A note on No2EU
Posted by Left Luggage on May 15, 2009
Plenty has been written in the “blogosphere” and elsewhere online about the No2EU electoral platform formed by the RMT union, alongside the Communist Party of Britain and the Socialist Party to contest the forthcoming European elections . (Although, notably, this reasonably-sized political initiative from the Left has garnered only a single mention in the pages of Socialist Worker.)
Much of the analysis has been hostile, with highly sectarian and personal attacks on some of the activists involved in the more squalid corners of the far-left’s Internet presence. We won’t be directing your attention there. But it is worth highlighting some of the cogent arguments from the blogopshere about No2EU’s strengths and weaknesses, before outlining what we feel to be the key points.
First up is The Commune, which has a very critical analysis of No2EU, calling it “at best a diversion” and at worst “right wing and reactionary, pure and simple”. The writer, Dave Spencer, criticises the platform on a number of grounds, saying it has been called too late, criticising the platform for saying its candidates will not take up their seats in the European Parliament if elected, and saying it is bureaucratic and led in a top-down fashion. The most biting critique is over the platform’s “nationalism”, however:
Some comrades have called the politics of “No2EU” “left-wing nationalism”. Perhaps this is to keep the embarrassment within the Left family. Personally I cannot see how British nationalism in the context of global capitalism can be anything other than right wing and reactionary, pure and simple. […]
When there is an economic recession, the first reaction is to find scapegoats, usually immigrants or foreigners. The No2EU leaflet complains about “social dumping” which refers to foreign workers coming to Britain for jobs. This is a disgraceful, reactionary statement.
It is worth pointing out that this seems to be a slight misrepresentation of No2EU’s position. On its website the term “social dumping” appears to refer to the practise of companies bringing in workers from elsewhere in the EU for specific jobs, as in the Lindsey dispute, rather than labour migration per se.
In any case, The Commune proposes an alternative to the No2EU platform in the shape of “an open democratic internationalist communist workers party opposed to New Labour”.
A counterblast comes from A Very Public Sociologist who attempts to rebutt the criticisms of No2EU and suggests:
As left challenges in the European elections go, it’s head and shoulders above the scattered efforts of the far left in 1999 and the ritualistic paper candidates of the Socialist Labour Party and is on a par with the Respect and Scottish Socialist Party intervention five years ago.
That’s not exactly encouraging given that Respect only managed to bring in 1.5% of the vote and the SSP 0.4% in the last Euro elections. But he goes on to say that No2EU is not as left-wing as the Socialist Party would like and, like The Commune, would have preferred it to have come together earlier. He points to the SP’s initiative with the Campaign for a New Workers’ Party and says the platform makes sense in light of this long-term ojective because of the significance of the participation of the RMT, the first time a major union has mounted an electoral challenge to Labour. He further dismisses the charges of nationalism as “purist positioning” and suggests the platform could precipitate further trade-union involvement in moves towards a “new workers’ party” in future:
The better we do, the more chances there are of a serious trade union-backed challenge at the next general election. […] If you think Labour is finished as a vehicle for class politics, No2EU is the only campaign that will strengthen the political hand of the workers’ movement.
There’s more criticism from Dave Osler, who foresees a bleak electoral outcome for No2EU but suggests it is still worth a vote from radicals as in many areas it will be the most left-wing party on the polling slip:
No2EU is a sure-fire deposit loser and seemingly set to make the 0.68% garnered by Left Whatchamacallit in the London elections last year look good. The only real reason to back it is as a symbolic means of registering support for just the kind of new workers’ party that it conspicuously refuses to become.
Elsewhere, Though Cowards Flinch says of the platform: “their solution to the present economic turmoil is essentially national and protectionist-capitalist”.
Shiraz Socialist claims that “NO2EU is irredeemably tainted by its nationalism and little-England isolationism: it’s a reactionary dead-end that should be opposed at every turn.”
A poster at The Third Estate explains why he will be voting for No2EU, pointing out that “the real issue with the EU is that of democracy. The point is that, whether we like it or not, it is within of nation states that democratic power – insofar as it exists – can currently be brought to bear.”
Organized Rage is ambivalent about the project, on the one hand arguing “For the no2eu to stand abstentionist candidates for an EU election when they call for the strengthening of the national parliament reeks of nationalism”, and suggesting that “the comrades who support the no2eu project understand that this project is full of holes, but believe it is better to do something rather than nothing”. On the other hand, the post holds out a slight hope that this could be a step towards the building of a new Left party.
Your Friend in the North labels No2EU an “odball platform” and points out that it includes both the Community Party and the Liberal Party, as well as a range of small far-left sects.
Finally, Tendance Coatesy claims the platform is “an appeal to the worst traditions of the left, blaming the capitalist crisis on foreigners, the EU, […] mixed up with something that could be reasonably supported if it was part of a campaign for a democratised-united social European republic”
No to No2EU?
There are a number of clear organisational and strategic problems that are acknowledged even by No2EU supporters. Firstly, the extremely late formation of the platform has seriously hindered its chances of mobilising support. Secondly, the selection procedure for candidates seems to have been non-transparent, putting the second part of its title, “Yes to democracy!” in doubt. (If someone can correct us on this, please do. We asked No2EU, along with a number of other questions, but never got a response.) Thirdly, it is problematic that there is no notion of developing this into a serious political initiative beyond June 4; it seems like an ad hoc adventure without any strategic vision for the longer-term. So there are serious problems with No2EU as we see it on a number of grounds, most importantly in its failure to recognise the pressing necessity of engaging with working class communities and seeking to build grassroots-led political self-organisation, as we’ve outlined previously.
On the positive side, it has to be significant that one of the most radical unions in the labour movement is supporting a political platform to the left of Labour. Despite all the evident shortcomings of No2EU, it has a fairly solid list of candidates including trade unionists from Visteon and Ford factories, and the recently sacked Rob Williams, from Linamar, in Swansea. They have also confronted the BNP in areas where they have been operating with virtual impunity. No2EU is not filling the political vacuum in the sense of building the deep-rooted working class self-organisation needed (that would be asking a bit much for such a nascent group, in any case), but perhaps aided by its anti-EU platform is able to offer credible left-wing opposition to the BNP at least on the doorstep.
It’s hard to square many of the “nationalist” criticisms with the substantive policies of No2EU. In addressing directly the EU and its pro-business, neo-liberal agenda, No2EU mark themselves out from most of the Left. This is no bad thing as the EU is incredibly unpopular among most of the population, and not simply owing to xenophobia but because it is inherently undemocratic and unaccountable. The Left should be voicing opposition to the EU, in the same way it protests against the IMF, WTO, World Bank, and the G20 (although the major difference is that the majority of the population will strongly identify with opposition to the former). A comrade in one far-left group suggested the slogan should instead be “No to the bosses’ EU, yes to the workers’ EU”, which is a matter of pure semantics: there is no “workers’ EU” to speak of at present and this is meaningless in terms of the bureaucratic apparatus for which these elections are being held. With all due respect to our comrades at The Commune, it makes as much strategic sense as calling for the “internationalisation of the car industry” under present conditions.
The thing is, the EU part of No2EU’s platform is not what has enraged many on the Left; it is the group’s policies on workers’ rights and the free movement of labour, in particular policies which state it is against the “social dumping of exploited foreign workers in Britain” and aims:
to resist the EU turning human beings into commodities to be shunted around Europe while local workers are excluded from being able to provide for their families.
Now, to be frank, the vast majority of working class people will find each of these statements perfectly reasonable; regardless of what Left activists think of them, that it just a fact. In this light, the level of vitriol poured on No2EU from fellow left-wing activists is quite extraordinary, vividly demonstrating the Left’s refusal to consider an approach to immigration beyond the “no borders” policy, despite examples of where alternatives have been developed. The furore over No2EU is really a recapitulation of the debate over the Lindsey Oil Refinery strikes. The reaction – focussed mainly on accusations of “nationalism” – demonstrates just how far out of touch the Left is with ordinary people, and provides evidence of its continued desire to deal with working class people (and political realities) as it wishes them to be, rather than as they are.
This entry was posted on May 15, 2009 at 8:27 am and is filed under European Union, Nationalism, New workers' party, Socialism, Strategy. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.