Solidarity has not been slow to ridicule the SWP and Socialist Party and their daft position to campaign with the right-wing of the Tory Party and UKIP for a vote to leave the EU. Imagine their members in a union meeting, putting their position. Their “left” words against the “EU capitalist project” will give cover to the most backward and xenophobic views in the labour movement. Anyone who wants tighter immigration rules or who is prejudiced against Eastern Europeans will be supporting this position.
The leaflet of the left leave campaign (#Lexit), in which the SWP are involved, complains that the “so-called freedom of movement of labour does not apply to non-EU citizens”. And so what do they conclude? Help the right wing of the Tory Party abolish the limited rights of movement that already exist, to the benefit of tens of millions of workers across Europe, and impose much worse restrictions on movement?!
They advocate a levelling down of workers’ rights. And why do they write “so-called freedom of movement of labour”? This right is real, and by no means “so-called”, for tens of millions of workers across Europe. The freedom of movement across the EU is not just a matter of “convenience”. It is altering the relationship between the peoples of Europe. The fact that we can drive for hundreds of miles across mainland Europe without being stopped for a passport check means more than saving a few hours of needless bureaucracy. The ability to make such a journey is a symptom of a reduction in suspicions and antagonism (as well as borders) between the peoples of Europe, within the EU structure.
Compare the current relationships between the peoples of Europe with the situation in the first half of the twentieth century. Is this not progress? Yes, it is not perfect. Yes, the EU is capitalist. Yes, we know the capitalists want cheap labour. But we, the internationalist left, have a profound interest in a reduction of nationalist antagonisms, too. It makes working-class cooperation and solidarity easier. The capitalists are creating better conditions for us to do our work against them. Attempting to undo everything capitalism has done is a utopian and reactionary project. We need a clear grasp of what capitalism has built that we can use to fight for, and build, working class solidarity and socialism.
And, yes, we know it is the working class’s job to unite Europe. But, since our class has not managed that yet, the capitalists have got on with doing this work. They have brought Europe together for their own reasons and in their own way. We need to understand clearly what we can take and use from what they have done. The EU project is bureaucratic, in many ways undemocratic, and often carried out at the expense of workers. Indeed, the Industrial Revolution and the creation of a parliamentary democracy in the UK was a similar process. But only a fool would advocate the abolition of UK democracy and capitalism as a step toward socialism. Free movement inside the EU is a real, important gain. It should be defended against those who want to abolish it, and expanded it. Socialists favour the reduction of borders and barriers, and we are against attempts to separate out and divide workers.
For that reason we are for a Federation of European states. Breaking up existing European unity is step away from that goal, not towards it. There are now slightly more than two million foreign EU workers in the UK. What do we say to them, comrades in #Lexit? “In the interests of internationalism and anti-racism we’d like to help the Tory right wing to legislate against you. Too bad if you suffer, because Cameron will lose his job, and that’s more important to us.”
The #Lexit leaflet states that the City, the CBI and Cameron want to remain in Europe. Yes, but the people who want to get out are even worse! Cameron wants to maintain the status quo; Johnson, Gove and UKIP have a programme to make matters even worse by hurting our friends, co-workers and comrades from other EU states who work here. All the hot air about the “capitalist EU” is, in fact, back-handed support of the only other real alternative: an isolated capitalist UK. With an even worse, right-wing Tory government.
Are they really trying to tell us that would be a step forward for the left? Attempting to justify helping the right to a serious political victory, this section of the left pretends that a vote to leave will bring about a Tory crisis that will lead to a general election and a Corbyn victory. Such dreaming is more about giving SWP members something to tell punters than serious politics.
Corbyn does not buy into this nonsense. Speaking last week Corbyn advocated a vote to remain because: “Just imagine what the Tories would do to workers’ rights here in Britain if we voted to leave the EU in June.” He said very plainly: “It wouldn’t be a Labour government negotiating a better settlement for working people with the EU. It would be a Tory government, quite possibly led by Boris Johnson and backed by Nigel Farage, that would negotiate the worst of all worlds: a free market free-for-all shorn of rights and protections.”
So why does the SWP bloc with a rag-bag of Stalinists in this “left leave campaign”, Lexit? Because they are the prisoner of a political framework shared with the Stalinists: any damage done to the capitalists is good for us. The EU referendum is positive proof that this framework — not just their position on this immediate question — is nonsense. Time to rethink, comrades.