Workers Hammer No. 234

Spring 2016


Britain out!

EU: enemy of workers and immigrants

For workers unity across European borders!

Standing on the revolutionary, proletarian and internationalist principles of Marxism, the Spartacist League/Britain welcomes the opportunity to call for a resounding “leave” vote in the upcoming referendum on continued British membership of the European Union (EU). Writing of its predecessor, the Common Market, more than 40 years ago, we declared: “unity under capitalism is not only a myth, which will be shattered in the first serious economic downturn, but must necessarily be directed against the working class, as each national capitalist class attempts to become ‘competitive’ through a policy of ‘rationalization’” (“Labor and the Common Market”, Workers Vanguard no 15, January 1973).

Who can deny that this has been the case in the decades since, particularly in the wake of the global financial crash in 2007-08? Plunging living standards for working people, massive and rising rates of unemployment, cuts in the most basic social benefits for the elderly, the disabled and the poor, engorging the City of London fat cats — this is the face of this union of imperialist profit-gouging. Under the EU, the monetarist, union-bashing policies — now termed “neo-liberalism” — introduced in the 1980s by Reagan in the US and Thatcher in Britain were extended to the imperialist countries on the continent. The “economic miracle” that has made Germany, once again, the dominant imperialist power in Europe, came on the backs of the German proletariat, not least through the wage- and benefit-slashing Hartz IV “reforms” introduced by Social Democratic (SPD) chancellor Gerhard Schröder more than a decade ago.

The devastating effects of EU-imposed austerity on weaker capitalist economies, collectively termed with contempt as the “PIGS” — Portugal, Ireland, Greece and Spain — are all too well known. The need to replenish the coffers of the Frankfurt, Paris and London banks following the financial meltdown of 2007-08 led to the degradation and impoverishment of the Greek masses and the ongoing destruction of the very fabric of Greek society. So much for the cruel lie that imperialist-dominated unity and a common currency, the euro, would usher in an era of prosperity! As our comrades of the Trotskyist Group of Greece stated in a 17 July 2015 call for the urgent formation of workers committees of action: “The EU and its currency the euro have been a tragic trap of suffering for the great bulk of the Greek people. The EU and euro must be repudiated.... Break with the Capitalists and their Banks!” (translated in Workers Hammer no 232, Autumn 2015).

Joining the myth of EU prosperity on the rubbish heap of spent illusions is the myth of “open borders”. The Schengen Agreement was sold on the promise of passport-free travel within Europe. In fact, it was the foundation stone for racist Fortress Europe. Every week brings new evidence of this. As refugees from imperialist economic depredation and terror-bombing in the Near East, Afghanistan, Africa and elsewhere began arriving in huge numbers on the northern shores of the Mediterranean, border fences and checkpoints began cropping up across Europe.

Tories in turmoil

The defining principle of the EU has always been the free movement of capital, not the free movement of people. Yet it is anti-immigrant chauvinism, particularly against workers from the East European countries coming to Britain, which has dominated the debate over Brexit. It was in order to stem growing support from within the Conservative party and its electoral base for Nigel Farage’s virulently chauvinist and anti-immigrant UK Independence Party (UKIP) that Tory prime minister David Cameron called the 23 June referendum in the first place, much to the chagrin of his American senior partners and a sizeable chunk of the British ruling establishment. In the upshot, the Conservative party is more deeply divided than ever, as evidenced by the resignation from the Cabinet of outspoken Brexit advocate Iain Duncan Smith. Duncan Smith’s claim that he quit in protest over cuts in disability benefits rings hollow coming from the man who introduced the “bedroom tax” and has presided over savage “welfare reforms”.

Both pro- and anti-EU camps in the Tory party whip up anti-immigrant chauvinism. UKIP and Cameron’s Conservative opponents want tighter border controls free of EU interference, while Cameron evokes the spectre of “migrant jungles” in the Southeast of England should Britain leave. Meanwhile, French economy minister Emmanuel Macron declares that France will “roll out a red carpet” for City financiers who choose to move to Paris. This says a lot about how the EU’s lofty “freedom of movement” is meant to work, providing a haven for parasitic financiers but a hell for desperate migrants. The organised working class must mobilise in defence of immigrants against racist reaction, demanding: Full citizenship rights for all who make it to Britain! No deportations!

For years, Jeremy Corbyn opposed Labour’s longstanding support to the EU. Now Labour under Corbyn links arms with Cameron to call for a “remain” vote. Corbyn emphasises his vision of a “social Europe” and opposes the restrictions on immigrants’ benefits negotiated by Cameron in February. Especially because of the latter, Corbyn is reviled by the Blairite rogues’ gallery — Neil Kinnock, Margaret Beckett, Hilary Benn, David Blunkett, Jack Straw — in the cross-party “Britain Stronger in Europe” campaign. However, the bottom line, as the pro-EU Guardian (16 February) observed, is that Labour under Corbyn may be instrumental in winning a “remain” vote. Noting that “Corbyn is by instinct more Eurosceptic than his party”, the Guardian editorial comments that it is to Corbyn’s “credit and to Labour’s benefit” that he decided to support the pro-EU line. This is about the only thing the Guardian has praised Corbyn for since his leadership election campaign.

The Irish capitalist rulers have enforced crippling EU-dictated austerity on the working class. In Scotland the bourgeois nationalist SNP is committed to maintaining Scotland’s membership of the EU and of NATO. These junior imperialists-in-waiting are also committed to the British monarchy, the cornerstone of the reactionary “United Kingdom”, which lays claim to Northern Ireland, and is based on English domination over Scotland and Wales. As Marxists, we call for the right of self-determination for Scotland and Wales, and fight for a voluntary federation of workers republics in the British Isles.

The American connection

British business is divided over the referendum and the uncertainty about the outcome has caused a drop in the value of sterling. Many manufacturers, who tend to export to continental Europe, favour Britain remaining in the EU. However, what really matters to the British economy is not manufacturing, but finance. Yet opinion in the City of London is also divided. Hedge funds tend towards Brexit, to escape EU regulations, such as caps on bankers’ bonuses. By contrast, the large investment banks favour remaining in the EU. The investment banks are the big fish in the City, and they are predominantly American as well as German and Swiss. While Britain boasts some large investment banks of its own, the City operates on what is known as the “Wimbledon model” — London hosts a world tournament, but is not expected to provide the big players.

The preponderance of financial parasitism in Britain was already evident in the late 19th century. Writing in 1916, Bolshevik leader VI Lenin noted “the extraordinary growth of a class, or rather, of a stratum of rentiers, i.e., people who live by ‘clipping coupons’” in Britain, whose income “is five times greater than the income obtained from the foreign trade of the biggest ‘trading’ country in the world” (Imperialism, the highest stage of capitalism). The tendency that Lenin described became even more pronounced in the aftermath of World War II. And in the 1980s — not coincidentally, following the defeat of the 1984-85 miners strike — Margaret Thatcher oversaw the deregulation of the financial sector, leading to a vast expansion in the wealth of the City bankers.

Particularly since the end of World War II — and as dramatically demonstrated over the 1956 Suez crisis — British imperialism has been consigned to the role of junior partner to the United States. Economically, this is the role of the City in regard to Wall Street. At the military level, the “special relationship” means Britain’s armed forces join in virtually every US military operation, including the devastation of Afghanistan, Iraq and other parts of the Near East. And within the EU, Britain acts in part as an advocate for US interests.

Thus Washington can barely conceal its anger with the Cameron government for risking a British exit from the EU. In a February discussion in the US Senate, Damon Wilson, former European affairs director under Republican George W Bush, warned that a British exit would deprive the US of “a critical voice in shaping not only EU policy, but the future of Europe”. Barack Obama is now scheduled to visit Britain in April for a “big, public reach-out” to boost the vote to keep Britain in the EU.

NATO, EU and Cold War

The EU’s forerunner, the Common Market, was set up as an economic adjunct of NATO, the US-dominated military alliance directed against the Soviet Union. In the words of NATO’s first secretary general, Lord Ismay, its purpose was “to keep the Russians out, the Americans in, and the Germans down”. Today, bourgeois mythology claims that the EU, a product of the imperialist Cold War, has prevented a repeat of World War II. In the midst of a crisis over the euro, Angela Merkel declared: “Nobody should believe that another half century of peace in Europe is a given — it’s not” (Telegraph, 26 October 2011).

It was the Soviet Union that brought an end to the war in Europe, liberating the continent from the Nazi Third Reich, at the cost of 27 million Soviet lives. The victory of the Red Army also tore much of Central and Eastern Europe from capitalist exploitation. In this context, the capitalist rulers in Western Europe conceded systems of benefits known as the ‘welfare state’.

The product of the 1917 October Revolution, the Soviet Union remained a workers state — based on the expropriation of the capitalists and the collectivisation of the means of production — despite its degeneration under the rule of a bureaucratic caste headed by JV Stalin. Until the bitter end, we fought for unconditional military defence of the Soviet Union and the bureaucratically deformed workers states of Central and Eastern Europe which were modelled on it. This was linked to the perspective of proletarian political revolution to oust the Stalinist bureaucracy and return the USSR to the internationalist road of Lenin and Trotsky’s Bolsheviks. Uniquely, we Trotskyists fought to preserve and extend the revolutionary gains of the working class, while every other tendency on the planet capitulated to the ideological pressure of anti-communism.

The restoration of capitalism in the Soviet Union in 1991-92 led to the immiseration of the working masses throughout the former Soviet republics and unleashed a flood tide of bloody internecine slaughter. In the absence of the Soviet Union as a counterweight, US imperialism was emboldened to ride roughshod over the downtrodden and oppressed around the globe, from the Balkans to the Near East. Capitalist counterrevolution also encouraged the imperialist ruling classes of Europe to attack the social benefits associated with the postwar “welfare state”.

Following capitalist counterrevolution, which laid the basis for a resurgent, reunified Germany, NATO became primarily an instrument for the US to express its military dominance in Europe. As we wrote at the time of the 1992 Maastricht Treaty, which founded the EU:

“Two and a half years ago the postwar era came to an end when the disintegrating Soviet bureaucracy under Gorbachev abandoned East Germany, thereby reversing the Red Army’s victory over the Nazi Third Reich….

“West Germany was transformed from a Cold War ally of American imperialism into an aggressive Fourth Reich seeking mastery of Europe.”

— “Euro-Chaos”, Workers Vanguard no 560, 2 October 1992

To curtail German imperialist ambitions, Washington insisted that Germany remain a member of NATO after its annexation of the former East German (DDR) deformed workers state. When reunified German imperialism precipitated the bloody break-up of the Yugoslav deformed workers state by engineering the secession of Croatia and Slovenia, the US countered with a NATO military intervention in Bosnia. The US also began the extension of NATO to Eastern Europe, including through sponsoring and funding various “colour revolutions” in formerly Soviet or Soviet-allied countries. These operations led to the fascist-infested coup in the Ukraine two years ago.

For its part, French imperialism supported German unification on the condition that Germany accept a common European currency intended to curb the power of the deutschmark. At the behest of the French Socialist Party’s Jacques Delors, the single currency was enshrined in the Maastricht Treaty which established the framework for the EU of today. Far from weakening German imperialism’s power, the euro has strengthened it, including against its French rival.

Nonetheless, interimperialist rivalries have largely remained muted since the fall of the USSR due to the disproportionate military strength of the US, which outstrips by many times over its main imperialist rivals, Germany and Japan. At the same time, US military strength is greatly disproportionate to its economic strength.

Behind the facade of European-US unity against Putin’s capitalist Russia, interimperialist rivalries are bubbling away. London has been reluctant to alienate the wealthy Russian oligarchs for whom the City is an offshore banking centre and a playground. The French government was reluctant to cancel lucrative arms sales to the Putin regime. And German imperialism is dependent on Russia for trade and as a source of energy. A significant concern of the US imperialists today is to prevent a German-Russian alliance. Germany’s military might pales in comparison to that of the US — although given Germany’s industrial base that could change in short order. But Germany’s economic prowess combined with Russia’s substantial military hardware, much of it inherited from the former Soviet Union, could constitute a future counterweight to the US.

Kautsky’s “ultra-imperialism” in new clothes

Amid the growing chaos besetting the EU, a British exit would deal a real blow to this imperialist-dominated conglomerate, further destabilising it and creating more favourable conditions for working-class struggle across Europe — including against a weakened and discredited Tory government in Britain. But the failure of Labour and the trade union bureaucracy — like the social democrats and trade union misleaders throughout Europe — to mobilise against the EU has instead ceded the oppositional ground to openly anti-immigrant reactionaries and fascists.

In the early 1970s, when some 70 per cent of the British population opposed entry into the Common Market, the Labour left and the TUC did so as well, albeit from the standpoint of “little England” nationalism and “save British jobs” protectionism. Protectionism provides a cover for rejecting the class struggle in favour of class collaboration and promotes vile anti-foreigner chauvinism. To such wretched appeals to one’s “own” government, Marxists counterpose a class-struggle fight by the trade unions against factory closures and for jobs for all, with no loss in pay.

In any case, when Britain joined the Common Market after the 1975 referendum, there was not a peep from the TUC bureaucracy. Having betrayed the heroic 1984-85 miners strike, whose victory could have reversed the anti-union onslaught and inspired class struggle in Europe, the British trade union tops then found a convenient excuse for dropping even formal opposition to the European capitalist club. Their “conversion” came at the hands of Jacques Delors, who taught the TUC how to sell the imperialist trade bloc’s “social dimension”. A statement adopted at the TUC’s most recent congress last September stated: “Over the years, Congress has consistently expressed support for a European Union that delivers economic prosperity based on social justice, civil and human rights, equality for all and rights at work.” The “social justice” and “rights” the EU supposedly enshrines — and which it certainly has not delivered — are a cheap, superficial cover for privatisation, welfare cuts and lay-offs, and the general policy of opening up public services to the market, while driving down workers’ pay and conditions throughout Europe.

While generally orbiting around the Labour Party, both the Socialist Party of Peter Taaffe’s Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI) and the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) of the late Tony Cliff have come out for a “leave” vote in the name of anti-austerity. Both groups point to the EU’s devastating attacks on the Greek population. But their opposition in words is belied by their political deeds. Both groups celebrated the first election victory of the pro-EU Syriza in January 2015. The Syriza government went on to implement the EU’s austerity diktats. Meanwhile, the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition, which is dominated by the Socialist Party and supported by the SWP, opposes EU membership with the caveat that it will “fully respect the right of those in our coalition who don’t support this stand to campaign publically [sic] for their own position”.

One (barely) reformist group that has been on the frontlines in fighting for the EU is the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty (AWL). The AWL has launched a “Stay in and fight for a workers’ Europe” campaign, pushing a series of model motions aimed at mobilising trade union branches, Labour Party and other organisations against an exit. An AWL statement headlined “European Union’s limited unity at risk” castigates Cameron’s referendum for further endangering the “fabric” of European unity (Solidarity, 27 January). The statement goes on to argue:

“Even under capitalism, voluntary European unity is better than high barriers between countries. It is progress compared to centuries of elite feuding, wars, and nationalism. At the social and economic level, Europe is the rational arena in which to develop the economies of the European countries, and begin to level up conditions for working-class people across Europe and further afield; to organise industrial and agricultural production to benefit the whole human race, as well as to protect the environment on which we all depend.”

This paean to European capitalist unity would shame even that renegade from Marxism, Karl Kautsky. Writing in 1914, on the eve of the first interimperialist world war, Kautsky posited the possibility of a “peaceful” capitalism on the basis of supranational monopolies: “Cannot the present imperialist policy be supplanted by a new, ultra-imperialist policy, which will introduce the joint exploitation of the world by internationally united finance capital in place of the mutual rivalries of national finance capitals? Such a new phase of capitalism is at any rate conceivable” (quoted in Lenin, Imperialism, the highest stage of capitalism, 1916). Lenin’s pamphlet elaborating a Marxist understanding of imperialism was a sustained polemic against Kautsky’s illusion-mongering.

Lenin demonstrated that imperialism is not an optional policy, but rather the ineluctable, final stage of capitalism, as free-market competition leads to the predominance of monopoly capitalism and industrial capital is submerged into finance capital. A necessary corollary to the rise and dominance of finance capital was the growth of militarism, as the great powers vied for control of colonies and spheres of exploitation, ultimately through war, on the basis of a changing relationship of forces. Lenin concluded:

“the only objective, i.e., real, social significance of Kautsky’s ‘theory’ is this: it is a most reactionary method of consoling the masses with hopes of permanent peace being possible under capitalism, by distracting their attention from the sharp antagonisms and acute problems of the present times, and directing it towards illusory prospects of an imaginary ‘ultra-imperialism’ of the future.”

The crises wracking the EU today again demonstrate the contradiction between the international world market created by capitalism and the nation-state through which capitalism emerged and developed. The nation state has become an obstacle to the expansion of the productive forces. But this obstacle cannot be transcended through some kind of supranational capitalist institution. The very premise of capitalism is the competition among various capitalist combines — each ultimately dependent on the military power of its own capitalist state to protect its investments — for the highest rate of return, ie, for the maximal exploitation of the working class at home and abroad. The more powerful countries will inevitably dominate the weaker countries and seek to get the greater share of the spoils. The purpose of the EU is to facilitate this.

That this unstable imperialist alliance has lasted as long as it has is primarily the responsibility of the Labourites and social democrats and their accomplices in the trade union bureaucracy. They have not only urged workers to politically support the EU but have also aided the imperialist bourgeoisies by refusing to wage the kind of class struggle that could have defeated the anti-union and austerity measures inflicted by the capitalists. The International Communist League fights to forge internationalist proletarian vanguard parties, modelled on Lenin’s Bolsheviks, to lead new October revolutions in Britain and around the globe. What we wrote over 40 years ago in “Labor and the Common Market” stands up today in relation to the EU:

“Only unity on a socialist basis, accomplished by proletarian revolution and the expropriation of the giant monopolies, can institute rational worldwide economic development without exploitation. A socialist united states of Europe can only be created on the basis of the most vigorous struggle against the capitalist Common Market and all it stands for. And only under united control by the workers themselves can the productive capacity of Europe be put at the service of the entire world’s working peoples.”