The Left and the Euro-elections Allan Armstrong assesses the state of the left in Europe after the Euro elections

A euro-sceptic SSP?

The SSP has in the past described its attitude towards Europe as pro-Europe; anti-EU. In the run up towards the Euro-elections, held on June 10th, Alan McCombes subtly shifted the emphasis stating, We are taking what some might call a eurosceptic stance(SSV 176). And certainly, nowhere else in this report of the SSP’s Euro-manifesto launch was there any mention that we stood on a joint Euro-election platform with other socialist parties and groupings in the EU. Our scepticism seemed to cover, not only the EU itself, its careerist MEPs and big business backers, but the whole of the Left, including our allies in the EACL! Although the EACL Manifesto is displayed on the SSP website, it went unannounced in the Party press. Now the RCN has consistently pushed for an ‘internationalism from below’ stance in the SSP, particularly in relation to fellow socialists and socialist republicans in England, Wales and Ireland. We have often received verbal assurances from the leadership, and won occasional written policy concessions, but have found it harder to penetrate the wall of indifference when it comes to practical proposals for greater unity throughout these islands.

Despite our continued support for the SSP as an independent organisation and our championing of it as the best model available for other socialists, such moves are still seen as a possible threat by the leadership to their ‘Scottish road’. Yet, on paper anyhow, the ISM, the majority platform in the SSP leadership, also claims to stress the international nature of our struggle and sees the highest point of internationalism as the building of a workers’ international (Aims of the ISM in Frontline).

However, this year’s SSP Conference, held in Edinburgh on March 27th and 28th, gave us the opportunity to put the ‘internationalism from below’ stance into a new, perhaps less threatening context, with the opportunity provided by the Euro elections on June 10th.

We put forward a motion which called for a joint platform {to} include:-

  • a) Opposition to the permanent war drive.
  • b) The expansion, not the erosion of human and civil rights internationally.
  • c) Support for asylum seekers and migrant workers and opposition to ‘Fortress Europe’.
  • d) Opposition to privatisation, labour flexibility and austerity drives.
  • e) Opposition to trade union/employer/state partnership deals.
  • f) Support for a more democratic and accountable Europe.

This motion was not opposed or even mildly criticised by the leadership or any other platform for that matter! It was passed with nobody voting against. The Conference gave our leadership a mandate to seek a common platform with our allies in the EACL. A common manifesto, which incorporated these demands, was indeed achieved on 29th April, at a meeting of the EACL held in Brussels. There are points in this much broader manifesto which could be questioned (such as the belief that capitalists can renounce war), yet, despite some weaknesses, the final manifesto was broadly consistent with SSP Conference policies – therefore, so far, so good.

Yet this joint manifesto wasn’t acknowledged in any subsequent Scottish Socialist Voice, or even the May/June Members’ Bulletin devoted to the Euro-elections, despite its promising headline, ‘Another Europe is possible’. The prospect of launching a genuinely internationalist election campaign, with visiting prominent speakers from our fraternal organisations in the EACL, was not considered. What is even more remarkable is that the very nationalist BNP did bring the well-known French fascist, National Front leader, Jean Le Pen, to address meetings in England and Wales in April for their election campaign. It’s a sad day when British nationalists show more ‘internationalism’ than Scottish (English or Welsh) socialists!

Therefore, with our leadership consciously placing the SSP in the euro-sceptic camp, it is not surprising that we found our message somewhat swamped. The voters were spoilt for choice amongst the eurosceptics. The UKIP fought with the Tories for the British chauvinist vote, characterised by The Times letter writer, ‘Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells’; and with the BNP for the xenophobic, Union Jack T-shirt wearing, lager swilling, British tourist abroad vote. Now Alan certainly wanted the SSP to distance ourselves from such “Union Jackwaving, Rule Britannia singing Great British supremacists” (SSV 176); but just how successful can you be, whilst simultaneously claiming to be part of what is a Right dominated euro-sceptic camp?

UKIP received more votes in Scotland than the SSP, despite it coming across as overwhelmingly English, white, male and middle class! Whilst, in the short run, UKIP probably thwarted BNP electoral growth (hindered both by its fascist politics and ‘British’ label in Scotland), the prominent media coverage given to UKIP and its policy of withdrawal from the EU enabled it to overcome its own electoral disadvantages. In a Euro election it helps if you have something distinctive to say about Europe – in contrast to UKIP the SSP’s European message was decidedly muffled.

Now, of course, the SSP did far better than UKIP in the Scottish Parliamentary elections last year, when we did have something distinctive to say about Scotland (as well as the war in Iraq). UKIP itself is unlikely to present a permanent political barrier for the SSP. It is a top-down creation, with few real roots, and many of its members see themselves as a pressure group on the Tories, rather than as a long term party. This would mean adopting a raft of other potentially divisive policies, causing a split, benefiting the Tories and the BNP.

Scottish euro-scepticism

However, the backwash from the rising tide of euro-sceptism isn’t just confined to those who wave the Union Jack. Saltire wavers, particularly in the SNP, are feeling its impact too. For many years the SNP was pro-Europe. In the late 1970s Jim Sillars and Alex Neil, from the old SNP Left, persuaded the party to ditch its then anti-EEC stance and to adopt a policy of ‘Independence in Europe’. This was meant both to simultaneously neutralise Labour’s ‘separatist’ label for the party and to place the SNP clearly in the camp of European social democracy. This was at a time when there was a more distinctive European social economic model, compared to the rising Thatcher/Reagan neo-liberal juggernaut. The Left wing ‘79 Group, also attempted to re-orientate the SNP away from its base in former Tory areas, particularly in the north east, to Labour areas, particularly in the Central Belt. This meant less emphasis on farmers, fishing boat owners and small manufacturers and more on the needs of workers and their families.

The SNP has clearly failed to make this switch, and with the growth of the SSP, especially in the west Central Belt, is even less likely to. As a consequence, the SNP has been forced back to its one-time Tory support of small businessmen – particularly in the fishing industry which has been gutted by the EU Common Fisheries Policy. As a consequence, anti-EU sentiment is once more on the rise in the SNP too. This is reinforced by political competition from the Tories (and even UKIP) as they bid to regain this Scottish small business vote. So, despite Alan’s blind-spot, Euroscepticism, doesn’t just come dressed in the British red, white and blue; it can come in Scottish blue and white colours too.

It is within the Scottish nationalist wing of Euro-scepticism that the SSP is trying to raise its own banner. The pre-Euro election issue of the SSV (178), gave the most prominent place, not to our opposition to the war, but to ‘A community that still believes in cod’. Now there is certainly nothing wrong with having an article which highlights the devastating impact of government policy on a particular area – 20 years after the Great Strike, the plight of former mining communities springs to mind. Yet, some of the emphases in the article seem a little strange – the boat owner’s need for a handy £3.5 million– the cost of a white fish vessel; or he used to employ thirty people; he’s down to eight. It’s difficult to imagine that Keith Baldassara meets people with these kind of problems in his council surgeries in Pollok!

Yes, it is a strength of SSP policy that it covers areas not previously considered by socialists, showing we are serious about mounting a national challenge. But would a little more emphasis on employees, rather than employers, not be appropriate? Is the real political significance of the pre-election prominence given to this issue not more to do with establishing the SSP’s euro-sceptic credentials?

Retreats in the EACL in the face of rising liberal imperialism

However, it must be admitted that it wasn’t only the SSP which put the common EACL manifesto on the back burner. It would appear that all the major signatories retreated into running essentially national campaigns, with internationalism left at the level of rhetoric. This weakness showed itself even over the issue which should have been the EACL’s strength – opposition to the war in Iraq.

Everybody remembers the magnificent millions-strong international anti-war demonstrations held on February 15th 2003 (2/15). Yet, there was a decided paucity of international initiatives in 2004. The EACL could have called for coordinated demonstrations against the continued occupation and proposed ‘handover of power’ on the weekend before the June 10th Euro-election. Certainly these wouldn’t have been as big as the pre-war marches, but they could have captured the imagination of many who had been involved. Instead there was a myriad of small, locally organised demonstrations held over several days at the end of June.

EACL speakers at any European-wide coordinated rallies could also have highlighted the international list of MEP candidates being put forward by the various sponsoring organisations. Inviting speakers from other countries could have underlined this point. The supporters of the anti-war movement could have been offered the attractive prospect of a solid block of consistently anti-war MEPs. Furthermore, since socialists are in competition with the Greens for the radical youth vote, speeches and leaflets could have pointed out the Greens’ somewhat less than glorious ‘antiwar’ record where they have held office, particularly in Germany. If each national component of the EACL only contests its own particular Green adversary, then it is harder to highlight their shallow internationalism.

So the SSP’s retreat into a more narrowly nationalist euro-sceptic stance can be seen as part of an overall retreat by the Left in Europe since the heady days of 2/15. There can be little doubt that, despite its failure to prevent the war in Iraq, the international Left has put a decided dent in the Bush/ Blair neo-conservative imperial offensive. However, the long established imperial order has more than one string to its bow. Bush’s gung-ho, go-it-alone, you’re either with us or against us imperialism isn’t the only option. Imperialism can also adopt a liberal multilateral face, with a ‘humanitarian’ UN fronting the interests of the big players.

The spectacular ousting of Bush’s ally in Spain, Aznar’s Popular Party-led coalition, by the anti-war, centre PSOE, in the Spanish parliamentary elections held on March 14th, could spell the end of the neo-conservative ‘Coalition of the Willing’. PSOE leader, Zapatero, has honoured his promise to remove Spanish troops from Iraq, but has not ruled out the possibility of their returning as part of a UN controlled taskforce. Indeed Zapatero has considerably increased the Spanish forces in Afghanistan, whilst also sending civil guards to Haiti after the overthrow of Aristide.

On June 10th Berlusconi’s Forza Italia vote trailed behind the centre anti-war Olive Branch coalition in Italy, possibly putting the skids under this particularly corrupt media big businessman and politician. His close friend Tony Blair (holiday villa supplied) stumbles from crisis to crisis, unable to shake off New Labour’s unpopular pro-war stance.

Kennedy’s Liberal-Democrats have picked up votes from the ‘soft’ wing of the anti-war movement. The Liberal Democrats expressed no concern over the misery brought about by UN sanctions in Iraq before the war and were quick to give support to ‘our boys’ once the war started. And of course, US Democrat, Kerry’s Presidential challenge to Bush is gaining strength – fuelled by the growing resentment in the USA at being duped by the Republican neo-cons, highlighted by Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11. Kerry, who voted for the Iraq war, however, would use the multilateral links he advocates to step-up the antiterrorist offensive and would continue to support Sharon’s Israel!

Therefore imperial designs aren’t merely confined to the rapacious neo-con company executives backing Bush such as those of the omnipresent Halliburton Corporation. George Soros, multi-billionaire currency speculator, advocates an imperialism ‘with a human face’ in his latest book, The Bubble of American Supremacy – Correcting the Misuse of American Power. Precisely because of the huge impact of the anti-war movement, there has been growing support for the liberal imperialist strategy offered by various think-tanks. These compete with their neo-con counterparts for the ear of both politicians and company executives. The global corporations are showing growing signs of regroupment around the liberal alternative to neutralise the impact of the anti-war and anti-globalisation movements.

The negative role of the old official Communist tradition

Perhaps the most significant indicator of this new liberal imperialist pressure on the Left in Europe was the decision made by the Italian RC not to join the EACL for the Euro-election campaign. RC was originally founded as a splinter from the old CPI, mainly as a result of the CPI’s disastrous support for the Blairite Olive Tree Coalition government which attacked workers in the 1990s. The pre-1989 CPI was heavily compromised too. Along with the old Spanish CP, its leadership was prominent in repositioning the Party in the camp of social democracy under the banner of Eurocommunism.

However, the forces of communism in Italy extended much further than the reformist Eurocommunist leadership. In Italy official Communism has a tradition which included armed partisan units during the Second World War. It was heavily influenced by the large revolutionary groups which grew outside its ranks in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Indeed many of their members were later drawn into the CPI’s ranks. Thus, having formally broken from the official Communist tradition, RC recently moved to the Left, pushed by the anti-war and anti-globalisation movements. Many were pleasantly surprised when RC adopted a new direction at its 5th Congress held in April 2002. The agreed perspectives, Opening and Innovation – Changing ourselves to transform society began with a stirring call.

It may just be that the world is now moving towards a situation in which a new beginning can be made in the revolutionary process, for a conscious commitment to the highest task imaginable for politics: the overcoming of the existing order, of capitalist society itself.

But then again, with the regroupment of imperialists under a liberal banner, it may just not be that the world is immediately moving towards such new beginnings. Therefore, earlier this year, the RC leadership, without any consultation with the members, suddenly announced its support for a rapprochment with the forces of the Olive Tree Coalition, with the intent of removing Berlusconi’s neo-conservative Forza Italia-led government coalition in the 2006 parliamentary elections. Furthermore, the leadership declared its willingness to provide ministers in a government led by the centre-left! This government would most likely be led by Romano Prodi, President of the European Commission.

The SSP should note where the pressure for this dramatic U-turn came from in RC. RC had retained the support of some of the old CPI led trade unions and their leaders. These unions remained largely unreformed with leaders retaining extensive privileges. Their leaders are a major conservative force in the RC. At the first faltering signs of the anti-war offensive, they quickly reasserted their influence, effectively reversing the gains of RC’s 1992 Conference and side-lining the new younger anti-war, anti-globalisation activists. Therefore we in the SSP should see that breaking the trade union link with New Labour is not enough. The unions themselves need democratised and put under rank and file control; whilst their leaders should earn the average wage of the members they represent, if they are to join the SSP.

Perhaps not surprisingly then, with prospect of ‘ministerial opportunities’ in the air, the RC leadership didn’t sign the EACL manifesto (despite having attended earlier Conferences). It opted instead to form a new PEL, mainly around MEPs from the existing Euro-parliamentary bloc, the European United Left (GUE/NGL). This consists for the most part of representatives from the old official Communist Parties.

PEL also includes the CPE-dominated alliance, IU. Some of its Platforms have attended EACL Conferences. However, these represent minorities. Unlike the CPI, the old CPE long bore the scars of its defeat in the Spanish Civil War. Whilst it certainly played an important part in the subsequent anti-Franco resistance, this was along with others, who could justifiably claim just as prominent a role, not least the armed forces of ETA in Euskadi (the Basque Country). The leadership of the old CPE and newer IU often competed/s with the Right to be seen as the most avid supporter of ‘one Spain indivisible’. When the Madrid bombings occurred on March 11th, IU leader, Llamazares, supported Aznar’s attempt to blame ETA! Furthermore, like the CPI, the IU leadership had in the past given its support to anti-working class policies; only this time of the Gonzales-led PSOE government in the 1980s.

More influential still in PEL is the French Communist Party, with its own history of joining the antiworking class Mitterand-led Socialist Party government in the 1980’s. PEL also includes the German PDS, the made-over heir to the German Communist Party which ruled East Germany until 1989!

Quite clearly, the majority of the component parts of PEL see their current role as giving critical support to liberal imperialist politicians (hoping to push any newly elected centre-Left governments further Left with the presence of their own ministers!). This is how they intend to take up the fight against the neo-conservative imperialists. PEL has taken no distinctive position on the Euro-bosses’ proposed European Constitution for the EU. This leaves the door open for ‘critical support’ and joint work with its architects, particularly Romano Prodi! When IU invoked the slogan ‘Another Europe is possible’ for its Euro-election campaign its possible connotations were decidedly ambiguous.

The contradictions within the EACL and the need for a positive ‘internationalism from below’

However, if PEL is stumbling towards a policy of ‘critical support’ for the proposed EU Constitution then the EACL needs to go beyond its strident ‘No to the new European Constitution’ if it wishes to escape the embrace of the euro-sceptic Right. The dangers are shown up most clearly in Denmark, where EACL affiliate, the Red-Green Alliance, failed to put up an independent candidate in the Euro-election, but joined the Popular Movement Against the EU, Folkebevgaelson, with same demand as the xenophobic right populist, Danish Peoples Party – ‘withdrawal from the EU’.

Ironically, the RGA’s standing MEP remained a member of the former official Communist Party bloc, GUE/NGL, in the Euro-parliament. In the guise of the new PEL, this now appears to be moving towards a greater acceptance of the EU. Meantime Denmark’s other euro-sceptic alliance, the June Movement, Junibevaegelsen, previously led by the former Communist, left social democratic Socialist Peoples Party, has moved in the other direction. In the previous European Parliament, Junibevaegelsen’s MEP, sat with UKIP in the parliamentary EED! But in the Euro-election they adopted the softer ‘Yes to Europe, No to the EU state’ stance and are moving towards support for a reformed EU, more green and peaceful, but nevertheless with a strong military arm for ‘peacekeeping’ and ‘humanitarian’ interventions!

The contradictory pressures on the Left can be seen quite clearly – towards accommodation with the pro-EU social democratic Left, or with the populist camp of opposition and withdrawal. The EACL needs to sharpen up its criticism of imperialism in both its contemporary forms – neo-conservative and liberal. This means adopting a critical attitude towards all those involved in the retreat towards the liberal imperialist camp, whether they be former Communists, left social democrats or Greens. However, the EACL, including the SSP, also has to be aware of the dangers of populism, particularly, but not solely, in the smaller nations of the EU. We must ensure that opposition to the designs of the Euro-bosses doesn’t lead us into the embrace of the anti-European Right populists.

The top-down, bureaucratically imposed, Bosses’ Europe offered in the proposed new EU Constitution has succeeded in pushing many voters into deep apathy, and others into the arms of racist and chauvinist nationalism. In contrast, the Liberal Democrats’ internationalism is designed to make things easier for the middle class vacationers in Tuscany or the Dordogne – hence their support for the euro. This isn’t the concern of the majority of workers. The Greens invoke their own woolly notion of internationalism – the ‘global village’. Yet most workers are acutely aware of the marked differences between the ‘desirable’ and ‘less desirable’ parts of every single city, town and even many villages we live in.

Our internationalism has to be real, grounded in the experience of a working class, increasingly employed directly or indirectly by global corporations, transported by private transport companies, housed in private estates, shopping in corporate retail parks and taking part in corporate-dominated leisure activities. Therefore, as well as attempting to build EU-wide campaigns and demonstrations in defence of workers’ immediate interests in the face of the continued employers’ offensive; as well as opposing the permanent imperialist war drive under whatever guise, the EACL needs to project its alternative vision for Europe. As a minimum, this means calling for a European Constituent Assembly linked to other democratic, economic, social, environmental and cultural demands. We can then have a tactical debate over whether to vote ‘No’ or mount an abstentionist campaign in any country holding a referendum on the proposed constitution.

We shouldn’t be euro-sceptic, we should be genuinely pro-Europe. However, we don’t accept the bosses’ EU. We believe another Europe is possible. That Europe is socialist. The SSP needs to play a more active part in ensuring this dream becomes a reality. We need to pursue an active strategy of ‘internationalism from below’. Yes, this means we will need to take on all those advocates of bureaucratic internationalism, even within the EACL and amongst the British socialist sects. However, a go-it-alone, separatist strategy will only store up problems for the future. Any serious moves to enhance workers control of society in Scotland will be met with strong opposition from the British, EU and US ruling class. We need all the allies we can get in the here and now.