At long last No2EU's list of candidates for this June's European elections have been released. There are no great surprises on the list (the rumour Alice Mahon was to stand at the head of the Yorkshire and Humberside list proved unfounded) but the lists are pretty solid from a socialist and militant trade unionist perspective. As left challenges in the European elections go, it's head and shoulders above the scattered efforts of the far left in 1999 and the ritualistic paper candidates of the Socialist Labour Party and is on a par with the Respect and Scottish Socialist Party intervention five years ago.
But rather than being seen as a welcome step forward No2EU has come in for a barrage of criticisms. "It's undemocratic!" "It's nationalist!" "It's a creature of the Stalinists!" "It's a bureaucratic lash-up!"
There are problems with No2EU. As far as the Socialist Party are concerned the platform is not as left-wing as we'd like it to be and we would have preferred the coalition to have come together earlier. But neither of these should rule out the involvement of revolutionary socialists. The SP is participating in No2EU not because we endorse every dot and comma of the platform, nor are starry-eyed because it is being driven by the RMT. We do so from the standpoint of our perspectives.
As everyone on the far left is aware, the SP believes the immediate strategic task for socialists is the building of a party that politically represents the independent political interests of the working class. While there are a handful of decent MPs, councillors and activists inside Labour who do so, they are marginalised and the prospects of a left advance are choked off by the right's stranglehold on the apparatus. Hence why the SP has been agitating around the slogan of a new workers' party for a long time and why it helped set up the CNWP.
This understanding conditions our participation in No2EU. The question the party has asked itself at every stage of our involvement is the extent to which No2EU furthers or hinders our strategic objective. For socialists who want a new workers' party, this should be their chief consideration too.
First, does the existence of No2EU make the emergence of a new workers' party any less likely? There are no arguments I can think of that says it does. How then does No2EU contribute toward the process?
There is the RMT argument. The move of Britain's most militant trade union into electoral politics marks an important step along the road to refounding a new workers' party. It has also provided the resources that has made this nationwide challenge possible. The union and its general secretary has name recognition among tens of thousands of militant workers. Now, some on the left have sought to downplay this - they point to the lack of debate or mood within the RMT regards No2EU, which allows them to argue it's really the union's executive rather than the union itself that is behind the coalition. There are two rebuttals to this criticism. Firstly the executive has the license to make important strategic decisions in between conferences. As a democratic and accountable body, if No2EU is deemed a failure by the membership then they will be punished for it. However there's scant evidence of internal opposition to the move. Second, how does the RMT's relationship with No2EU differ in kind from the "organic link" the big trade unions have with Labour, an arrangement that has long justified far left endorsements of the party of Blair and Brown?
Then there is No2EU's platform. It is not ideal but it's hyperbole to describe it as "nationalist" or "reactionary". How many nationalist outfits condemn the BNP for whipping up racism and xenophobia and put the the blame for the avalanche of attacks facing our class at the bosses' feet? If they exist I'm not aware of them. If No2EU's platform is no good, then on programmatic grounds how can one justify voting for Labour? It seems to me there's a lot of purist positioning among the far left in the hope some sharp denunciations can pick up the odd disillusioned SP and Communist Party member. On the plus side it means the more "colourful" elements of our movement have excused themselves from participating in the campaign. But in the long run what do they think a new workers' party would look like? Neither Die Linke nor Rifondazione Comunista have revolutionary programmes. Both have attracted workers with all kinds of ideas and not a few apparatchiks from social democracy and official communism - there's no reason to believe Britain will be exceptional. Are they going to flounce out because it will draw in members with politics well to the right of the No2EU platform?
And what about the wider labour movement? It's not only the small forces grouped under the No2EU banner who are following its fortunes. Trade unionists at all levels of the movement will watch its electoral performance. If it performs creditably those elements leaning toward a new party in the unions are likely to be emboldened, and it makes the argument of there being no life outside Labour that much harder to sustain. The better we do, the more chances there are of a serious trade union-backed challenge at the next general election. That none of No2EU's ultra-left critics have picked up on this tells us all we need to know about their disconnect from the movement outside their hothouse milieu.
No one thinks No2EU is going to directly lead to a new party. But it's an important moment on that road. The working relationships being forged between ourselves, the CPB, RMT, Indian Workers' Association, and a whole raft of independent socialists and trade unionists who've got involved is something that will serve the fight for a new workers' party well. If you think Labour is finished as a vehicle for class politics, No2EU is the only campaign that will strengthen the political hand of the workers' movement. Have your criticisms by all means, but do not let them be an excuse for not being part of the process.