We are republishing this “proposal to the class-struggle left”, from the socialist organisation Workers’ Liberty. Whether you agree, disagree or are not sure, please feel free to email responses to us at firstname.lastname@example.org
The government intends to hold an in-out referendum on the UK’s European Union membership. David Cameron is currently attempting to negotiate with other EU leaders to allow the UK government more power at the expense of the EU.
Dressed up in nationalist rhetoric — opposition to foreign migrants and the demand for “our” right to control “our affairs” — Cameron is fighting for the right of the Tory government, acting on behalf of the capitalist class, to ignore European law and regulations that interfere with profits of British capitalists.
Columnist Iain Martin, writing in the Telegraph on 30 May, complains that Cameron’s shopping list for change in Europe is too vague. Martin advocates Cameron “should at least be looking to scrap anti-competitive social and employment laws that come from Brussels and [try] to win new flexibility for the UK to do its own trade deals.” The Telegraph has the virtue of being plain and clear. Much of the EU legislation the political right in Britain would like to see abolished, it is in the direct interest of workers in Britain to maintain.
No doubt Cameron — unlike many in his own party — would like to see the UK remain in the EU. Cameron wants to avoid the political disruption and economic overheads of withdrawal.
However the Westminster politicians may find it difficult to manage and control the referendum result from above. And it may be that the UK will stumble out of the EU, against their wishes.
The main result of Britain leaving the EU will be a big confidence boost for the political right and the growth of anti-immigrant racism.
The drive against EU membership is being led by poisonous and divisive anti-migrant howling from some of the press. Xenophobia has an appeal; UKIP won 3.8 million votes at the general election largely by playing to fears of foreigners.
Although the precise timing and the wording of the question to be voted on are not yet clear, the political dangers should be obvious. There is already a large constituency — well-funded, with a long tradition in UK politics, that has its own political voices and access to the media — which is loudly and crudely attacking migrants’ rights and using nationalism to try to pull the UK out of Europe.
In the run-up to this referendum there will be a further poisoning of British politics.
In an in-out referendum Workers’ Liberty will vote to keep the UK in the EU. We will do so for reasons similar to those that motivated our call to Scottish workers to vote against independence. In general, we are in favour of fewer and weaker borders and barriers between peoples.
If the issue in the referendum had been, for example, a vote on an EU economic treaty, we would probably have advocated abstention. It is not our job to choose between different methods of exploiting workers.
But the issue now is about strengthening borders and hostile attitudes towards other peoples; pulling the UK out of the EU will do both. It runs in the opposite direction to the creation of a federal Europe, which we favour.
The European bourgeoisies have pulled Europe together, substantially integrating Europe economically and politically. By doing so — in their own way, in their own interests — they have also expanded the possibilities for Europe-wide workers’ unity. We could add many qualifications — the expansion of bureaucracy, the capitalist nature of the process of integration — nevertheless European integration is historically progressive.
To try to break up the process of integration is as regressive as trying to turn the internet off because it is run by capitalist companies, or attempting to abolish parliament without bothering to see that bourgeois democracy is replaced with something better.
Unfortunately, some of socialist left, influenced by nationalism and Stalinism, will advocate withdrawal. They will say a blow to the EU is a blow against capitalist exploitation and imperialism. But not all damage to capitalism is in the interests of the working class. Socialists are not simply anti-capitalist — we have a positive programme which we fight for, and which includes European unity.
The people who will gain from UK withdrawal are the racists who hate migrants. It makes no sense for the left to vote with UKIP and the Tory right for withdrawal, pretending we are doing so to fight racism and nationalism. That would be ridiculous.
And some of the left will flounder about in confusion wishing the question was different and trying to avoid the issue of EU membership by stressing their opposition to racism and UKIP (reasonable of course, but limited and without political traction).
We advocate the left forms a united campaign with the following aims:
• To defend migrants’ rights and oppose racism
• To vote against British withdrawal from the EU
• To fight for a workers’ Europe, based on working class solidarity
We advocate that the left unite to fight for these aims and campaign for these ideas inside the workers’ movement. And, in addition, we suggest that the labour movement learn one more lesson from the Scottish referendum debacle: that the unions and Labour Party must not join a cross-class alliance with pro-EU Tories and others. Such a bloc discredited the labour movement during the Scottish campaign.
We are open to debate on the question and will be approaching left organisations with the intention of founding such an initiative.