Neither pound nor the euro, but active boycott

This weekend's special conference on Europe is an important opportunity for the Socialist Alliance to once again reassert its potential to unite the left on the basis of a genuine, programmatically-based and public debate around a key question of socialist politics today. The position that socialists should adopt in relation to the emergence of Europe's single currency - no longer a theoretical construction, but a tangible, everyday reality - is not something we can afford to take lightly. We certainly cannot afford to rush into a knee-jerk stance of crude rejectionism that will divide the British labour movement from the working class of France, Italy, Germany, etc, for whom the single currency is now not a matter of dispute. Taken in isolation from the real contradictory relationships between British capitalism and the capitalism of the euro zone, and the context of the likely referendum itself, the arguments of the 'no' motion (proposed by Will McMahon, Alan Thornett, John Rees, Rob Hoveman and Weyman Bennett; supported by the Socialist Workers Party and International Socialist Group comrades, among others) would have much to recommend them. Socialists and communists should and do, of course, oppose every anti-working class aspect of the Maastricht and single currency project - from the limits on public spending and borrowing (growth and stability pact) to the "imposition of draconian immigration controls" on a European scale, to the project of a European imperialist army. But in the context of the referendum to come, however, none of these questions will be on the ballot paper. We will not be able to vote against public spending limits, any more than we will be able to vote against draconian immigration controls, or imperialist militarism. On the contrary - all we will be asked to do in practice is to choose between one bourgeois currency and another: euro or pound. That is, we will be asked to take sides between one wing of the British ruling class - that wishes to cling ever more closely to the coat tails of the United States and the myth that this 'special relationship' will somehow guarantee British capitalism's prosperity and allegedly great influence in the world - against the wing that simply wants to reap the benefits (and profits) of European political and economic integration and fears getting left behind, the more euro entry is delayed. In reality, in current conditions, a rejection of the euro project simply means the victory of anti-European sentiment and rightwing little Britishism. There is no shortage of that about. Take the question of immigration, for instance. One of the main activities of the rightwing British Eurosceptic press in recent years has been agitation against refugees and asylum-seekers who travel to Britain through the euro zone countries. This of course, has been taken up by the Blair government with a vengeance, out of eagerness to please and mollify the Thatcherite reactionaries, and this pressure has resulted in the closure of Sangatte - allegedly the source of much cross-channel illegal immigration. How would a victory of the pro-pound elements - often the very same people making the most noise over asylum-seekers - mitigate the draconian immigration regime under Schengen? In reality, under Thatcher, Major and Blair, it has been Britain that has often been the most proactive in toughening up the immigration regime in Europe, as evidenced most graphically in Jack Straw's recent proposals to change the UN convention to eliminate (through a changed definition) the rights of many of today's refugees. Then there is the question of the growth and stability pact. In recent weeks, the prolongation of the cyclical economic downturn has become apparent in Europe (so much for Gordon Brown's one-time claim to have done away with cyclical economic downturns). Thus the deadline for the implementation of the pact has been postponed for two years, simply because a number of major European powers, including most notably Germany, have proved unable to meet it. The anti-European wing of the British bourgeoisie have been doing a little dance of triumph over this, proclaiming that this proves that the euro is built on sand, is not a viable currency, etc. In reality, it means nothing of the sort - there is of course nothing that unusual about governments being forced to violate the supposed norms of economic 'prudence' by borrowing money to see out an economic downturn. This moving of the goalposts by the European bourgeoisies in the face of the capitalist trade cycle merely shows that the stability pact is something of a paper tiger - in reality it is an aspiration of neoliberal economic orthodoxy that, like other economic aspirations within more conventional national frameworks, is prone to be thrown out of the window as soon as it becomes an obstacle to the pressing demands of expediency. So the simple equation of the euro with austerity and the growth and stability pact is, to say the least, overstated. The two are no more synonymous than other forms of economic orthodoxy are synonymous with maintaining the stability of more conventional national currencies - such as sterling. A vote against the euro (and therefore implicitly for the pound) is not, then, necessarily a vote against austerity measures, such as the stability pact. It could just as easily be the other way round - a rejection of the euro in this way could prove to be a vote for some other kind of austerity plan, aimed at preserving the stability of the pound as a currency backed by much smaller resources, in the face of giant rival currencies. As opponents of capitalism, of course, socialists cannot endorse the project of the reactionary integrationist European bourgeoisies. Our reasons for opposing this are similar - virtually identical in fact - to the reasons why we oppose also the nationalist projects of the anti-Maastricht, anti-European reactionary bourgeois opponents of the euro. If a federal United States of Europe were to come about in the continued absence of democracy and with the working class confined to the old nation-states - it would simply be another predatory agency for the oppression of the world proletariat and the bulk of humanity by capitalism. It would mean exploitation of the working class, militarism, the oppression of immigrants: in short what we have now in a different form. For the SA to endorse a 'no' campaign would be to blunt the edge of our opposition to both these capitalist alternatives - and to adapt to the Morning Star's Communist Party of Britain and the left Labourite national reformists who ally themselves with the Eurosceptic wing of British capital against the euro. This is why we urge support for the resolution, submitted by comrades Marcus Ström, Mark Hoskisson and Martin Thomas (CPGB, Workers Power and Alliance for Workers' Liberty respectively), that has been composited with a similar resolution from South Manchester SA. This urges an active boycott of the referendum on British membership of the euro. The SA should uphold the principle of working class independence from all wings of capital by adopting this consistently anti-capitalist policy. We do not, however, present this as an ultimatum. If the 'no' resolution wins, we would consider that to be a programmatic setback for the SA, a retreat from the correct and principled stance laid out in People before profit - our manifesto for last year's general election. But the unity of the Socialist Alliance can only be strengthened through honest debate. Obviously we will have to revisit the issue anyway, not least because the immediacy of the referendum is rapidly receding. The expected date is now after the next general election, under a third-term Labour government. Between then and now much can and will change. Not only in Britain but in Europe too class relations and political alignments are in flux. So, while the October 12 conference can cast an indicative vote on the principle involved, the Socialist Alliance will clearly have to continue debating the issue before finally honing our intervention when the date of the referendum is announced. When that final decision is taken, we in the CPGB will of course uphold our right to criticise shortcomings, but we would not obstruct the democratically decided priorities of the SA. Rather, the CPGB would campaign critically to ensure the SA makes the best possible impact in the widespread political ferment that would undoubtedly accompany a referendum on this key question in British and European politics. Ian Donovan SA euro conference Socialist Alliance national conference on Europe, Saturday October 12, 11am. Registration from 10am. South Camden Community School, Charrington Street, London NW1 (nearest tube - Euston). £10 waged, £6 unwaged. Crèche available.