Issued by: CPGB-MLIssued on: 27 April 2016
|“Temporary agreements are possible between capitalists and between states … a United States of Europe is possible as an agreement between the European capitalists … but to what end? Only for the purpose of jointly suppressing socialism in Europe … under capitalism, a United States of Europe would signify an organisation of reaction.” (Our emphasis)
Although there have been many changes in the century since Lenin wrote these words, the essence remains the same: a union of imperialist states can only be a reactionary entity – and it can’t last.
For those of us who enjoy interacting with other peoples and cultures, and who identify with workers of all countries, it feels counterintuitive to stand against the European Union, whichseems to be a vehicle for enhancing communication and bringing workers together.
But the EU is in essence an imperialist club, not a workers’ one. It is designed to give Europe’s capitalist rulers the economic and militarily strength to safeguard their imperialist status against (a) their imperialist rivals (the USA, Japan), (b) the oppressed peoples they exploit abroad, and (c) the working classes at home.
Enemies on both sides
In opposing the EU, socialists often find themselves in nauseating company – from anti-immigrant, xenophobic and islamophobic hatemongers to little Englanders pining for a return to the imperial ‘glory’ days when Britannia ‘ruled the waves’ alone.
There are also miserly types who don’t want to pay the price of EU membership, believing that the cost outweighs the significant advantages to British imperialism: all they can see is the price of maintaining a common agricultural policy, of keeping afloat countries bankrupted by capitalist crisis; or of providing certain minimal conditions to workers.
One such miser is the Sunday Times’s Luke Johnson: “Europe has 7 percent of the world’s population and 25 percent of its GDP, but 50 percent of its welfare spending. In a competitive world, this is unsustainable.”
It seems to have escaped Mr Johnson’s attention that most of those who benefit from welfare spending are not exactly living in luxury; to remove any part of their benefits is quite ‘unsustainable’ from their point of view.
The fact that capitalists regularly need to reduce workers’ living standards below what is ‘sustainable’ in order to stay in business only proves that capitalism is dysfunctional and needs to be got rid of; it is not an argument for heaping more misery onto the working class.
Moreover, although it may suit politicians to blame ‘Brussels bureaucrats’ for unpopular decisions, the fact is that Britain’s rulers have made a point of exempting themselves from aspects of EU law that they don’t like. Britain opted out of the European working time directive, refuses benefits to unemployed Europeans and is presently removing human rights safeguards, for example.
Meanwhile, TUC chief Frances O’Grady and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn have both joined the social-democratic chorus exhorting workers to remain in the EU, saying that a British exit would lead to a “bonfire of rights” and assuring us that a benign EU is our best protection from ‘nasty Tories’.
Ms O’Grady asks: “If we left the EU would you trust the current Conservative government to keep [workers’ rights]? If the Brexit camp gets its way, the British government would get to pick and choose which rights to water down or scrap altogether.
“Without an EU legal safety net it wouldn’t be long before bad employers started cutting back on paid holidays, pushing workers to work longer hours with fewer breaks, and stopping pregnant workers getting time off …”
The workers of Greece, whose pensions and welfare benefits have been decimated, and whose hospitals now lack basic medicines, might have something to say about how the kindly EU ‘safeguards’ workers’ rights!
Securing our rights
In fact, the high watermark of rights for British workers came after WW2 (well before Britain joined the EU), as a result of militant struggle by workers here backed up by the brilliant successes of Soviet socialism – first in building a strong and prosperous society and then in defeating German fascism.
With socialist revolution spreading across Europe, Britain’s rulers had no choice but to concede certain social provisions in order to shore up their failing system. This was also the situation that gave rise to the EU, set up to be a bulwark against the spread of socialism and as a union to defend the declining power of Europe’s imperialists.
The truth is that we cannot pin our hopes on the kindness of this or that group of capitalists, but must prepare ourselves to defend the interests of our class by any means necessary – and fight to win.
Too many of those who ought to be in the front line of organising this struggle (eg, Ms O’Grady) are instead working overtime to reconcile us to imperialism. They spend their days begging employers to please be just a little kinder to the workers (to no avail) and doing everything in their power to preserve social peace: we will certainly have jam tomorrow, they tell us, if only we will patiently wait.
Weakening our rulers
Despite the best efforts of these misleaders, the British bourgeoisie is in real danger of being hoist with its own petard. It has encouraged xenophobia as a way of rallying mass support for its wars and brigandage abroad, and as a means of dividing the working class at home. But now this carefully inculcated racism is impeding our rulers’ ability to secure cooperation with other imperialist powers.
It is possible that the votes of the xenophobes will be what is needed to pull Britain out of the EU on 23 June – and this could prove disastrous for our rulers.
According to The Economist: “Europe’s links to America would become more tenuous … the loss of its biggest military power and most significant foreign-policy actor would seriously weaken the EU in the world …
“Without Britain, it would be harder for the EU to pull its global weight – a big loss to the west in a troubled neighbourhood, from Russia through Syria to north Africa. It is little wonder that Russia’s Vladimir Putin is keen on Brexit – and that America’s Barack Obama is not.”
In other words, not only would Britain outside the EU be less able to bully other countries, but the EU’s power would also diminish, and US imperialism would be weakened by the weakening of its ally. Without the presence of Britain in the EU, the US-EU imperialist alliance would probably become much more fragile – which would only be a good thing for workers and oppressed people everywhere.
Naturally, if the British ruling class becomes more fragile; if its ability to superexploit abroad is diminished, it will try to make good its losses at the expense of the working class at home. Life may become more difficult for the British proletariat for a time.
But since we will be left facing a weakened enemy class, we will also have moved one step closer to the goal of ridding ourselves of these leeches altogether.