Open letter to members of the SWP and SP: Keep the UK in the EU, for a workers' Europe

Submitted by Matthew on 17 June, 2015 - 11:12 Author: Mark Osborn and Vicki Morris

Both the Socialist Workers’ Party (SWP) and Socialist Party (SP) have declared that they will vote for UK withdrawal from the EU.

The SWP is for withdrawal because, “[The EU is] a bosses’ organisation designed to ease the exploitation of workers and sharpen the capacity of European capitalists to beat other capitalists.” The SP say similar: the UK should get out because the EU is a “bosses’ club.”

So the first problem is that the SWP and SP deliberately misunderstand the question in the referendum. We are not being asked to vote for or against capitalism. We will be asked our opinion about European unity and (given the tone of the debate) about migrant workers. The left should say we are for European unity and for migrants. We should vote to stay in the EU.

These two socialist organisations, with a combined membership of, perhaps, 3000 — along with a couple of trade unions and what remains of British Stalinism — say they will campaign independently from the political right.

So the second problem with a “left” Out campaign is that it will be utterly overshadowed by a vile, xenophobic, often openly racist, campaign led by UKIP, the Tory right and the tabloid press. This, the real Out campaign, has a long tradition in UK politics, will be very well-funded, has scores of established politicians and other public figures which will make its case through much of the national press and media.

The danger, of course, is that workers who listen to these leftists will only hear “No,” ignoring the details. The far left will give a gloss of socialist respectability to workers tempted to vote with UKIP.

The SWP and SP think that by bending towards nationalist anti-boss feeling among some workers they might recruit. SP leader Peter Taaffe declares: “The alleged benefits of the ‘free movement of labour’ are in reality a device for the bosses to exploit a vast pool of cheap labour.” The SP is making an unpleasant accommodation here, tacking towards British workers who want to restrict the right of migrants to work here. The benefits of the free movement of labour do not exist in inverted commas, nor are they “alleged”; the benefits are real and to be defended. Just ask any Polish worker.

The third problem with a “socialist” campaign for withdrawal is that if the country votes to pull out of the EU those who will implement the decision, and benefit from the vote, will be the right and far right — not the left. Laws that protect workers’ rights will be abolished. Racism and the right will grow and migrants’ right to work will be further restricted; many migrant workers will simply find it impossible to work in the UK.

It seems that the SWP know this, writing, “Philip Hammond [and] Michael Gove [say they will] back a British exit if there was an immediate referendum. Either Gove and the others are so stupid that they don’t realise this will make UKIP even stronger, or they don’t care.” We might add that by voting for exit the SWP will strengthen UKIP, and that they are either stupid, or don’t care.

Of course the SWP declares it is voting to get the UK out to defend migrant workers. This is a silly argument. Whatever next? Vote Tory to nationalise the banks? Vote UKIP for women’s liberation?

Of course the SP is right when it claims that the Tory party might split, and Cameron might go, if the referendum result is to leave Europe. But who will gain? Cameron will then be replaced by someone who is worse, with policies that are vile! Not all damage to the Tories is good for us.

The fourth problem with the “left” vote for UK exit is that it is a howling example of mainly negative political sloganising. “F**k fees!”, “Gove out!”, “Britain out of the EU!”

Take “Gove out!”: Michael Gove was replaced by someone more PR friendly, but with the same policies. The problem wasn’t Gove at all, but Government policy. We need a focus on articulating our positive programme. We need to understand the dangers of negative slogans: to win an argument we need to be able to explain what we are for, not just what we oppose.

The SWP, in particular, seems to continually focus on the damage they can do the existing system — supporting, for example, any force attacking “imperialism” no matter how reactionary. Of course a UK exit will disorientate and damage mainstream British politicians. That’s true. But the positive question to ask is: who will benefit? Not us. Not the migrants.

In fact “Out of the EU! is worse than “Gove Out!” because it stands in direct contradiction to our programme for a Federal Europe.

The European bourgeoisies have substantially united Europe, politically and economically. They have done it in their own way, in their own interests. Nevertheless, despite all qualifications, that work is positive and progressive. Our job is not to try to destroy that work — any more than socialists would bulldoze the capitalists’ factories, rip up railway lines or pull down libraries and museums.

And this is the fifth problem: what is wrong with the anti-Europe left? These groups misunderstand the relationship between the socialist project and advanced capitalism. They set themselves against the flow of history. Socialism comes out of advanced capitalism, and is made possible by advanced capitalism. Socialism requires the scientific, economic, technological, cultural and democratic progress made by capitalism. We don’t want to destroy everything capitalism has produced — very far from it.

Who would suggest, for example, the destruction of our NHS — built within capitalism — so we can rebuild a socialist NHS at some point in the future? It is obvious to us that the route to a better NHS lies in defending the existing one, and planning to reshape it after the working class comes to power. The question of Europe is no different. The SWP and SP want to destroy the existing unity in Europe so they can build a socialist united Europe in the future. They can’t see the contradiction because voting for a UK exit is a political collapse under nationalist pressure — and that pressure doesn’t exist on domestic questions such as the NHS.

In Europe we want to build on what is positive, not start again from Year Zero.

European unity, and the reduction and abolition of the borders that separate the peoples of Europe are gains made under capitalism that we will maintain and extend, not something we want to abolish. European unity is part of our democratic programme. So to agitate to pull the UK out of Europe so that, in the future, it can form a part of a European federation makes no sense at all.

We want the left to unite to fight for a Workers’ Europe, defending and extending the rights workers have won across Europe, and defending free movement. That means we will vote “Yes” to keep the UK in Europe.

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Campaign for a workers' Europe!

This letter will be circulated to gather support for left opposition to UK withdrawal from Europe.

With the formation of “Conservatives for Britain”, the right-wing campaign to exit the EU has begun. Unfortunately, it is likely to be mirrored on the left.

A number of Labour MPs and trade unionists and the Morning Star newspaper will group themselves behind the banner of “Labour for Britain”, saying life will be better for British workers outside the EU.

Far-left groups are likely to dissociate from the nationalist name and from Labour. They say they will organise an internationalist anti-EU campaign, one that defends the rights of migrants.

They are all setting themselves an impossible task: the automatic right of EU workers to migrate to the UK, and of UK workers to migrate to EU countries, will be ended by UK exit. Those that do arrive after a UK exit are likely to come on worse terms than workers currently do, and they will arrive to a climate poisoned by the xenophobia of the referendum campaign, an atmosphere in which the left itself cannot thrive.

A UK outside the EU will offer worse prospects for fighting for workers’ rights than we have staying in. The nationalist right, no friends to workers, will have the political upper-hand in a post-exit UK, and UK workers will lose the possibility of organising a common struggle for better rights by workers across Europe.

The left cannot be anti-EU without being dragged behind the right-wing and anti-migrant backlash. It will raise a tiny voice, inaudible against the right-wing anti-EU campaign which has money, press backing, and establishment support, a campaign that is all about putting up borders and actively restricting migrants coming to the UK. The left-wing voice will be drowned out in the growing nationalist gale.

The concessions Cameron is seeking from the EU also threaten workers’ rights: in the first place, migrant workers’ rights to in-work benefits. He is also likely to seek further opt-outs from those European regulations that benefit workers. Many other EU governments will be sympathetic to Cameron’s vision of the EU: less regulated, more ruthlessly neo-liberal.

The Tories that want to get out and the Tories that want to stay in offer no choice for workers. But we should not be indifferent to the question posed in the referendum. The integration of capitalism results naturally from the process of outgrowing national boundaries, and workers do not have any interest in seeking to turn back the clock of history or re-erect national barriers. We oppose UK exit from the EU.

At the same time, we recognise that the EU, like its constituent member states, is organised primarily in the interests of capital, an increasingly pressured capital, forced to compete with growing industrial powers such as China and India, and therefore looking to liquidate those elements of “Social Europe” that still remain. We should not join any cross-class alliance with pro-EU Tories or business leaders: we do not positively support bosses’ Europe.

Instead, voices on the left are discussing a campaign for a workers’ Europe in the coming referendum. We will:

• defend migrants’ rights and oppose racism;

• vote against UK withdrawal from the EU;

• campaign for a workers’ Europe, based on solidarity between working people.

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