The RCN, like most of the rest of the Left, is having a debate on the EU referendum. This is the second contribution by Steve Freeman of the Republican Socialist Alliance. It has been posted on the RSA blog (http://www.republicansocialists.org.uk). A modified version has also been posted on the bella caledonia blog (http://bellacaledonia.org.uk/2016/04/13/scotland-remains-and-england-abstains/)
EU AND ‘INTERNATIONALISM FROM BELOW – SCOTLAND REMAINS AND ENGLAND ABSTAINS
The 12 March RSA meeting unanimously adopted the following:
Recognising that both the EU and UK are undemocratic we will stand for a “European democratic revolution”, consistent with the idea of democratic revolution within the UK.
Promote the idea of a new democratic constitution for Europe as a secular, democratic and federal social republic including the constitutional right of self determination for all nations/peoples including England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales and Catalunya.
These are strategic policies which remain in place whether there is a forthcoming referendum or not. This will be our policy whatever the outcome. The referendum is however the time to explain our policy to a wider audience. RSA members have different views on what vote to recommend.
1. Mass abstention and mass politics
On 23 June, around 40 million people will decide from three options – vote Leave, vote Remain or Abstain. With a 60% turnout then sixteen million will abstain. We will not know why people abstain or indeed the particular reasons for each voter. But their choices will aggregate into a political message. Whether twenty or fifty percent of voters abstain, it represents an expression of mass politics.
It may be claimed that mass abstention will not influence the outcome. This is not true. It will influence how the country interprets the outcome and the strength of the mandate for the Crown to act on the result. Non-voting will impact on the size of any majority and may tip the balance one way or the other.
Abstention as militant opposition to two reactionary options
A socialist case for abstention argues that mass abstention is in the interests of the working class. Working class politics is not the monopoly of those who support either of the two official options on the ballot paper provided by the British Crown. Socialist abstention is the best case for sixteen million abstentions.
Abstention is the simple and logical way to express opposition to both options on the ballot paper. It rejects Cameron’s nationalist retreat from Europe and Johnson’s nationalist exit. Both are inimical to the interests of the European and UK working class. As socialists we want the working class to go in the opposite direction to a European democratic revolution which is diametrically opposed to the politics of Leave/Remain.
2. The national question
Two referendums compared
In the Scottish referendum there was a relatively progressive and democratic (SNP) option on the ballot paper. It was justifiable for republican socialists to critically support a Yes vote. The issue was about the uneven development of the democratic movement in Scotland and England rather than any anarchist view of breaking up the state. Had Scotland voted yes it would have unleashed the democratic energies of the Scottish people that had already been mobilised in the campaign. This was in the interests of democracy in England, and Ireland and Wales and wider still.
In this EU referendum there is no relatively progressive democratic option to vote for. Leave is a reactionary position led by UKIP and the Tory Right. The Cameron option is an attack on migrant workers pandering to popular hostility to immigrants and providing benefits for the City of London. All the same forces of the British Unionist ruling class that promoted ‘No’ are now for Remain.
Scotland, the UK and the EU
The process of ‘Europeanisation’ has transformed Ireland and reshaped Scottish nationalism as more European, cosmopolitan and internationalist than simply crude Anti-Unionist isolationism. Despite Unionist bullying, Scotland did not have to remain in the UK to be part of a bigger economy with the free movement of workers, trade and even a common currency. It seemed possible to become a sovereign nation with a viable European social democracy. Thus Scotland became the most pro-EU part of the UK and most likely to vote to remain.
The England Question
England has the largest population and will easily out vote the combined votes of Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. If a significant part of the English working class abstains, then the votes of workers across the rest of the UK will count for more in the overall weight. If Scotland and England vote differently, this will open up the issue of self determination. If a majority in England votes to ‘Remain’ then socialist Abstention has the merit of having opposed the Cameron Deal and put forward an independent working class case for a European democratic revolution.
3. Working class opposition to Exit
UK exit from the EU is reactionary. In current conditions it is a retreat to greater British nationalism and encourages a more general break up of Europe into rival petty nationalism. Exit will not benefit the European working class or advance the democratic revolution across Europe or the UK. It will encourage and aid the growth of the European Right such as the Front National in France.
The working class needs its own independent position especially in action not just in words. This includes the action taken on June 23 and the action that comes after. Major political issues are resolved by struggle between contending classes over years. They will not be resolved on one day or simply by referendum. This is not to say that referendums are not important. But the battle was going on before and will continue afterwards.
If the City of London loses the referendum they will very likely continue the struggle. Capital has its own form of ‘strike action’ and does not rely on referenda. If there is the ‘wrong’ result the City will move its money, exchange rates and share prices and thus help the country to come to its senses. They will lobby Ministers of the Crown and Civil Servants and plan how to reverse the setback.
Working class opposition to exit has to be a different kind of opposition to the Cameron popular front. By calling for abstention in England we are putting clear blue water, in action, between the working class and the Tory front. The working class must have its own plan B in case a majority in England votes to leave the EU. First if Scotland votes to Remain, as expected, this will throw a spanner in the works. This is not enough. Workers must mobilise for direct action including strike action.
The idea of a second referendum in Scotland would be a popular idea. But workers should not put all their eggs in that basket because it would hand the initiative to the SNP. On the contrary waiting for the SNP and the Tories to agree a second referendum cannot be our prime tactic and must be secondary to working class direct action.
4. Internationalism from below
A socialist case for Abstention in England is, in abstract, valid for Scotland. However this takes no account of the pro-European democratic movement in Scotland. We have to take notice of the differences between our working class and democratic movements. The more advanced democratic movement in Scotland has bequeathed a country more likely to vote to ‘remain’ and put a block on the ability of the Tory Right to deliver Exit. Therefore ‘Scotland Remain and England Abstain’ can be a united front which gains strength together.
i) The Unionist Remain UK popular front
This is the call for a general UK wide Remain, a Unionist Remain, which stems from Cameron and the Crown’s popular front in defence of British interests involving the Tories, Labour, Liberal Democrats, Greens and the SNP. The SNP recently cemented their new relations with Cameron by adopting a ‘UK Wide Remain’ position. Of course this front is made up of political forces that oppose each other and so it is accompanied by a ritual denouncing of allies and not being seen on the same platforms.
ii) An ‘Internationalism from below’ united front opposition to Exit
This is a republican socialist united front between England’s Abstainers and (some) Scottish Remainers. It is about building an alternative working class anti-exit alliance in opposition to the Unionist popular front. The descriptor ‘working class’ is not simply for polemical effect. The orientation of this campaign is internationalist in looking to the European working class and democratic movements and in raising the spectre of working class industrial action.
5. Positioning within the spectrum of socialist politics
This distinction between Popular Front and United Front may seem subtle but it is politically important. The RCN can vote Remain i) by locating it as part of the ‘All UK’ popular front ‘from above’ between Cameron, Labour and the SNP or ii) as an expression of ‘internationalism from below’ in solidarity with England’s abstention and militant opposition to exit
In the latter case RCN members would make a different case in the Scottish left. First in Scotland RCN members would be able to explain the merits of the English working class case for abstention. Second the RCN would be able to explain why they are for voting Remain in part because English Anti-Unionist abstentionists have appealed for Scotland to vote Remain.
An Appeal to comrades in the RCN
I am making an appeal to RCN comrades to form a united front on the basis of ‘internationalism from below’ as an independent working class position making the case for a European democratic revolution and adopting a position on the referendum that ‘Scotland Remains and England Abstains’.
We recognise that the working class in the UK is part of the European working class movement. If the result of the referendum is an Exit majority we agree to continue to mobilise working class opposition with direct action where possible and with support from the European working class.
RCN and RSA can build a united front around promoting a “European democratic revolution”, consistent with the idea of democratic revolution within the UK. We should stand for a new democratic constitution for Europe as a secular, democratic and federal social republic including the constitutional right of self determination for all nations/peoples including England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales and Catalunya.
RCN is asked to agree to build a united front, as an example of ‘internationalism from below’, for a common anti-Exit united front between England’s ‘Abstainers’ and Scotland’s ‘Remainers’. This is part of a plan to build independent working class opposition to exit not simply before the referendum but for struggle after (if necessary). Therefore an RCN ‘Scotland Remain’ position is not a left extension of the SNP (All UK Remain) line. It is a different position, distinct as a united front with ‘England’s Abstention’.
The other article by Steve Freeman (RSA) can be seen at:-
Other articles in the debate by Eric Chester (RCN) and by Allan Armstrong (RCN) can be seen at:-