I will be abstaining in the EU referendum taking place this month. A vote for EU Austerity and Capital versus Great British Austerity and Capital is not a choice I want any part of. The entire basis of the referendum is based around a factional struggle between capitalists grounded in appeals to nationalist populism. Neither option will provide any kind of victory to the working class, in fact one way or the other, we’ll lose.
Most on the left seem completely split over the issue with various arguments called up in favour of leave, remain and abstain. All have some good arguments as well as bad.
Those arguing to leave highlight the reactionary nature of the EU as an institution, that it is in no way shape or form a friend of workers (the fact that the TUC argues it is, is testament to their pathetic capitulations). It is responsible for deposing democratically elected governments in Greece and Italy, it enforces extreme degrees of austerity, it acts as an Imperialist mechanism to extract wealth from its own periphery as well as further afield into the pockets of bankers in the core countries. Its fortress nature and hostility to immigration and asylum seekers further afield is well documented. The EU also has the illegality of public ownership enshrined in law; it is a ‘neo-liberal’ free trading union, absolutely hostile to the working class. Nobody can deny that this is true.
Framed in this way, it would seem to suggest the right thing to do is to vote to leave. I don’t think that is in fact the case. A leave vote would be perfectly justified if there was a genuine militancy, a real workers movement in the ascent who could in fact take advantage of the political and economic crisis it would lead to – without such a movement it becomes a political bluff; knowing your own hand is weak, yet hoping your opponent doesn’t realise that. However terrible the EU is (and it is!) the alternate option is no better.
What would this alternative look like? Even if the EU demanded it or not, Austerity has been the main economic doctrine of all the main parties in this country. Whether inside or outside of the EU, no break from this is likely to take place. Certain rights of movement are provided, which the entire (right dominated) out campaign is based upon scrapping i.e. it could very well ruin thousands of peoples lives. Just here in Wales turning this into a principled question means some workers would be voting for their own redundancies. These are genuine concerns for many people. Glibly dismissing them as ‘project fear’ just denies the facts.
Further to this point, for these with utopian illusions in a Corbyn led “anti-austerity” government (whatever that is…), sweeping into power as the Tory party crumbles after an out vote: they need to heed the lessons of Syriza in Greece. On the basis of Capitalism and the current state of the global economy there is no possibility that sustained large scale welfare and jobs projects can be implemented. Politicians can make as many promises as they like, it is only the working class as a movement who have the real potential to change anything. Once a militant mass movement is under way, no law, whether EU or British could get in its way. Appeals to abolish the legal restrictions the EU imposes misses the point entirely and to a certain extent goes to show the limited ambitions of the Left arguing these things i.e. what kind of rubbish knock off Socialism is compatible with legal restrictions of the UK constitutional monarchy?!
The EU is a reactionary capitalist institution, but outside of it we’re still in a reactionary capitalist institution – the UK. I oppose both. There is no benefit to working class people in terms of their living standards, development of their political strength or further development of productive forces by leaving on a Capitalist basis. In fact I suspect the opposite, that living conditions will get much worse. I don’t believe our class has the strength to take advantage of the political crisis an out vote will likely lead to. If we had real strength I’d favour provoking such a crisis.
In spite of the revival of social democracy and the doctors strike, I see a workers movement on life support which will take decades to rebuild whereas many seem to see a workers movement in real ascendancy with potential seismic shifts in militancy and consciousness potentially around the corner of each new political-crisis.
What does it say about how theoretically inept and strategically delusional the Left is that they’re goading us into a situation where everything by every measure could get much worse for working class people – not only will it lead to job losses, deportations and more austerity here, it could lead to the break up of the EU on far right nationalist terms.
‘Trotskyist’ dogmatists constantly see militant mass movements arising from every new political crisis, which will then set the ground for socialist revolution. After 70 odd years in the wilderness, with little to no success, no mass bases, no rising tide of militancy you’d think they would actually start taking that materialist analysis of the balance of class forces seriously. Yet these concerns are just flippantly disregarded as “middle class squeamishness” and quickly replace by some fantasy that “there should be a general strike”. Well of course there should be a general strike, but are our forces going into battle strong, well rested and with better numbers or are we wandering into the abattoir blindfolded!
Most people I’ve spoken to about the referendum, who aren’t socialists and are considering a leave vote, don’t usually say anything about Austerity or EU Public ownership law. What they do say is something along the lines of ‘the Turks are coming’. Which isn’t exactly grounds for faith in some immediate post-election proletarian mass movement. In fact, I suspect that fears that a leave vote will exacerbate nationalist currents are perfectly well grounded.
I have concentrated on the leave campaign as most of the remain camp is split over two positions one is either that the EU is a friend of workers or it could be if reformed it; this is so obviously false that I will not waste my time arguing against it. The other position amounts to many of the arguments I have made above regarding the balance of class forces and the rise of nationalism except rather than abstaining they, in disgust, will vote to remain. I cannot bring myself to play their game, to put my name to the status quo; I will abstain. People should vote how they please but they should do it with the sure knowledge that this referendum is about a factional struggle by the ruling class and that either way we lose.
As Communists we should counterpose the nationalistic character of this referendum with the idea of working towards organising and coordinating a European wide militant workers movement. Our slogan should be for a European general strike to bring Capitalism down. The workers struggles taking place in France at the moment is an inspiration to us all and must be generalised across the continent towards the goal of overthrowing those who would impose Capitalist austerity upon us, whilst introducing international socialism back on the agenda. This is the real proletarian alternative to such a base and venal referendum.