Thornett agonistes

Alan Thornett, 'The socialist case against the euro International Socialist Group', September 2002, pp35, 80p

Poor old Alan Thornett. The comrade has clearly been in considerable pain over the question of Europe for some time now. In his feeble attempts to counter the arguments of those within the Socialist Alliance who argue for an active boycott of the forthcoming referendum on the euro (a tactic he stubbornly insists on calling an "abstention"), comrade Thornett, a leading figure in the International Socialist Group, has been reduced to blustering incoherence. Sadly, the evidence for the extent of this irrationality is all too clearly illustrated in this shoddily produced, shoddily argued little pamphlet. Such as it is, the core of comrade Thornett's argument seems to consist of this idea: "We have to ask, therefore, in whose interests this powerful new entity is being built and whose interests does it serve? Is European integration under Maastricht and the single currency a benign reorganisation of European capital, to which we can be neutral, or is it an anti-working class project which we should therefore oppose?" (p3). This is bordering on the moronic in political terms. Capital is an exploitative social relationship with the alienation of the direct producer from the product of their labour at its very core. It can never - by definition - be "benign", compassionate or benevolent, in whatever political form it organises its exploitation. Perhaps the author is actually charging the supporters of an active boycott with being neutral in relation to the European bourgeoisie's plans for a "neoliberal Europe designed to increase profitability, maximise job flexibility and run down the welfare state" (p3). Comrade Thornett suggests this is foolish, as the introduction of the euro will inevitably be attended by attacks on our class. So, for the umpteenth time, let us make our position clear. Advocates of an active boycott (not an abstention) do not view attacks on our class 'neutrally'. However, whether they are successful or not is decided by struggle - their outcome not inevitable, in other words. The first prerequisite of successful proletarian struggle is that our class is able to elaborate an independent political line on all questions facing contemporary society. The voluntary coming together of Europe, even under capitalism, is an objectively progressive development. Our programme is to fight on that terrain and organise the working class in the EU to the highest level. We demand extreme democracy in the EU and a republican United States of Europe. This is the only road to socialism and anything else is to descend into reactionary phrase-mongering or puerile utopianism. The task of the working class is therefore not to attempt to maintain the status quo, still less to hopelessly attempt to turn the wheels of history backward and call for a British withdrawal and a return to the franc, mark, etc. Thus, asked to choose between the anti-working class pound and the anti-working class euro, we say the best tactic is a boycott - we are not afforded any official means of expressing our own independent approach. But this is an active, political engagement, not an abstention. We should fight - using the most militant methods allowed by the objective conditions - for our class to raise an independent political agenda. Comrade Thornett's frail polemic against the active boycott tactic can be summarised under three main charges: The call for an active boycott is "strange", "something of a contradiction in terms". For, "whatever spin you put on it, an abstention remains an abstention in real terms. It means you have decided not to vote 'yes' and not to vote 'no', but, yes, to abstain: actively or not" (p30). Challenged in various forums, comrade Thornett has professed to understand not even the concept of an active boycott. In doing this, he blithely admits he is bewildered by the history of Bolshevism. But the comrade clearly does not have to delve into the distant past to help him grasp the idea. In a recent edition of this paper, we featured a telling article from Socialist Democracy, comrade Thornett's fraternal organisation in Ireland. Polemicising directly with Alan and comrades in France over the call to vote for Jacques Chirac in the second round of the French presidential elections, SD makes some crushing points in opposition to Alan's arguments against the idea of an active boycott. Comrade Thornett argues that an abstention on that occasion means that "ultimately "¦ you were prepared to see Le Pen elected". Correctly, the Irish comrades point out that "'ultimately' the issue is strengthening the independence of the working class". In this context, such independence could only come if the workers in France "had consciously decided that they would not be blackmailed into voting for the chief representative of capitalism and wished to record their opposition not only to both candidates but to the very legitimacy of the whole contest" (Weekly Worker September 19). And, as for Alan's stupid insistence on dubbing the tactic an "abstention", SD observes that "abstention is an individual protest, while boycott is a collective political statement", citing its own calls for boycotts of attempts by the British establishment to introduce measures to stabilise its rule. The key "difficulty" faced by the active boycotters is "to define what the active part of such a campaign can be. It is hard to be militantly in support of, well, doing nothing". In trying to address this particular conundrum, the CPGB has made "wild proposals", including "mobilising the workers to burn the ballot boxes" and calling for strike action "in favour of, yes, an abstention in the referendum!" (p31). Of course, the CPGB has not put forward the concrete demand that "workers burn the ballot boxes", as Alan well knows. We have called for the working class to be mobilised to boycott the referendum using the most militant tactics objective conditions allow. This can range from protest meetings and a national campaign involving a minority of militant workers, to protest strike action up to generalised stoppages. And yes, perhaps along the way, a few ballot boxes might see a match or two. But the intensity of opposition to the referendum is left open-ended. Alan's cheap shots against us convince no one. Not even himself, I suspect. In tune with this attempt to present an active boycott as a call for passivity, Alan dubs it as having "nothing to say" about what is a "huge issue" in European politics. If you are not calling on people to set out on the morning of the referendum to register their vote one way or another, "what is there to campaign about"? (pp30-31). Again, Alan's own comrades in Ireland effectively blow this nonsense out of the water. They observe that a boycott of the French presidential elections could have been used to "inflict as much damage as possible on the regime and to popularise the need for a democratic alternative based on a constituent assembly dedicated to resisting the neoliberal offensive". Concretely, then, Alan, we would utilise agitation around a boycott of the euro referendum to advance a full programme for the democratisation of the European Union and the advance of the interests of the working classAnd that is saying something isn't it? Mark Fischer