Recently rs21 members met to discuss and debate our attitudes towards the EU referendum and related issues, in particular migrant solidarity. Migrant solidarity work is central to rs21. Initiatives like London2Calais have illustrated the possibility of combining organising practical solidarity with migrants with a strong anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist politics, as well as reaching out to new activists who are disproportionately young, BME and women.
There are differences in among rs21 members as to what are the key political questions at stake around the EU referendum, however discussions were illuminating and comradely. The meeting adopted an internationalist leave position, which is put forward below. We hope that debate and clarification will continue in the coming weeks.
We believe that individuals and groups committed to the fundamental transformation of society should strongly oppose Britain’s continued membership of the EU. We should do this on the basis of our commitments to democracy, genuine egalitarianism, solidarity and anti-racist internationalism.
It is true that the narrative of this referendum is controlled by the reactionary forces of the establishment, and whatever the outcome it will be interpreted by them in a way which reinforces their narrative. The onus, then, is on us to intervene in spite of their rhetoric, and to set out principled, revolutionary arguments. Refusing to engage in this debate because it has, so far, been dominated by reactionary and racist positions does not, in any way, undermine the reactionaries and racists; rather it allows them to operate freely, at a time at which they should be fought for every inch of ground on the ideological and political terrain.
The legal structures of the EU, like all legal structures, reflect the crystallisation of particular struggles and conflicts, and the key workers, migrant and consumer rights protected by the EU were won through the collective action of working people. These formal guarantees were conceded at a point in time when European capitalism could afford to commit to such rights, and European workers were strong enough to demand such rights. The current conjuncture in Europe, in contrast, is one in which capital is on the offensive, and is necessarily seeking to break down all barriers to the pursuit of profit. The last eight years of austerity have seen a dramatic acceleration in the undermining of workers’ rights and the living standards of working people. Such has been the assault on workers’ rights and living standards, that both the Council of Europe and the European Parliament have published reports documenting how the policies of the EU have led to the dramatic erosion of the entire corpus of rights. In short, given the trajectory of global capitalism, the EU is more likely to facilitate the undermining of fundamental rights, than act as a bulwark against their erosion.
Since at least the Maastricht Treaty, the EU’s constitutional arrangements have been revised to lock in the economic logic of neoliberalism and insulate the real decision making bodies with the EU from democratic control and accountability. The contemptuous treatment of the Greek people in 2015 is just the most brutal, recent example of tendencies latent within the EU. The EU is constitutionally undemocratic, and intentionally so. A Europe committed to democracy, solidarity, egalitarianism and genuine internationalism will only be brought about in spite of, not through, the EU.
Whatever the outcome of the referendum, the Tories and their ilk will continue to wage war on working people and migrants; the challenge is to be part of these struggles, and to trust in the capacity of people to fight to defend their interests, as the only real guarantee of the rights we have. The only alternative to the EU is the self-organisation and mobilisation of working people in Europe (in all of their variety). In much the same way as the referendum about Scottish independence in 2014 became a thoroughgoing debate about what sort of Scotland, and what sort of future people wanted, the referendum debate can provide a space in which socialists advance principled, revolutionary arguments about the nature of capitalism and the EU and invite working people to become the active protagonists in the construction of a different future.
We can turn away in dismay at the number of votes that went to UKIP in the last general election, or we can focus on the fact that a recent study shows that a majority of people in Britain have recently said they prefer socialism to capitalism. We can, as Samir Amin argues, approach the current conjuncture as opportunists, who understand politics as ‘the art of benefiting from the balance of power, such as it is’, or we approach it as principled socialists, for whom politics is ‘the art of transforming the balance of power’. In a similar vein, Marta Harnecker argues that ‘for revolutionaries politics is the art of making the impossible possible, not from some voluntarist urge to change things but because our efforts should be realistically focused on changing the current balance of power so that what appears to be impossible today becomes possible tomorrow’.
It may well be that this debate has its origins in Tory civil war politics, and that the mainstream debate will be dominated by racist, economistic and other misplaced narratives, but none of that absolves us of the responsibility to set out a principled socialist position on the debate. The thousands of dead men, women and children at the bottom of the Aegean and the despicable deal recently struck between the EU and Turkey are not an aberration, not a breach with mythical European values – instead they reflect Europe and the EU as it is. As such, we can and should break with the EU. If we do so there are no guarantees of what will come next: we do not get guarantees. But there are opportunities to imagine and fight for an entirely different Europe; that’s our challenge and we must prove ourselves worthy of it.
One of the key issues in the upcoming EU referendum will be the question of migration, by both EU citizens and non-EU citizens into Europe. All of the main camps in this debate espouse varying degrees of xenophobia and racism. This anti-migrant sentiment has been a part of British political life for decades but has been ratcheted up to fever pitch in recent times, with the media and sections of the political class attempting to make it the dominant issue in British political life. This has led to UKIP receiving millions of votes, the daily demonization of and attacks against migrants in Britain and a small but worrying resurgence in ultra-violent fascist organisations.
In the aftermath of the publication of photos of Aylan Kurdi, dead on a European beach, there was an outpouring of support for refugees around Europe, with tens of thousands marching in solidarity in Britain alone. The organisation ‘London2Calais’ was launched off the back of this outpouring of solidarity. It has successfully engaged huge numbers of people in building practical solidarity for refugees and migrants. It has a core support base of dozens, predominantly women and BAME people. London2Calais has not compromised in putting anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist critiques of the states and border regimes, which are responsible for the endless deaths of those fleeing for safety or a chance of a better life. Many thousands of protesters also joined the Stand Up to Racism demonstration in March.
Revolutionary socialists have to respond to the referendum in part by defending migrants’ rights. It is not the only issue that confronts us, but it is the one that stares us directly in the face. Both wings of the Tory Party – pro-EU and Eurosceptic – attack migrants. They have established the idea that migrants are a problem as part of the standard national discourse. It is part of the ‘common sense’ of Tory Britain. We have to challenge this.
Once, socialist internationalism meant just solidarity with workers and peasants in other lands. Now, as a result of the mass migration brought about by globalisation, it also means solidarity with those living on the same street or even working in the same workplace.
We have to defend migrants, whatever their status – economic migrant, refugee, asylum seeker or whatever – because to not do so would make unwarranted distinctions between workers and works against the solidarity of the working class. This is part of the socialist ABC. Furthermore, if workers do not know whether they have the right to remain in the country this makes them insecure and make them feel they have a short-term interest in not antagonising their employers. This also works against workers’ solidarity, especially since migrants are disproportionately employed in casual and precarious occupations.
Remaining in the EU is not a viable long-term strategy to for defending migrant workers. For a start, rules about the free movement of labour do not apply to non-EU nationals. We only have to think of the plight of refugees attempting to enter the EU to be aware of this. Furthermore, from April this year, non-EU migrants to the UK will have to be earning at least £35000 a year within five years of arriving in order to be granted Indefinite Leave to Remain.
EU nationals already settled in Britain may get short-term protection if the referendum results in Britain remaining in the EU, but new arrivals into the UK will be second-class citizens. They will not be allowed to receive welfare benefits until they have been resident for four year, effectively putting pressure on them not to do anything that might lose them their jobs and thereby tying them to their employers.
Throughtout and after the referendum campaign, rs21 will continue argue for a political and non-sectarian approach to anti-racism and migrant solidarity. We reaffirm our opposition to immigration restrictions and to borders of any kind and our commitment to campaign for equal rights for migrant workers with those of British nationality, regardless of the outcome of the referendum. This includes supporting the unionisation of casualised and precarious workers, a disproportionately large number of whom are migrant workers, and opposition to tied visas. We will continue to campaign alongside those in refugee and migrants’ rights campaigns, such as those to close detention centres, and to assist in whatever way possible to build a united campaign for the defence of migrants’ rights. We support humanitarian assistance to refugees, linking it to the political demand to allow them, unconditionally, into Britain.
Whose Europe? Theirs or ours? by Jen Wilkinson and Paul O’Connor
A socialist case for leaving the EU by Neil Davidson
38 points on Brexit and the left by Ian Allinson
Why are the Tories divided over Europe? by David Renton
How will EU debate impact migrant solidarity? by Anindya Bhattacharyya
Exit will only strengthen Fortress Europe by Mikhil Karnik
In, out, or shake it all about? by Adam DC
Leaving the EU won’t get rid of neoliberalism by Bettina Trabant