After Brexit: “It is an urgent task for the Left across Europe to take the lead in the confrontation with the EU”

 Offensive against the EU from left

The majority for Britain leaving the EU was an expression of class revolt against the EU of the upper class. This provides a good starting point for the Left to become the head of a rebellion against the EU, which has been the hub of social dumping, erosion of tax-financed welfare schemes and democratic influence, suppressing all attempts to depart from neoliberal policies and total failure to respond to the climate crisis. If the Left doesn’t manage to take the lead in this fight - on an anti-racist and internationalist basis - it will be more or less racist forces of the extreme Right that will profit.

The majority for Britain leaving the EU has shaken the European bourgeoisie. Massive popular opposition to the development of EU has been known and recognized for years - and was repeatedly expressed when someone dared to call a referendum on some European issues. However, in spite of this fact, we got used to see the EU project being sneaked forward all the time and people´s ability to influence being continuously undermined. It is characteristic that Cameron is now being criticized for having “gambled” with the project by allowing a democratic vote on EU membership itself...

Brexit succeeded to shortcut this process, so far in one country. From a democratic point of view, this is a huge victory. A crisis for the EU is invariably a victory for the working class.

Class Proper or racist agenda?

However, the reason for the massive EU opposition of the English working class was rather social than democratic. The EU was - as in other EU countries - both symbol of and played an important role in the neoliberal pressure for violent austerity and soaring economic inequality. A large number of immigrant workers from Eastern Europe and a significant level of unemployment have meant massive pressure on wages and working conditions in a country where Thatcher thoroughly smashed an otherwise strong trade union movement. Amongst other with reference to the free movement of labour within the EU, the conservative government attacked all tax-funded welfare systems - and for instance introduced towering fees on education.

In the British referendum campaign right populist, xenophobic forces were largely allowed to take over this agenda. Instead of uniting for a battle against the capitalist EU and against the employers who exploit EU´s anti-labour divide-and-rule policies – large parts of the labour movement and the Left downplayed these problems and supported remaining in the EU. Some did so precisely out of fear for support to a nationalist and xenophobic agenda and migrant workers losing their jobs. However, this resulted in the xenophobic UKIP becoming the dominant party in the Leave campaign and now stands as the big winner of the referendum.

Hesitate or persist?

But let the past lie. Now, the question is how the Left should respond to this crisis for the EU. Should we “hold our horses” and hold back – with regard to nationalist and xenophobic parties that currently dominate resistance to EU in most countries? Or should we continue and intensify an uncompromising struggle against the institution EU and seize upon the option right now to provoke the collapse of this campaign engine for neoliberal attacks against the working class?

In our view, undoubtedly the latter is the right path. It has never been a successful strategy standing on the side of the ruling system in order to keep the far right from power. If the Left does not take on the battle against the system and provides an alternative, then it leaves legitimate anger and rebellion to the propaganda of the extreme right. At worst, the Left will even look as half-hearted supporters of the rotten system. And when the system tumbles, then forces of the Right takes over....

The same applies in the present situation: If the Left appears as not really fighting big business EU - then UKIP, Le Pen, Alternative für Deutschland, Danish Peoples Party etc. will first profit from the rebellion and secondly maybe even be victorious.

A left alternative to EU

For that reason, it is an urgent task for the Left across Europe to take the lead in the confrontation both with the EU as an institution - and with the policies of the EU:

Demanding that the EU in all areas should be rolled back and disregarded - that Member States must legislate against social dumping, defend their tax-funded welfare systems, stop the EU-dictated austerity and privatization policy, safeguard their environment, make climate adjustments based on public production, etc., etc.

Making demands based on anti-racism and international solidarity: The fight against social dumping is not a battle against migrant workers, but demands for collective agreements and national legislation preventing employers to underpay and exploit migrant workers. The European countries must welcome refugees - but it should be financed by the wealthy and not be at the cost of welfare.

Demanding a breakaway from the EU and the neoliberal foundation of the Lisbon Treaty - including withdrawal referendums as a tool to push the EU to collapse.
Demanding the establishment of a new European cooperation that respects democratic decisions in the Member States, including on their economic policy. Cooperation on environment, climate change, refugees, corporate tax, etc., based on intergovernmental minimum agreements - but with the right to proceed further.

Of course, these demands must be raised in Parliament - but first and foremost the task is to build a movement fighting for these demands. Movements that can and will work together and show solidarity across borders for an alternative agenda for Europe. We have already seen promising signs of this regarding refugee solidarity, in the fight against climate change and in some union contexts.

A legitimate popular revolt against capitalist EU is growing in both northern and southern Europe, although from different points of departure. We must not leave this revolt to the xenophobic right parties, which in no way will defend working class interests, on the contrary. Fortunately, there are also signs that the Left in the rest of Europe is losing their illusions about reforming the EU and that more and more realize the necessity of formulating a “plan B”: An alternative, if (i.e. when!) the break with EU is necessary.

The Left in Europe must assert its natural place as those who take the lead in fighting and confronting the capitalist and neoliberalist steamroller named EU.

Socialistisk Arbejderpolitik (Denmark), Executive Committee, 2nd of July 2016

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 British ”no” will strengthen the resistance against the EU austerity policy

While midsummer fires light up in the evening in Denmark on Thursday, June 23rd, the counting of the British votes in the EU referendum commences. The script seems clear: If you vote REMAIN, Britain remains a member of EU, such as the country has been since 1972. If you, on the contrary, vote LEAVE, then Britain leaves the EU collaboration after no longer than a two years separation, winding up the estate.

SAP (Socialistisk Arbejderpolitik/Socialist Workers Policy), Danish section of the 4th International, adopted this statement on June 12th, 2016.

The real world, however, is hardly as clear as the script seems to be. For instance, it would be very unlike the EU to accept a British withdrawal just like that. Threats as well as offers of new negotiations probably await ahead. Also, in case of a REMAIN, it will have to take account of Prime Minister Cameron’s recently negotiated terms, that cannot be implemented without a ratification by the EU Parliament.

Not even the traditional dividing lines in British politics bring clarity. The conservative governmental party is split from top to bottom, between EU supporters and EU opponents. The big oppositional party – Labour – officially recommends REMAIN, but at least half of the party´s traditional electoral basis among the workers seem to be voting LEAVE. That has left room for the nationalistic United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), and recently a Labour Parliament member actually criticized Labour´s EU-positive position, saying that it was a recruitment agent for UKIP.

The far left is divided too, between those who recommend a LEAVE based on a fundamental critique of EU and those who share this fundamental critique, but fear that a victory of the LEAVE campaign will strengthen nationalistic and xenophobic forces on the the right and that the English workers thus will be in a more difficult situation after a LEAVE than after a REMAIN.

The consequences of the referendum

It is indisputable that the fear of immigration is a key issue for the leading forces on the LEAVE side, primarily within the UKIP and the Conservatives. That leaves the far left in an undoubtedly very difficult situation – not least because of decades of sectarian splits and lacking ability to build a working class movement against EU´s hostile policies towards workers.

At the same time, it is important to recall, that the main problem for the British workers is not the UKIP (who received 12.6 % of the votes at the May elections last year). The main problem is the alliance between the conservative Prime Minister, Cameron, ”City-of-London” financial capital and the large employers. Among them, there is an overwhelming support to REMAIN, because they simply regard the EU as the best “tool” for the preservation of their privileges and holding down the working class.

An example that speaks louder than words is Ryanair-manager, Michael O´Leary, who has decorated his plains with slogans calling for a REMAIN vote, arguing that the EU has enabled his business concept – based on unorganized and low-paid workforce. Currently he advertises for a special REMAIN-offer that allows British citizens abroad to go home at a discount to vote REMAIN.

To call for a British ”remain” because of fear that a LEAVE-majority might strengthen UKIP, is to close our eyes for the consequences of the alternative - namely that a REMAIN-majority will strengthen Cameron and his entire base of support, the financial, industrial and trades capitalists – damaging the British workers for decades to come.

The concern that xenophobia and racism is growing is well founded, but the REAMIN conclusion is a fallacy based on the idea that EU membership should somehow prevent it. The opposite is in fact the truth. Xenophobic demagogues have grown in strength sheltered by the EU membership that has exploited the frustrations of ordinary people. Thinking that this will change if Great Britain remains in the EU and if the EU criticism is left to nationalistic demagogues of the the right, does not make sense.

Weakening of the capitalist EU

The real EU has been a tool used by Capital to throw the burdens of the economic crisis on the shoulders of the ordinary workers since its breakthrough in 2007. It plays a pervasively negative role – on the global scene (refugee-agreement with Erdogan and other authoritarian regimes, FRONTEX, TTIP, etc.) as well as in membership states, that attempt to break away from the EU-dictates of austerity. We witnessed it in Greece last year and now in relation to the Portuguese government and soon in Spain, if the election on June 26th - three days after the British referendum – results in a victory for the alliance between PODEMOS and the United Left alliance, IU.

A ”yes” from the British electorate to Cameron´s desire to stay in EU will mean a strengthening of EU and hence a continuation of the current politics. Whereas a majority for a British LEAVE will hurl EU into a heavy crisis and weaken EU´s possibilities to play its negative role. All progressive forces will profit from that. That is why we hold our fingers crossed for a clear and solid LEAVE-majority on June 23rd.

SAP Executive committee, June 12th, 2016

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