Monday 13 July 2015

Where are the Left Wing Eurosceptics?

The deal imposed by the Eurozone grouping on Greece is nothing short of shameful. It continues to pile up the debt, reducing Greece to the status of a debt colony of the rich, Northern European countries. It, like all austerity programmes, expects working people, pensioners, the young to pick up the tab for payments that never touched the Greek economy. It puts the kibosh on Syriza's radical manifesto and any hopes the Greek people had on ending the entirely preventable depression the country sits in. And naturally, as every crisis is an opportunity to make money, parts of the Greek state are to undergo forcible privatisation. This is yet to make its way through the Greek Parliament, but nevertheless I think Tsipras and his comrades have done the best with the awful hand they were dealt. For those screeching betrayal, spare a thought for Syriza's position - it does not command an overall majority, it presides over an economy in a state of collapse, is harried by the big powers who've used their clout to undermine the government as much as they can, and was elected by a people bone weary of austerity but want to stay in the Eurozone at any price. When those are the circumstances, what else could have been done?

While Syriza's appeals for solidarity across Europe didn't get much of a mass echo, the shoddy and stupidly self-destructive way they've been dealt with by technocrats and politicians from Germany, Italy, and Spain will have a lasting impact among left wing activists. What the ceaseless negotiations and brinkmanship have unveiled is an unyielding cruelty at the heart of the European Union, where a member state can see its population reduced to further penury at the stroke of an accountant's pen. It could be, as far as British politics are concerned, just the spur a new left wing Euroscepticism needs. Yet why is it that prior to the Greek crisis coming to a head (again) this was barely a ripple in the political pond? Where are the left wing Eurosceptics?

In one sense, they've never really gone anywhere. Some remnants of the old Bennite left cling to Euro-critical positions. The 'official' Communist Party of Britain believe the EU to be a neoliberal project that circumvents the democratic checks nation states can exert on capital (kinda hard to dispute after this weekend's display), and my erstwhile comrades see it as a "capitalist club" with no progressive content whatsoever. These are very much fringe positions that are unlikely to gain much traction in our in/out referendum campaign unless the Greek crisis rumbles on/flares up again. Yet why should they be on the margins of political life? Why does the mainstream left fight shy of being overly critical of the EU?

Brainstorming a few reasons, there are the very good reasons why, as a rule, the trade unions are supportive. Originally the bastions of left Euroscepticism themselves, the course of industrial struggle in the 80s and 90s helped mold their views. As the Thatcher and Major governments pared back workplace rights and imposed ever more restrictive regulations on trade unions, 'Europe' with its social chapter and enhanced protections for employees was something to aspire to: the labour movement had a stake in the EU. That stake materialised when Tony Blair signed Britain up shortly after the 1997 general election and has since then acted as a guarantor of certain rights. While not all trade unions are pro-EU (the RMT for instance), the majority see the EU as a convenient ally in the protection of their members. What purpose is served by being critical?

The municipal left, primarily the Labour group in the Local Government Association, but also councillors for the SNP, Greens, etc. are also unlikely to take a critical view. Starting in the late 80s where the economic regeneration of towns and cities came to the fore as pressing local political issues, where government was reluctant to stump up the monies the EC/EU were an alternative funding provider - especially via the European Regional Development Fund. There are thousands of buildings and community facilities that now exist become local authorities applied for and were granted monies, and even today there are various cash streams that can be applied for for similar purposes. If the EU was seen as more willing to invest in post-industrial communities than the right wing government of the land, on what basis can the municipal left be critical?

From the perspective of the Parliamentary left the EU was a realisation of social democratic values. Even while neoliberalism was written into EU documents often at the urging of our New Labour government, the EU was the repository of an internationalist ideal (albeit from above) in which European citizens benefited from continent-wide social-democratic policies and do-goodery. By pooling sovereignties Europe had more kick on the world stage. Rather than being pushed around by the winds of global market forces, it was large enough to make weather in its own right in clear contradistinction to those on the right who prattled on about national character and national sovereignty. For British centre left MPs, the EU was a bastion of progressive, modern, and forward-looking politics - everything Britishness, and particularly Englishness, isn't. These were components of the European Idea, a shining beacon of cooperation across borders and solidarity between peoples divided by war in the recent past - even radical MPs see it this way. How then can the left be critical?

Then there are the simple practicalities of governing. The free market may bring perceived social problems, but on inflating GDP, tackling climate change, cracking down on organised crime, and being able to strut around the stage like a senior world figure. All of these are very good reasons to not be outside the EU. Anyone willing to argue the moves to mitigate climate change would be better if Britain acted alone?

And last of all, there's the simple matter of positioning. The most regressive and boorish elements in politics have made anti-EU tub-thumping their cause celebre. Who on the left would want to be politically associated with Boris Johnson, Peter Bone, Melanie Phillips, Nigel Farage, and Nick Griffin? Doesn't a critical attitude vis a vis the EU also entail lining up with them?

These are the props that have kept the mainstream left EU-friendly. Putting aside the awful way Eurozone leaders have acquitted themselves over Greece, the biggest threat to any of these are Dave's negotiations. If he reverts to type and "unsigns" the social chapter, what vision of the EU is being sold to the British public? A big market and that's it? If that's the case, there's every sign more unions could become alienated from the EU project, and f they go tens of thousands of activists will too. Yet if the member states tell Dave no because they won't be bounced into an arbitrary timetable set by the Tory manifesto, it's very unlikely mainstream left support for the EU will unravel.

Of course, it's ridiculous that this is the case. Sensible socialist politics surely means having no sacred cows and understanding that the EU is simultaneously progressive and regressive, that it could become something so much more but is always in danger of sliding into something less than the sum of its parts. Our comrades in Europe raise the idea of a 'Social Europe', the struggle for a continent that strives to imbue the rarefied values of the European project with the flesh and blood of real social content. That should be the socialist starting point - neither Euroscepticism nor Europhilia but Euro-realism, Euro-solidarity, and Euro-internationalism.


asquith said...

(Although admitedly the author rolls his own and often has views not shared by the majority of his "tribe", so this may not be a movement of significance).

As a liberal I will naturally be voting Yes.

Phil said...

I will also be voting yes unless given a very good reason not to. It seems Dave is bent of doing just that.

Speedy said...

Although I would have been a No voter had I been Greek, and I think the "waterboarding" that has led to this deal will spell disaster, I think some faulty assumptions sit behind the Greek "victimhood" myth. Let's remember:

1. The Greeks brought this on themselves, not only fiddling the books to be let in to the Euro, but then going on a spending spree borrowing money they could not afford, principally on clientalism, while failing to address universal needs like health and social security.

2. The European partners have already lent them many, many billions of taxpayers money, countries like France and Italy with their own huge debts (and having to pay additional interest on the loans they have taken out to bail out the Greeks!)

3. Providing debt restructuring was on the table up to 2012 but removed when Greece failed to fulfill its commitments. Neither Spain, Portugal or Ireland received special treatment - if the Greeks did, then there would be the risk voters in these countries would vote in parties demanding the same. This would not "end austerity" but send the EU spiraling out of control - the Germans, Italians and Finns vote too.

4. The amount of assistance the other EU members have provided, is entirely consistent with a kind of "socialist" solidarity - the Greeks chose to enter the Euro and benefit from it, and were happy to take bail out loans apparently ad infinitum, paid by German and Italian taxpayers, who did not enjoy the same pension rights, etc.

The Greeks SHOULD have been bailed out, had their debts restructured etc, just as Euro Bonds should be introduced, however, within a global capitalist system this is the sensible thing to do - not necessarily the morally just one. Socialism needs to be built on justice - it is not necessarily just for one lot of people to exploit the good will of another, as the Greeks have done, without expecting to adjust their behaviour. A humanitarian programme, coupled with a "velvet" GREXIT as proposed by the hated Schauble, may have been the best example of "tough love", in fact.

Anonymous said...

Clearly the EU is no union at all and is the dominance of a few major players. It is clearly a set up where nation states join a club dominated by certain members. The USA it is not!

But I would ask where is the left argument for the EU and what is that argument?

I haven't seen a coherent left argument in support of the EU.

One argument is that a union means nations are not competing in a race to the bottom so workers are better off, except the USA, which is a Union have no sick or leave entitlements and lag behind Europe in that respect. So the idea that a union results in better outcomes for workers is not backed up. On some things, the opposite is the case.

The second argument I have heard is that somehow a Union will bring together more workers in a revolutionary struggle against capital, because national differences will wither. But again, where is the evidence for this?

So someone please provide a link to the coherent argument for a closer Union in Europe.

All seems rather tactical and faith based to me.

Surely we should not defend a union explicitly created to make the ruling class stronger. Why would strengthening your enemy be a good tactic? We should attack the EU and call for workers international organisations and stop relying on the bosses to do it for us.

Chris said...

I don't know about the EU, but it's clear the Euro is an utter abomination. A socialist government should promise that Britain will never join under any circumstances. Not in a thousand years.

As for Greece - I'm no Communist, but only the KKE can save them. All patriots should support them.

Speedy said...

'All seems rather tactical and faith based to me.'

Well, yes - ultimately it based on a utopian universalist vision a bit like... socialism.

History strongly suggests the nation state is the most effective form of government, yet "workers of the world unite".

Utopian humanism is pulled apart by our tribal nature. Science may progress, but the animal that is man remains much the same.

All the rest is bunk - if you do not understand this basic fact of life, then you are doomed to keep repeating the same old mistakes, and meet them with the usual rather dazed perplexity that characterises much of the Left these days.

Example - the Tories playing the nationalist card at the last election. Phil keeps predicting their demise, yet it seems Labour may pre-decease them...

BCFG said...

"History strongly suggests the nation state is the most effective form of government,"

Except the USA is a continent that became a nation! And history is a process, so we can say that since the inception and development of capitalism the nation state has been the most successful structure for capitalist development until that structure nearly destroyed the world in major conflicts. This near death experience accelerated an inevitable process, i.e. the formation of super economic blocks. This sort of arrangement is highly developed in the USA and in Europe and is gathering pace in Latin America, Asia and Africa. If it wasn't for the bloody interests of imperialism it would also be well developed in the Middle East. So speedy's belief that the nation is the most effective form of government is every year being put to the greatest test. But speedy is incapable of stretching his thinking too far.

Having said that the EU is looking more and more like a German expansionist project, the idea that it is a union of any kind seems some sort of sick joke!

I think only a workers government can deliver genuine escape from the nationalist ball and chain, but workers are more infected with nationalism than almost any other class! So at the moment some on the the left are relying on the capitalists to deliver us, both at home and in their overseas 'adventures'.

asquith said...

Speedy said...

"yet it seems Labour may pre-decease them..."


Anonymous said...

i probably on balance would vote to stay in the eu but there are two big tests, one, if cameron manages to get an opt of the social chapter for the uk, two if ttip is passed. if the ttip issue has not gone away by the time of the vote that will be a very hard dillemna. we have to beat ttip and have to beat it at a european level, if we are outside the eu we will be bullied in to implementing it in all but name unless we dont want to trade with the usa or europe. at least greece europes only anti-ttip goverment has not crashed out of the eu but we need a second anti-ttip government and fast. it doesnt help that we were unable to use the eu elections to create an anti-ttip majority i remember natalie bennet been taunted over this on european election night. jq mark