Vile class-collaboration on display at Westminster
Peter Manson looks at the reaction of the Morning Star to the defeat of the Commons motion for a referendum on the European Union
It was, of course, no surprise that the Commons motion calling for a referendum on Britain ’s membership of the European Union was defeated on October 24. Equally unsurprising were the contortions of the ‘official communist’ Morning Star in its rush to support the motion.
The problems for the Star and its Communist Party of Britain were caused by the small matter of the motion’s supporters being mainly rightwing Conservatives. In the words of the paper’s editorial, “… Tory hostility to the EU oscillates between national democracy and far less attractive xenophobic motives …” (October 26). Personally I find it difficult to distinguish between xenophobia and a campaign to win “national democracy” for a major imperialist power such as the United Kingdom . I certainly find it difficult to see how the two cannot help but merge.
As readers will know, 81 Tory MPs voted for the rebel motion, while others abstained or stayed away - this total amounted to around half of the party’s MPs who do not have any role in government, such as ministerial aides. Two of the latter resigned after supporting the motion. The vote had been demanded by Conservative backbencher David Nuttall after more than 100,000 people signed an online petition calling for a parliamentary debate. Ironically, the petitioning facility had been introduced by the Tory-led coalition government under the pretence that this would aid accountability and ensure that MPs did not become divorced from popular sentiment.
In total 111 MPs voted for the motion, including 19 from the Labour Party. Amongst their number were Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell and several other notable leftwingers. Like the Tories, Labour leader Ed Miliband had imposed a three-line whip and demanded that his MPs vote against.
For his part, prime minister David Cameron combined his attempts to force the rebels into line with a pledge to launch a campaign to “reclaim powers” from the EU - mostly on questions such as workers’ rights, and health and safety. Tory rightwingers say Britain is “hobbled” by EU “red tape” and the “massive burden of regulation”, while The Sunday Telegraph claimed in an editorial that “… a majority of chief executives now think that the costs of EU regulation outweigh the benefits of the single market” (October 23).
The Star approvingly quoted the construction union, Ucatt, which “warned that David Cameron may try to appease Eurosceptic backbenchers within his own party by seeking to remove Britain from many of the existing EU directives on employment, social affairs and safety”, which “underpinned many of the most basic rights enjoyed by British workers” (October 22-23). The paper did not seem to be aware that this was a little at odds with its own insistence that, unlike the good old British state, the EU is anti-working class through and through.
In an effort to persuade his backbenchers to drop their backing for a referendum Cameron promised to support a new EU treaty. At the same time as insisting that now is not “the right time” to be rocking the EU boat, he mounted a very public campaign to demand that Britain be represented at the October 26 Brussels summit on the euro. Nicolas Sarkozy’s “we’re sick of you” tirade against Cameron - in which the French president said that details of the euro crisis were a matter for euro zone members only, not those who have refused to have anything to do with the currency - was just as useful domestically for the prime minister as it was for Sarkozy.
All this pointed to the central EU contradiction: the interests of British capital are tied to the EU, its main trading partner, and the collapse of this major currency would be a disaster for all EU members, not just for those in the euro zone. As Cameron says, in an effort to square the circle, “I’ve argued that greater fiscal and economic integration of the euro zone is inevitable. But this must not be at the expense of a Britain ’s national interest.”
In the build-up to the Commons vote a whole range of British nationalists - from the far-right UK Independence Party to, yes, the CPB - had gathered at Westminster Central Hall for the grandly named People’s Pledge Congress on October 22. More than a thousand Europhobes listened to speeches mostly from mainstream politicians belonging to the two biggest parties, including former Tory leadership contender David Davis and Labour left MPs such as Kelvin Hopkins.
The director of the People’s Pledge is Mark Seddon, the former leftwing Labour national executive member, who was editor of Tribune from 1993 to 2004. He was joined by Bob Crow, general secretary of the RMT union, and, in addition to a whole range of insignificant Tory MPs, Brian Denny of ‘No to the EU, Yes to Democracy’ and John Foster, who, according to the programme, treated the audience to a “Scottish perspective” on the EU. Comrades Denny and Foster are part of the CPB’s extreme nationalist wing.
Although on the eve of this all-day event the Morning Star led on its front page with “Democracy defenders rally before crunch vote” (October 22-23), it rather mysteriously failed to report on the ‘congress’ subsequently - apart from stating in passing that 2,000 had attended and that they had “issued a warning that the EU had sparked a race to the bottom in terms of wages and conditions of work” (October 25). Yes, no doubt that was included amongst all the rest of the pro-British anti-Europeanism.
Both comrades Denny and Crow, according to the Star, had laid out rather bizarre either-or options before the People’s Pledge event. Denny is quoted as saying: “The choice is whether you want corporate feudalism or national democracy”; while Crow urged MPs: “You can either kowtow to your supine leaders and endorse this drift towards fiscal fascism or stand up for democracy and represent the people that elected you” (October 22-23).
The two were also agreed that the whole establishment was rallying behind the EU. Denny “accused politicians of uniting against the working class”, while Crow alleged: “They are closing ranks, while the working class are getting slaughtered.” This is at odds with reality. The parliamentary vote surely showed that the establishment is not united, and that the anti-EU wing - including the “democracy defenders” - is just as viciously anti-working class as the pro-EU majority.
In its October 24 editorial, which also dealt with the paradox (for it) of anti-EU Tories, the Star remarked: “Too many comrades in the labour movement remain wedded to this parody of internationalism, incapable of appreciating its fundamentally undemocratic nature and its priority of corporate profitability.”
The problem with this statement is obvious: all bourgeois states, and unions of bourgeois states, are by their nature “fundamentally undemocratic”, in that they do indeed prioritise “corporate profitability” in the interests of a tiny minority. The UK - like any capitalist state, whether inside or outside the EU - is no more worker-friendly. It is true that there is only formal democracy in the European Union, but what should our response be to that?
Surely we should be demanding the abolition of the undemocratic EU commission and council of ministers and a EU parliament with legislative powers that is fully accountable to the peoples of Europe .
In a way an article by Steve McGiffin in the same issue unwittingly touches on this issue. Having insisted that Britain should pull out, he concedes: “It is highly unlikely that Britain will ever leave the EU.” That leads him to the conclusion that there should be a campaign - which he dubs “European Worker Rules” - to level up working class conditions across the continent.
You are on the right track, comrade. But why limit this campaign to trade union-type demands? Is it not also in workers’ interests to fight for political demands on a continental level? Not for the CPB, which insists, totally without logic, that political/democratic demands are exclusive to the terrain of the nation-state.
United States of Europe
In this the Star turns to VI Lenin for support. With the development of the EU, its editorial claims, “the plans to construct a monopoly capitalist United States of Europe have come closer to fruition”. And it reminds readers that Lenin had once written that a United States of Europe “would either be reactionary or impossible”.
This question had been raised a few days earlier by Brian Denny in the Star letters column. He wrote: “Lenin’s treatise, ‘On the slogan for a United States of Europe’, has always deeply troubled Trotskyites, as indeed it was designed to do …” (October 20). Anyhow, here is what Lenin actually wrote: “… while the slogan of a republican United States of Europe - if accompanied by the revolutionary overthrow of the three most reactionary monarchies in Europe, headed by the Russian - is quite invulnerable as a political slogan, there still remains the highly important question of its economic content and significance. From the standpoint of the economic conditions of imperialism - ie, the export of capital and the division of the world by the ‘advanced’ and ‘civilised’ colonial powers - a United States of Europe, under capitalism, is either impossible or reactionary.”
Things are not quite as straightforward as the Star makes out then. Lenin actually starts by asserting that “a republican United States of Europe” is “quite invulnerable as a political slogan”. But economically, “from the standpoint of the economic conditions of imperialism”, it is “either impossible or reactionary”.
It should be obvious from this that Lenin was not ruling out a united Europe for all time and in all circumstances. He was stating that communists should not campaign for such a slogan in the circumstances of 1915. And the fact of the matter is that in 1923 - at Trotsky’s urging - the Communist International adopted the United States of Europe slogan. Lenin raised not the slightest objection. Indeed that slogan appear ed in Comintern literature until 1926, when Stalin pulled the plug on it in the name of his ‘socialism in one country’ perspective.
Lenin was a through-going internationalist who favoured the closest unity of the world’s different people. Hence, when it came to the tsarist prison house of nations, far from calling upon it to be redivided into its national components, he envisaged the revolution bringing about a situation where the democratic right to self-determination would be exercised in favour of unity.
By the way, unlike the Star itself, comrade Denny is far from diplomatic when it comes to the ‘official communist’-dominated European Left Party, which he dubs “top-down” (unlike the CPB, of course). It “doggedly avoids the issue of the euro and, indeed, EU withdrawal and simply maintains that ‘another Europe is possible’” - what he calls “irrelevant sloganeering”.
However, let me return to the Star editorial, which concludes: “A referendum campaign in Britain against the EU would be the profoundest act of international solidarity with the workers and peoples of Greece, Portugal, Spain and other countries targeted by the banks and their political champions … Breaking free and taking the road to socialism would increase our capacity for international solidarity with workers and peoples across Europe and beyond.”
It is all so simple, isn’t it? We should all ‘break free’ and ‘take the road to socialism’. Talk about “irrelevant sloganeering”. The fight for socialism must begin with the current reality and the terrain must be Europe . Instead of all going our separate ways, let us attempt to unite the forces of the working class across the continent. Let us take advantage of EU institutions and the process of EU integration to construct workers’ organisations more powerful than in any single country. Let us fight for an-all Europe trade union federation and an all-Europe Communist Party.
It has to be said, however, that the Star at least considers the EU to be an important question - unlike the Socialist Workers Party, which appears to think the whole fuss about a referendum has been a “distraction”: “The rows over Europe may seem to be a distraction, but they have left the government looking weak and divided. Yet it still has the capacity to be nasty. The Tories’ fight for survival will involve ever more devastating cuts and attacks on ordinary people” (Socialist Worker October 29).
Well, the Tories have always been split over the EU - basically the division is between different sections of capital. The Altanticists and narrow nationalists either oppose the EU outright or at least oppose any further British integration. Others, especially those reliant on exports, want the European capitalist project to succeed and are worried sick by the prospect of its failing. However, that does not mean the coalition government is “weak” when it comes to attacking our class. Do not be fooled.