Party notes: With allies like these

The European Union's draft constitution has unleashed a black tornado of reactionary protest, writes Jack Conrad

The European Union’s draft constitution has unleashed a black tornado of reactionary protest. Europhobe politicians, rightwing media pundits, transatlantic newspaper barons, national socialists and little British chauvinists of every stripe are doing everything they can to create a climate of fear and prejudice. The tidal wave of irrationality that is being spewed out in an attempt to ensure an unassailable anti-euro/pro-pound majority can be best illustrated by quoting the Daily Mail - a paper which the last few weeks has been busily campaigning for a referendum on the constitution.

According to this esteemed publication - in the 1930s it stridently promoted Sir Oswald Mosley and his British Union of Fascists - Giscard d’Estaing’s draft constitution is no “tidying up” exercise, as claimed by Welsh minister Peter Hain (who is also the voice of the United Kingdom government in the Convention on the Future of Europe). Instead every chapter, paragraph, clause and sub-clause is luridly portrayed as being more threatening, more dangerous than the Spanish armada, Napoleon Bonaparte and Adolf Hitler combined. Tony Blair and New Labour stand accused of duplicity and unparalleled betrayal. After all, if agreed - by the British parliament or presumably a referendum - it would “sweep away almost 1,000 years of British independence into the dustbin of history” (editorial, May 27).

As an aside, such breathtaking ignorance is what normally passes for serious commentary amongst Europhobes. A completely idealised version of present-day Britain is crudely projected back into the past with the self-assurance that comes from nationalist common sense and all its recently invented vanities.

The notion that feudal monarchs in the 12th and 13th centuries - whose chequerboarded fiefdoms were based upon customary personal relations which involved intermarriage across the whole of western Europe - defended British independence is quite frankly risible. Nation - though not nationality - is anyway a thoroughly modern phenomenon. The English nation was the first. It emerged - in embryonic form - only in the 17th century. And England, of course, is not Britain. As a state Great Britain was created with the act of union joining Scotland to England and Wales in 1707. British national consciousness - a term that may confuse, and even offend, Welsh and Scottish nationalists - came long after. Neil Davidson writes of 1820.

By conjuring up the widely believed myths of cod history - and exploiting the undoubted democratic deficit that characterises EU institutions and procedures - latent national chauvinism is inflamed and given a definite political form. The underlying aim - save the pound, defeat New Labour and anchor Britain firmly in the Atlanticist camp.

The Giscard d’Estaing draft constitution is therefore chillingly portrayed as the “blueprint” for a European superstate which would be “ruled by a distant and unaccountable bureaucratic elite”. In the Daily Mail’s nightmare scenario, “Britain would simply cease to exist as a sovereign nation” and the British people would find themselves living in a “mere province of Europe” with the “clout” of Belgium or the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg.

Revealingly - though not surprisingly - the Morning Star has joined the fray over the draft constitution - on the side of the Tories, the rightwing media and the most reactionary and least competitive sections of British capital. In all honesty you could easily mistake the Morning Star - a paper symbiotically linked to the Communist Party of Britain - for the Daily Mail.

The front page carries the screaming headline, “A draft to end democracy”. In the paper’s editorial column the Giscard d’Estaing constitution is attacked in exactly the same apocalyptic manner. It is a “blueprint for the demolition” of British “sovereignty”. Britain and other European countries are in danger of falling under the sway of a “massively centralised bureaucracy”, which lies outside the possibility of any “democratic control”. Say goodbye to habeas corpus, warns the Morning Star. Say hello to unremitting assaults on basic rights and conditions. Unless something drastic is done soon, the “imperfect” democracy that gives the British people “access to the means to control their lives” will be just a “memory” (May 27). Sounds eerily familiar, doesn’t it?

Worryingly the Morning Star’s CPB is being actively touted in the Socialist Alliance by the Socialist Workers Party-Resistance majority as a potential partner. In this context the SWP’s John Rees has opaquely talked of a “wider” formation - the ‘Peace and Justice Party’ is just one of many rumours flying about.

Personally I doubt that the Stalinites who dominate the CPB will play ball when it comes to EU and London elections in 2004. Robert Griffiths, John Haylett and Andrew Murray - its ruling triumvirate - loathe those whom they contemptuously call “ultra-leftists” with a passion. Their rank and file are in general no different.

However, the unrestrained enthusiasm displayed by the SA’s majority to run a joint campaign with the CPB over Europe and the euro says everything as to the worth of the solemn commitments that were once given to shun all xenophobes and chauvinists. Saddled with our present leadership, the SA runs the risk of being dissolved into a front which would include not only supporters of political islam but ‘left’ British nationalists. The SA’s political clarity, principles, its very existence are to be willingly sacrificed in the attempt to get one or two SWP members into the Greater London Assembly and the EU parliament.

Pro-party forces in the SA need to say more, far more, than ‘no’ to the euro and Giscard d’Estaing’s draft constitution. Socialism, if it is to be realised, demands a positive programme. We must break from being a mere anti-movement.

The fact of the matter is that Giscard d’Estaing’s draft constitution is a typically pinched, conservative and much reduced document. He could not deliver an EU version of Philadelphia 1787. All he holds out is piecemeal bureaucratic change. If it were to be agreed in its present form, it would leave the EU as a loose confederation of unequally developed states. Giving the EU a legal status, appointing a president, coordinating economic and foreign policy and incorporating the ‘Charter of fundamental rights’ does not amount to a federal EU - unfortunately.

Not that we support or wish to see a federal Europe brought about under the auspices of unelected bureaucrats and neoliberal governments. Where Giscard d’Estaing offers a quasi-democratic EU, we say that the left is duty-bound to develop our own alternative vision of a united Europe. An EU in which democracy is massively expanded and filled with a definite social content.

Communists - authentic communists, that is - are well known for wanting to bring about the closest voluntary unity of peoples and into the largest possible states at that. All the better to conduct the struggle of class against class and prepare the wide ground needed for socialism. Hence the formulation, “To the extent the EU becomes a superstate, the working class must unify its resistance and organisation across Europe” (J Conrad Europe: meeting the challenge of continental unity London 2002, p44).

That explains why we not only fight for the SA to transform itself into a party - as opposed to an on-off electoral front - but for an EU Socialist Alliance.