Party Notes: Euro, sterling and class politics
The cabinet is not split into pro- and anti-euro factions. The divisions are subtler, says Jack Conrad
Gordon Brown’s “not yet” speech in the House of Commons on the euro showed all the telltale signs of haggling and compromise between No10 and No11 Downing Street. Prime minister Tony Blair sat there on the government’s front bench like a worried author reading from the precious text, as Brown went through his carefully choreographed performance. It was as if Blair was checking in case his old friend and rival strayed from the script.
Not that the cabinet is split into pro- and anti-euro factions. The divisions are subtler. The point of tension lies over timing. Both Blair and Brown favour entry into the euro zone - the former as soon as feasible, the latter as soon as prudent. Of course, this is not simply about the ambitions, temperaments and antagonisms of two bourgeois politicians. It reflects the fact that, of all the countries in the European Union, Britain is the most intermeshed with, and subordinated to, finance capital - capital at its most abstract, fluid and vulnerable.
Brown’s speech marks a small, but significant shift. The government is committed to positively move Britain in the direction of euro entry. The treasury has published a new, 30-month changeover plan, which would be triggered by a ‘yes’ referendum vote. Nevertheless there is little or no chance of a referendum in this parliament. Brown not only wants Britain to converge with the euro zone, but reform within the euro zone itself, including relaxation of the growth and stability pact. Without that Britain risks the labour unrest which is sweeping Austria, Germany and France.
The British bourgeoisie and the political establishment has long been deeply divided over Europe. Now it is deeply divided over the euro. Broadly, those favouring entry come from the most competitive, most international sections of British capital. Those opposing the euro tend to be more dependent on the national market and doubt the long term viability of the euro zone.
Having finally junked the ideology of state capitalism at Blair’s prompting, the Labour Party has remodelled itself as a neoliberal workers’ party which seeks to simultaneously put Britain at the “heart of Europe” and promote the “special relationship” with the US. Whatever the hesitations and glaring contradictions, New Labour therefore speaks on behalf of the pro-euro wing of British capitalism all the while seeking to bolster the capitailist metabolism in Britain as a whole. The Tories, by contrast, have retreated into being a capitalist party of fear.
Nowadays the Tories find electoral support from flag worshipping nationalists, professions who dread losing a tenuous independence, tax-hating small capitalists, the embittered middle classes, subsidy-addicted farmers and Europhobes. Bipartisanship over Europe is now a faded memory. Iain Duncan Smith, for example, makes it a point of the highest principle to keep the pound in perpetuity.
How should the workers’ movement respond? Marxism has always insisted that when it comes to such an issue - which has cleaved big business and the political establishment - the key is class independence. Workers must go beyond the easy but sterile politics of automatically saying ‘no’ every time the government says ‘yes’. Unfortunately though, thus far in the euro debate what we have witnessed is a mere variation on that theme. Our trade union leaders and political factions have simply lined up behind one or other side of the bourgeoisie.
Brendan Barber, the new secretary of the TUC, favours entry into the euro zone. As did his predecessor, John Monks. Others who support voting ‘yes’ in a euro referendum include the GMB’s Kevin Curren, Roger Lyons of Amicus and the Socialist Alliance’s most prominent trade union leader, Mark Serwotka. Ken Livingstone is another well known Europhile. To all intents and purposes this wing of the labour movement argues that workers will be better off exploited by Euro-capitalism. In justification they cite the boost in trade and economic activity that is expected to accompany the euro and the EU’s liberal legislation on workers’ rights.
The anti-euro camp has grown substantially, as more and more left reformists are elected to top trade union positions. Most of the so-called awkward squad fervently believe that the EU is a bosses’ club and that Britain should keep its distance or even get out.
Tony Woodley, Dave Prentis, Bob Crow, Mick Rix, Billy Hayes and Derek Simpson have no sympathy for the Tory Party. However, when it comes to saving the pound, they are quite prepared to meekly echo those who say British workers are better off exploited by British capitalists. With every justification they point an accusing collective finger at the undemocratic European Central Bank (ECB) and its remit to set punishing interest rates in the euro zone. Meanwhile they seem to forget entirely about the undemocratic Bank of England and the higher interest rates that apply in Britain at the moment. Their lopsided reasoning finds expression in the ‘official communist’ Morning Star and the Labour left Tribune.
In both the anti- and the pro-euro camps the bourgeois pole is dominant, the proletarian pole subordinate. That undoubted fact casts real doubt over the solemn commitments to shun xenophobes and chauvinists made at last year’s Socialist Alliance conference on the euro. The unrequited enthusiasm of the Socialist Workers Party/Resistance majority to join with the Morning Star’s Communist Party of Britain over Europe presents the real possibility that what passes for the revolutionary left will simply end up being subsumed in the ‘no’ campaign run by the IDS Tories and the press empires of Rupert Murdoch and Conrad Black.
Of course, such a popular front represents no conundrum for the CPB. As a defining moment it harks back to World War II and the alliance of the USSR, the USA and the British empire. Brooking no exception, Stalin ordered the ‘official communist’ parties to replicate this collaboration with the imperialist bourgeoisie in the form of productivity drives, no-strike deals and even governments. France and Italy saw brief and ill-fated post-war governments which included ‘official communist’ ministers.
In Britain that popular frontism meant aggressively arguing against a Labour government. In 1945 the ‘official communists’ sought the continuation of the national government, headed till then by Winston Churchill. Presumably CPGB general secretary Harry Pollitt hoped for a ministerial position or two as a reward. Instead Labour won a landslide.
Nowadays the CPB’s triumvirate of Robert Griffiths, John Haylett and Andrew Murray are wedded to the same disastrous strategy. They defend what they call Britain’s “sovereignty” from the threat of an EU superstate. Britain is pictured as endangered by a “massively centralised bureaucracy”, which lies outside the possibility of any “democratic control”. Though IDS is no Churchill, an alliance which stretches from the trade union left to the far right - not only the Tory little Britishers but the UK Independence Party - is enthusiastically welcomed because of its broadness. The imagined community of the nation, not class, comes first with the CPB.
They are only being true to their programme. Following Stalin, the CPB considers that socialism can be achieved and brought to dazzling perfection on the national terrain. Of course, what it understands by socialism is nationalisation and state exploitation of the workers. Put another way, national socialism. That is why the CPB claims that the EU is antithetical to socialism and that Stalin’s monocracy was the living embodiment of socialism and that today socialism continues in China and North Korea.
Communists - authentic communists, that is - take a rather different view. We seek 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 state, then that necessitates EU-wide trade unions and a Communist Party of the EU” (Weekly Worker ‘What we fight for’). That also explains why authentic communists argue for the working class to be organised in an international party. As a global system capitalism can only be superseded globally. Anything less invites defeat.
Socialism is not the nationalisation of the means of production. It is the self-liberation movement of the working class, as it breaks out of the shell of capitalist relations and limits. Hence under capitalism communists fight for extreme democracy in all spheres of society and view democracy not as an optional extra under socialism, but as essential.
Socialism represents victory in the battle for democracy. It is the direct rule of the majority - ie, the working class. Socialism is either democratic or, as with Stalin’s USSR, it turns into its opposite - anti-socialism.