The Point
Last updated: 01 May 2017.

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The Great EU debate: the Left arguments for Leave and Remain

  

According to the mainstream media you would think that the EU debate has almost exclusively been an argument on the right of politics. The Point is happy to play its small part in trying to correct that unfortunate and misleading view. Four very different left voices - Dario Argentina, John Wight, Bill Mair and Hugh Kerr - argue their various cases for both Leave and Remain.

 

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The EU is a vehicle for Anglo-German imperialist domination of the South: Let’s bring this mother down!

 

 

First up, Dario Argentina comes up with a very interesting and original argument for voting Leave

 

Up until yesterday, I was convinced that an abstention from the EU referendum vote was the correct position to take. Indeed, this referendum was not brought about by a mass working class movement putting forward a socialist Leave programme, but stems from an internal division within the Conservative Party, reflecting the confusion and lack of direction within the capitalist class. Surely, then, this is a referendum based on how best to manage British capitalism, either within the imperialist EU or as an ‘independent’ imperialist state?

 

Formally speaking, yes it absolutely is. But this is from the point of view of the bourgeois. It’s clear that the main ruling fraction of the British capitalist class support remaining in the EU. This alone, however, is not reason to vote against them and vote Leave.

 

Instead, we need to consider the working class movement as a whole across Europe. As I write this, French workers are striking and rioting against labour laws that the government intends to impose to make it easier to sack workers. Last month, the Greek government passed a budget for the next round of austerity enforced by the Troika. In Portugal, trade union struggle and the Left is on the rise.

 

Countries like Greece, Portugal and Spain have become debt colonies for the parasitic finance capitalists that gain their share of surplus value through debt, interest and extortion. This is enabled by the ‘freedom of movement [of capital]’ within the EU framework. Companies like JP Morgan, PWC, E&Y and of course Goldman Sachs engineered Greece’s entry to the EU and adoption of the Euro in order to grant the government multi-billion dollar loans that could never be paid off.

 

A British vote to Leave the EU would send the whole EU imperialist project into turmoil and could even deliver a fatal blow. Objectively, this would strengthen the working class in ‘Southern’ Europe who are already entering the arena of class struggle.

 

It’s true that the EU debate in this country has become extremely toxic and centred around immigration. However, even the Remain side is calling for tougher immigration controls! The reality is, whatever way the vote goes, the nationalist genie of jingo is out the bottle. The only way to cut across the chauvinism on both sides is to counter-pose it to a working class socialist programme. Many concerns about immigration, for example, are really due to inadequate and under-funded public services and lack of affordable housing.

 

Admittedly, the Left are not in a position to do this with any real weight, which was another reason for my initial reaction to abstain. In that sense, the vote is a lose-lose one for British workers. However, for those workers in ‘Southern’ Europe under the heel of Anglo-German finance capital, this offers them a chance to smash the imperialist EU and ignite the European class struggle.

 The reality is, the revolution is not going to be started by the English, at least not at this stage. But a Brexit vote could aid socialist forces on the continent and those workers already struggling against EU-imposed austerity. Mass movements across Europe could then inspire us Brits back home to take up our pitchforks and turn them against the main enemy at home.

 This referendum is not under ideal circumstances. Whatever happens, it will be bad. But for those Socialist Remainers waiting for the ‘right’ conditions for a Brexit – if not now, when? Workers can’t wait another four years for a Labour government (which wouldn’t support Brexit anyway, based on Corbyn’s current position).

 Sectarians can stand on the sideline, but class struggle never takes a pure, ideal form. We have to utilise the limited options that we have available to us, even when they fall from the capitalists’ table. That’s why I’m urging all conscious socialist internationalists and Abstainers to play a role in smashing Anglo-German imperialism for our sisters and brothers across Europe and Vote Leave!

 

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The ideological collapse of the pro-Brexit left

John Wight argues aganst getting into bed with the Brexit right, and that left led Leave campaign must wait for a Labour Government 

The referendum over Britain’s membership of the EU has from inception involved two wings of the Tory Party engaged in an internecine war, pitching the free marketeers of Cameron, Osborne and company against the empire loyalists of Johnson, Gove, and IDS et al. In the words of the song we’re talking “clowns to the left and jokers to the right.”

 

But what the clowns led by Cameron and Osborne have in their favour vis-a-vis the EU that the jokers do not is that the case for Remain approximates to something that resembles the real world - i.e. the risk to investment, jobs and trade should Brexit come to pass.

 

Learning lessons of the Falklands War

 

Strip away the embroidery and Brexit is a far right project driven by the most reactionary and regressive political current in British political life today, fuelled by anti-immigration and xenophobia in service to a mythological British identity that harks back to the 19th century when Britannia ruled the waves, Johnny Foreigner knew his place, and the Union Jack flew wherever it damn well pleased. The last time this mythological identity, underpinned by an eruption of right wing consciousness, gained prominence was in the aftermath of the Falklands War in 1982.

 

In the lead up the conflict over the Falklands with Argentina, Thatcher was down in the polls. The free market structural adjustment of the economy her government unleashed upon entering Downing Street in 1980 had by the start of 1982 led the country into recession with a concomitant spike in unemployment and interest rates as aggregate demand was sucked out of the economy in obeisance to the obsession with controlling inflation.

 

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THERE IS NO PROGRESSIVE OR LEFT WING CASE FOR BREXIT

 

Post Falklands War and the Iron Lady was the woman of the hour as jingoism swept the land and the false consciousness of patriotism - which as Oscar Wilde reminds us the virtue of the vicious - took its course.

 

Thatcher rode the wave of her new-found popularity in order to continue her assault on the collectivist ideas that underpinned the welfare state, public services and the trade union movement, leading directly to her epic confrontation with the miners, British worked infamously labelled 'the enemy within'.

 

False arguments of the pro-Brexit left

 

Learning from this history is a non negotiable condition of ensuring we do not repeat it, yet when it comes to Brexit the collection of rump left wing voices supporting it have not only failed to they have surrendered to right wing nostrums on controlling our own borders, sovereignty, democracy and the claim that the EU is an 'imperialist project'.

 

Let us deal with those arguments seriatim:

 

Controlling our own borders: Anyone who has ever experienced the interminable wait to pass through immigration control at Heathrow's Terminal Five will confirm that the assertion being made that UK is not in control of its own borders is false.

 

When it comes to the free movement of people, which the UK has signed up to as part of its membership of the single market, just over two million British citizens are currently beneficiaries of this right, which has done more to foment cultural ties across Europe than any number of trade delegations or state visits ever have. Moreover, the ability to travel freely across Europe for tourists: is this a bad thing? Is this something to be scrapped?

 

Those on the left who have subscribed to this mantra are engaging in a reactionary response to what is a symptom of the free movement of capital. In the beggar-thy-neighbour global economy we currently have, otherwise known as neo-liberalism, workers are forced into a race to the bottom as global corporations and investors force governments to compete for jobs and investment. This benefits richer economies, such as the UK’s, at the expense of their poorer counterparts, such as those of Eastern and Southern Europe, which then compels workers to uproot and travel to richer countries in the pursuit of better wages and the means of survival for themselves and their families. In doing so they are merely upholding their natural and moral right.

 

The stats on immigration are irrefutable. They reveal that EU migrant workers are a net contributor to the economy. Yes, there is an issue with the additional pressure on services, schools, and housing, etc. But this is because under the rubric of austerity the Tories have taken a scalpel to public spending. It is this policy, formulated and administered by the Tories not the EU, that is the enemy of working people in Britain. It is not EU migrant workers. In focusing on immigration we deflect responsibility for austerity from the Tories, where it belongs, onto people whose only crime is that they arrive here seeking improved wages and conditions, just as two million British citizens have done across the EU in return.

 

Sovereignty: A myth that needs to be confronted and disabused is that national sovereignty exists under a global economic system that transcends borders. Political sovereignty without economic sovereignty is no sovereignty at all. Is the EU a threat to sovereignty? Nonsense. A mere 13 percent of current UK legislation is derived from the EU and it is by far the most progressive legislation we have on everything from workers' rights, consumer rights, maternity leave, and paid holidays, all of which will be at the mercy of a rejuvenated right wing of the Tory Party in the event of

 

Brexit. Democracy: It is laughable to listen to and read the pro-Brexit left arguing that the EU is anti-democratic while living in a country with an unelected head of state, the Monarchy, and an unelected second chamber, the House of Lords. Taken together both institutions stand as relics of Britain's feudal past and are long past the day when they should have been relegated to the dustbin of history. In 2016 it is those institutions that constitute an impediment to democracy in Britain not the EU.

 

The EU is an imperialist project: Here a quick history lesson is obviously required to remind people that Britain's history of colonialism and imperialism predates its membership of the EU by around 400 years. Furthermore, in 2003 Tony Blair did not require the sanction of the EU to attach Britain to Washington's coattails and embark on the most disastrous and devastating war since the Vietnam War, the consequences of which the Iraqi people, people living in the wider region, and people here at home and elsewhere throughout the EU, victims of the terrorism and extremism that has proliferated as a result, continue to suffer.

 

The inference that the British state independent of the EU would automatically shed its imperialist character just cannot be taken seriously. On the contrary, as Noam Chomsky claimed recently, a Tory government post-Brexit would likely place even more emphasis on the Atlantic Alliance with Washington than it does now, along with more importance on its role as a member of NATO, in order to maintain Britain's seat at the imperialist table.

 

Political context

 

While there may well be solid progressive reasons for opposing the EU, this Brexit campaign is taking place and exists in a right wing political context and its beneficiaries will be those forces rather than the left. If and when Jeremy Corbyn becomes prime minister and his attempt to run a deficit for the purposes of capital investment in the country's infrastructure, housing, and industry is blocked by the EU, along with his intention of returning the railways to public ownership where they belong, that is the time for the left to support Brexit - for then it will be taking place in a progressive context, underpinned by a progressive political consciousness in the country at large.

 

Ultimately, at a time when the Conservative Party and the right is ripping itself to shreds in a civil war over the EU, it behooves the left to unite behind the most progressive leader that Labour has had in its entire history in the shape of Jeremy Corbyn, along with the bulk of the trade union movement and the TUC.

 

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#Lexit – A Socialist Perspective

Bill Mair, National Co-Secretary of Solidarity argues for a Leave vote from a left pro-independence perspective.

The argument about #Lexit, Brexit or Remain is choked with economic statistics: we're told the economy will suffer or improve if we leave or remain, depending on who's speaking.

I'm going to leave economics out of my argument except for this one point:

Lies, damn lies and statistics – statistics can be used to prove anything – eg page 8 of the pro-EU British Government leaflet that popped through every door a few weeks ago states that 8% of EU exports come to UK while 44% of UK exports go to EU. This masks the true value of our trade deficit with the EU, which stood at £24 billion for the first quarter of 2016 (source: Guardian 10/5/16 https://www.theguardian.com/business/2016/may/10/uk-trade-deficit-hits-new-record-of-24bn-pounds-eu-referendum-brexit).

We buy a lot more from the EU than we sell to them, so the scare story about being locked out of trading with EU states if we leave is nonsense: we are their best customer. They'll move heaven and earth to hold on to us.

The reason I'm leaving statistics out of my argument is because, lies and sleight-of-hand apart, GDP (Gross Domestic Product) and so forth mean nothing to the working class. We are the 5th largest economy in the world and yet we have food banks growing at an exponential rate and the working poor are making good use of them. Whether GDP rises or falls makes no difference to the vast majority of us because we don't see the benefit.
 

The stats we see and read from the Better Together/Remain campaign are Project Fear Mk2 – like the bluster of an abusive partner in a dysfunctional relationship, threatening and undermining – "You'll never make it on your own. You're worthless, you're weak. You need me!"
 

The following are NOT good reasons to leave the EU:
 

1. The claimed cost of membership – IF GB is the 5th richest country in the world then we should contribute to poorer countries. From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.
 

2. Migrants – As socialists, we argue for open borders – all are equal. More about EU's Fortress Europe below.
 

And now, a good reason NOT to vote Remain

1. The lies about workers' rights.
 

Paid annual leave: GB law gives 28 days paid holiday vs EU minimum of 20 days https://www.gov.uk/holiday-entitlement-rights/entitlement 
 

Maternity Leave: GB gives 52 weeks vs 14 weeks EU entitlement;
 

Maternity Pay: GB 90% for 6 weeks, £140 for 3 weeks vs EU entitlement of ZERO maternity pay;  https://www.gov.uk/maternity-pay-leave/pay
 

Equal pay – was law in GB in 1970, before we joined EC in 1973 http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1970/41/pdfs/ukpga_19700041_en.pdf
 

Minimum wage – GB £7.20/hr for over 25's (although below Solidarity's £10/hr or Living Wage Foundation's £8.25 /hr)

EU: NO minimum wage requirement - Austria, Cyprus, Denmark, Finland, Italy and Sweden have no minimum wage.

http://www.eurofound.europa.eu/observatories/eurwork/articles/working-conditions-industrial-relations/statutory-minimum-wages-in-the-eu-2016

 European Working Time Directive: Britain long ago negotiated exemptions from this so employers can pressurise workers to sign away their precious rights to work no more than 48 hours a week. Cameron is committed to exempting British workers from every remaining positive aspect of the Maastricht Treaty's Social Charter, while retaining the worst of the neo-liberal clauses.

 

Good Reasons for #Lexit: Solidarity's Solid 6
 

1. TTIP - an undemocratic treaty being worked out right now in secret between unelected European Commission bureaucrats and American corporate interests.
 

We know little about TTIP and its evil twin CETA, as even MEPs are forbidden from taking notes of the TTIP documentation or photographing it. However, we do know that it will give American corporations the right to sue European governments. That is as undemocratic as it is possible to be.

2. Fortress Europe - Syrians, Afghans, Pakistanis and people from other countries are drowning in the Mediterranean and are holed up in festering refugee camps in sub-human conditions because Europe is closing its doors to people fleeing poverty, persecution and war. This is the direct result of EU policy. We say open our borders and let refugees in.
Can we afford to do that? Absolutely: we're the 5th richest country in the world, remember? There is plenty enough money for social housing, schools, hospitals, etc – it is just all in the pockets of the rich. Redistribute the wealth and eliminate poverty and shortages.

When we all have enough we will see an end to the selfish bickering about refugees coming to "steal our benefits/housing/jobs" (delete as appropriate).

PS – Scotland's population is growing more slowly that the rest of the UK – we need more working-age people desperately (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-20754751) – well over 90% of Scotland is uninhabited – there is plenty of room for housing and thousands of buildings lie empty, including 27,000 homes

http://www.scotsman.com/business/companies/how-many-homes-in-scotland-lie-empty-1-3907405

http://ichef1.bbci.co.uk/news/624/media/images/64810000/gif/_64810701_population

 _compared_census_464.gif & http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-20754750 

 

 

3. The Copenhagen Criteria, built into European Law, require member countries to pursue and promote a free market economy. This inhibits socialism and prohibits nationalised industries

Tommy Sheridan's 2006 Bill to re-nationalise Scottish rail services was ruled in breach of EU rules as were proposals not to tender Scottish-government-owned Ferry services.

4. EU Humiliation of Greece. Greece voted in 2015 against to reject the austerity of the Troika (European Central Bank, European Commission & International Monetary Fund).

The EU has since humiliated, crushed and punished Greece for that and for the crime of electing a socialist government: pensions cut, wages slashed, massive unemployment, widespread poverty.  http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-13940431 

5. EU gives Israel favoured nation trading status, putting it on a par with EU member states. Far from welcoming Israel as a trading partner we should be boycotting it completely. Even Alex Salmond said "We can't have normal diplomatic relations with such a country – it's time to stop the diplomatic dance" (25/3/10) Humza Yousaf called for arms embargo to Israel 25/8/14. Even David Cameron called Gaza "the world's largest open air prison" (27/7/10).

6. We have seen what NATO involvement has done to Libya. It completely destroyed the country, facilitating the rise of DAESH, Al Qaeda and multiple roaming gangs of militia across the entire Middle East and into Europe. The EU and NATO have a symbiotic political realtionship.

So, crammed into exactly 1,000 words: reasons, both bad & good, to vote #Lexit.

You decide.

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Is Jo Cox Brexit's first victim or saviour?

Hugh Kerr argues that the tragic murder of Jo Cox MP should give us pause for thought before we cast our Leave or Remain votes

 

The death of Jo Cox has brought a tragic conclusion to an ugly referendum campaign but ironically may well influence the outcome in a positive direction. When I first heard of the death of Jo Cox I posted it on Facebook with the question posed on the heading above. I was immediately criticised by people for "politicising a personal tragedy" or "it's a mental health issue" or " wait for the facts".

Well, Thomas Mair was charged this morning with murder (17.06.16) and it's clear that he had far right links and had ordered details of how to make a gun ,and had used a home made gun to murder Jo Cox while shouting Britain First. If that isn't political I don't know what is, but as Craig Murray points out in his blog it seems that only Muslims can be terrorists in Britain! Now Thomas Mair in court says his name is "Death to traitors freedom for Britain" I think the matter is closed the murder of Jo Cox was a political act!

Of course anyone who engages in gruesome acts like the murder of Jo Cox may well be mentally unstable but this isn't the sole explanation. The murder was carried out in a political context of a vile racist xenophobic campaign to leave the EU and "keep these nasty foreigners out" or "take our country back" or any other of the vile front pages of the Brexit supporting press. This campaign did not cause the murder of Jo Cox but it did provide the atmosphere in which Mair committed his vile act.

This racism has poisoned the whole Brexit debate and the mood in England. In the brilliant phrase of Peter Geoghan in Bella Caledonia "A terrible uglieness has been born".  (This of course derives from the great poem ‘The Second Coming’ by W B Yeats written after 1916 which we have been recently remembering). Watch the behaviour of the English football fans in France chanting anti-EU slogans and singing racist ditties against the Germans or any "Johnny Foreigner"

Listen to the hostile comments from Question Time audiences "we want our country back" -and by the way their country isn't Britain it's England. I spent 40 years living and working and in politics in England and visit London, Essex and Sussex regularly. It's clear to me that there is a sea change in the mood of the white working class in England. They feel they have been neglected by successive Labour and Tory governments (and they are right!) and they have swallowed the racist myths on immigration peddled by the nasty Brexit campaign and their tabloid backers.

It was brought home to me recently on my return from France when the Border Agency inspector said "I can't wait to vote leave and keep these foreigners out" I pointed out his job depended on letting foreigners in but he said he didn't care! By foreigners he clearly included Scots because when I asked him how Andy Murray was doing in the tennis he said " I don't care, I don't like him, I don't like Jocks"! The truth is that the referendum has in part become a desperate search for a lost English identity,preferably  sometime in the 1950s!

The EU referendum is happening because of the deep divisions in the Tory party, Cameron thought he could lance the European boil by holding a referendum which he would win easily after all that's what Harold Wilson did in 1975! The difference between now and 1975 is that then the great majority of the political elite and almost all the national press were in favour of staying in. Today the majority of Tory voters and many Labour voters are against the EU and their emotions are being whipped by a racist Brexit campaign amplified by a vile press many of whose owners are foreign based exiles who hate the EU because it might threaten their profits or control of their empire.

Could the murder of Jo Cox make voters think twice before voting? I certainly hope so, I remember how the death of John Smith in 1975 helped to swing the electorate towards Labour because of the decent values of John Smith.

Similarly the contrast between the life affirming values of Jo Cox and the nasty racists behind Brexit might make some people reflect and change. I hope so, but I fear it may be too late, the polls have been steadily moving towards Brexit and many people have already cast their postal vote.

Recently in despair I put £100 on a Brexit victory and stand to win £400 if Brexit wins. I hope I lose but I fear I am going to win and we are all going to lose. If we do and Scotland votes Remain as the polls indicate then we must immediately demand that Scotland stays in the EU and we should initiate a demand for a second referendum on independence. After all if we can't win an independence referendum faced with the prospect of Boris Johnstone led "Little England" Westminster government then we will never win it!

Scotland is different, let us state it clearly, we are internationalists, we welcome refugees we are and always have been a European nation and we want to stay there. As a former MEP in touch with many of my former colleagues I can tell you that Scotland would get a warm reception for its application to remain, let's do it!


Hugh Kerr is a former Labour MEP expelled by Labour for his opposition to Blair

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And if you've made it through all these arguments for Leave and Remain thus far, dear readers, here's a wee humourous satirical meme, just for you...

 

 

External links:

Bella Caledonia

Bright Green

George Monbiot

Green Left

Greenpeace

The Jimmy Reid Foundation

Laurie Penny

New Left Project

Newsnet Scotland

Richard Dawkins

Scottish Left Review

Socialist Unity

UK Uncut

Viridis Lumen

Wings Over Scotland

Word Power Books