Our attitude to Europe
A long-standing member of the Communist Party of Britain has tried to start an open debate using the ‘normal channels’. Though this letter was sent to the CPB, the Morning Star and Communist Review in December 2019, it has neither been printed not even acknowledged
Dear comrades, in the decades that I have been an active member of first the CPG be as was and then the CPB, I have had doubts, concerns and now growing disagreements with our policy on Europe. I am more and more concerned about the road we have taken, and the possible results of this road.
Our party should be opposed to any Balkanisation of Europe. Whether it comes from the right or the left, the fragmentation of Europe can do the working class nothing but harm. Communists should strive for working class unity within, but against, the existing EU. Winning the battle for democracy in the EU and securing working class rule over this politically strategic continent is the best service we can render for our comrades in the rest of the world.
Though I have raised my concerns with leading CPB comrades, I receive the same - often trite - answers: ‘Leave’ has been party policy since the UK joined in 1973; the EU is a neoliberal conspiracy and foists neoliberal strictures upon member-states; the EU is bureaucratic and rules are made undemocratically; Britain will be better off out than in, and we (the left) can then win a general election, install a left Labour prime minister and then proceed to transform Britain into a socialist paradise.
As Party Line No19 says,
... the working class and peoples desperately need a government that will pursue alternative policies to those of austerity, privatisation, militarism and war. Growing social inequalities of income, wealth and opportunity must be decisively reversed.
This is fine and good, but it is clear to me that, at present, the referendum and Brexit issue have split the left and the working class.
Industrial production is carried out internationally, across borders. For example, an airplane’s wings may be made in, say, factories in Germany, the undercarriage in Spain, the fuselage in France and the engine in the UK. Brexit will force whole sectors of industrial capital to relocate to mainland Europe, at the cost of British jobs: aerospace, pharmaceuticals, steel and cars have been mentioned.
For big business, of course, current frictionless trade with the EU is worth a great deal more than future, possibly fictional, trade with the US, Australia, India or wherever. And the old Commonwealth countries, that Britain had such links with, have in the meantime gone on to forge other alliances for trade. (Does anyone remember, as I do, that at one time the only lamb that a working class family could afford was from New Zealand? Where is it going now?)
And what of the hedge fund managers, the retail billionaires, the parochial small businesses. For them, deregulation of food, housing, social services, restriction of trade union rights would be most welcome - such regulations are now “optional” under Boris Johnson’s “oven-ready” deal.
The NHS is already being privatised by stealth (try to get a ‘chair’ for dialysis in any major hospital - almost all run by private companies in preparation for further privatisation after Brexit). Just wait until the chlorinated chicken reaches our shores - and all of the media writing about how good it is for us.
Almost all of the mainstream media plus political parties and much of the left appear to be treating the 2016 Brexit referendum as sacrosanct, as the epitome of democracy.
Referenda are not inherently democratic, in my view. They bypass democratic institutions, reduce what are complex questions to a false binary choice and, what is worse (from a Marxist point of view), tend to split the working class along non-class lines.
Which is why the 2016 referendum called by David Cameron would always have had this appalling outcome - a divided working class. Cameron called the referendum to secure his position as prime minister and never imagined that he would lose it. The referendum was thus a sham from start to finish.
Watching our party metaphorically get into bed with Nigel Farage, Boris Johnson (never a safe bellwether), Tommy Robinson and the Socialist Workers Party, amongst others, strengthened my view that what our party was doing was wrong. Suggestions that our comrades might appear on platforms with other parties were, happily, turned down, but the possibility was there.
And then the lies ... the constant lying on both sides made me laugh first and then feel ill. The referendum was carried out by untrue propaganda followed by untrue propaganda.
The Morning Star sought a restoration of Britain’s ‘democracy’. Party Line No19 says:
Communists and other socialists realise that Britain’s membership in the EU will make it more difficult - and in some areas impossible - to implement the kind of policies necessary for full employment, the direction of investment, public ownership of key industries and utilities ... and a substantial redistribution of wealth and power in favour of the working class and the vast majority of the population.
But how can a left-leaning but capitalist government ‘restore’ or implement those things that the “working class and vast majority of the population” have never had?
The words about the implementation of left policies under a reformist government - a form of capitalist class rule - after withdrawal from the EU seem to imply that before January 1 1973 Britain could have done these things but now can’t because of a non- democratic EU.
But obviously both views are wrong.
Our ‘democracy’ is a bourgeois democracy.Amongst other predilections, it fosters sectional hatreds and the politics ofdivideandrule.Surelyweshouldnot be voting for a constitutional monarchy, an unelected second chamber, a more and more presidential prime minister, an established church, a secret state and a left reformist opposition.
The CPB seems to have given little or no thought to the possibilities of developing links or joint struggle with the working class within the EU.
Britain no longer has an empire. It is no longer a world ruler or hegemon. Under Boris Johnson Britain appears to be recementing the ‘special relationship’ it has ‘enjoyed’ with the US since the end of World War II. The relationship is so special that Britain has signed an agreement to send to the US pretty much anyone they want for whatever reason (Julian Assange?), whereas the US is under no obligation to reciprocate.
Of course, president Trump, has assured us of the lovely deals he will be holding out after Brexit. He makes unhinged and wild outbursts; and changes his mind ‘on a dime’, as they say. If Americans are even giving him the lowest poll numbers of any president since polls began, why should we trust anything he says?
I was always taught that the goal of a communist was to work towards a socialist state, followed by a rapid transition to stateless communism. But that, in order to do that, we must have a working class which is conscious of itself as a global class. An allied question: can we unite the working class in one country and achieve a socialist government that can proceed towards stateless communism?
Given the experiences and histories of various countries where this has been tried, some lessons might have been learned. If, for instance, the leaders of the October 1917 Russian Revolution had taken the view that each little area should have its own road - after all, Petrograd was very different from Tashkent - then there might never have been a revolution. The Bolsheviks wanted national self-determination, not national break-up. Surely the whole point of the 1902-17 struggle was to unite not only the entire working class across the vast expanse of the tsarist empire, but also to link that revolution with the fate of the revolution in Europe as a whole: Poland, Germany, Italy, maybe even Great Britain.
Of course, the EU is not a state - perhaps we could call it a ‘semi-state’. Surely being in the EU gives Marxists opportunities (or should have, in any case) we would not have on our own. But by hunkering down in a left nationalist bunker, we seem to be almost returning to a British empire mentality. We can do it on our own. We don’t need allies. We’re the best!
But the best what? Even with Jeremy Corbyn as prime minister, how far can we go? The best, I would think, would be a left reformist government, exactly what Party Line No19 prophesied. Not good enough for a communist, I would think.
When it comes to democracy, the EU has its flaws, no doubt. Its policies are anti-socialist, it represents a big capital, some of its countries are voting in rightist governments. Is the turn towards the right across Europe a surprise after years of disappointment and austerity? Not really. But those of us who have been around for a while also remember the great neoliberal love affair between Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, followed by George Bush (both senior and junior) and Tony Blair. Surely neoliberal policies were put forward in Britain well before anywhere else in Europe.
By leaving the EU are we not losing an opportunity to unite the working class across a wide area? Lenin, after all, persuaded the Bolsheviks to stand in tsarist elections, although these were much less democratic than the EU elections. But Lenin saw them as an opportunity, and they were vital in winning the working class to communism.
Surely, what communists should be doing is favouring a united Europe - as a prelude to a socialist Europe. That is the most important reason for opposing Brexit.
This does not mean supporting the existing EU. Far from it. Certainly, it is the unelected commissioners - and behind these the appointees, the council of ministers - who make the decisions. The directly elected parliament is almost entirely a talking shop. It possesses very little in the way of real power. The EU is, in effect, a creaking confederation of often capricious capitalist states, which show precious little solidarity for each other. Britain wants out. Poland defies EU rulings over the press and the judiciary. The Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary and Slovakia refuse to take their quota of refugees. To say nothing of the savage austerity imposed on Ireland, Portugal, Cyprus, Spain and Greece.
Yes, the EU is undoubtedly a ‘bosses club’ which aims to increase the exploitation of European workers in order to allow European capital to compete more effectively in world markets. The EU constitution even includes in its text a binding commitment to neoliberal economics.
The Marxist strategy for achieving socialism is predicated on large states. In our case this would be the continental- wide terrain established by the various EU treaties. We, as communists, should be arguing for and working towards the unity of working class forces across the whole of Europe. Instead of a Europe of the bourgeois politicians, grasping capitalists and unelected bureaucrats, we should be working towards a Europe without monarchies, without standing armies - a fully democratic and indivisible Europe which is committed to the struggle for world socialism. With this aim, the immediate necessity is working towards organising across the EU at the highest level - a Communist Party of the European Union.
To pursue that strategy, and for that reason alone, communists should be supporting continued UK membership of the EU. Any real socialism in a breakaway country would be met with instant retaliation - perhaps a legal coup, an army mutiny, asphyxiating trade embargoes, a joint EU-US ‘peacemaking’ force?
The EU provides the wide sphere of operations needed to organise the working class into a ruling class. When that is achieved, the European working class could realistically expect to make a decisive, strategic breakthrough towards the world socialist revolution.
I would recommended this sort of programme:
1. For a republican United States of Europe. Abolish the council of ministers and sack the unelected commissioners. For a single-chamber executive and legislative Continental Congress of the Peoples of Europe, elected by universal suffrage and proportional representation. 2. State ownership of all banks in the EU and put the European Community Bank under the direct, democratic control of the European congress. No to the stability pact and spending limits. Stop privatisation and so-called private finance initiatives. End subsidies to, and tax breaks for, big business. Tax income and capital. Abolish VAT. Yes to workers’ control over big business and the overall direction of the economy. Yes to a massive programme of house- building and public works.
3. For the levelling up of wages and social provisions. For a maximum 35- hour week and a common European minimum income. End all anti-trade union laws. For the right to organise and the right to strike. For top-quality healthcare, housing and education, allocated according to need. Abolish all restrictions on abortion. Fight for substantive (real) equality between men and women.
4. End the Common Agricultural Policy. All land to be state owned. Stop all subsidies for big farms and the ecological destruction of the countryside. Temporary relief for small farmers. Green the cities. Free urban and rural transport, with an increase in buses and trains. Create extensive wilderness areas - forests, marshes, heath land - both for the preservation and rehabilitation of animal and plant life, and the enjoyment and fulfilment of the population.
5. No to the rapid reaction force, Nato and all standing armies. Yes to a popular democratic militia.
6. No to ‘Fortress Europe’. Yes to the free movement of people into and out of the EU. Citizenship and voting rights for all who have been resident in the EU for more than six months.
7. For the closest coordination of all working class forces in the EU. Promote EU-wide industrial unions: eg, railways, energy, communications, engineering, civil service, print, media, etc. For a democratic and effective European- wide Trades Union Congress.
8. For a single, centralised, revolutionary party: the Communist Party of the European Union.
Since I began feeling uncomfortable with what I felt the Party expected me to think on the issue of Europe, I have been reading and discussing widely. Besides the capitalist press from a number of countries, of course I read the Morning Star daily as well as other left papers.
I also read the CPGB’s Weekly Worker, which, because of the lengthy and meaty articles on many and varied issues, has given me a great deal to think about and often to agree with.
As a CPB member of many years, despite my doubts, I have publicly expressed our party view. However, nothing has changed my belief that we should be arguing against the UK leaving the EU, and working for the unity of the working class across the EU instead. We should not be arguing to be an isolated island, once again cut off from the continent by fog.