THE GREEN LEFT CASE FOR BREXIT
INTRODUCTION (Larry O'Hara 13/11/16)
Four months before the 23/6/16 Referendum on EU membership I wrote the article below, developing my views on the case against EU membership. There is clearly lots more that can be said, about the referendum itself (see the article the EU Referendum and after for a few pointers). I hoped, but did not expect the Leave campaign to win, but they did.
The article below is worth circulation now for a number of reasons
1) It hopefully confounds the idiotic view that there is no Left-Green case for leaving the EU.
2) After the Referendum, rather than seize opportunities the vote offers, the Green Party leadership (and many in the Labour Party too) have learnt nothing from the mass rejection of the EU, and instead want to do everything possible to actually prevent us exiting the EU, so out of touch are they.
3) The detailed analysis of Green Party policy below hopefully substantiates my point that in supporting pro-EU forces and vacating the political fray (eg at the Richmond by-election) a strategic and tactical error of massive importance has been made. And should be reversed. For example, rather than simply accusing Leave campaigners of being liars over the £350 million per week promised the NHS (which did happen) where are the unions and Leftists demanding this money be produced? Nowhere, instead wallowing in self-pity about the evils of Brexit.
4) I did not join the Green Party 26 years or so ago in order to stand aside for reactionary toads like the Liberal Democrats, their twitching political corpse still writhing from supporting the Tories in coalition, for which they were rightly punished. Quislings like Tim Farron calling for a second referendum deserve studied contempt, at the very least.
A final point: while I disagree with their perspectives, one can but admire the relentlessness with which those who support the EU are straining every sinew to overturn the Referendum result, aided by the mainstream broadcasters (Sky/ITV/Channel 4/BBC), numerous supporters in parliament, and the legions of lawyers and the like (including judges) who are doing what they can to assist. Indeed the very terms 'hard Brexit' and 'soft Brexit' are patent ideological/propaganda constructs, which the media will not of course point out. Those like myself who support an exit from the EU in order to advance a Left-Green agenda should take note and show equal if not greater determination. We are but few, but that should be no deterrent. More on all this later...
THE GREEN CASE FOR LIFE AFTER THE EU: MY JOURNEY AND OTHERS Larry O’Hara 28/2/16
(Green Party member since 1988/Editor Notes From the Borderland magazine)
The virtual ink has dried on the terms agreed between PM David Cameron and his allies in the semi-elaborate charade that was the ‘negotiation process’ between the UK and EU Heads of government, and we know the deadline date for a decision; 23rd June this year. It is now time for all interested in the future of radical politics in the UK, indeed the UK itself, to take a stand. Whatever happens, the EU issue will not go away: but the terrain of struggle will be clarified. What follows below is a contribution to debate aimed primarily at those in the Green Party and/or the Left, though hopefully of interest to a broader audience. I readily concede political arguments are rarely decided by rational discourse alone. Which is why although throughout this piece I challenge some more obvious (and outrageous) pro-EU mantras, I fully accept minds will largely be made up on the basis of more intangible feelings and emotions, including the way EU opponents are perceived, rightly or wrongly. In that respect, outlining my own trajectory is as valid way as any other to introduce the issues. I make no apology for referring in passing to esoteric Leftist texts: even if obscure, still relevant.
One thing I am convinced of; if, as at time of writing, opposing the EU and envisaging life beyond is seen as largely the prerogative of right-wing Tories, UKIP and the Daily Mail/Express, the campaign is doomed. I certainly have no problem with the likes of Michael Gove (or David Davies) joining the fray, and welcome the way Gove’s opposition is couched in constructive non-racist terms. Nonetheless, if discussions about the EU are framed in even subliminally racist terms such as obsessing about immigration, and benefits available to ‘foreigners’, that campaign will remain in the slow lane, rightly heading towards a dead end, whatever polls might say.
(1) WHERE I STARTED FROM & WHY MY VIEWS CHANGED
Let me start by saying I unequivocally favour a ‘No’ vote in the referendum, a position long held, though not where I started from. In 1975, as a Leftist Labour Party member, I was agnostic on the EU, indeed though too young to vote (17) I might well have abstained. This is because while having little love for the EEC (as it was then known) I nonetheless felt, as an internationalist, that there was something a little chauvinist about opposing the EEC, and felt uncomfortable with that. I noticed with distaste Enoch Powell’s presence in the ‘No Campaign’, though should have paid more heed to the fact Tony Benn, Barbara Castle and Peter Shore were there too. As too the fact that the International Socialists (who later became the Socialist Workers Party: SWP) also supported a No vote.
After the 1975 Referendum, Europe was off the immediate political agenda, but after a few years in the Socialist Workers Party (hereafter SWP) which I left not because they were too radical, but not radical enough, I began to take a greater interest. I realized that leaving the EU (as I term it from now on) was integral to the policy platforms of not just the Labour Left (with their Alternative Economic Strategy) but also Plaid Cymru and the Scottish National Party (in particular the SNP 79 Group, including one Alex Salmond), for broadly similar reasons. The key reason, which still guides me today as a Left-leaning Green Party member, was this. To implement radical social economic and political change, various forces and interests will have to be confronted, including the EU. Measures to nationalise (I prefer the term socialise) industry, pull out of trade treaties, restrict the market and introduce popular planning from below into the economy will come up against multinationals and their agents, the EU institutions and treaties, all designed to facilitate the free flow of labour and capital.
As the 1980s progressed, while losing no Leftist fervor (I was proud to be in Big Flame until its end in 1985) I realized ever more acutely the limitations of what I term the ‘Last Century Left’, encompassing extra-parliamentary groups such as the SWP and the Labour Left. On the one hand the SWP wanted a re-run of what they imagine happened in the 1917 Russian Revolution. The SWP’s take on this was wide of the mark: they have never understood Gramsci’s differentiation between Russia (where civil society was nothing) and Western Europe (where it is everything). The Labour Left for their part did not appreciate the policy initiative they possessed in 1973 and even 1979 (Alternative Economic Strategy:AES) was being eroded and then destroyed by first Neil Kinnock and then the whole New Labour Project. I was certainly sympathetic to the AES for the potential political space it opened up for groups to the Left, and wrote a series of articles for Big Flame newspaper on this very topic. Yet rather than develop new realistic policies in tune with the modern world the Labour Left have ever since confined themselves to repeating policy demands (slogans) like mantras, believing that adding up the demands of various progressive causes and interest groups is a strategy, it isn’t. A shopping list is exactly that, a recipe for eternal opposition, not government.
(2) THE GERMAN GREENS & JOINING THE GREEN PARTY
I was inspired by the German Greens, especially their 1983 programme ‘Purpose In Work, Solidarity in Life’, and the visionary early writings of East German dissident Rudolf Bahro. To me, German Greens at this time combined old Left anti-capitalism with a sensitivity to the modern world and a collection of fundamental principles that I take to be bedrock Green tenets. These include internationalism, a belief in genuine decentralization of power, democracy, sustainability, construction of genuinely viable local economies (and currencies), a sceptical attitude towards unreflective economic growth, anti-capitalism, an aversion to free market forces and distrust of large-scale institutions not amenable to democratic control. Allied to this was my own sustained opposition to institutions like the EU, NATO and the spectacle that is the UN. I am fully aware what a disaster the German Greens later became; my perspective is their failure to learn from the Left’s history, especially regarding how to be both in and against the state, fatally compromised them. It is also the case that (even aside from Stalin and the purges etc.) the Russian Revolution didn’t end up too well either—if it had, the current situation of oligarchical state capitalism wouldn’t have arisen, would it? For the record, I fully support the October Revolution: but my political sympathies lie with the Left Social Revolutionaries, not Bolsheviks. Regarding German Greens, aside from their excellent early policy of rotating those in elected office (which we adopted in Big Flame around that time) even a basic understanding of Lenin would have helped them (both positively and negatively), but even more so would consulting the forgotten masterwork by Georg Lukacs ‘Tactics and Ethics’, anticipating by 70 years (even if not resolving) all the tensions between principle and parliamentary careerism that have effectively destroyed the German Greens as a radical force.
In the late 1980s, along with friends in the Green Party and outside, through the organization Green Flame we briefly sought to sketch out what such politics might mean in programmatic practice, even speaking for motions critical of EU membership at one conference. There was clearly more to Green Party politics than the EU, and I was in the Association of Socialist Greens until it (sadly) dissolved. Nonetheless, the importance of Green principles on the one hand, and presence within the Green Party of a figure like Derek Wall on the other, convinced me this was the place to be, and I have remained, while profoundly disagreeing with the increasing capitulation to the EU that passes for party policy.
Disillusioned with the closing down of political space in the 1990’s, as the Left of all varieties shrank into stasis and oblivion, myself and others decided to ‘keep the faith’ by launching an occasional magazine devoted to fighting the (Gramscian) ‘war of position’ from the Left, Notes From the Borderland, which I am happy to say is still going. In this magazine can be found the most extensive article I had written till now on the EU, assisted by colleague David Pegg, ‘This Cursed Plot: How the Secret State and Fascists Disrupt the Anti-EU Movement’. Its scope is broad: UKIP (including Nigel Farage), the British National Party, and even a precursor to the Hope Not Hate campaign, the Searchlight organization, on whom more later.
(3) THE EU versus GREEN PRINCIPLES?
The onward march of ever greater EU centralization and the growing (if covert) influence of shadowy pressure groups like the European Round Table of Industrialists (hereafter ERT) has been watched by me with ever growing concern, even if viewed with indifference by many in the Green Party. In recent years, the disgraceful treatment of Greece’s Syriza government by the EU seemed to momentarily lift scales from some eyes, for here was a genuine radical government being totally crushed by the EU, who were (and are) dictating to a democratically elected government, empowered by a popular referendum even, that they had to tear up their radical programme, privatize industries, dismantle welfare provisions, annihilate pensions, all in order to appease the loan shark parasites of the international banking community. Surely, one might have thought, the fate of this government tells us something about the nature of the EU? That has not altered since a defeated Greece is now out of the headlines.
At its minimum, the EU is about market ‘harmonization’: code for driving down workers living conditions worldwide. This is what Tory supporters (and even opponents like Boris Johnson) of the EU mean when they concede it has been good for trade. One instrument for harmonization is ‘bench marking’, whereby the most disadvantageous (to workers) practices are made the norm. Another aspect is introducing ever more competition in the provision of services hitherto provided by the public sector. It is this that provides the backdrop to welfare state privatization, Royal Mail sell-off and the unmitigated disaster that has been the PFI initiative in the NHS, mortgaging the future for generations to come while saddling citizens with ever mounting debt. The Campaign Against Euro-Federalism have bravely, and indefatigably drawn attention to these matters in great detail. What a pity Europhiliacs in the Labour Party and elsewhere blithely ignore this evidence; as too have most Greens to date. TTIP and the related Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement between the EU and Canada, which will provide a back-door for US corporations to sue elected governments as in TTIP, are both dangerous and blatantly contradict Green principles, as can be seen by perusing the excellent Leave.EU pamphlet on these subjects. Yet both are imminently set to become EU reality.
A paradox needs explaining: the mismatch between fundamental Green principles and the EU itself, a gap so wide that the fact many Greens (and Leftists generally) do not realise it demands serious explanation. The gap can be summarized thus:
- Internationalism should always be voluntary to be genuine (e.g. the 1930s International Brigades) and should never be confused with the creation of supranational institutions with imperial ambitions: which the EU has been ever since Jean Monnet’s vision took shape in the 1957 Treaty of Rome, explicit aim, ever-closer union. Like a ratchet, every single EU development has travelled that path, whether it be majority voting, Maastricht Lisbon and the rest. EU centralization operates like a ratchet, that only goes one way. I fully support Europe as an idea, and co-operation between European peoples, but no way should this be confused with the EU (on this at least I agree with Boris Johnson). This very article was started in Hamburg, indeed. One mendacious act of many is the deliberate sleight of hand by which proponents of Empire (the EU) seek to conflate Europe as an idea with the EU as an institution.
- Every accretion of power to EU institutions (of whatever stripe) is a diminution of power available locally. If any referendum produces the ‘wrong’ (i.e. anti-centralist) result, it is re-run until the right answer ensues. Furthermore, the whole notion of ‘subsidiarity’ is a pathetic fig-leaf: the centre decides what powers to give away, and it is the centre that can rescind any concessions.
- It is not just beyond belief, but even comprehension, that anybody could really think that a political entity with 503 million inhabitants like the EU could be democratic. Institutions to be democratic have to be on a scale that people can understand, meaningfully relate to, and control. Those numbers mean that is just not possible: but is conversely why the ERT favours the EU. How much easier to negotiate with one government than 28. Just when did some Greens think the slogan ‘Think Global, Act Local’ became redundant? As Tony Benn never tired of pointing out, if you don’t elect people (European Court/Commission) and you can’t remove them, they’re not accountable to you. This is the definition of undemocratic. It is fascinating, therefore, to hear Benn’s thoughts echoed in Michael Gove’s 20/2/16 statement on the EU “My starting point is simple. I believe that the decisions which govern all our lives, the laws we must all obey and the taxes we must all pay should be decided by people we choose and who we can throw out if we want change. If power is to be used wisely, if we are to avoid corruption and complacency in high office, then the public must have the right to change laws and Governments at election time. But our membership of the European Union prevents us being able to change huge swathes of law and stops us being able to choose who makes critical decisions which affect all our lives. Laws which govern citizens in this country are decided by politicians from other nations who we never elected and can’t throw out. We can take out our anger on elected representatives in Westminster but whoever is in Government in London cannot remove or reduce VAT, cannot support a steel plant through troubled times, cannot build the houses we need where they’re needed and cannot deport all the individuals who shouldn’t be in this country. I believe that needs to change“. If this applies to even a Tory government, why would it apply less to a Green government or even a Corbyn-led one?
- As for the European Parliament, giving it even more power, which I do not favour, would inevitably (and unavoidably) be at the expense of national governments, who whatever their faults can at least in principle be removed: on this Tony Benn Michael Gove and George Galloway are all right. Even if every single MEP (and MP) elected from the UK (or even England) favoured withdrawal from the EU or any other policy, MEPs elsewhere, if we give them power, would be able to prevent such a policy happening. Anybody thinking that situation democratic is beyond reason, or even hope. As too the current European Council of Ministers where the UK has voted against 72 measures, and been defeated 72 times.
- Sustainability is not merely an argument for more recycling bins and altering fridges: it should be at the heart of Green policies aimed at breaking the capitalist market cycle of planned obsolescence which will ineluctably mean taking on the multinational corporations who are so keen, with EU acquiescence, to push through the devastating TTIP (Transatlantic Trade Treaty). In proper context, developing a genuinely sustainable economy is a dagger to the heart of capitalism, and the illusory religion of economic growth.
I could certainly say more, and maybe will elsewhere, but have hopefully said enough to substantiate my claim that, as I see it, there is a gap between genuine Green principles and the EU. The paradox therefore which needs explaining is this; if these things are so axiomatic and obvious to me and the few Greens who share such views (like Jenny Jones and a minority of Green Left members) why is this the case? This, I would suggest, requires an exploration of the political journeys undertaken by those who have arrived at a different destination to me. In the real world, the Green project cannot advance without support from others including elements in the unions and the Labour Party. Uncomfortable but true, which means making sense of current Labour/union policy on the EU: any progressive anti-EU coalition needs to build bridges, if not with most of the leadership, certainly the members. This includes those who flocked to join Labour in the belief Jeremy Corbyn and his allies in Momentum intend, and are capable of, bringing about radical change. I do not look at all tendencies within Labour, just the most important in relation to the current EU debate.
(4) THE LABOUR PARTY AND TRADE UNIONS: POLICY ORIGINS & CURRENT STANDPOINT
Tracing why a political stance is taken can go a long way towards ascertaining how (or whether) it might change. In the case of the Labour Party and many unions we should not beat about the bush: in both situations the reason was weakness, or, put more strongly, cowardice. While Labour in 1981 formally confirmed a policy of withdrawal from the EEC (EU), they had been demoralized by three electoral defeats on the trot: 1979, 1983 and 1987. This led the Party to accept EEC membership as a ‘fact’ in May 1988. Of course it was a fact: the real question: was it a ‘fact’ to be accepted? After all, China annexed Tibet in 1959: is that now to be ‘accepted’? If something is wrong, it’s wrong. End of.
By 1988 the trade unions were in an even more difficult place: union membership had declined from a 1970s peak of 13 million to between 7 and 8 million. Unions were systematically excluded from the political process, the miners had been defeated (the 1984-5 strike) and a series of Tory anti-union laws were enacted, culminating in the 1988 Employment Act. At this point both Labour and the unions were uniquely vulnerable: the stage was set. At this point Jacques Delors, President of the European Commission, came to the 1988 TUC Congress and praised the unions to the skies. He basically invited them to give up on the national route to advancing workers rights, and use the EU instead. Ron Todd, that year’s TUC President, reputedly said “there is now only one card game in town, and that town is Brussels”. Not all union leaders capitulated of course; the late Bob Crow was a tireless opponent of the EU till his untimely death in 2015.
Nonetheless, political weakness, and a belief they could not win their battles alone, lay behind most unions capitulating to the EU. Understandable, certainly, but a gross abdication of advancing their members interests. If unions in the UK are not strong enough themselves, no way will they be genuinely strengthened by giving power and initiative up to a third party (in this case EU institutions) irrespective of who they are or how progressive they appear. The issue that needs addressing is how can unions build up that strength and self-reliance, in which matter only one thing is guaranteed: the EU will be no help at all. For the very EU that has in the past proposed working hours reductions and other apparently pro-worker initiatives is now seeking to uniformly reduce workers rights and extend privatization into ever more areas. Only this time, there will be no miraculous escape by appeal to an external third party like Delors. It was ever the way: from the Diggers and Levellers to the Tolpuddle Martyrs to the Chartists to the Suffragettes, it is struggle from below that has secured rights, not benevolence from above.
In the Labour Party case, abandoning their anti-EU policy was understandable. Having junked the Left-leaning programme that was the Alternative Economic Strategy and its diluted successor, the 1983 Election manifesto, the next priority for the Labour Right was to eliminate the Left, which the Kinnock leadership did not least by expelling supporters of Militant. There was a subterranean dynamic in play here: having ditched any attempt at socialism Labour (and most unions), were desperate to do something, anything to win an election. The late 1980s move by Margaret Thatcher to rhetorically resist further EU integration gave Labour an opportunity to present themselves to the City, US, and big business as a sane pro-EU (and pro-capitalist) alternative. This was what the John Smith ‘Prawn Cocktail Offensive’ was all about. The salient point is both Labour and the unions changed policies not on the basis of principle, but weakness.
Passing over the Tony Blair/Gordon Brown years, characterized by acquiescence to the EU in everything but monetary union, most notably in the continued destruction of the UK’s industrial base, the Ed Miliband (remember him?) era showed how few were Labour MPs opposed to the EU: a mere 11 (including Jeremy Corbyn) voted in favour of a May 2013 amendment to the Queen’s Speech expressing regret that a referendum on the EU wasn’t in it. Miliband himself saw the issue as low down his priority list: as one commentator put it “even the possibility of Brexit…would be enough to spook the markets and damage the economy—something that, as a potential government, they wanted to avoid at all costs”.
Which brings us to Jeremy Corbyn, who voted against membership in the 1975 Referendum and has opposed EU integration in many votes since including the Maastricht and Lisbon Treaties. At the last Labour leadership hustings before he was elected (25/7/15) Corbyn refused to rule out campaigning for a No vote. However, his problem, to which I am sympathetic, is that he and his co-thinkers (despite great support in the party as a whole) are vastly outnumbered among Labour MPs, so in that respect he and the likes of Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell are captives of the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP). The figures are frightening: the pro-EU ‘Britain in Europe’ headed by Alan Johnson, has 213 of 231 Labour MPs as members. This is a fight that Corbyn early on decided he could not win, but more fundamentally thought was not important enough. In his first major interview after election he firmly nailed his colours to the EU mast “we want to see a more social Europe...this can only be achieved by staying within Europe”. After Cameron’s deal Corbyn articulated his approach, showing just how little he grasps the issues. Corbyn declared Cameron “should have been talking to other European leaders about action to save our steel industry”. What would be the point, given EU rules against state aid? He goes on to claim Cameron “could have been using Britain’s leverage to stop the threat to our services and rights in the secretive Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership”. What leverage? TTIP is being covertly negotiated by the European Commission and when a deal is reached will be presented as a fait accompli. As it happens, it may well be the case that Corbyn is also supporting EU membership because of a Tory promise that in his negotiations Cameron would not attempt to explicitly water down EU policy on workers rights and so forth. The loser here is of course Labour: once the UK is ‘locked into’ the EU, these policies can be changed at leisure. So retaining them for the moment is a hollow victory, and no victory at all when measured against what the EU has planned via TTIP and so forth.
Sadly, it seems Corbyn is doomed to irrelevance on the EU. If the Labour Party lacks a transformative programme (and it does), and most Labour MPs are on the right, the only thing that can alter the situation is extensive deselection of MPs and candidates between now and the next General Election by Momentum and sympathisers. Not my war.
The Labour Party, indeed Left generally is (thankfully) more than Corbyn’s circle, and, rightly or wrongly, the Guardian newspaper is an arena where many reach out to others. For this reason only, and certainly not coherence, the output of columnist Owen Jones is worth a mention. On 15/7/15 he wrote an opinion piece entitled ‘the left must put Britain’s EU withdrawal on the agenda’. Barely six months later he announced he had changed his mind (7/1/16). I have no problem with somebody changing their views, agreeing with Keynes’ reputed dictum that ‘when the facts change so does my opinion’. The points at issue here are simple: did any facts change between July and January, and does the latter article adequately dispose of anti-EU arguments within the former? The best way of answering both questions is comparing each article point by point:
- “Britain’s left is turning against the EU, and fast”: Jones then cites examples and comments “there are senior Labour figures in Westminster and Holyrood privately moving to an ‘out’ position too”
--points not mentioned (or refuted) in January article
- “the more left-wing opponents of the EU come out, the more momentum will gather pace and gain critical mass. For those of us on the left who have always been critical of the EU it has felt like a lonely crusade”
--by January, the crusader had sheathed his sword, the ‘momentum‘ had vanished.
- the EU “would threaten the ability of left-wing governments to implement policies, people like my parents thought, and would forbid the sort of activism needed to protect domestic industries“
--leaving aside the peculiarity of Jones hiding behind his parent’s views here, points again not mentioned (or refuted) in the January article
- “the destruction of Greece’s national sovereignty was achieved by economic strangulation...the EU has driven elected governments...from office. The 2011 treaty effectively banned Keynesian economics in the eurozone“
--again points not mentioned (or refuted) in the January article
- TTIP “typically negotiated by the EU in secret with corporate interests…would give large corporations the power to sue elected governments…would clear the way to not only expand the privatization of our NHS, but make it irreversible too”
--mentioned, but merely to say “a vote to leave would not be seen as a rejection of TTIP (try asking people on the street if they know what it is), but rather more to do with, say, opposition to immigration”
--an utterly evasive statement: whether people have heard of TTIP is irrelevant, it is as harmful now as last July, as too is the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement with Canada
6) We need an independent Left exit campaign focusing on “building a new Britain, one of worker’s rights, a genuine living wage, public ownership, industrial activism and tax justice”
--no mention, this campaign has just melted away into the ether.
- “without a prominent Left Out campaign, UKIP could displace Labour right across Northern England”
--you’ve guessed it, by January this fear has evaporated, no mention.
- “Lexit may be seen as a betrayal of solidarity with the left in the EU: Syriza and Podemos in Spain are trying to change the institution, not leave it. Syriza’s experience shows just how forlorn that cause is”
--by January based on electoral gains for the Left in Portugal and Spain “there is a glimmer of hope for change in Europe”. Though this doesn’t really refute the earlier sentiments, does it?.
Whatever the validity of Jones’ arguments in July, the fact that by January he doesn’t return to, never mind rebut them, speaks volumes. If important enough to mention in July, why not January? If they weren’t, why mention them in the first place? He does, however, have new arguments in January that merit examination. Firstly, half the article is devoted to how Labour, by supporting the ‘In’ campaign, can take advantage of Tory divisions. Even if true, a tawdry unprincipled argument of little interest, to me anyway. I have no dog in that fight. Second, he talks of the Labour left needing to engage with two initiatives, one being the ‘Democracy In Europe Movement 2025’ (DiEM25) headed by Yanis Varoufakis, formerly Greece’s Finance Minister. Alignment with Varoufakis was reiterated in two recent Jones Tweets calling for an ‘In Vote’ and creating “a democratic Europe”. It is irrelevant whether Jones’ about-turn on the EU was a considered ploy or just indicates his literary diarrhoea and tendency to make it up as he goes along. I suspect the latter: he is nowhere near clever enough for the former to be likely. The substance of Varoufakis’ movement does need analysing, however, which I do below before looking at Green policy.
(5) DiEM 25: ALL POWER TO THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT?
Launched in Berlin 9/2/16, this initiative is so ambitious it puts Trotsky’s plans for the Fourth International into the shade. Despite talk of democratization, this is a top-down movement: the purpose of a Pan-European “conversation, that DiEM will make possible and promote, is to develop a Pan-European consensus on how to address serious problems and crises afflicting Europe as a whole. Once this consensus emerges, through the medium of DiEM, we have no doubt that it will seek ways to express itself, including electorally…we consider the model of national parties which form flimsy alliances at the level of the European Parliament to be obsolete…European democrats must come together first, forge a common agenda, and then find ways of connecting it with local communities and at the regional and national level”. In other words, creating an (elite) intellectual vanguard first, and then a new party. Were I uncharitable, I would say Varoufakis’ experience of being undermined by Syriza colleagues has led him to abandon political parties altogether, prematurely
Despite the fact there is no consensus, few troops and a conversation has barely had time to begin, in February 2016 DiEM25 released its apocalyptically toned Manifesto: ‘The EU will be democratized. Or it will disintegrate!’. Various ‘Immediate’ demands include calls for EU Council Meetings to be ‘live-streamed’ and “all documents pertinent to crucial negotiations e.g. trade-TTIP….to be uploaded on the web”. If these demands are not met, what? No answer. How can DiEM25 enforce them? No answer either. Leaving that to one side, DiEM25 have another set of demands: concerning five realms: public debt, banking, inadequate investment, migration and rising poverty. “All five realms are currently left in the hands of national governments powerless to act upon them”. There is a solution: within twelve months “DiEM25 will present detailed policy proposals to Europeanise all five while limiting Brussels discretionary powers and returning powers to national Parliaments, to regional councils, to city halls and to communities”. Even at face value preposterous: central powers are to be expanded while simultaneously given back to national parliaments? In the five realms they are powerless on? Or other areas? And how does this fit with ‘Europeanising’ them? That phrase can only mean the EU centre taking control of those realms.
While you’re pondering that, within two years a ‘Constitutional Assembly’ is to begin the process (ended by 2025) of transforming Europe “into a full-fledged democracy with a sovereign Parliament respecting national self-determination and sharing power with national Parliaments, regional assemblies and municipal councils”. And if conflict ensues? A sovereign body does not share power with others, and Varoufakis either knows this and is being disingenuous (a common trait among EU supporters) or doesn’t, therefore is merely politically illiterate. Neither option appealing. So, is Varoufakis aware the sovereignty of one parliament might conflict with another? Former co-thinker Thomas Fazi has convincingly argued he is, and has provided a lucid analysis, drawing on the work of Lorenzo Del Savio and Matteo Mameli. The national level, whether it be parliaments or parties, is irrelevant for Varoufakis. Yet as Fazi comments, due to linguistic barriers, geographical distance and cultural differences, a genuine Europe-wide representative democracy via the European Parliament will not decrease popular alienation but will enhance the possibility of ‘oligarchic capture’ of those institutions. The consequence would be a ‘depoliticised’ democracy, hardly comforting. By ignoring politics at the existing level of national parliaments and parties Varoufakis renders his movement an irrelevant pipe-dream at best, a diversion at worst.
While I admired Varoufakis’ style in telling EU Finance Ministers where to get off, he is no model of consistency, but stumbles from one panacea to another: most recently his great hope was the “United States…which must provide, perhaps for the last time, the missing agency” (a Global Surplus Recycling Mechanism to stabilize capitalism). Speaking of Trotsky, as I did earlier, at least his ‘Transitional Programme’ (1938) showed some understanding of the need to bridge the gap realistically between here and now and the ultimate goal. Varoufakis does not seem to understand this kind of thing in the slightest: hence making unrealistic demands of institutions they have no incentive to comply with.
Varoufakis and his creature DiEM25 are not important in themselves, but as the best case ‘ideal type’ representative of the democratization argument. Yet as we have seen most Labour/union supporters of the EU merely pay lip service to democratization, their basic line is to ignore worrying policies like TTIP and centralization generally, cherry-picking EU policies they like as though these will persist. Not so much naïve as reflecting deep pessimism about the possibilities of getting support within the UK for radical policies.
(6) GREEN PARTY POLICY: A CRITIQUE
In 1990 a motion to withdraw from the EU was narrowly defeated at the Green Party (hereafter GP) conference, which I thought then was a great mistake. Had Greens the nerve to advocate EU withdrawal, that may well have helped create the political space to make a breakthrough, conjoining radical politics with an anti-EU stance. Instead, Greens vacated that space, some of which was later colonized by UKIP. Since then Green policy has been contradictory: practically accommodating to the EU in many areas, contrasting party policies with others, while remaining within. All encapsulated in the ‘Three Yeses’ policy adopted in 2013: Yes to a referendum, Yes to the EU and Yes to major change within the EU. My contention is the first two are inconsistent with the third. The rationale for such a policy is various. Firstly, Greens were actually getting elected to the European Parliament, and joined a Europe-wide Federation of Green Parties (formalized 2004). It also has to be said that the lavish wages allowances and such available in the European Parliament are inevitably corroding. It was this de-radicalising effect that initially led German Greens to propose rotation in elected positions after all. Dropping that policy was one more nail in the German Green’s coffin, and sadly rotation has never even been tried in the UK. I have never agreed with Green MEPs (or any others) having the right themselves to allocate such funds, this should always be a party matter: but it never has been. Secondly, on a more positive note, having elected MEPs allowed Greens to influence (however minutely) policy in a way denied the Greens until Caroline Lucas (a former MEP) was elected to Westminster in 2010. The third reason is similar to that affecting Labour and the unions: a basic pessimism about getting change in the UK alone means the EU offers a better prospect. As we shall see, this motivation still applies today.
At this point, a mea culpa on my part: while perturbed at the general pro-EU drift of GP policy, concentrating on other areas, and the fact that even in Green Left (of which I am a member) anti-EU positions are held by only a minority, I did not pay attention to the nuts and bolts of that policy. I probably should have, but in any event rectify that now. Before looking at pro-EU arguments by some Greens, I review GP policy as a whole, not least to substantiate my outline summary above. The Europe policy (part of the ongoing ‘Policies For a Sustainable Society’) can be found on the Party web-site at http://policy.greenparty.org.uk Numbering refers to policy sections therein.
Early on they sort of grasp the subsidiarity nettle, saying “many issues currently decided at the EU level should be dealt with at a more appropriate level for effective action, which might be local, national or global” (EU120). Which begs the question: who decides which is which, and how is this to happen? There is no unequivocally clear answer, in that the areas they outline are ambiguous and open to interpretation and contestation. It is not as if the GP does not know the reality of “subsidiarity in the European Union at present, a top down distribution of a fraction of power accumulated at the centre” (EU390). They state the ‘European level’ should “safeguard basic human social and political rights” (EU121), indeed “high standards of human and civil and social rights” (EU212) and “cooperation to regionalize the industrial base, services and resources” (EU212). All these beg definition because not only is there no universal agreement about rights, in the real world, rights often conflict. Who, exactly, is to decide what ‘high standards’ are? There is the unproven assertion that air pollution “can best be resolved at the European level” (EU121), but this is not obvious, and a basic confusion of Europe-wide with European, which in this case means imposed. The European level is supposed to “promote sustainable, non-exploitative, self-reliant local and regional economies” (EU121). Yet this does not happen currently, indeed as we shall see such economies will be resisted at the ‘European level’. This is the reality which confounds the GP recognition that “subsidies are sometimes necessary to protect local, regional and national economies and the environment, and we will support them in these instances” (EU413). The contrast between what the GP supports and EU reality is at times staggering: try telling Greece that “each member state government should be entirely free to set its own levels and methods of taxation, public spending and public borrowing” (EU425). Conversely, do the GP really believe that EU members will “initiate programmes to support local economies against market centralization” (EU426)? I don’t, but if they did, they’d get the Greek treatment.
I find many GP policy aims appealing (just as well given I’ve been a member for 28 years!), the problem is that they have no realistic transitional strategy to get there other than the implicit mirage of a Green majority in the EP. In parallel with this, exhorting current national governments to do things they have no intention of doing, or, if they did, would be stamped on. In this context, GP policy is inappropriately abstract and unrealistic while appearing otherwise. I agree wholeheartedly that “tariff barriers and quotas should be gradually introduced on a national and/or regional bloc level, with the aim of allowing localities and countries to produce as much of their goods and services as they can themselves” (EU443). My objection is simple: this will not and cannot happen within the EU. I have no problem up to a point with “a democratically accountable and controlled European Confederation of Regions, based on Green principles” (EU302). Though the problem is that confederations by definition are voluntary, so where does this word ‘controlled’ come from? Unless you mean control by the regions, but as we shall see this is not consistent with other aspects of GP policy. It is naïve to imagine any of this can arise if you “reconstitute the EU” (EU302). How, exactly, does the GP imagine the EU will ‘reconstitute’ itself, liquidating its own power? We are told “regions should also have the right to define themselves, where appropriate across national frontiers…through referenda” (EU393). Dependent on the approval of who? For example is Spain really going to accept Basque independence, or France Corsican?
A further contradictory policy is belief the European Council of Ministers “should seek to make decisions by consensus” (EU320), immediately followed by support for non-consensual Qualified Majority Voting (EU321). While the European Commission’s powers are to be reduced (EU310) potential conflict between the European Parliament and Council of Ministers is made more likely by supporting “the extension of ordinary legislative procedure with the European Parliament…to all issues where the Council decides by Qualified Majority Voting” (EU326), indeed the “powers of the European Parliament should be extended to give its members greater oversight of the work of the EU” (EU333). Oversight and more voting will inevitably be at the expense of national parliaments and governments, how could it be otherwise?
The fact national parliaments get no positive mention in this policy is telling. The European Parliament itself is to decide on the wording for referenda on a future European Constitution defining “the values, objectives powers, decision-making procedures and institutions of the EU” (EU356/352). The only area where the policy wholeheartedly (if transiently) accepts national level democracy is in the area of having referenda on Monetary Union (EU423) and a new European Constitution (EU354). But given the European Parliament decides the rules, question, and even date, of any referendum we can see where power lies (EU356). Ironically, not only does this undermine national parliaments, being serious about decentralization would mean regions being the voting basis, surely? Yet they are not.
Looking at all this in the round, leaving aside pressure/interest groups, there are six potential competing centres of power within the EU: the European Parliament, European Commission, European Council of Ministers, the Regions, national Parliaments and finally the European Court of Justice (ECJ). While adding the meaningless qualification that “care should be taken not to duplicate the roles of existing courts in member countries”, the nub is this: “the role of the CJEU should extend as appropriate within the competencies of the EU” (EU342). Not only can these judges not be removed by nation states, the policy states that judicial “candidates should be nominated by the Committee of Regions…Appointments shall be made by the European Parliament” (EU346). The blatant intent is to undermine nation states, not really to give real power to the regions (else power would be genuinely decentralized elsewhere) but undermine the nation state in favour of supranational EU institutions. Technically, decentralization as a function of centralization.
Above I have concentrated on areas where I either disagree with the principle, or am sceptical about the practice. Opposition to NATO for example, or a European Army, and European Monetary Union, I fully support. If the GP was arguing for decentralization and self-sufficiency as part of an anti-EU programme aimed at seeking mass support across Europe for undermining/bypassing the EU, I would not demur. Yet the simultaneous support for EU institutions, particularly the EP, is intended to give the EU legitimacy it does not deserve. Internationalism does not mean the liquidation of nations, but voluntary cooperation between them and also groups within those nations. A simple point, but one that seems to have eluded those writing GP policy.
I am equally unimpressed by the absence of explicit anti-capitalism, for me such is integral to Green politics. Despite this important absence, policies like genuine decentralization and self-sufficiency would genuinely undermine the EU if implemented, but the fact the GP don’t either realise or accept this is unfortunate. Though hardly accidental: one reason I define myself as Left/Green rather than just Green is the traditional far left understood only too well the necessity of confronting powerful interests, and mobilizing support to do so, within a strategic context that does not see the state (any state,including the EU) as a neutral instrument. Which is where Lukacs and Lenin (or indeed Henri Weber’s famous interview with Nicos Poulantzas) come in. The point is not to disavow GP policy on the EU, but to keep the attractive bits and help them become reality. Which will mean leaving the EU, using the momentum of that departure to galvanise sympathisers within the EU to make genuine decentralisation and confederation come about.
Given the above policy framework, it is little surprise that GP luminaries have lined up to support the EU. Caroline Lucas makes the point that the Tory “government are the loudest cheerleaders for TTIP, and ministers would happily create an equally dangerous bilateral deal with the US if we left the EU”. I agree: but of course if/when we leave the EU we can tear up this treaty with a change of UK government, something we cannot do while staying in the EU. She also makes the same point many Labour supporters do “exit would leave many of the things we hold dear—be it maternity pay, the right to join a trade union or providing refuge to those seeking sanctuary—in peril”. Quite possibly: but only if you think a progressive government could never be elected in the UK, which is again unbridled pessimism. A draft letter circulated by Caroline Lucas’ office to be sent to papers (19/2/16) is even more vacuous. It says that “in a fast-changing world we need international rules to control big business and finance”. Indeed: yet TTIP which the EU is covertly negotiating is all about big business and finance controlling governments. Then there is the non-sequitur that “only by working with our European neighbours can we tackle climate change, protect wildlife and reduce pollution”. Really? What would stop an independent UK doing all this? Nothing at all. Then we have the canard that EU countries have agreed to “share sovereignty”—yet not only is such not possible, the GP policy above as we have seen involves ceding such. How being in the EU helps the UK to meet the challenge of “international terrorism” is asserted, not explored. After all, the US cooperates with the EU while not formally joined, and while indelicate, it has to be mentioned porous EU borders both externally and internally made it easy for ISIS murderers to travel to Paris from Belgium (and back in one case). Is that not why France moved to suspend Schengen border arrangements? Or are we supposed to forget this? The letter concludes by saying a “better EU is possible: where corporate influence is curtailed, where more power is held locally, and citizens have a real say”. Yet this is not the content, or thrust, of GP policy: Lucas evidently hopes voters do not know this. Understandable, but dishonest.
Amelia Womack, Green Deputy Leader, heading the Green Yes campaign, is equally unimpressive. Claiming that “just as Caroline Lucas has been working to shake up and democratize parliament, the Green MEPs have been doing the same at the EU level”. If the EP is democratized, how does that affect national parliaments? No answer. There is also the claim that as an internationalist party the GP believes in working with like-minded people. Indeed, but why restrict this to the EU? Then pessimism kicks in: “by exiting, we’d be facing a whole new raft of deregulation and slashing of…workers’ and environmental rights”. Maybe: but this could be resisted locally, whereas very real proposals/policies to undermine those rights at the EU level cannot. Speaking of TTIP, Womack is at her most dishonest, saying this “deal is signed at both European and state level—it’s down to our own Parliament to accept it, or not”. The idea this would be voluntary is incredible: no way would the UK be allowed to ‘opt out’, Qualified Majority Voting would ineluctably apply.
Rather more honest is Green Left’s Mike Shaughnessy, who admitted that “probably the vast majority of the political left will campaign to remain in the EU…with the vague idea promoted by the more radical elements of changing the system from within. It is not clear to me how this will be achieved, and I doubt it is really possible anyway, given the anti-democratic nature of the EU beast. ‘A People’s Europe’ is the slogan, but this is just a pipe dream at best, dishonest at worst”. Couldn’t have put it better myself! Shaughnessy will vote to stay because the No campaign is dominated by the Little England/nationalistic/racist tendency. Which need not necessarily be the case. He concludes by saying “in the end I’m going to go with my emotions….I am going to vote to remain, although I have to say, with not much enthusiasm for the EU of the corporates”. These sentiments should, logically, lead him to vote no, but as he says, it’s an emotion thing.
What Lucas and Womack have to say on the other hand hardly convinces, interestingly neither spell out the full centralist thrust of GP policy, preferring instead to emphasise a supposed correspondence with some Green principles. I prefer to stick with those principles, in their entirety, and follow Green/decentralist aspects of GP policy to their logical conclusion. Exiting the EU.
(7) A MOMENT OF GREAT OPPORTUNITY: AND DANGER
There is a historic opportunity, indeed responsibility, for those opposing the EU from a Left Green standpoint to articulate our views, however unlikely that such a standpoint will ever be reflected in output from the BBC (Brussels Broadcasting Corporation) and other mainstream media. On the positive side, exit from the EU opens up political possibilities not seen since the 1970s, a tantalizing prospect. I am glad to say the SWP has again come out for a No vote, arguing “our role in the referendum is to try to carve out space for an internationalist No campaign”. Some unions and other Leftists have too, though using the blunt instrument (preaching to a deaf choir) of a letter to the Guardian. After criticizing EU pro-capitalist policies, including TTIP, they posit an alternative “positive vision of a future Europe based on democracy, social justice and ecological sustainability, not the profit-making interests of a tiny elite”. Par for the course, a rejoinder ‘Founding Statement’ from the pro-EU ‘Another Europe is Possible’ group does not mention TTIP or pro-capitalist policies, instead claiming “an exit at the current time would boost rightwing movements and parties and hurt ordinary people in the UK”. They talk of an “alternative economic model” (what?) and “far-reaching democratic reforms of the European institutions”. They are correct in one thing: if the Left/Green case against the EU does not get made, any referendum victory for the No side will be pyrrhic: to get a hearing for our broader agenda, Left/Green opponents need to get involved now.
As the history of European referenda show, there is no trick too low for EU supporters, whose main trump card is, as we see daily ‘Project Fear’, warning of the dire consequences of democracy. Some who seek to present themselves as honest brokers in this campaign are anything but: Hope Not Hate director Nick Lowles is a long-time pro-EU propagandist, exposed in Notes For the Borderland as author of an infamous document offering to drip-feed stories to the press. More controversially, were I advising the pro-EU camp, I would suggest planting supporters inside the ‘No’ ranks, so if the electorate votes to leave Plan B can be put into operation. I am deeply troubled by Boris Johnson, who I wouldn’t trust to tell the time of day. He is indeed a passionate and eloquent speaker, with firmly-held beliefs: but the only thing he really believes in is Boris Johnson. It is as well to raise the BJ issue now, rather than later, as the words he has used so far allay no suspicions. On 21/2/16 he stated to camera that “I want to be in a reformed EU”—I certainly don’t. In the Daily Telegraph (22/2/16) he wrote it is “time to seek a new relationship in which we manage to extricate ourselves from most of the supranational elements”. Careful words, indicating to me his main aim is not leaving the EU, but becoming Prime Minister. The way this would work is almost simplicity itself: a victory for the Leave side in a referendum would surely lead to David Cameron resigning. The way would be clear for Johnson, who has already elevated himself above sharing a platform with EU opponents, to seize control of the Tories and after another ‘negotiation’ process use a second referendum to cancel out the first. That David Cameron doesn’t like the idea is irrelevant: he would by then be a discarded toff chillaxing in the dustbin of history. Alternatively, or in tandem, BJ’s EU dancing partners could spin out negotiations for so long that a new General Election would be imminent, after which on current form the leadership of Labour, Tories, Lib Dems (and Caroline Lucas if re-elected) would all be pro-EU.
The two referendum policy, like much Johnson spouts, wasn’t his idea, but that of somebody else, in this instance Dominic Cummings, Director of Vote Leave. This man has unaccountably [or perhaps not?] alienated Labour MPs Kate Hoey and Kelvin Hopkins so much they have left, and are now involved in the newer Grassroots Out campaign. At the very least it can be conjectured that Cummings puts Tory Party unity (and interests) before the anti-EU cause. Unacceptable if so, just as Owen Jones seeking to play Labour Party politics with the issue was. That a second referendum is in Cumming’s mind is indicated by his tweet of 22/2/16 that invoking Article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon (i.e. seceding) “after Britain votes to leave would be madness and won’t happen”. Yet why should leaving after a vote be madness: unless you really think we shouldn’t leave. My observations may be wide of the mark: but I don’t think they are. In the Times (27/2/16) Johnson stated “what I want is to get out and then negotiate a series of trade arrangements around the world”. Asked about a second referendum he said “I don’t think it would be necessary”. This could be interpreted as dropping the idea: I’m not so sure. Former Tory leader Michael Howard hasn’t ruled a second referendum out, and in these changed circumstances (i.e. a No vote) I can easily foresee Johnson changing his stance again, supported as he would be in this by virtually all MPs bar a minority of Tories (I say minority as some voting No would probably change their position too). A vote to leave should be followed by actually trying to do so. Anything less would be treachery, perhaps worthy of the very European fate that befell Benito Mussolini?
The two referendum problem is but a pot-hole in the road: it is high time Leftists/Greens who oppose the EU stood up to be counted. The bottom line: this is not a battle about this policy, or that, safety or security, jobs or unemployment, it is about whether we believe people should have the right to self-government or not. In the EU or out. The stark choice was obliquely spelled out by EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker in dismissing a challenge by Syriza: "to suggest that everything is going to change because there's a new government in Athens is to mistake dreams for reality… There can be no democratic choice against the European treaties". Substitute London (or Cardiff/Edinburgh) for Athens and there you have it.
Mine is not a Brit Left perspective, I favour both Scottish and Welsh independence. The inconsistency is how some Scots and Welsh Nationalists, who (rightly) want to uncouple from one state, the British, are prepared to sell that down the river to become subjects of another, the EU. If, after the referendum, England votes to leave the EU and Scotland and/or Wales doesn’t, let them stay (which might require another referendum!). Should Scotland and/or Wales (or any other EU country like the Czech Republic or even Greece) need help in future to exit the EU, let them have that too. True internationalism in action, not the ersatz proto-imperialist version the EU has to offer. I am supportive of democracy, not the current British nation state as such or the emerging EU one.
The major matter to be settled is now is not the shape of the post-EU referendum British state, but whether we are submerged within the EU or not. However the vote goes on 23rd June, our EU problem will not immediately disappear: but fresh battle-lines will be drawn. Step up to the plate, there’s a continent to play for!
 Georg Lukacs ‘Political Writings 1919-29’ Verso 2014 is latest reprint
 Notes From the Borderland issue 4 2001-2 p.7-29
 See the excellent ‘Stop TTIP’ published by Leave.EU February 2016
 On all this see Robin Ramsay ‘Prawn Cocktail Party‘ Vision 1998
 Tim Bale ‘Five Year Mission’ Oxford University Press 2015 p.215
 Channel Four News (Jon Snow interview of Corbyn) 16/9/15
 Observer 21/2/15
 Observer 21/2/15
 Owen Jones Tweets 20/2/16
 Yanis Varoufakis ‘The Global Minotaur’ Zed Books 2015 p.256
 Socialist Review (US) April-May 1978
 Guardian Comment is Free 16/7/15
 Green World Winter 2016: no page number, now on-line only.
 Socialist Review 404 (UK) July-August 2015 p.15 (Joseph Choonara), see also the dissenting view in Socialist Review 405 September 2015 p.16-17 (James Anderson).
 ‘EU is now a profoundly anti-democratic institution’ Guardian letter on-line 17/2/16.
 ‘The Progressive case for staying in the EU’ Guardian letter on-line 18/2/16
 Memorandum reproduced in full and analysed, Notes From the Borderland 5 2003 p.54-55
 See her interview in Sunday Telegraph 7/2/16 (Tim Ross)
 Cited in ‘Stop TTIP’ published by Leave.EU February 2016 p.13