Should socialists vote no to EU constitution?

Submitted by Anon on 5 June, 2005 - 3:21

No Campaign will not lead to a better Europe

In reply to the message of greetings to the AWL conference of May 2005 from the French Marxist group Liaisons arguing that the "No" campaign will stimulate the class struggle, Martin Thomas replies:

Let us stand back and take a longer view. Since the 1960s the AWL and our forerunners have had to respond to several rows in mainstream politics over Europe.

There was the row over British entry (1972-3) into what was then called the Common Market, and the referendum on British withdrawal in 1975. There was the agitation around the Maastricht Treaty of 1992, which called for a common European Union foreign policy, gave limited powers to the European Parliament, and set the terms for the eventual creation of the euro. (There were referendums on Maastricht in France and Denmark, and there was large agitation for one in Britain).

There is the promised referendum on British entry into the euro, and now, the referendums on the draft EU constitution.

In every case, governments have asked us: either these (their) terms for European integration, or block integration? Which do you want?

The proper working-class response, we believe, is to counterpose European-wide workers’ solidarity and democracy to both bourgeois alternatives. We welcome, and work to build on, even the capitalist integration of Europe; but we preach militant, independent working-class self-assertion and working-class seeking-of-advantage within this broadly “progressive” process, not passive acceptance of the Euro-bosses’ bureaucratic structures or such measures as Maastricht’s erection of the European Central Bank above elected control or EU competition policy.

The most effective way (so we have reckoned) to give profile to our basic ideas is demonstratively to refuse to accept that the “yes” and “no” of the bourgeois “great debates” define the options, and to abstain (or cast spoiled ballots) in the referendums.

In Britain in recent years our stance has won wide support on the left (a big majority at the Socialist Alliance conference in 2001, for example). A “no” campaign in British referendums on the euro or the Euro-constitution would obviously be dominated by the Tory party and the Murdoch press, who, attached to British capital’s special links with the USA, want to restrain European integration and the risk (for them) of social levelling-up which it may bring. Lots of left-wingers see the sense of a stance which differentiates sharply from that while not endorsing the European Central Bank.

It was not always like that in Britain. In 1975 the campaign for “no” (to Britain staying in the EU) was almost entirely run by the Labour left, the trade unions, the Communist Party, and the revolutionary left. Many said they favoured a united Europe, only a socialist one, not this capitalist Europe. “Yes” was the Labour right and the Tories. The anti-Europe Tory right was marginal.

But would it have brought us any closer to a socialist Europe if Britain had withdrawn from the European Union? No.

France’s “no” campaign this year was run by the left, mainly the Communist Party and dissident SP leaders. But compare Australia’s republic referendum in 1999. The monarchists kept quiet and let the “no” campaign be run by Labor and left-of-Labor people who rejected the proposal as not good enough a republic. If the monarchists had been vocal, they would (they knew) have driven voters into the “yes” camp; but their quietness did not stop the “no” victory being in fact one for them (the republic off the agenda for many years to come) rather than what the “left-wing no” talked about (a quick new referendum on a better republic).

France’s Front National and right-wing Gaullists, a larger force than the Tory “no” camp in Britain in 1975, kept quiet because they know the “no” victory will serve their aims (slowing European integration and expansion) rather than the wishful thinking or (from some Socialist Party leaders) cynical demagogy of the left-wing “no”.

And how left is the left-wing “no”? Lutte Ouvrière, for example, justified its “no” vote this time by saying that now the “no” agitation declares itself “pro-European” in principle, whereas in the Maastricht referendum it was more nationalist. But all that means, really, is that the French Communist Party has switched to accepting the EU in principle. Is the CP more left-wing than in 1992? Are pro-“no” SP leaders like Laurent Fabius more left-wing than they were? Is the idea that the big threats to democracy, to jobs, and to social provision come from the EU, not from the bosses at home, any less diversionary than it was? No.

In Australia, Workers’ Liberty voted “yes”. Even a poor republic is better than monarchy, and the “no” campaign’s “better” republic (with a directly elected president) was not in fact better. The draft Euro-constitution’s limited increases in power for the European Parliament are too slight, when weighed against hundreds of pages of neo-liberal and bureaucratic text, to warrant a similar “yes”. Anyway, it is not ruled out that the French “no” will alarm the Eurocrats into throwing some sop of similar scope.

But the “no” is not by any stretch going to lead into the replacement of the Amsterdam and Nice treaties, the Single European Act and the Treaty of Rome, by “social-European” texts! It is not going to make the European Central Bank “account for itself before the voters”!

It is not going to lead into “dismantling the existing European institutions” — not by Europe-wide socialist revolution, and not, fortunately, by the only other plausible way, disintegration of the existing semi-united Europe back into walled-off nations.

Mostly, there will be more Euro-haggling, to make do with the existing treaties, or to find some more limited new scheme to expedite decision-making in the unwieldy 25-member EU. That’s all

The EU is European unity “in an incomplete and deformed way”! We want European unity “through the fight for socialism and democracy” — but if we are not strong enough to win it that way, and we are not, then history does not stop. Capitalism makes its own sort of progress, in its own class-divided, destructive way. The job of Marxists is not to try to halt capitalist development — but to fight capitalism within its development, to push through that development towards socialism.

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