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Socialist Democracy statement on the European referendum

No to the Racism!
No to imperialist Europe!
Yes to Britain remaining in Europe!
Yes to a United Socialist States of Europe!

April 2016

Within moments of the launch of the European referendum in Britain all the guff about terms and conditions disappeared like snow off a ditch.

The purpose of Cameron's renegotiation campaign was simply to put off as long as possible the civil war in his party. Now the gloves are off. The issue is in or out and there is civil war in the nasty party and within British capitalism.

The war is overwhelmingly between the small capitalists, the ultra-Thatcherite base of the party, with support from a minority of finance capital seeking closer integration with the USA.

Their programme is predictable: A desire to tear up human rights legislation. An end to regulation of minimum wage rates, hours, discrimination legislation and health and safety concerns. They want to let rip with racial hatred of migrants and refugees. In the North of Ireland the DUP see in Brexit the possibility of reinforcing partition and hardening the border with the South.

The DUP scheme is realistic. The Irish people would feel the consequences of a British exit from Europe most immediately in the form of greater restrictions on movement between north and south and between Ireland and Britain. Leading figures in the leave camp, such as former Tory chancellor Nigel Lawson, have indicated that border controls would be introduced.  

Racism and anti-immigrant sentiment are central to the leave campaign. A British exit from the EU would immediately affect them. New entries would be blocked. Existing migrants would not have a legal right to residence and as non-citizens could face various forms of discrimination. This would enable super-exploitation and the entire workforce would be split apart on grounds of race and nationality. After a successful Brexit a triumphant right would step up attacks and seek to expel migrants.   

The Tory opponents of the Brexit campaign share the class hatred of the right and are equally willing to divide workers through racial hatred. However they do not share the illusions of the UKIP brigade. They know that Europe is controlled by big capital, including British capital, and that it operates in their interest. They are not willing to surrender a major source of power or face the economic instability that would follow a British exit.

The same picture can be seen across Europe.  The ongoing crisis of capitalism and the savage austerity affects not just the working class but also small proprietors and lower levels of the middle class. In the absence of a successful working class counter-attack we see the growth of right-wing and fascist forces advancing a diet of national chauvinism.

The capitalist powers pour petrol on the flames; military adventures and barbarism in the Middle East, increasing poverty, negation of national parliaments and democratic rights, unbelievable state cruelty aimed at the refugees their policies created.

In this reactionary melee the duty of socialists is to assert the interests of the working class and advocate the unity of class in its own defence.

Some sections of the British left argue from the logical fallacy that the enemy of my enemy is my friend. From this false logic they advance the idea that leaving Europe would seriously disrupt British capitalism, fragment the Tory party and lead to new opportunities for socialists.

We strongly disagree. The programme of the exit brigade is an attack on workers. Victory in the Europe campaign would see a sharp move right, more blatant racism and renewed attacks on workers’ rights. 

The position of the pro-leave left is not just the result of their opportunist approach.  More fundamentally it stems from their nationalist perspective on politics. In this perspective class struggles take place on a national plane and struggles to transform Europe take the form of left governments in conflict with the structures of the EU.  The recent experience of the Syriza led government in Greece fits in completely with this.   But Syriza’s debacle also demonstrates how flawed that perspective is.  The reality is that capitalism is international and any effective opposition to it must also be international both in terms of organisation and programme.  For the left the task should be to build links between the social and political struggles happening across Europe and to develop a programme for the defence of all workers.  

On the other hand the Labour party are repeating all the mistakes of the "better together" campaign run in opposition to Scottish independence. The campaign has been handed over to the most reactionary elements in the party. It is being fought in collaboration with Cameron. Labour, alongside the trade union leadership, presents Europe as a progressive force, a force that will defend workers rights. Nothing could show more clearly the political weakness of the Corbyn leadership.

Europe has never defended the working class. Rather it is an instrument of oppression. In its early days it benefited some workers when the standardisation of capital improved their conditions. Later union leaders and social movements tried to use the structures to win reforms without mobilising workers.

Those days are long gone. The reality is the rule of the ECB and Troika overriding local democracy. Programmes force austerity and demand the sell-off and privatisation of public assets. Europe's leaders support aggression and war and then deny their responsibility for the refugees that they created. Racism and brutality rule across the continent.

Europe is an area of concentrated capitalist oppression. However it is also the home of a powerful workers movement - a movement that gave birth to mass trade unionism, to social democracy and to the conquest of power by the working class in the Bolshevik revolution.

The possibility of the Britain leaving the EU along with the rise of nationalism across Europe are indicators of the decay of capitalism.  The efforts of the European capitalist class to go beyond the nation state have failed.  But this is not a reason for socialists to fall back with them.  We are in favour of greater integration within Europe.  This is not because we are for capitalist expansion but because it creates the potential for a more unified working class and a transition to socialism.

It is true that the workers have suffered many defeats and that capitalism is in the ascendant. However the enormous potential for working class organization and action still remains. Workers cannot afford to retreat behind national boundaries where they will be isolated and at the mercy of a resurgent reaction.

So socialists should call for a yes vote, but should not for a moment offer support to any of the capitalist factions. We must advance now the call for a United Socialist States of Europe, and begin the task of building that future by building the independent organizations of the working class, the working class party, and by irreconcilable opposition to austerity, to imperialist war and to racism.

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