Aug 03 2016


The RCN has been debating the EU referendum both amongst ourselves and in wider arenas.  Here Murdo Ritchie provides an argument in favour of voting ‘Leave’. This was first posted as a Comment after the article by Allan Armstrong at:-

This is followed by an extensive commentary by Steve Freeman (RSA and LUP) 



Firstly, I was always clear about what the issues were in this Referendum. The issues in the forthcoming referendum have little to do with wider issues such as immigration, European unity, greater trade and economic co-operation, more mobility, and the right to work and study in other European countries, but are:-
Continue reading “IF NOT NOW, WHEN?”

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Oct 11 2014

AFTER THE SEPTEMBER 18th REFERENDUM VOTE – A socialist republican response

In the aftermath of the September 18th Scottish independence referendum, Allan Armstrong(RCN) updates his  earlier piece (


A Movement-in-the-making

The campaign for Scottish independence has been the largest movement for popular democracy seen in these islands since the Irish War of Independence. In terms of electoral participation it was unprecedented. Voter registration was 97% and voter turnout was 85%.

The ‘Yes’ alliance faced the biggest ruling class offensive, backed by the UK state, since the Miners’ Strike. Only this time it brought together the combined Tory/Lib-Dem/Labour ‘Better Together’ ‘No’ alliance, UKIP, Ulster unionists, the Orange Order, other Loyalists, British fascists, the BBC, the Pope and the Free Presbyterian Church, and the US and Chinese governments!

Continue reading “AFTER THE SEPTEMBER 18th REFERENDUM VOTE – A socialist republican response”

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Aug 05 2002

You are the weakest link! SSP Special Conference, the Left and No to the Euro Campaign

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 03RCN @ 12:50 pm

Allan Armstrong (RCN), mover of the active boycott motion assesses the SSP Special Conference

How the debate was handled

The SSP SC on June 22nd, voted by a 4-1 margin to campaign for a no vote when Tony Blair finally decides to set the date for the Euro referendum. An extended morning session was given over to the debate. After some worrying moments, when it looked as if the Chair was going to rig the order of speakers; it became clear that she had made a genuine mistake and the debate was then handled very fairly. Equal time was given to those advocating a ‘no’ position and those wanting an active boycott campaign.

Active boycott motions came from independent Nick Rodgers of the Maryhill branch and from ourselves, the Republican Communist Network, through the Edinburgh South branch. Both were minority motions. The wider support for these motions came from independents. The only other organisations which gave support were the marginal CPGB and AWL, neither of which are directly affiliated SSP Platforms. They primarily intervene through the Workers Unity Platform, which appears to have a semi-detached relationship towards the SSP without regular meetings.

How the no camp presented their case

How was such an obviously sound proposal as an active boycott campaign well defeated at the Conference? The delegate numbers were both smaller and the composition was much more weighted to Platform members compared to the earlier SSP conference in Dundee. By far the greatest number of delegates came from the combined ISM, SWP and CWI Platforms, who all supported a no position. They could also count on the prominent support of Gordon Morgan of the ISG (which hasn’t registered as a Platform) and probably any delegates from an old orthodox CPGB or left Labourist trade union background.

The case coming from the no camp was very routine, and with the exception of the attempt to misrepresent and rubbish the very notion of an active boycott, hardly made any reference to the arguments advanced by ourselves. It was rather as if the no speakers from their various Platforms were repeating the particular arguments advanced in their own prior meetings. Here they wouldn’t have heard or had to deal with opposing positions.

As the debate progressed, Alan McCombes, SSV editor, shrewdly observed the growing problem for the leadership, the ISM and the no coalition. The no speakers had failed to deal with the arguments proposed by active boycott side. Independents were drifting our way. Therefore Alan joined the debate with his own clever manoeuvre. He pointed to a division in the active boycott camp, highlighted by former Labour MEP, Hugh Kerr’s intervention on our side.

Now certainly, until then, we had thought that Hugh, along with Allan Green, were supporters of a yes to the euro position. And it is indeed a rare occasion when Hugh is found voting for RCN proposals! We don’t know whether Hugh, who spoke to, or Allan, who voted for the active boycott, made a purely tactical decision, due to the almost complete absence of support for a yes vote within the SSP ranks. Maybe they were genuinely convinced by our arguments on this issue. Hugh didn’t use his intervention on our side to inveigle a yes position into the debate, so we genuinely welcomed his support. However, Alan McCombes hinted that Hugh was being more Machiavellian. Therefore the active boycott position was really a stalking horse for a yes campaign. And of course, Hugh, who is such a useful left Labour icon to the ISM, when it comes to presenting the SSP as the new old Labour Party to the wider public; is also a useful Aunt Sally for the ISM and others, when they need to brush up their re-re-revolutionary credentials for internal debates!

Divisions in the no camp

It was actually the no camp which was publicly split on the day. The motion from the Dumfries branch wanted to confine the no campaign to the shortest possible period. Now, John Dennis, leading Dumfries activist, has always preferred fighting on economic issues and is suspicious of politicking. Yet, you could sense John’s political fear that the SSP‘s no campaign wouldn’t be the only no show in town. If we campaigned too publicly or too long, we would be associated with some very nasty people. So, quickly in with a special issue of the SSV, a press statement, a few public meetings for sympathisers and then, quickly out before the Tories (or worse) showed up!

Yet it was another motion which got passed on the day which is likely to open up further divisions in the no camp. This was the motion which pledged the SSP to join with others in the fight against the euro. Gordon Morgan, the proposer of the main no motion was obviously worried about the charge the RCN had made in the pre-conference debate against the no camp. This was that any Left no campaign would get subsumed in a much larger Right no campaign and have the effect, as in Denmark, of increasing their – not our political strength.

Gordon emphasised that his proposed anti-euro alliance would only include anti-racist and internationalist groups. At this stage it wasn’t clear which particular no campaign was being proposed. However, in the pre-SC SSV, John Foster advocated a no vote on behalf of the Scottish Democracy Against the Euro campaign. Interestingly, this campaign didn’t officially come into existence until after our SC! It was launched at a press conference held in Glasgow’s City Halls on June 26th. Speakers here included Labour MP, Ian Davidson, Labour MSP, John McAllion, Labour former MEP, Alex Smith, Jane Carolan from the UNISON Executive and Arthur West from Kilmarnock Trades Council. The only political organisation which had affiliated was the Scottish Green Party. However, the SSP National Council, held in Glasgow on August 25th, voted to join.

Now this new affiliation wasn’t reported in the next issue of the SSV, so we have no public statement of the distinctive political position which the SSP leadership wants to put across, nor even of the proposed united front platform which will keep the campaign untarnished by the Right. But to give Gordon (and the SSP leadership) the benefit of the doubt, we can look to the Scottish Green Party news release which declared its own affiliation to Scottish Democracy Against the Euro.

It is important to stress that we Greens are pro-European, but anti- Euro. You don’t have to be a little englander to oppose the single currency – indeed its important for those campaigning for world-wide social justice to stand up to the Euro. We oppose this single currency, not because we want to save the pound, but because we believe the economic logic of the monetary union rides roughshod over our key social and economic concerns.

I don’t it think it would be misrepresenting Gordon to state that he could endorse this statement. Indeed the statement is principled. However, it is also politically naive. If the Scottish Democracy Against the Euro campaign also involves the political forces represented by John Foster, then such internationalism can not be taken for granted. John Foster is a member of the CPB. Along with its sister party, the Communist Party of Scotland, which operates out of the same Glasgow office block, the CPB has long been a supporter of the Scottish Campaign Against Euro-Federalism and its predecessors.

Linking up with the Right

These latter-day, stalinist-initiated campaigns have a long history of working with the Tory Right and other Right populists. When it became clear that the incoming New Labour government of 1997 was likely to push for greater integration with the EU, and for the euro in particular, a Congress for Democracy was organised on the 18th December in 1998. As well as long-standing Labour anti-EU Rightists, Austin Mitchell  MP and Lord Peter Shore, such staunch advocates of democracy as the Tories Michael Portillo, Bill Cash and David Heathcote-Amory, Business for Sterling, the Campaign for an Independent Britain, Sovereign Britain, the UK Independence Party and the Campaign for an Independent Guernsey (!) joined in opposition to the euro with representatives from the Morning Star, the Socialist Campaign Group (Labour Party), Scottish Democracy and the Green Party (it appears that the Scottish Greens’ southern partners aren’t quite so careful in the company they keep!)

That many of these organisations are openly hostile to workers’ aspirations is a mild understatement. That many of these organisations are union jackwaving, pro-imperialist, pro-monarchist, chauvinist nationalists is also well known. The only far right organisations specifically excluded were the fascist BNP and National Front. However, the links between the Tory Right, the populist Right and the fascists are well documented. These were recently highlighted by the BNP leader, Nick Griffin’s Tory father affair! So, although the Tory and populist Right diplomatically went along with the fascist Right’s exclusion from the Congress for Democracy, they are very unlikely to feel so constrained, when the much larger Right-initiated no umbrella organisations start up – particularly now that the BNP can offer significant votes in certain parts of England. The BNP is consciously trying to distance itself from German Nazism, preferring to emphasise its union jackwaving, British nationalism to make rapprochement with the Tory hard Right still more likely.

The flawed record of official and orthodox Communism

When the Labour Government held a referendum in 1975 over membership of the EEC, the then official Communists (still united in the Moscow-franchised CPGB) took a leading part in Britain in trying to organise the Left and trade unionists to vote no. Originally Gordon claimed that, since this political stance coincided with a period of great working class militancy across Europe, then clearly such a campaign didn’t undermine or split the working class. Nothing could be further from the truth and it is rather surprising that Gordon resorted to such an argument. If he were to look at the arguments then used by his own orthodox Trotskyist tradition, he would see the emphasis quite rightly placed on official Communism’s role in massively demobilising the major working class offensive of the time.

Furthermore, the promotion of chauvinist division within the working class and of nationalist unity with the Right was very much part of this. Many of the no to the EEC public meetings were held in CP-controlled Trades Councils. They were often adorned with union jacks and included Tories as platform speakers. This coincided with the period when the new Labour government was trying to promote wage restraint under a Social Contract with the trade union bureaucracy. The complicity of such prominent anti-EEC trade union leaders as the AEU‘s Hugh Scanlon in the demobilisation of workers’ action was justified by the need to defend a Labour government in the national interest. This was also the period when the Labour government, aided and abetted by anti-EEC Labour Party figures, was brutally suppressing resistance in Northern Ireland and upholding the Union, once more under the union jack. When Gordon downplays these dangers is he telling us that he will turn a diplomatic blind eye to our new Scottish Democracy Against the Euro allies’ anti-European, pro- British and sometimes pro-Scottish nationalist politics?

Right and Left linked

Therefore, despite Gordon’s undoubtedly sincere plea for an independent workers’ campaign, the reality is that there will be a linked continuum right across the political spectrum. The SSP joins Scottish Democracy Against the Euro, which includes members of the Scottish Campaign Against a Federal Europe, which promotes links to the Congress for Democracy, which has representatives from the most likely contender for the official No campaign – Business for Sterling’s Europe Yes, Euro No, which the Euro-sceptic right-wing Freedom Association wishes to join and which is not averse to working with the BNP. Which of the interconnected cogs will determine the direction of this political movement? Quite clearly you need to know the balance of forces involved.

In Scotland the lack of an immediate political threat from far Right populists and fascists can lead to a wrong assessment of the balance of class and political power within the UK state – and it is worth emphasising any euro referendum will be conducted throughout the UK. However, if you look to England, it is quite obvious that the Left there (which includes the anti-Euro ISM, Socialist Party and the ISG) is weaker than both the populist and fascist Right (the Tory hard Right, the UK Independence Party, the BNP and NF). Even if the political battle for the leadership of any proposed no campaign was to be confined to these Left and Right forces, the most likely victor would be the Right. This is exactly what happened to the Danish Green-Red Alliance when it lost out heavily to the Right populist Peoples Party, when it campaigned against the euro.

However, the situation is much more dangerous in the UK because significant sections of pro-imperialist, US-orientated big business, represented by the Tory mainstream, are also opposed to the euro being extended to the UK. Unlike the Tory hard Right they aren’t necessarily anti-EU (even Thatcher approved the Maastricht Treaty), or even anti the euro for the rest of the EU, since The City currently makes massive profits acting as an offshore bank handling the euro currency, just as the Isle of Man (and Guernsey?!) does for the UK sterling. This will be the principal force behind Business for Sterling’s Europe yes. Euro no campaign.

And all the indications are that the business-led Business for Sterling is the central cog which will determine the direction of the others. The Eurosceptic, left initiated, Congress for Democracy and the Eurosceptic right wing Freedom Alliance, have both declared they will water down their anti-EU stance to concentrate on the euro. This doesn’t mean there wont be a well-financed, ultra-chauvinist, openly anti-EU campaign. Multi-millionaire Paul Sykes intends to spend £5M on this. Whilst some no campaigners will no doubt be happy to see clear blue water between the two main campaigns, there will still be blue land on either shore – with Tories on both no sides.

The notion that the SSP‘s distinctive politics will stand out clearly against the media barrage from all these Right forces is very unlikely. If the media bother to report us at all, they will add us as the last line in reports of the large Right controlled campaigns. To make any impact we need to be saying something distinctive. Even in Scotland, mainstream Tories still represent a larger political force than the SSP. Although they don’t make much impression in Scottish or Westminster parliamentary politics, precisely because of this weakness, many ordinary members now resort to independent populist campaigns – such as the homophobic Keep The Clause (Section 28/Clause 2A) and the Countryside Alliance. At the UK level the Tories remain her majesty’s loyal opposition, still a significant, if ailing, political force. They will also be able to call on major sections of the press, particularly Rupert Murdoch, to support them.

Those SSP SC delegates who argued for a no position made no attempt to deal with the political nature of the wider opposition to the euro. Nor did they even consider the likely balance of forces involved. Yet, reality tends to assert itself even if unconsciously. It is quite clear that nobody in the no camp believes that Scottish Democracy Against the Euro can win control of the wider no movement. For neither in the motion, nor in the arguments put forward, was the only logical political aim advanced if such a winning scenario is envisaged. If the SSP and wider Left are to take the political spoils on the morning after a majority no vote in the referendum, then they must be ready to form a workers’ government and nationalise the banks! Otherwise, the morning after, it will still be Sir Eddie George, governor of the Bank of England, appointed by Chancellor Gordon Brown, in full charge. He is no more accountable to the people of these islands than the head of the European Central Bank. He answers to The City (and Wall Street). George and his full-time officials have already declared their neutrality in any referendum debate, a considerable weakness for Blair’s Britain in Europe yes campaign.

The situation elsewhere in these islands

Furthermore, despite Gordon’s advocacy of an internationalist campaign, he doesn’t appear to have considered the even stronger position of the Right in England and Northern Ireland. If Gordon’s ISG comrades in England also have their heads in the sand, how about their comrades in Socialist Democracy in Ireland? The overwhelming political support for anti-euro politics in Northern Ireland comes from the forces of reaction – both wings of the Ulster Unionist Party, the Democratic Unionist Party and the loyalist PUP (and if they give it a political thought between their ongoing pogroms, the paramilitaries in the UVF, UDA and LVF too). Now of course, the nationalist Sinn Fein is also opposed to the EU – on paper. In practice, Sinn Fein knows that the EU is popular amongst the wider nationalist constituency and therefore confines its opposition to particular issues – such as the Nice Treaty (this threatens Irish neutrality – and also the large EU subsidies to Irish farmers!) Sinn Fein, however, was remarkably quiet when the euro replaced the Irish punt last January. Indeed, during the first few days of the euro’s introduction to Ireland, the nationalist response on the ground in Belfast seemed to be to get the Irish-faced euro coins circulating as quickly as possible as an alternative to British coins!

Socialist Democracy’s response to the result of the Irish Nice Treaty referendum was much cooler than the politics of their mainland ISG colleagues would suggest. This was despite an embarrassing political defeat for Fianna Fail government and a considerable increase in Sinn Fein’s electoral credibility. This is because Socialist Democracy comrades have been through a major internal debate to overcome their one-time overly uncritical attitude to the politics of the Republican Movement. They inherited this initial attitude from the United Secretariat of the Fourth International, which has always tended to tailend left nationalist forces – a tendency known as Pabloism to aficionados of internal Trotskyist politics. Pabloism like its Stalinist competitors dresses up left nationalism in socialist colours. Now, if Gordon thinks through the logic of his politics he should be calling for Socialist Democracy to approach Sinn Fein for a united no campaign against the euro. Remember the need to maximise the no vote across the UK! Yet what happens if the CWI‘s Socialist Party (6 Counties) invites the PUP to any proposed no campaign? Maybe the joint no campaign could hold meetings under the union jack and the tricolour – but don’t ask for any delegates from east Belfast’s Short Strand!

The changed political situation in Scotland

Despite Gordon’s still tentative support for Scottish nationalism, he doesn’t appear to have considered the important political shifts on the issue of Europe since 1975. Then the SNP joined with the largely Labour Left in supporting withdrawal from the EEC in 1975. This helped to contribute to the significantly larger no vote in Scotland, 42% compared with 33% in the UK as a whole. Nowadays the SNP is almost as pro-EU as the Liberal Democrats. One consequence of the SNP‘s pro-EU stance today, is that there may now be greater support for the euro here than in the wider UK. Now, if Gordon thinks that Scotland showed its lefter credentials in 1975 by voting no to the EEC in greater proportion, then what would a proportionally smaller no to the euro vote in Scotland next year represent politically?!

This political change in Scotland is one reason why Allan Green and Hugh Kerr would prefer to link up with Alex Neill on the SNP left in a more pro-European campaign. Alex Neill has also been an ally of Tommy Sheridan in the Scottish parliament. Interestingly, Tommy has remained very quiet over the Euro!

The problem the nationalist Left has, is highlighted by the SSP‘s SRSM. Do they support the no campaign advocated by the Independent Socialist Scotland ISM leadership, despite their justified fear of union jacks being given a new lease of life; or do they follow the SNP into the yes camp, where blue saltires are likely to be found in greater number, but still overshadowed by Britain in Europe’s union jacks! The SRSM have not been able to solve this great conundrum, since their delegates abstained at the Glasgow special conference. Yet Gordon could still find an anti-EU Scottish nationalist wing, although not a very reassuring one. It is ideologically dominated by the self-declared, ultra-nationalist, ethnicist, militarist Siol nan Gaidheal (Seed of the Gael), with its black saltires.

An internationalism without substance

Yet there was a further weakness at the Special Conference. Gordon’s pre-SC paper advocated a campaign that could call local meetings and regional and national rallies with labour movement speakers from Scotland, England, Wales, from other European countries and from Africa, Asia and South America. This seems to highlight the internationalist connections needed by any genuine socialist campaign. Yet, on the day of the SC (in contrast to the earlier conference) there were no official representatives from any of these places – not our European socialist allies, nor even the Socialist Alliance in England.

There was no shortage of internationalist rhetoric from the SWM at the SC . Speakers punctuated their contributions with regular references to the brilliant anti-capitalist movement, the brilliant demonstrations in Genoa and Barcelona, and of course, the brilliant Globalise Resistance. Yet, they too failed to use their national influence in the SSP to push for international speakers on the day. One possible reason for the failure to invite international speakers, is that many other European socialists don’t support the Brit Left’s anti-euro stance – seeing it as an accommodation to reactionary British nationalism. Whilst SSP,  ISM and SWP delegates now regularly attend various European socialist forums it just doesn’t seem to have occurred to them to seek political support for their anti-euro stance. Is this because they know they may face a political challenge from bigger political forces? – better leave the no campaign as a purely British or Scottish affair!

Blair’s real political game

Speaker after speaker for the no position argued that Blair was pushing the euro so that he could impose the Maastricht Treaty convergence criteria in the UK in order to cut public spending and open up the way for further privatisation. This reveals a completely wrong understanding of the reason behind Blair’s pro-euro stance. The UK, under Thatcher, Major and Blair, has gone further with and met the convergence criteria earlier than any other EU member country. Blair wants to join the euro, to put himself at the centre of a political alliance with Berlusconi and Aznar, the better to roll back the more advanced social provision existing in the EU. This provision is codified in the Social Chapter, but in reality only implemented where workers are well organised – particularly in Italy and France. The idea that there still remain better working conditions to defend over here is a bad joke.

Therefore the starting point of any genuine internationalist campaign is solidarity support for those millions of Italian workers who struck earlier this year to protect workers’ rights in smaller workplaces; and those workers in Spain who struck against pension cuts. The European Socialist left needs to draw up its own wider Workers’ and Social Charter and organise a series of massive international demonstrations against Blair/Berlusconi/Aznar and the Eurobosses in each of their capital cities. If the SSP throws its weight behind a no to the euro campaign this not only isolates us from our class’s main fighting forces in Europe. It also makes it harder to distinguish us from all the Right populist and fascist forces in Europe who oppose the euro.

The political preconditions for a successful campaign, which will emphasise the rights of workers and the oppressed, is a refusal to take sides with either wing of capitalism represented in the yes and no camps. This means an active boycott campaign. This was the one idea which many nos tried to pour scorn on. There were two main responses. The first was to deliberately misrepresent an active boycott campaign as passive abstention. The second was to pretend there could be no such political animal as an active boycott campaign.

The reality of active boycott campaigns

However, just the month before, 1,738,000 voters in France had spoiled their ballot papers, rather than vote for Chirac or Le Pen. This represented 4.4% of the electorate, despite the LCR advocating a vote for Chirac, and despite LO being slow to promote such an approach, and refusing to conduct a political campaign directed at the LCR‘s youth base, which was prepared to defy the LCR leadership over the issue.

Perhaps Gordon wanted to direct attention away from ISG‘s sister organisation, the LCR. By recommending a vote for Chirac in the French presidential election they have caused controversy inside the ISG. Fellow ISG and SSP member, Campbell MacGregor, was given space in Socialist Outlook no 56 to oppose the LCR‘s support for Chirac. Gordon is in alliance with the ISM leadership over the no to the euro position. The USFI is making overtures towards the ISM and he will be aware of the LCR apologetic article in their Frontline 7 – Political earthquake in France. However, it was Nick Clarke of the RCN who punctured some SSP delegates’ mocking non recognition of an active boycott campaign. He reminded the delegates that the SSP had organised its own active boycott in the face of Brian Souter’s ‘Keep the Clause’ referendum in 2002 and that this campaign had involved direct action and not a mere binning of the ballot paper.

So, where do we go from here? The debate was conducted fairly, even if we didn’t like the result, so the RCN will not be attempting to organise an independent campaign outside the SSP. Instead, as the contradictions of the no position become more apparent, we will highlight these, hoping to make other comrades see the folly of providing voting fodder for The City and the Right. In the meantime we must take the argument into England, Wales and Northern Ireland, where socialists still haven’t decided on the issue.

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Jul 25 2002

The Euro Referendum: The case for an active boycott

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 02RCN @ 9:06 pm

Allan Armstrong why workers should support an active boycott of the Euro referendum

The rise of the populist and fascist Right in Europe

The rise of the populist and fascist Right in the Netherlands, France and England has caused considerable debate amongst the Left throughout Europe. We cannot be complacent in Scotland, just because the far Right is a negligible force here at present. Racism, sectarianism and both British and Scottish nationalism have deep roots in Scottish society, providing combustible material for far Right parties if circumstances permit, or if the Left provides them with the opportunity.

One issue which unites all the Right populist and fascist parties in Europe is opposition to the euro currency. All moves towards greater European integration are anathema to parties whose prime purpose is to promote a single national culture backed by a strong national state. Much of the initial support for the far Right comes from traditional conservatives nostalgically looking back to the glories of their states’ imperialist past. However, whether it be in Rotterdam, Marseilles, the former Red Belt of Paris, or Burnley and Oldham, the far Right has managed to extend its support to working class areas which traditionally gave their vote to social democratic and Labour or even to Communist Parties.

One reason for this is that the far Right parties increasingly address the concerns of workers – the decline of traditional industries, the decay of public housing, the rundown of local schools and community facilities. These were once the concerns of social democratic and Labour parties too. However, both continental social democrats and, in particular New Labour, now openly declare that the only way that such issues can be dealt with is by bowing to the needs of the global corporations and handing public welfare over to private companies. Meeting genuine human needs is a very low priority for the fast-buck, profit seekers of turbo-capitalism. Therefore, not surprisingly, support for the Labour Party is evaporating in its former strongholds. This is where the far Right hopes to make its biggest gains.

The current worldwide anti-globalisation movement still remains most strongly associated in the public’s mind with anarchists, left populists and socialists. However, we are now seeing the spectacle of the far Right opposing globalisation by defending traditional national state welfare measures once associated with the social democratic and official Communist Left. Once this common ground with the traditional Left has gained the far Right a working class audience, they then promote their own distinct theories and policies.

To the far Right, those promoting globalisation are seen as an alien and evil conspiratorial elite. Global conspirators seek to undermine traditional national culture through the promotion of large scale immigration designed to swamp and dilute traditional national cultures, in the process weakening traditional community defences. Thus the far Right makes an emotional appeal, heightening the feeling of insecurity by pointing to the threat from above represented by the anti national globalisers; and to the threat from below represented by all those from different ethnic cultures now living in our state.

The Right against the euro

It is not surprising therefore that opposition to the euro represents a natural stamping ground for the far Right in the UK. Defence of the pound allows the fascists to pose as the opposition to the foreign globalisers and their anti national allies at home. The pound isn’t just seen as an economic symbol, but as a powerful political and cultural symbol too. It conjures up British imperialism’s mighty past, when the pound sterling was the international currency and when Britannia ruled the waves, (as well as waiving the rules lesser states had to abide by!). The monarch’s head also provides a symbol for all the authoritarian Crown powers the British state has at its disposal, putting the Great into Great Britain.

By making such links, the issue of the euro offers the fascists potential allies amongst the populist Right in the UK Independence Party and the Tory Eurosceptics. By joining together powerful City interests, middle-sized companies and many small businessmen, farm and fishing boat owners, the decidedly Right wing nature of the No to the euro campaign can be clearly seen.

Therefore the Left in the UK should take warning from Denmark. Here the SSP‘s fraternal organisation, the Red-Green Alliance, decided to oppose the Euro-bosses and bureaucrats by joining the anti-euro campaign in 2000. They celebrated a No referendum victory by waving their red flags amongst crowds rather ominously displaying many more Danish national flags. When the Danish general and local elections were held the next year, the Red-Green Alliance lost one of its parliamentary and two of its council seats, However, the far Right Danish People’s Party, which had also campaigned vigorously against the euro, increased its parliamentary representation from 13 to 22!

In this country, unlike Denmark, there are major capitalist interests, represented by the Tories, who are also in the No camp. This makes the situation even more dangerous for the Left in the UK. If the Left tries to join this much wider Right on the Nos playing field, they are only going to be small bit players. Any criticisms of the game being played by our team mates are going to be brushed aside.

The day after a referendum, any victory for the ‘No’ camp would reaffirm the independent power of the Bank of England, of powerful City interests, along with those Tories competing with Tony Blair to be even keener advocates of a US/UK imperialist alliance. It would do little good for the Socialist Alliances and the SSP to wave their red flags, claiming we fought the campaign for better wages and conditions. Our voice would be drowned in a sea of union jacks, whilst those few remaining worker’s rights would come under an immediate and increased attack by an alliance of Right wing politicians and bosses, who would feel their day had arrived. No, the only other winners would be the fascist BNP, who would have waved their union jacks even more furiously and shouted their loyalty even more loudly than the Tories. The BNP can also look to their No camp allies in the European populist and fascist far Right, who, in Austria, Denmark, France, Germany and Spain have all made opposition to the euro a central issue. Le Pen travelled to Brussels to make an anti-euro speech days after he came second in the first round of the French Presidential elections.

Left nostalgia gives succour to the Right

However, it isn’t the populist Right and the fascists’ intentions to confine their appeal to traditional conservative supporters. They want to construct a Right-led popular front, which reaches deep into the working class, splitting us on ethnic lines and dividing the Left. And there can be nothing more corrupting of and demoralising for the Left than to be drawn on to the rocks of defending the national state and culture.

This is why the BNP is openly challenging the Left on its own declared territory by claiming to be the defendants of the post-1945 Labour welfare state and working class communities. When fascists link their defence of welfare provision to defence of the state, it has indeed found the Achilles heel of much of the Left today. This is why it is most disturbing to find powerful supporters for a No to the euro campaign amongst the ISM, SW and CWI Platforms (as well as supporters of Socialist Outlook) in the SSP, and outside their ranks in the SLP and Morning Star camps.

All these Left forces like to wear the cloak of old Labour in public, proudly displaying their post-1945 Labour welfare state golden days colours. Yet, it was always the case that Labour leaders’ commitment to welfare reforms was part of a social imperialist deal with the British ruling class. For thirty years, the British ruling class was prepared to accept the welfare state on condition that Labour promoted British imperialist interests in the world. From Greece, India, Malaya and Palestine, to Rhodesia and Ireland and now in the Gulf, Kosova, Afghanistan and Sierra Leone, Labour leaders have faithfully kept to their side of the deal, long after the British ruling class has reneged on its part.

Today global corporations, British included, have largely escaped the one-time constraints imposed by national state governments. They are in the process of creating new transnational institutions to advance and defend their interests – the WTO, IMF and NATO and new regional power blocs such as the EU and FTAA. Therefore the old deal has collapsed. Guaranteed pay rises and improved conditions have given way to labour flexibility. Welfare has given way to austerity and permanent war.

Even in the heyday of old Labour’s social imperialism, welfare was very much the junior dependant. However, with an organised British national Labour Movement it was possible to extract real concessions from a British national ruling class. But Old Labour, whether in office or as her majesty’s loyal opposition, was completely unprepared to fundamentally challenge a British ruling class which offered it some small slices of the imperialist cake. Today New Labour has accepted that its bargaining power is limited to squabbling with other states over the crumbs that fall from the global corporations’ tables.

Indeed, having an organised Labour Movement is counter productive for New Labour. The new global corporations, unlike the old British bosses, can up and off if they feel they are being put upon. Therefore the former, very British deal between the representatives of British Labour and the British ruling class has been abandoned. Now we have New Labour’s give-aways and knock-down offers to the US, Japanese, German and, of course, British global corporations. This is done in a desperate attempt not to be left out in the worldwide Dutch auction of pay and conditions.

Just as workers can not conjure up the days when (a limited number of) Victorian local employers showed paternalist and philanthropist concern for their workers, neither can we just conjure up the days of old Labour’s national welfare state (which were also decidedly limited, particularly if you were a woman or black).

To construct a national welfare state behind a protectionist wall in today’s global capitalist environment means promoting national austerity when the cost of necessary imported goods goes through the roof. It means promoting heightened ethnic conflict as migrant workers are locked out and targeted minority cultures are scapegoated. It means large-scale repression of all internal opposition. It means moves to war to control access to needed raw materials and to impose strict military discipline on society. Fascists of course are prepared to do all of these things, even if they are coy at present in spelling out the logic of their politics in public. Whatever temptations there may be for today’s Left to nostalgically invoke the golden days of old Labour, it should be clear that the terrain on which we fight the global corporations can not be defence of the national state or its institutions, including whatever currency it sponsors. Today the Tories may loudly defend the pound in your pocket, yet at all other times they try their damnest to ensure it is only pennies in our purses!

Of course, the welfare reforms, securer employment, better working conditions and rising living standards won after the Second World War and in particular, during the late 60s and early 70s, should be widely celebrated by the Left. Yet, despite the many false claims, they weren’t really the gift of Labour politicians, but were largely won through hard fought class struggle. Indeed, it was always at the points when our class left it to Labour politicians to deliver reforms, that they were either diluted or snatched away. The UK state exists firstly to defend British ruling class interests, so our class’s needs are always going to be a low priority. Yet, it is precisely to this state that social democrats and later the official Communists, with their British (state) road to socialism always looked for their reforms.

This is why those in the SSP and Socialist Alliances, who wish to create a new, Old Labour Party, could lead our class to serious defeats. The populist and fascist Right are competing on the same national state grounds as this traditional Left. The former want to use the state to impose their counter-reforms, the latter to introduce its proposed reforms. Despite all those loudly ringing warning bells, whether from Denmark, Austria, France or closer to home, in Lancashire, it is nostalgia for old Labour and the British welfare state, which is still pushing many socialists into the camp of the Right in defence of the pound.

Some on the Left, of course, will insist on separate campaigns, refusing to join Right wing platforms. But on referendum day the only issue being voted on is for or against the euro or the pound. There will be no box to mark an X for better wages and conditions!

The false arguments of the No and Yes groups

Now, if willingness to adopt old Labour clothing goes a long way to explain how some on the Left end up giving succour to the Right, what possible arguments can they use to justify this?

The starting point for their reasoning is correct. Those promoting the euro, including Blair’s New Labour government, are acting on behalf of existing and would-be European global corporations. They seek a strengthened European Union to pursue their global interests, seeing the existing European national states as too small for effective competition on the world market. They also see the significance of the EU‘s Maastricht Convergence Criteria which imposed a 3% of GDP limit on supporting governments’ deficit spending. This is meant to force governments to cutback on welfare spending. Labour costs are then lowered and new opportunities for further privatisation measures are provided.

However, despite the claims of some on the Left, Blair doesn’t want the UK to join the eurocurrency zone to enforce these measures over here. He doesn’t need to! This was achieved by the Tories and has been massively reaffirmed by Gordon Brown. Indeed Chancellor Brown went further, showing his commitment to meeting the City’s requirements for financial stability and spending discipline above all else, by ending government control of the Bank of England and handing it over to Eddie George.

Yet there is a division of opinion in the City over the pound versus the euro. The City has been able to make large profits out of growing European monetary integration by offering itself as an off-shore tax haven for euro-finance. From this point of view, the City benefits both from the growing strength of the euro-zone and by remaining outside it – a bit like the Isle of Man in relation to the UK! However, others in the City see that the Frankfurt, Paris and Milan finance centres are not going to accept this British offshore status for ever and may encourage EU bureaucrats to take retaliatory measures. Those in the City taking this view realise that their interests may be better advanced by joining the euro and using the City’s considerable expertise to capture a greater share of the increased business inside an expanded eurozone.

There is obviously a similar division amongst British industrial and service companies. Some would have preferred Blair not to have signed up to the EU‘s Social Chapter, so that British labour costs could have remained lower, the better to undercut German, French, Italian and other businesses on the mainland EU market. Others, also looking to the EU market, want to be on the inside, the better to deal with the challenge of US and Japanese corporations.

Blair’s appeal to British companies with sizeable European operations doesn’t lie in seeking their support to impose criteria which have already been met. He wants their support for a joint offensive, alongside his new Right wing allies, Italy’s Berlusconi and Spain’s Aznar, to undermine the Social Chapter and lower labour costs from within the eurozone.

Now there is a small group inside the SSP, including ex-Labour Lefts, Allan Green and Hugh Kerr, who appreciate that, in general, social provision in most EU member countries is considerably better than in the UK. A welfare gap has opened up between UK and French, Italian and German workers, after years of old and new Tory rule particularly since the crushing of the Miners’ Strike. Whilst Blair immediately signed up to the Social Chapter when New Labour gained office in 1997, this was a political ploy. Acceptance of the Social Chapter was mainly to gain access to the inner corridors of EU power. No inspectorate has been set up to ensure that superior European employment laws are implemented at work over here – they all still have to be fought for, workplace by workplace, industry by industry. Blair wants to work from inside the EU to dismantle these.

What would a ‘Yes’ and ‘No campaign look like – choose your poison

The logic of the SSP‘s pro-euro camp is to form an alliance with the small group of Left Europarliamentarians, to defend and extend the Social Chapter. The scope of such a campaign is likely to be fairly limited – a few public meetings with distinguished international parliamentarians and polite lobbies at Holyrood, Westminster and Brussels. The SSP‘s pro-euro Left like to pretend the EU flag already has sixteen stars (one for Scotland) on a radical red background, rather than fifteen stars on a conservative blue background. Hugh Kerr goes along with this illusion, drawing some comfort from the Alex Neil’s shrinking social democratic wing of the SNP which entertains similar illusions. In the meantime, the free marketeers of the growing SNP Right, led by John Swinney, join with the European bosses’ pro euro advocates, dropping more and more old social market baggage as they go.

The logic of the SSP‘s anti-euro camp is to seek unity and make an agreement with the Right over a division of labour in the campaign. This would be the best way to maximise the No vote and therefore to defeat Tony Blair. Back in 1975 when a then Labour Left and CPGB alliance led the Left opposition to Common Market membership, we saw the walls of trades councils adorned with union jacks behind a platform of trade union officials, Labour and Tory politicians. This unholy popular front extended from Tony Benn and Michael Foot to Enoch Powell and Teddy Taylor! It was but a short step from this unity behind the national flag to that disastrous pact in the national interest between the Labour government and trade union leaders – the Social Contract (soon to be termed the Social Contrick).

Indeed we don’t have to go so far back to see a trade union and labour movement campaign following the full logic of such nationalist thinking. When British Leyland’s Rover plant at Longbridge was threatened with closure; instead of strike action, occupation and the seeking of wider solidarity, the campaign decked itself out in full red, white and blue colours, looking for a patriotic employer to save the day. Despite a few face-saving red flags, any No campaign would be similarly swamped with union jacks and ultimately provide as little real comfort for workers.

An argument used by both the SSP‘s pro and anti-euro groups is that we must take sides. However, the anti-euro camp claim that many more workers are instinctively against the euro, so that is why we should join the No camp. The weakness of these arguments should soon become apparent. It took a hard political battle to persuade many socialists that it wasn’t necessary to automatically side with Labour in general elections, even though many workers still instinctively voted for them. The SSP was built by standing against both Tory and New Labour (as well as the populist SNP). It is precisely these two parties which are leading the No and Yes campaigns and whoever wins, neither has the slightest intention of improving our pay and conditions.

Then our No and Yes camps fall back on their last ditch defence. So, you are arguing for an abstention campaign, they say. Who will be listening? Now, an abstention campaign would actually be better than a political campaign which helped to build the hard Right or Blair and the Eurocrats. However, what socialists should really be arguing is for an Active Boycott Campaign.

An Active Boycott Campaign – the recent European experience

Here, the recent developments in Europe are most instructive. When Le Pen won the first round of the recent French presidential election, the Left – not only the Socialist and Communist Parties, went into a panic. How was Le Pen to be stopped? The French ruling class, which currently does not want a Le Pen victory, pushed out all the stops to ensure a Chirac victory. The Socialist Party and CPF quickly obliged by offering their support against the fascist danger. Yet the slogan, Better a thief than a fascist proved to have considerable pulling power over the revolutionary Left too. As a result they gave out mixed messages in the run-up to the second round play-off.

The problem with recommending a Chirac vote is the reason Le Pen beat Jospin in the first round is that the revolutionary Left gained an unprecedented 11% of the vote, much of it from the Socialist Party. Yet the revolutionary Left were quite right to offer an alternative to all those voters disillusioned with the Jospin-led government. However, if you later accept that the main priority is to keep out the fascist, then the logic is that the revolutionary Left shouldn’t have stood in the first place – something that many French Socialist Party members are openly saying! Now the rise of the National Front vote in France is indeed disturbing, but there was no real threat of a fascist takeover – or even a Le Pen presidential victory. His National Front did not have control of the streets and was not ready to March on Paris. The only real political gain for Le Pen was to be seen as the only remaining opposition to the establishment when the second round election took place.

However, elections are just one form of political action, which actually demand relatively little from the voter. Street mobilisations are another more significant form, particularly when they put strict limits on the fascists’ room for manoeuvre.

And it was precisely this alternative which exploded with elemental force from the hour the Le Pen vote was announced on April 21st. It began with thousands in the streets on that night and culminated, on May Day, in a 400,000 demonstration in Paris (with hundreds of thousands elsewhere), which dwarfed the National Front march of 10,000. But there was clearly an alternative to voting for Chirac. What if the revolutionary Left had thrown its whole weight behind a refusal to vote for Chirac, increasing the abstentions significantly, and hence increasing Le Pen’s proportion of the vote, what would have been the real effect? First, hundreds of thousands of workers, students and others actively mobilised is a much more potent force than even millions of passive voters. Many of those most angry were young people with no vote. What was their opinion? The Sunday Herald reported that one 15 year old declared that, If Le Pen becomes president, it’ll be a civil war… and I think I’ll fight in that war (28.4.02). And given the relative strengths of the Left and the Rights’ mobilisations over this period, there can be little doubt that Le Pen would have been forced to retreat, particularly since the French ruling class don’t support his anti-EU policies.

However, the revolutionary Left could have gone further and suggested an alternative combination of direct action and voting tactics. Whilst continuing mass mobilisation on the second round election day itself, they could have encouraged people to spoil their ballot paper. They could have provided No to Le Pen, No to Chirac or No to Thieves and Fascists stickers for the ballot papers. Interestingly, even without such clear guidance, 1,738,609 voters (or 4.4%) spoiled their ballot papers. An organised Left campaign could have built on this, but more importantly it could have shown those people disillusioned with the establishment parties, that there was indeed a real alternative, helping to deprive Le Pen of being the sole claimant to this mantle.

This is what an Active Boycott Campaign would look like. But our SSP No and Yes campaigners may still object – the UK and even Scotland isn’t France. This only shows how little they have appreciated the significance of anti-globalisation/ anti-capitalist mobilisations, not least in Genoa and Barcelona.

Making the European Socialist Alliance a real force

Let us look to what we can all agree on in the SSP and Socialist Alliances – workers’ rights are under attack throughout Europe; the campaign for a 35 hour week first initiated in the late 70s has floundered, particularly in the UK; racist sentiment designed to divide and weaken workers’ organisations is being whipped up against asylum seekers everywhere in the EU. It shouldn’t be difficult to draw up a common platform with our European allies. Indeed, the framework for this already exists in the RCN-initiated, CWI supported and SSP Conference voted resolution on a European Socialist Alliance. We should write to all our fraternal European socialist organisations proposing a meeting to organise a campaign, including international mobilisations to advance an agreed platform.

At present, the front line of the defence of employment rights lies in Italy. Here the Berlusconi government is trying to end laws which protect workers in small workplaces. On 23rd March a million demonstrators marched through Rome in protest. Our fraternal organisation, Rifondazione Communista was central to this.

The Left in Italy appreciate that Berlusconi has firm allies in Aznar and in Blair (and probably soon in Chirac too!). It should not be difficult to persuade them of the virtue of a series of international demonstrations, as part of their ongoing campaign to defend workers’ rights. If we could make solidarity with the Italian working class part of the European Socialist Alliance platform, then demonstrations in say, Madrid, London and Paris, would seem to fit the bill. When it came to the London demonstration, we could march from the Bank of England to the EU Commission Offices to show our opposition to both sets of bosses, and their New Labour and Tory backers.

In the run-up to any referendum, it would also be good to be able distinguish ourselves from the blatant, red, white and blue trimmed British chauvinist posters of the No campaign; and the liberal pacifistic, No more wars in Europe – lets all be nice Europeans or Shop easier on your European holiday paid hoardings of the Yes campaign. Our street posters could have their main slogans in several languages, whilst our demonstration platform speakers would be drawn from different countries, but all united before a forest of red flags. Lastly on the day itself, we could produce suitable stickers to register our protest in their false choice ballot. Such a campaign would raise the Left’s profile much higher and would certainly avoid the pitfalls of the other alternatives on offer – tailing either the Tory or New Labour No and Yes campaigns. An Active Boycott Campaign would involve us in a far more serious campaign than merely abstaining but the potential gains would be so much greater. We would also be building on firm internationalist principles.

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Mar 24 2002

Boycott Any Euro Referendum

Category: Issue 01RCN @ 8:23 pm

Matthew Jones on an independent working class response to the bosses’ referendum

Neither the European ruling classes, which have created the Euro nor the British capitalist supporters of the pound sterling are friends of the working class. Both are our sworn enemies. The choice being offered to us in this referendum is – a yes vote in support of the Euro or a no vote in support of the pound – not as some would put it Yes in support of Blair and New Labour or No against them.

The nature of money

To understand the class forces at work and where the working class should stand on the Euro it is first necessary to look at the nature of money. Originally precious metals – particularly gold – served as money. Karl Marx pointed out that the high value of gold relative to other commodities was due to the large quantity of labour time taken to produce gold. Historically the value of gold in the modern world market has changed slowly, falling only with the development of new extraction techniques or the discovery of major new deposits with easier workings.

Continue reading “Boycott Any Euro Referendum”

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