Left Luggage

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A note on No2EU

Posted by Left Luggage on May 15, 2009

No2EU

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.

with working class people
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13 Responses to “A note on No2EU”

  1. Red said

    As you, and others, correctly state, No2EU is not without its problems. However, as someone residing on the Left (socialist, don’t you know) it is refreshing to see a party actively attacking, and providing an alternative to the neo-liberal agenda of the EU, and its un-democratic system (which I see as going hand-in-hand with neo-liberal economics, since the deeper you move into capitalism, the more you’re drowning in a plutocratic anarchy, with consequently lessening degrees of democracy). There may be flaws, but it is at the very least a step in the right direction. I imagine that if failing to make serious ground in these elections, the campaign will not suddenly disappear but will continue to build a base to the left of labour. Hopefully merging with the Campaign for a New Workers Party and helping start that on the path to a real, solid movement. Its important to note that this is also some of the first signs of a union within the Left. There may not be full agreement (thats not how we do things in the Left) but its the most co-operation I’ve seen in a while, and that at the very least inspires confidence.

    It is also wonderful to see the re-activation of union power in the political sphere, which is nothing to be sniffed at. Over the last couple of decades union power has dwindled like so few candles in the black of night; a flickering of action here and there, but not having enough power to even break the bosses’ stride. This, and of course the Lindsey and Visteon strikes, and the construction struggle, is (hopefully) the beginning of the re-organisation of the workers into a powerful force once more. This is a necessary cornerstone of a left political revival (I consider politics to be nine-tenths economics), even if that revival resides only in the hearts and minds, it has to start somewhere and as I said above that inspires confidence.

    No, No2EU may not be a shining beacon of light slaying the right wing forces of evil, but its a promising and inspiring movement in the right direction (left), and I for one will be giving them my full support…that is to say, one vote.

    No2EU – YES to Democracy!

  2. history tells us things said

    Just like to say this is rapidly becoming an essential read in the debate, such as it is, on the future of the left, be prepared for more heavy flak though when you publish your thoughts, ideas on mass migration, etc, though.

  3. Duncan said

    I think it’s misleading to say that the SSP won only 0.4% at the last European elections. I would guess that the 0.4% figure represents their vote as a percentage of all the votes cast in the UK. Since the SSP only stood in Scotland, and it’s pretty obvious why they only stood in Scotland, this is hardly accurate.

    In their one region they won a more respectable 5.2% of the vote in 2004.

    Anyway, I think your last paragraph notes something very important: that the left is simply out of touch with a lot of what ordinary people think and more depressingly don’t care either. I don’t think those who are pouring vitriol on NO2EU understand just how unpopular the European Union actually is and have come to associate any degree of opposition to it as ‘chauvinist’.

    In all the criticisms of NO2EU from various individuals and groups I don’t recall reading anything substantive on what their position on the EU actually is beyond vague calls for a workers Europe and internationalism. I don’t think this is an issue you can claim neutrality on, you’re either for the EU or you’re against it. It’s odd that a lot of groups who would take a more radical position than the Socialist Party on a lot of issues seem think (I say ‘seem’ because of a lack of clarity on what they actually think) that the EU is in some way reformable and that with a few major tweaks the capitalist EU could be transformed into a United Socialist States of Europe without too much trouble.

    There are problems with the platform, no SP member would deny this, and a lot of opposition to the EU is expressed in nationalist, chauvinist terms but as few socialist groups have articulated opposition to the EU in recent years or talk about it very much this is hardly surprising. Once again we’ve abandoned the field to our opponents and then acted surprised when they win the battle of ideas about what’s wrong with the EU (it takes away our national sovereignity). Never mind comrades, let’s organise another meeting on Palestine at the student union.

    My main criticism of NO2EU, which I voiced when we first discussed the idea at branch, as that it is too little too late. We should have had it up and running in February at the latest and if it wins a poor vote because of this it’ll strengthen the hand of those in the trade unions who don’t think any meaningful political activity outside the Labour Party is possible or worthwhile.

    • Some very good points here, Duncan, especially on the lack of clarity around much of the Left’s position regarding the EU and the abandoning of the field to our opponents. Just a quick clarification:

      I think it’s misleading to say that the SSP won only 0.4% at the last European elections. I would guess that the 0.4% figure represents their vote as a percentage of all the votes cast in the UK. Since the SSP only stood in Scotland, and it’s pretty obvious why they only stood in Scotland, this is hardly accurate.

      You’re right to say this 0.4% figure could appear misleading. It wasn’t intended to. We meant it to be taken together with the 1.5% Respect vote in England to give an overall picture of support for the Left across the country in the last Euro elections, to which Phil refers in his post. Obviously, the SSP did better where they stood (5.2% in Scotland), and the article doesn’t reflect that. But then, Respect’s figure would be better if it was only calculated on the basis of England and Wales (or London, where it scored 4.8%). However, the overall picture of 1.9% support for the Left across England, Scotland and Wales is accurate and it is not wonderful, and this is what we wanted to draw attention to.

      Thanks for your comments.

  4. 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.

    Dave Spencer’s article doesn’t “call for” the internationalisation of the car industry, it is a rhetorical device used to argue against the nationalisation slogan. We are not for state control, whether by many states or just the UK state.

    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.

    I would argue that this is quite different from the debate over the Lindsey Oil Refinery strikes (which articles featured in The Commune supported with some enthusiasm).

    There is no simple analogy between the two situations – the wildcat strikes represented mass collective action, breaking the anti-union laws, and there was a strong dynamic against nationalism within the strike movement. It was a genuine movement ‘from below’, one which saw mass meetings and people taking action regardless of media slanders and the resistance of others in Unite, whereas No2EU has been cooked up by a couple of left groups and some of the RMT leaders, and like many left electoral initiatives is organised entirely without openness or democratic debate. The LOR strike made significant headway – the workers struck to win – No2EU has no strategy or possibility of achieving concrete gains. In that sense it is just the same as Respect, LeftList, SLP, etc. etc.

    The LOR workers showed it’s possible to resist the recession and will have inspired confidence in others that we can take action: the No2EU programme has little connection with the practical industrial struggles of the RMT and will not be saving many jobs. Not only is it a waste of resources, but most RMTers you meet will have had no involvement in its elaboration and not much idea about what the point is – it is not “the union” mounting a challenge to Labour, only a few people around Crow.

    True enough that the EU has a “neo-liberal”, “pro-business” agenda. So has the British state. What place has the slogan “Scrap EU rules designed to stop member states from implementing independent economic policies” in a workers’ programme? The fact is, the election is not really a “European election” – it is an election among British parties – and so it is ludicrous to say nothing in the platform about the British government, the British state, and our own ruling class.

    The social dumping question is indeed complex – obviously after Viking Laval and Lindsey we should insist on all workers being covered by national union agreements and be against “undercutting” with two-tier contracts etc. But much of the rhetoric of CPBers in the Morning Star, and in the various blog reports I’ve read, amounts to opposing the free movement of workers and supporting immigration controls.

    Those are two different things – if you are for immigration controls (or indeed, not explicitly against them), then clearly your sympathy for exploited migrant workers (who can be exploited because of the existence of national borders and differentiation, and who would certainly be better off if there was truly free movement of labour) is somewhat limited. You could perfectly well (and I do!) oppose ‘social dumping’ and also be opposed to all immigration controls, because the central problem with ‘social dumping’ is the tolerance of two-tier workforces. True though it is that most people see their politics through the prism of various nationalist and sectional concerns – and so it will be until the brink of revolution – migrant workers are also “ordinary people” and “working class people” and should be supported too.

    • Thanks for your comment, David. A few responses:

      1) Regarding the question of “internationalising” the car industry, and The Commune’s article. Clearly this rhetorical device was lost on us. Yet I’d suggest the thinking on this is rather confused. Dave Spencer lists a number of motor firms and links these explicitly to the states in which they are based. He then goes on to say:

      Decisions are made in boardrooms all over the world usually without any reference to the British nation state.

      This is not quite true, as any multinational company operating in the UK will craft a close relationship with the government and pay close attention to its policies, as they impact its business and will factor these into its decisions. Insofar as there is an element of truth here, it relates to the fact that there is no substantial motor firm owned by British capitalists. But the part about “internationalisation” seems to repeat the old line about globalization having created multinationals that are out of control of any state. This is directly contradicted by Dave’s earlier mention of all these companies’ intimate ties to particular states; because of this, nationalisation is not a practical impossibility that he suggests it is.

      2) On the question of nationalisation, of course we are all for workers’ control in principle and favour this over state control. But is there really no substantive difference between a state-owned industry and an international corporation?

      Of course, nationalisation is not a panacea and state-owned industries keep the same structural relationship as far as workers and employer are concerned. But surely there is a distinction to be made? Nationalisation promotes the idea that democratic control should extent into the economic sphere, even if only nominally and in a bourgeois democracy. It also promotes the idea that profit should remain within the public sector and furthermore that proft should not be the only consideration in economic planning.

      In addition, there are the obvious tactical considerations. For example, how would you campaign against the gradual privatisation of the NHS? Oppose this but at the same time oppose state control, and argue for “workers control of the NHS now!”? Clearly while perhaps nice in principle, this would be tactical madness.

      3) In the article, we make no comparison between No2EU and the Lindsey Oil Refinery dispute. The only mention of the strikes is with reference to the “furore” among the Left over No2EU’s platform. That is, the objections to No2EU overwhelmingly revolve around its policies around immigration and the “free movement of labour” within the EU. Thus, No2EU’s policies have split the Left much like the Lindsey dispute incontestably did, hence as we said, the furure can be seen as “a recapitulation of the debate” previously had over the wildcat strikes. Evidently, The Commune has taken a different position on each issue, but broadly across the Left this is not the case. We do not suggest No2EU and the wildcats are in any way comparable as political phenomena – as you rightly suggest this would be absurd.

      3) Many of the problems you raise regarding No2EU, such as its lack of democracy and the fact is seems to have been cobbled together at a late stage, are outlined in this article. Nowhere do we endorse this platform as a viable long-term strategy for the Left.

      4) You say that because most RMT members will have no involvement in the No2EU campaign, it is not “the union” mounting a challenge. Given that most members of virtually all unions don’t vote in union elections or have any sort of active role within any union campaigns or organisational structures, where exactly does one locate “the union”? What about localised industrial action of which most members may not even become aware – the kind that goes on all the time? Is this not “the union” either? Surely this is a matter of semantics.

      In No2EU’s case, we have already outlined that we think the lack of democracy and the fact that is is not a grassroots-led initiative is problematic. Yet to reduce it to “a few people around Crow” seems to be rather an exaggeration. From the reports we have seen, for example of activity in Carlisle and Stoke, it seems that RMT members are playing an active role. In any case, the candidate list contains many solid trade unionists from the RMT and other unions.

      Even in terms of the union bureaucracy supporting a left-of-Labour political challenge, it would be silly to claim there is no significance. There is the possibility this will lead to further developments involving RMT members and other trade unionists, the resources of a national union are far beyond anything the Left can muster, and even sybolically it carries some weight.

      4) Regarding the question about EU economic policies, you say:

      What place has the slogan “Scrap EU rules designed to stop member states from implementing independent economic policies” in a workers’ programme?

      Yet isn’t this precisely the grounds over which most of the Left has opposed the WTO, the IMF, the World Bank, and NAFTA in North America, which through similar rules governing trade and international loans have forced through economic liberalization throughout the developing world, often despite resistance from the local bourgeoisie? Are these campaigns illegitimate? Is it equally illegitimate for the Left to call for the scrapping of neo-liberal policies enforced by the WTO?

      Equally, on this line of reasoning, one could criticise Defend Council Housing campaigners for saying: “Scrap central government rules designed to stop local authorities from implementing independent housing policies”. Isn’t part of this about democratic control, a point which is eminently understandable to most people and one of the prime reasons for opposition to the EU? Surely on the Left we’re for democracy and while we recognise the limitations of bourgeois democracy, we should still argue this is preferable to an absence of democracy?

      5) You say that “the election is not really a ‘European election'” and it seems you are against nationalisation both strategically and in principle. I would be interested to hear what your electoral platform would be saying on the doorstep, in this case? After all, this is the task No2EU have set themselves, and we have to understand them in this context.

      I think, as we have consistently argued, there has to be a measure of political realism and tactical thinking in how the Left presents itself. While ultimately we aspire at complete social change, and we should not hesitate to make this plain in broad terms, we have to work with the world as it is. An electoral platform is a tactic and as such it has to be approached tactically; it has at the minimum to connect with ordinary people’s views and what “makes sense”. One could propose a maximalist Leftist programme, calling for workers control now, no borders now, etc. But insofar as none of this has a direct relationship with the world as it is viewed by the vast majority of the population, I feel one would be given short shrift at present, unfortunately.

      Thanks again for your comments.

      • c0mmunard said

        I agree that:
        – the No2EU platform is not particularly nationalist or chauvinist, or not any more nationalist than that of the Labour Party, at any rate – which has started wars, actually makes migrants’ lives hell inside detention centres, etc. (Thus the several groups who call for a Labour vote over a No2EU vote on ground of the latter’s ‘nationalism’ are clearly inconsistent.)
        – we should not abstain from labour movement electoral projects because they do not dot fit our ‘maximum programme’ – i.e. we shouldn’t be purist.
        – calling for an international workers party at the moment is abstract in the extreme.

        The original post does not endorse No2EU – it seems more to be concerned with fending off unfair criticisms. This spirit: clarifying arguments, even when not necessarily in support of your own conclusions, is very good.

        However, alongside the issues already raised, there is also the issue of the project’s impact on internal union democracy. RMT conference policy requires the union to:

        * Convene a national conference on the crisis in working class political representation similar to those organised previously
        * Encourage our regional councils to organise similar conferences on a regional basis
        * Initiate and support the setting-up of local Workers’ Representation Committees which can identify and promote candidates in elections who deserve workers’ support.”

        But the executive have ignored conference policy, or the last two bullet points anyway – pretty typical in unions – and gone with No2EU instead. Isn’t it the above policy (democratic, not bureaucratic in both content and inspiration) that should be implemented? Personally, I would feel uncomfortable being part of a project which relies on not only doing away with internal democracy, but sideing with bureauratic, anti-democratic manouvering in a major union too. (Thus it is not simply that the executive have not brought the membership with them; they have ignored members’ agenda and implemented their own.)

        I’d also like to address this statement, which seems to be a good departure for thinking about the problem of how socialists participate in elections:

        there has to be a measure of political realism and tactical thinking in how the Left presents itself. While ultimately we aspire at complete social change, and we should not hesitate to make this plain in broad terms, we have to work with the world as it is. An electoral platform is a tactic and as such it has to be approached tactically; it has at the minimum to connect with ordinary people’s views and what “makes sense”. One could propose a maximalist Leftist programme, calling for workers control now, no borders now, etc. But insofar as none of this has a direct relationship with the world as it is viewed by the vast majority of the population, I feel one would be given short shrift at present, unfortunately.

        I’m sure LL would accept that a electoral progamme, that which is argued on doorsteps and in literature, is not only tactical. It is also political in the broadest sense: it involves putting forward basic moral and political values, it involves talking about what is possible, what people can legitimately ask for, how the world works, what people are like – and what claims we have on others in society. Think of the implicit claims made, for example, in arguing that JSA should, or shouldn’t, dry up after 6 months, or that sans papieres in this country should, or shouldn’t, be ‘regularised’. Think of how the conversations we have about these things go with workmates or friends.

        I don’t think people should go about deceiving others about what they believe. So I am for no borders, international communism, revolution, etc. But equally, I accept that only a tiny minority of people feel the same way. So I thereby accept, on the basis of the need for both activists and votes, that there is no prospect of being part of an electoral project constituted on the basis of my maximum views. Therefore, if I want to engage in elecoral activity, it follows that, for the while, I’m going to have to function as a left minority in some sort of broader, probably social-democratic electoral project. I can perfectly well ask people to vote for a list while having more ‘extreme’ views myself, on the basis that the list is markedly better than the available alternatives, and is generally democratic. Of course, if in depth discussion of the issues comes up on the doorstep – which I hope it will do – then I will argue for my politics. Certainly, I should not present (for example) any immigration controls as having any basic political or moral legitimacy: to do so would be dishonest, patronising and counterproductive.

        Furthermore, I should also be actively involved in arguing for others involved in the electoral project to share my views. I accept that there is no prospect of a majority coming to do so any time soon, as long as such a project is really based on even the most militant sections of the class as it is. If this were to change, then it would indicate a broader change in the national balance of opinion, the national mood, such that it would simultaneously suggest that arguing such a thing on the doorstep would not be pointless and isolating in the way that it is now. And I assume that no borders activists agree, or else they would be going door to door petitioning and arguing for their positions. Which they don’t.

        I also think, by the way, that ‘no borders’ could not be implemented by a single state under capitalism (and possibly not even across the whole EU under capitalism), and that therefore having it as just another item on a reform manifesto (such as 1. No more privatisation; 2. minimum wage to £8.50 an hour; 3. no borders) is ridiculous. ‘No borders’ would fit better on a list alongside the end of capitalist property rights, disbanding the standing army and the abolition of prisons – they are part of one historical moment, i.e. communism. So, for me, participating in an electoral project would be no more dependent on it calling for no borders than it would it calling for prison abolition… both would be ridiculous in the foreseeable future. (I do want to argue for things such as that, as part of a coherent anti-capitalist message; but that is one of the functions of The Commune, I don’t confuse it with an electoral project.)

        However, my endorsement probably would be conditional on the party not using language which constitutes a popular view of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ migrants, deserving and undeserving, and which fails to situate migration in the context of global imperial capitalism. This would be inconsistent with viewing proletarians from other countries as humans, equals, and having real solidarity with them. So, by way of an example, I guess that’s the only prospect I see for dealing with the tension between what is true in the paragraph I quoted, and the fact that elections are not merely tactical.

        I’m probably going to vote Green by the way. It would be silly if Jean Lambert lost her seat because of votes going to a project which isn’t even pretending it wants to win anything – which is the beginning of any effective strategy, socialist or otherwise.

        Sorry for such a long post… perhaps it’s because this blog provokes such good discussions.

  5. David said

    Left Luggage, (and Communard), thanks for your reply. I’ll respond using (roughly) the same numbering as LL…
    (A warning: much of the below is general statements of principle/stream of consciousness and not “polemic” against LL or Communard, I hope you can see which is which)

    (1) I for my part do agree that nationalisation is quite a possible thing for governments to do, particularly as ‘multinationals’ are of course in general largely based/centred in one particular state.

    (2) It is true that everyone on the left is in general in favour of ‘workers’ control ‘- and indeed, in favour of ‘socialism’ and ‘communism’. Which raises the further questions of (i) what you mean by these terms and (ii) how you relate them to your practical politics in the here and now. On the first point, many of the arguments are well-rehearsed – people may have seen The Ambiguities of Workers’ Control. On the second count, groups like the Socialist Party (which in its programme says it is for “workers’ control and management”) and SWP (“workers’ control”) in fact rarely contribute anything to the discussion of how to go beyond mere state control, routinely calling for state ownership (“public ownership”) with either no strings… or demanding the state implement “nationalisation under workers’ control”, the workers’ control bit somewhat of an abstract afterthought, the question of who is meant to implement it not made clear.

    Surely the kind of workers’ control we want (under capitalism) is asserted from below – blocking management’s right to manage – it is not a piece of state legislation to establish employee participation on boards. You use your industrial muscle to veto decisions – that is what it means. In this sense it is not “utopian” to advance the idea of further “workers’control” of the NHS at the same time as resisting privatisation – if you want to advance the idea of democratic control of public services you don’t just demand the status quo – better to outline how the NHS could be better run.

    I also disagree that nationalisation inherently (or even in Britain in the here and now) promotes any idea of democracy in the economy – it may allow longer term planning of capital, as in the case of the banks, than private capitalists allow – but that is not tantamount to giving workers or the general population more say. I see no automatic connection between control by the state bureaucracy and “public”/”democratic” control, except to the extent that maybe you can exert a certain amount of leverage by embarrassing the government when it does awful shit… (also true of anything in the public sphere, even if corporate). Given the rotten record of statist social democracy I think that socialists/communists have to be clear and bring these questions of democracy up front, not just argue for more state control. In my eyes the central disaster of the history of the left has been identifying the state and state control with society, we ought to cut against that sharply!

    (3) Fair enough, I read the suggestion that it is “recapitulating” the debate as an analogy of the two… obviously I don’t think it’s recapitulation either.

    Nowhere do you explicitly state support for No2EU, but I think much of the broad thrust of the article is to question those who criticise it (obviously fair enough, but I don’t agree with your reasons for doing
    so).

    (4) I didn’t make it clear that my point about the RMT includes the issues (i) only pockets of people will even mobilise around it at all (ii) No2EU makes a joke of the conference policy of the union (iii)it is of no relevance to advancing RMT industrial disputes.

    In general though, I am not in favour of demanding that trade union leaders establish political parties: not even the likes of Crow, Serwotka etc. If they did and there was space to organise for communist ideas then it might be worth taking part – but from where we are now, I don’t think it would be a step forward for the movement or the left, since I think like the SWP, SP etc. it promotes trust in the left of the bureaucracy, and the idea furthermore replicates the (historically and worldwide fairly unique) structural underpinning of the Labour Party, which rests on the union leaderships. And how would any “socialist” party supported by the PCS leadership be able to challenge those same leaders without threats of the money being cut off?

    I also generally think that we ought to reassess the general value of standing in elections: the left seems to always run around trying to organize electoral campaigns, but I think they tend to be a waste of time and energy. I would not say that “on principle” we ought to refuse to stand in elections – “No2EU” does not “legitimize” the European Parliament, after all! – but the question is not “how do we use the electoral tactic in a tactical way” but surely “what do we actually hope to achieve by standing in elections?”. If I criticize this or that electoral campaign for its reformism, statism, nationalism (you’re quite right to say No2EU is indeed not special in that sense, as social democracy is tied to nationalism and protectionism by a thousand strings, since its idea of social change is via the mechanism of the nation state) that does not necessarily mean that I think standing on a maximalist platform is the worthwhile alternative.

    I have no “electoral platform” of nationalizations etc., because I do not have a programme for the British state to enact. Communard writes “I also think, by the way, that ‘no borders’ could not be implemented by a single state under capitalism (and possibly not even across the whole EU under capitalism)”: but I think hardly any worthwhile demands could be implemented by taking control of the British state machine. We do not base our slogans and politics on what is affordable or what budgets can pay for, what will not risk a flight of capital or what will keep Britain safe from provoking attack from former imperialist allies. That is what a programme for the British state has to be, but that is totally at odds with the movement communists want to build, by its nature international, grassroots etc… I don’t see how the two mesh.

    I don’t think the left should decide its slogans on the basis of what will “win votes” – communists want to make more workers communists, they do not want more “votes” in the abstract. If we are not in a position to win support for our ideas (votes is hardly a very good gauge of that anyway), we shouldn’t try and short circuit to the amazing thrill of being able to win 6% and a seat in a powerless parliament. I know it is not the comrade’s intention, but the argument about electoral ‘pragmatism’ is extremely well-worn in the service of terrible abandonment of principle. At the Respect founding conference in January 2004 a motion was put forward for no borders, which the SWP voted down – what would you have done? When you oppose arguing explicitly for things you believe in, how do you know where to stop? (As a pre-emptive strike on a likely comeback – I would also be in favour of any/every communist programme outlining what society we want – stateless, moneyless etc., not just a list of “demands” on the bourgeois state).

    Being ‘pragmatic’ and ‘practical’ sounds nice, but it is also when tested in reality that efforts to create left reformist parties always fail, because they have a distinct tendency to drift to the right, be incorporated into the state structures and alliance with mainstream ‘social democracy’/Labourism. Die Linke and Rifondazione Comunista were the real “utopians” because they believed it possible to start a more “authentic” social democracy from scratch, fighting over real concerns while remaining electable etc., only to face exactly the same tactical choices and make the same mistakes as the original ‘real thing’.

    All of this, by the way, does not necessarily mean refusal to participate in social democratic initiatives set up by others. But if we/you do, then it should be on the basis of maximum openness about our disagreements and criticisms, and participation being conditional on the space for such expression – indeed, I would argue the over-riding objective would be to win people already involved in such a party away from social democracy, not to help social democrats win more votes for social democracy. I am in the Labour Representation Committee because it offers some space to argue for communism, not because I want to try and keep people’s faith that they can reform the Labour Party, and in the election to the NC at the last conference stood on an openly communist platform.

    • c0mmunard said

      I think hardly any worthwhile demands could be implemented by taking control of the British state machine. We do not base our slogans and politics on what is affordable or what budgets can pay for, what will not risk a flight of capital or what will keep Britain safe from provoking attack from former imperialist allies. That is what a programme for the British state has to be, but that is totally at odds with the movement communists want to build, by its nature international, grassroots etc… I don’t see how the two mesh.

      Yeah but, for example in trade union battles the labour movement constantly makes ‘reformist’, ‘social democratic’ demands, often limited by “what is affordable, or what budgets can pay for”. For example, we put in demands for higher pay (modest raises, often), fewer hours, health and safety measures, etc. We do not go to an unorganised workforce, or even one lacking in confidence, and start to talk about workers’ control, and taking over the site (even though we might talk about, for example, ‘power at work’, a more general and tepid phrase). The reason is that these ideas are generally (but not always) inaccessible to people who are lacking in confidence and/or organisation. The main educator of the movment is not the milllieu of explicitly socialist activists, it is struggle. The main reason people do not accept socialist ideas is not that the arguments are not good, but because they lack the confidence in themselves which is the premise of the ideas making sense. There is often therefore a need to begin, as LL says after Alinsky, “inside the experience of your people”. So I don’t see limited demands as a problem in themselves; I don’t think we’d be anywhere without them.

      Now labour/grassroots battles do have a special character, in that they tend to compact self-organisation and solidarity in a way that – say – electoral battles do not. But, also, there are alot of people who are angry, but who have no immediate grassroots battle into which to channel that anger, either because of the overwhelming superiority of their opponents, or their own lack of opportunities for disruption. Electoral politics can also involve self-organisation, it is largely risk free for its participants, and makes people go out and talk to others, door to door – which, frankly, the left could do with to assist its connection with reality.

      I don’t agree that “hardly any worthwhile demands could be implemented by taking conttol of the British state machine”. But actually, consider the standards of the welfare state throughout France, Germany and the Nordic countries. These are real differences, they are worthwhile, they make people’s lives better. Each of them has been implemented through a nation state. It is also true that in each case the original cause and real guarantor of the welfare state is the strength of the labour movement, and a population willing to mobilise. But that does not change the fact that the state was the prism through which that strength was projected, and that such projection is not a historical inevitability but an intentional process.

      In general, I agree that electoral politics rarely does more than crystalise the sentiment that is already there. But that can be valuable sometimes; it helps people recognise that they’re not alone, and their views have some sort of expression in the world beyond them. Right now, I think that there are alot of people out there who are disgusted with the way society is run; and are broadly sympathetic to socialist arguments. But as David says, it needs above all consistency. To be there, year in, year out; to project an impression of seriouness. And, to my mind, No2EU – with its declared shelf life and quasi-single issue politics – is the opposite of that.

      By the way, I got a No2EU leaflet through my door yesterday. It really does blame everything (privatisation, the exploitation of vulnerable workers, a lack of political democracy, the rise of the BNP) on the EU. There is no suggestion that any of these problems has any other origin but the EU. There is no criticism of any of the major parties, except insofar as it is implied (I guess) they support the EU. Indeed, one of three criticisms of the BNP is that they really, contrary to their claims, do support the EU. Very odd. At least the whole “black and white” thing has meant the printing must have been cheap.

  6. Thanks to Communard and David for the lengthy and thoughtful replies.

    In response to Communard I:

    i) The failure to follow RMT policy is clearly wrong though not untypical of union executives. We have said there are problems of democracy and organisation and this reinforces that view.

    ii) I agree with much of what you say here regarding the possibility of working within organisations that are not an expression of your maximalist platform, and of the possibility of holding more radical views personally though not necessarily arguing these at every opportunity. I also agree on the impossiblity of enacting “no borders” under global capitalism and the wrongheadedness of the notion that this can be another demand on a manifesto.

    iii) I find it interesting though, that you appear to flag up migration (and situating this within “global imperial capitalism”) as a red line on you participation, when presumably plenty of other central tenets of communism/libertarian socialism would be compromised in such a platform. Are there other major red lines for you, or do you place a group’s language on migrants (not all proletarians, incidently) as a case apart? I’m interested in this in relation to the Left’s stance on immigration more generally.

    In response to Dave:

    a) You criticise socialist parties for rarely going beyond asserting “workers’ control” rather than outlining in detail what this entails. I wonder how useful such an endeavour would be under present conditions, with such a low level of struggle and a lack of political culture among working class people. Historically, workers have forged their own forms of organisation in the heat of struggle; they have not signed up to a theoretical model of “workers’ control” then proceeded to put it into practice. I am no fan of Trotskyist parties. But in my view the correct position for the here and now is to attempt to increase the level of struggle and rebuild working class self-organisation and revive a political culture. We can elaborate models of workers’ control or any other post-capitalist imaginings all we want, but at present this would be pure utopianism. There are more urgent tasks before us.

    b) Regarding state control and the public sector, I would argue that nationalisation patently does present a different popular conception of how society should be organised. We can return to the case of the NHS. Obviously it is under bureaucratic state control, but at the same time it is one of the proudest institutions in the UK and people to a certain extent do feel ownership over it. This may not entail the idea of workers’ control, but it does visibly present an alternative to capitalist control and the profit motive. This is an important difference in terms of battles at the ideological level. One only has to compare the situation with the US, where the idea of a nationalised health service is often regarded as “socialism”, to see the ideological terrain over which such battles are fought. Furthermore, I would still contend there are major differences in planning in a state-controlled organisation as compared to a capitalist one, if only because political decision-making has a role to play in the former and, in a liberal democracy, workers and consumers can have a certain degree of influence over this policy. Again, nationalisation is no idyll, but to portray nationalised industry merely as state-controlled capitalist accumulation seems to me a little simplistic.

    c) Regarding the RMT, please see point (i).

    d) I feel you are close to sounding quiite Leninist in some of your formulations. Is the point really that “communists want to make more workers communists, they do not want more “votes” in the abstract”? Your comments about winning social democrats to communism have the same flavour. Isn’t the point (as a libertarian socialist) to increase the self-organisation, consciousness, and power of the working class? There seems to be an assumption in your thinking that communists, including yourself, have the correct programme and the task is to win more workers to that position. I would suggest that the working class is able to formulate its own programme and forms of organisation (as indeed it has historically in times of struggle). The task of libertarian socialists should not be to present a programme of maximalist demands to the working class; it should be, rather, to assist in building working class self-organisation that can lead to struggles through which ideas are transformed and new forms of social relations forged.

    e) We have to have a language in which to engage with ordinary people. You seem to have an uncompromising position regarding the programme you advocate, but I wonder if this is a sensible position. You say you have on programme for the British state or the bourgeoisie to enact. Yet the framework of the British state, and capitalism, is precisely how people conceive of and experience power. Your stateless, moneyless, borderless imaginings are wonderful in a sense, but how much meaning have they got to 99.5% of the population? I would suggest almost none. Do we ignore the major formations of economic and political power? Are we to talk in a language completely disconnected from the experience and conceptions of almost the entire working class? Imagine you participate in a “social democratic” initiative, with working class people discussing issues of immediate interest to their lives, argue in these terms. Wouldn’t the result simply be alienation from yourself and your ideas. This comes back to (d): the Left has to move away from thinking it has all the theoretical and practical answers and attempting to impose these on working class people. It is through working class activity and struggle that the answers relevent for today will become apparent.

    f) I would also suggest there is some confusion about “pragmatism” going on here. You are a member of the LRC, which is constitutionally committed to rebuilding the Labour Party, a project which, on principle, you should have on truck with. Isn’t this merely a form of “pragmatism”? In any case, how much value do you think there is in trying to win Labour Party members to communism?

    In response to Communard II:

    1) I agree with you that electoral politics can be a useful form of political activity that can connect people together and, crucially, present the Left with some difficult home truths.

    2) As you say, there are real differences between capitalist states that impact on the ruling political ideology and therefore change the political field within which the Left is working. And importantly, such minor differences can have a real difference in terms of outcomes for working class people, which we should not ignore.

    3) One of the major problems we identified with No2EU, which we identified, was its as hoc nature. The Left has repeatedly formed last-minute electoral fronts which parachute into working class areas where they have previously shown no interest – the same goes for anti-fascist activity. It is hardly surprising that they are unable to win the trust and backing of ordinary people if they do not, over time, prove themselves to be the best fighters for their interests.

    Thanks once more for your comments.

    • c0mmunard said

      Thanks for the replies LL. Just on the question you ask; no that’s certainly not my only ‘red line’ – and, in truth, exactly how ‘red’ it is probably depends on the extent to which the formation in question is a genuine, and genuinely democratic, class formation, where ideas can be contested. However, of those red lines I do have, I think that one is worth stressing both because it’s one at partcular risk of being crossed, and because the treatment of migrants is especially appalling.

  7. mat said

    Speaking in a personal capacity, I think that NO2EU is an interesting development, both for what it gets right and what it gets wrong.

    The mistakes are plain to see, the failiure to agree on whether candidates will take their seats or not, the last minute, rushed nature of the project, the plan to disolve immeadiately after the elections, the use of RMT money with out any real discussion within the union at rank and file level.

    It’s probably the least flawed left lash up recently, and it is important that a leftwing argument against the EU is put forward in an arena which brings it up against the reactionary right.

    Still for all the money they’re spending, compared to the energy they seem to be expending nationwide they’re almost invisible, and I can’t see many people watching their broadcast, so I would have to ask is this value for money?

    There’s no shortcuts to building working class power, and both the Socialist Party, and the RMT do actually seem to know this, and when they act on it, it leads to real success at least on a moderate scale, but every couple of years the SP seem to try and leapfrog out of their small bases, and it doesn’t seem to have worked yet.

    Good luck to them though, and they’ll be getting my vote for what it’s worth, and I’d like to see Dave Nellist actually get elected in the West Midlands, and take his seat and all the money that goes with it (only a worker’s wage for himself of course 😉 ).

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