Tories, the Tory media, and the right-wing of the Labour Party problems, and exposes all the more clearly both the hypocrisy of those opponents and the nature of the unholy alliances they have entered into. Corbyn should drive forward with that principled position, as I suggested recently, by vigorously promoting a rejuvenation of the European Labour Movement. He should, in the next few weeks, launch a large-scale campaign to build a European Workers Party, bringing together not just the existing socialist parties, but also drawing in social-democratic parties like Syriza, as well as other such forces like Podemos, the Left Bloc, Die Linke and so on, around the project of ending austerity, and creating a social Europe. That would be a powerful force for the next EU Elections.
Those who say that Jeremy should be more vocal in his advocacy of the EU are right, in that, but it should be a loud voice advocating such a progressive Europe, a Europe in which all of these social-democratic and socialist forces can be united to move forward, and not simply a voice of apologism for the existing limited Europe.
Originally published at boffyblog.blogspot.co.uk on April 19, 2016.