Don't bend to pressure

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In November SR Sabby Sagall puts forward the left case for remain. This essentially consists of an argument that the EU supports “women’s and workers’ rights” and “upholds environmental protections and provides major support for the arts.” This argument might come as a surprise to the people of Greece who have seen in practice exactly what EU “support” does to the rights of women and workers, environmental protection and so on.

It is certainly the case that there is considerable pressure on the left to support the remain position and Sabby seems to be succumbing to it. The truth is that the rights and protections he talks of can only be defended by people fighting for them. It’s nothing short of delusional to look to the EU, which is a thoroughly neoliberal institution, to do anything but seek to undermine those rights and protections.

Unfortunately much of the left having given up on the possibility of any sort of fight now look on the EU in a way that much of the left looked at Russia and other examples of “actually exiting socialism” in the past. A sort of guarantee that better things can come from somewhere else.

Sabby’s second argument is that the leave vote was a purely right wing populist expression, that it has strengthened the far-right and racists across Europe and that the only beneficiaries have been “the Tory right, UKIP and the far-right.” Really? As Joseph Choonara pointed out at Marxism 2018 if there had been a remain vote Cameron and Osborne would still be leading the Tory party with a big majority and Corbyn would not be leader of the Labour Party.

In fact as discussed in Choonara’s review of Costas Lapavitsas’s The Left Case Against the EU in the same issue of SR there is plenty of evidence that many people who voted Leave, including a third of those who voted Labour at the last election, did so as “a vote by proxy against austerity. Poor jobs and the decline in welfare provision” as Lapavitsas puts it. Or as Diane Abbott said immediately after the referendum, it was a howl of rage against neoliberalism.

Of course there is racism and the rise of the far-right but these flow from the economic and social conditions that the EU has promoted and enforced.

In Italy at the moment the coalition government of the far-right League and the right wing populist Five Star Movement are proposing introducing universal basic income, tax cuts and a lowering of the retirement age. Needless to say the EU is forbidding these policies, and threatening a fine of 8 billion euros, on the grounds that it would mean Italy’s deficit would exceed 2.4 percent of GDP. This is the “iron trap” of the European Stability Mechanism.

If these policies are sabotaged by the EU it will lead to the far-right being immeasurably strengthened.

Does anyone really believe that a radical reformist Corbyn government would be treated any differently if the UK remains in the EU? This is why the remain argument is being weaponised against Corbyn by the Labour right.

Lapavitsas’s book can be recommended as a sober and scholarly examination of what the EU really is, whatever reservations we may have about some of his proposals for change.

He demonstrates beyond doubt that the EU is incapable of being reformed. It is the job of revolutionaries to have these discussions with the many people on the left who look to the EU as a source of hope.