No2EU: Back into our shells?
No2EU represents a regressive form of left nationalism, writes Peter Manson
With just six weeks to go until the May 22 European elections, you might have expected the ‘No2EU, Yes to Workers’ Rights’ campaign to be building up a head of steam. Far from it. It is as though the devastating death last month of Rail, Maritime and Transport union leader Bob Crow has paralysed it. Comrade Crow was undoubtedly one of the campaign’s prime movers - he was due to head No2EU’s London list on May 22 and it could be that without his particular input the RMT has lost some of its motivation for involvement.
Not that the union was ever the prime mover behind the anti- European Union campaign. That role undoubtedly goes to the Morning Star’s Communist Party of Britain - in particular its ultra-nationalist wing around international secretary John Foster and RMT employee Brian Denny, the No2EU convenor. The platform reeks of CPB-type left nationalism of the kind endorsed by the late comrade Crow.
Back on January 7 Crow urged all RMT branches and regions to support No2EU and declared in a union circular that “regional committees have been set up to carry it forward, and leaflets and a party political broadcast are being produced”.1 But there is not much to show for any of that yet. For example, where are the lists of candidates? Nothing on the No2EU website, which is not exactly dominated by news of any type about the Euro election campaign. And that is very strange, since standing in the EU elections has been No2EU’s main function and activity.
There is actually an election video available - but it is the one put out five years ago by what was then called ‘No2EU, Yes to Democracy’. Click on ‘About us’ and enjoy this faux-dramatic home movie produced for the 2009 campaign and dominated by the CPB.2 It is true that a couple of Socialist Party in England and Wales comrades - not least ex-Labour MP and former SPEW local councillor Dave Nellist - make an appearance. But the video as a whole, just like the entire No2EU platform, has that ‘official communist’ feel.
For its part, SPEW has always justified its participation alongside the CPB by the fact that No2EU was backed by the RMT - the only trade union officially involved, of course. As SPEW believes that the working class needs a new union-based workers’ party - a Labour Party mark two, in other words - then any electoral campaign supported by a union can be portrayed as part of the momentum towards such a party.
But where is the pro-No2EU propaganda in the pages of The Socialist or on the SPEW website? There is not even a link to No2EU there. It is three weeks since it got a mention in the SPEW paper - and even then Hannah Sell, deputy general secretary, started her article by referring to it in the past tense: “No2EU was an election platform offering a working class-led, internationalist [sic] opposition to the EU,” she began (my emphasis) - before suddenly remembering that it “is standing again in this year’s European elections under the name ‘No2EU, Yes to Workers’ Rights’” - and adding: “on both occasions with the support of the Socialist Party”.3
“With the support of”? Does that mean that this time around SPEW comrades will not be featuring prominently on No2EU’s lists of candidates (when they are finally published)? In 2009 SPEW comrades headed the lists in four out of the 11 British regions. Last month’s SPEW national congress was urged to raise money for three forthcoming election campaigns - those of the Workers and Socialist Party, which is contesting the May 7 South African general election, the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (Tusc) and No2EU.
But there is no doubt which of the three is SPEW’s main priority: Tusc is standing several hundred candidates in the local elections in England and Wales, which are taking place on the same day as the European poll: May 22. The Tusc website features on its home page a video of comrade Nellist appealing in November 2013 for the “largest number of candidates to the left of the established parties ever stood in the history of this country”. If Tusc contests 625 council seats, it would achieve the 15% “BBC benchmark” for “fair coverage”, he said.4 As I write, the latest Tusc update claims 476 candidates “with two weeks to go before nominations close”.5
In other words, No2EU is not exactly a priority for SPEW right now. With or without the RMT, Tusc, not No2EU, is for the moment the main focus of the group’s efforts to promote a new “mass workers’ party” - ie, a Labour Party mark two.
But what of comrade Sell’s claim that No2EU’s opposition to the EU is “internationalist”? Take a look at the campaign’s website and judge for yourself.
For instance, the list of 16 bullet points includes the following:
- Exit the EU on the basis of socialist policies.
- Restore democratic powers to EU member-states.
- Scrap EU rules designed to stop member-states from implementing independent economic policies.
- Develop sustainable manufacturing, agriculture and fishing industries in Britain.
- No to EU militarisation and an EU army.
Five years ago there was no specific call to “Exit the EU”. Although that conclusion was strongly implied - not least in the very name of the campaign - it was omitted on the grounds that to say so openly might restrict the ‘broadness’ of the overall message. Similarly, the alternative to the EU in 2009 was not “socialist policies” or “workers’ rights”, but “democracy” - meaning in practice that all decisions made by the UK state should be taken in Westminster instead of Brussels. In order to deflect criticism from the obvious nationalism of that stance, this time around the second half of the name has been changed and the platform tweaked to give it a more workerist feel.
But the message remains: ‘Get out of the EU, so that the United Kingdom can develop policies in the interests of Britain’ - in isolation from those of any other state. It is as though, left to its own devices, a capitalist Britain would be free to adopt a raft of progressive measures - sorry, “socialist policies” - that only its membership of the EU inhibits. We could then start “implementing independent economic policies” and developing “sustainable manufacturing, agriculture and fishing industries in Britain” - who cares about elsewhere?
And, of course, the comrades do not say “no” to UK “militarisation” or a UK “army”. In fact when five years ago we invited No2EU candidates to expand on the meaning of the word “democracy” that then appeared in the campaign’s name, all those who replied refused to accept the basic democratic demand for abolition of the standing army and its replacement by a popular militia. A British army is just fine, it seems.
It is true that another bullet point reads: “No to austerity, whether from Brussels or Britain.” But that begs the question: if it is correct, as that call implies, that austerity is being imposed by individual capitalist states as well as by the EU collectivity, what is the point of a campaign that focuses on the demand for a separation of the two? It is as though EU austerity - together with all its other anti-working class policies - is not actually driven by the governments of the individual member-states acting in the interests of capital. Would those governments suddenly change their spots (or, for that matter, stop any form of cooperation) if the EU no longer existed?
Of course not. However, we have to remember that No2EU is built on the logic of the CPB’s programme, Britain’s road to socialism. This lays down a schema for the achievement, through the election of a series of ever more progressive and leftwing governments, of ‘socialism in one country’ - Britain’s road. The idea that revolutionary change must be brought about internationally does not go beyond lip service for ‘official communists’.
The No2EU website features an article written by comrade Crow just a few days before his death. In this he states: “The neoliberal Tory-boys of Ukip should not have a monopoly for opposing a corporate-dominated, anti-democratic EU, whose policies they largely support.”
Yes, the UK Independence Party does indeed “largely support” the EU’s anti-worker measures. What it opposes is the very fact that they are being implemented by a body that is not the UK. And here it shares common ground with No2EU. Like Ukip, No2EU - despite platitudes against “racism” - wants Britain to ‘regain control over its own borders’. Let Bob Crow explain:
“Global companies operating in EU states are free under EU law to tender for procurement, building and service contracts in Britain and hire cheaper labour from abroad. The workers can then be ‘posted’ to this country under terms and conditions established in the country of origin. These terms and conditions may be less than those negotiated on national or sector-wide agreements by trade unions.”
It does not enter into the heads of such left nationalists that our response must be coordinated internationally. We must demand the levelling up of wages and terms of employment across the continent, not retreat into our national shells. But comrade Crow implied the latter: “‘Free movement’ within the EU impoverishes workers in a race to the bottom and creates a ‘brain drain’ in eastern European countries, condemning them to a future of underdevelopment and decline.”6
In other words, everyone must be forced to stay put (unless we give you permission to move). As one of the headlines on the rotating carousel on the No2EU home page reads, “The EU is turning human beings into commodities to be shunted around Europe, while local workers are excluded from being able to provide for their families.”
This is remarkably ignorant, by the way, even for ‘official communists’. First of all, “human beings” in the form of workers are inevitably treated like “commodities” under capitalism - or, to put it more accurately, their labour-power is a commodity, to be bought and sold on the market. As if the EU has changed anything in that regard.
But, more substantially, what No2EU is implicitly demanding is a form of sectionalism - the protection of one particular group of workers - “local workers” in this case - at the expense of others, who are to be dismissed as dangerous, competing rivals. Presumably the likes of the CPB (and SPEW?) would impose nice, non-racist border controls, where workers may enter Britain only if we can be sure they won’t ‘take our jobs’ or undercut our bargaining with the bosses.
But why stop at national borders if you want to restrict free movement? Surely mass internal migration from a low-wage area might threaten the high wages and good conditions won in certain localities or industries. Perhaps we should insist that anyone wishing to move should be granted permission by the authorities - the Soviet Union that was so admired by ‘official communists’ like the CPB operated a system of internal passports, after all.
No, our answer to competition among workers is solidarity and organisation. Organise all workers into trade unions, organise the unemployed, organise across borders. Fight together to defend and improve the wages and conditions across the EU (and the world) rather than protecting only workers in Britain. Militants should not take up the sectional call to withdraw from the EU in order to ‘defend our borders’. We should aim instead for all-EU trade unions and a Communist Party of the European Union as part of a global, internationalist approach.
No2EU exemplifies a diametrically opposite approach. It represents a regressive form of left nationalism, not a challenge to capital worthy of support.
3. ‘No to the bosses’ EU - yes to an independent socialist alternative’ The Socialist March 19.
5. www.tusc.org.uk/16956/08-04-2014/tusc-candidate-count-reaches-476-with-two-weeks-to-go-before-nominations-close (April 8).