Sunday, 19 June 2016

EU Referendum: What Would Trotsky Do?

What would Leon Trotsky, architect of the Russian Revolution and founder of the Red Army, think about Britain's referendum on the European Union? You don't have to idle away in speculation. He wrote on this very topic. Well, sort of. In his article, The Programme of Peace from May 1917, Trotsky muses over the war aims of the contending great powers and is quite clear that one of its drivers was economic development, and how it is frustrated in Europe by border posts and tariffs. If Imperial Germany was to be the victor, it would see the imposition of a continent-wide customs union under its hegemony that would allow for greater development, and more profits for German industry. He elaborates on this point of view further in his better known The United States of Europe? from June 1923.

In both pieces, Trotsky is crystal: the slogan 'For a United States of Europe' is part and parcel of a programme for socialist revolution for the continent as a whole. No ifs, no buts. Needless to say his vision was far removed from the present European Union. But then, buried in an aside is this little gem that has - mysteriously - been passed over by nearly every group claiming fealty to Trotsky's approach. He writes:
If the capitalist states of Europe succeeded in merging into an imperialist trust, this would be a step forward as compared with the existing situation, for it would first of all create a unified, all-European material base for the working class movement. The proletariat would in this case have to fight not for the return to “autonomous” national states, but for the conversion of the imperialist state trust into a European Republican Federation.
What we have in the EU is Trotsky's "imperialist trust". The member states have not yet merged into one, but the existence of the single market is gradually tying all the economies of the continent more tightly together, for good and for ill. Turning the clock back, as the left-wing excuse for exit would have it, is from Trotsky's standpoint a retrograde step. It would put a barrier up against the development of a Europe-wide proletarian politics and, it should really go without saying, politically strengthen racism, xenophobia, anti-immigration rhetoric, insularity, and nationalism.

Unfortunately, too many comrades laying claim to Marxism have long given up using it to try and make sense of the world. One of these is socialist hero and scourge of governments past, Arthur Scargill. At a recent Socialist Labour Party rally in front of a thimble full of supporters, Arthur tore into the EU as if it was responsible for the cuts programme gleefully implemented by the Conservatives, and underlined his opposition to the free movement of capital and labour. As something of a Stalin nostalgic, I'm not at all surprised his position hasn't moved on since the 1970s - nor the rhetoric, it seems. But it gets worse. According to someone who was there, Scargill went on to describe working with UKIP as a tactical necessity, much in the same manner as the Molotov/Ribbentrop pact. According to the Stalinist fantasy, this was a move so the USSR could re-arm and crush the fascists later, and so for Arthur his idiot allusion is that after UKIP and the Tory right win, they're actually paving the way for their own defeat. Incredible.

Of course, not all lexit people are as daft as Scargill. But anyone who thinks voting out is a vote against neoliberalism, or would split the Tories, or would objectively strengthen anti-austerity forces and working class politics are kidding themselves. Trotsky's view in 1917 was right then, and 99 years on it's right now. Remaining is preferable to leaving.


dr. abraham Weizfeld said...

Excellent commentary and research. The same problem of methodolgoy in Stalinism is to be found in the laissez-passer given to the National-Socialist Party of Hitler when the German CP claimed that 'First Hitler then Us' would suffice as a strategy. Of course all those who affirmed that strategy were killed or fled in the Stalinist State. That sort of formal logic then led to the demise of the USSR as a whole. The only agency left of the USSR is the Red Army founded by Lev Bronstein. Note that USSR stands for Union of the Soviet Socialist Republics even though the Soviets were abolished in 1926, with the support of even Lenin and Trotsky. A revolution that made its own counter-revolution!

asquith said...

Not sure about Trotsky but Stalin, like his successor Vlad, would be a staunch Vote Leave supporter.

Ironically, many "leading" Brexiteers think it's still 1940 and they're fighting the Boche, despite the fact in the real world that Poles like my granddad were instrumental in defeating fascism and the actual consequence of World War 2 was Russian domination of Eastern Europe.

A bit like the consequence of Brexit then.

Putin must be laughing his head off at the "patriots" and "loyalists" doing his job for him. Half of them don't even get paid for furthering Russian imperialism, though Marine Le Pen does.

Anonymous said...

What would Trotsky do?

I don't think he'd have had much time for "Lexit".

Here's Trotsky writing about the "Red Referendum" in 1931 when, under orders from the USSR, the KPD voted with the Nazis to overthrow a SPD Govt in Prussia -

"But a fact remains a fact: in a certain campaign, the Stalinist bureaucracy involved the revolutionary workers in a united front with the National Socialists against the Social Democracy. If one could designate his party adherence on the ballots, then the referendum would at least have the justification (in the given instance, absolutely insufficient politically) that it would have permitted a count of its forces and by that itself, separate them from the forces of fascism."

I can only imagine what he'd think of those on the left voting for "Leave" knowing the winners will be UKIP and the Tory Right.

John Rogan (very much ex Trot)

Christakis Georgiou said...

Indeeed, very good reminder. I have written myself a piece which places Trotsky's analysis of European unification in a long-term perspective. Trotsky's comment is all the more relevant as he was one of the few to really grasp the dynamic behind European unification. (Sorry to intrude like this).

Lidl Janus said...

Well, you know what they say - if Arthur Scargill changed anything, he'd be illegal.

Phil said...

A SP comrade - whose blushes I will spare - said this of the Vote Leave campaign:

I've had a chance to read Paul Mason's article in the Guardian today about voting out the EU being a fake revolt because the official Vote Leave campaign is led by members of the elite.

In 1905, workers in Petrograd were led on a march by Father Gapon against low pay, a shorter working day, and better working conditions. Father Gapon himself was a state spy who was in the pay of the Tsarist dictatorship.

The workers were shot down in their hundreds by the Tsarist state on what came to be known as Bloody Sunday, triggering the heroic but ultimately unsuccessful 1905 revolution.

The point of this status is that, whilst mass movements may well in some circumstances be led by people that socialists don't support, that's not a reason to side with the real Establishment of the likes of David Cameron, George Osborne, the EU, IMF, and US Government.

Vote OUT the Tories, vote OUT austerity, and vote OUT the bosses' EU on Thursday.

Alex Ross said...

I'm not sure why I should care what Trotsky would do. My main associations when I hear the word “Trotsky” are (1) Someone who orchestrated the invasion of two promising social-democracies in the South Caucuses (Georgia and Azerbaijan) – in complete contempt for the democratic will of those countries (2) Someone who was involved (at an early stage) in the division of the Soviet penal system into political and criminal systems (the emphasis falling on the former…directly leading to the formation of early concentration camps for political prisoners and then the Gulag system) (3) A Totalitarian ideologue who frequently dismissed freedom of expression, press freedom, freedom of organisation, political pluralism as “bourgeois”. How anyone can identify with such a vile individual is beyond me.

jim mclean said...

What would Paulo Freire, Chomsky, Malcolm X do, not worried about Lenin or Post Leninist routes as they have taken us up a blind alley for 100 years.