The modern Left loves the EU because having lost the public argument for socialist policies, they see in Brussels their last and best hope of imposing their left-wing ideology on an unwilling population
Tom Slater has an excellent piece in Spiked, in which he takes to task all of the big name lefties – some of whom previously toyed with supporting Brexit as they watched the EU’s antidemocratic behaviour with growing horror – who are now supporting the Remain campaign, and thus betraying democracy when it truly matters.
The last few prominent Eurosceptics on the left have started to peel away. They’ve been confronted with a once-in-a-generation opportunity to smash power, to strike out for democracy and to put the future of European politics firmly in the hands of the people, rather than a faceless, byzantine bureaucracy. And they’ve bottled it.
First there’s Yanis Varoufakis, the flash stepdad of European leftism and the former finance minister of ailing Greece. This is a man who has experienced the tyranny of the Brussels set firsthand. His modest proposals for rescuing debt-laden Greece from EU-enforced austerity were ignored. ‘Elections’, he was told by German finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble, ‘change nothing’. He quit government in protest as his Syriza comrade Alexis Tsipras signed an agreement that would once again shackle Greece to Troika diktat. What is the self-styled ‘erratic Marxist’ up to now? He’s touring the UK, telling Brits to say ‘Oxi’ to Brexit so that we can ‘reform the EU from within’.
Then there’s Owen Jones, the Corbyn choir boy who has followed the Labour leader’s transformation from Bennite Eurosceptic to apologetic Remainer. Last summer Jones called for the left to campaign for Brexit. After the horrors of Greece, he wrote, it’s time to ‘reclaim the Eurosceptic cause’. Now, just 10 months on, he’s joining Varoufakis on the campaign trail. His flirtation with principle over, he wants to ‘unite with people across the continent to build a democratic, workers’ Europe’. How propping up a democracy-thwarting institution puts you in line with the little guy is beyond me. Not least when said institution has effectively abolished workers’ rights in austerity-battered countries like Greece.
But perhaps the most glaring retreat of them all has come from Paul Mason. The former Channel 4 economics editor and ‘radical social democrat’ actually had the brass to pen an article titled ‘The left-wing case for Brexit (one day)’. One day. Those two, trembly words sum up the sentiment of these fair-weather Eurosceptics. Yes, yes, democracy – one day. Not now. Especially when, as Mason sees it, a Brexit would allow Michael Gove and Boris Johnson to ‘turn Britain into a neoliberal fantasy island’. He’s in favour of democracy, you see, just not when the pesky demos elects a government he doesn’t like. This is hypocrisy dressed up as strategic nous.
Tom Slater is absolutely correct to denounce each and every one of these reversals as a shameful failure of courage. His piece is entitled “The Progressives Afraid Of Change”, and regrettably that is exactly what we see from the supposedly ideologically pure Corbynite Left. Yet after having grown in prominence and power primarily by denouncing the compromises and betrayals of the centre-left, these virtue-signalling true believers are now selling out British democracy in exactly the same way, proving that they are no better than the Blairite New Labour government which they so despise.
This blog has also taken each of the prominent leftists identified by Tom Slater to task for their utter failure of courage and vision. My critiques of Owen Jones are here, here, here and here, Yanis Varoufakis here and Paul Mason here.
In fact, it’s worse than that. It’s often said that the shift in left-wing attitudes towards the EU over the past few decades has been the result of pure political contingency. When, in the 1970s and 80s, the EU was seen as an avowedly capitalist project, Labourites and trade unionists took arms against it. Now that it’s been given a social-democratic lick of paint, replete with talk of workers’ rights and free movement, it gets the nod. But there’s something even more sickening going on here. These turncoat Remainers, these radicals for the status quo, don’t just bristle at the turn of public opinion, on economics or migration – they’re scared of it. Their Brexit-phobia is really a fear of the demos itself.
You see this in their panic-stricken talk of the furies Brexit might unleash. ‘We don’t know… how the plebeian end of the Leave campaign will react if they lose. My instinct says: badly’, writes Mason. Varoufakis, meanwhile, is even more pessimistic. Only fascists and racists, he says, will profit from the demise of the EU. A Brexit now would mean ‘anti-migrant racism, pandered to by the political establishment for decades’, writes a commentator in the New Statesman. There is constant talk of chaos. Democracy is seen not only as disagreeable, but as dangerous. The left, once intent on stirring the passions of the people, now wants to keep a lid on them at all costs.
This is why you shouldn’t take the left appeals to ‘reforming the EU from within’ seriously. Not only because Cameron’s paltry renegotiation revealed an EU incapable of making even minor concessions. Not only because the only salient proposal Varoufakis’s Democracy In Europe Movement has managed to come up with is livestreaming council meetings. But because the cowardice of the left in the face of Brexit is bred of the very same fear of an unshackled demos that forged the European Union in the first place.
Devastating, and utterly correct. For the European Union itself was deliberately designed to muffle and constraint the voices of national electorates, replacing them with the cool, cerebral and detached government of a supranational European elite, which is exactly what the pro-EU Left now want – a tool to suppress what they see as the “dangerous” authentic voices of the people.
The modern left’s detachment from the masses, its sneering distaste for our habits and desires, has fostered a profound fear of change itself. Their paranoia about where unleashed public passions might flow has led them to cling to the status quo for dear life. These are progressives terrified of change – and terrified of us. Faced with the opportunity to demolish an anti-democratic order, they are standing athwart, yelling Stop. History will not be kind to them.
But it is worse than a mere lack of vision and fear of change. Most offensive of all is the grubby desire of the pro-EU left to bypass democracy altogether, to give up on trying to persuade national electorates of the value of left wing policies and simply impose them from the EU’s unaccountable, supranational higher level of government.
As this blog recently put it:
The Left look around and see free markets accepted and delivering prosperity in nearly every country, including those who have sworn eternal opposition to capitalism. And despite the Corbynite takeover of the Labour Party in Britain, there is still no evidence of a groundswell of public longing for 1970s style statist economic policies to be brought out of mothballs. What chance, then, does the Left have to bring more of the economy under state control other than the extreme long shot of seizing control of Europe’s supranational layer of government on the back of the supposed European left-wing popular movement (DiEM25) talked up by Varoufakis and Jones?
As Varoufakis admits, “the retreat to the nation state is never going to benefit the Left”. The Left can only advance their cause by sidestepping nation states altogether, which means taking control of the EU, where national legislatures are bypassed and unpopular and even hated policies can be imposed on the peoples of Europe with very limited opportunity for effective resistance (see Greece). This may seem laughably unrealistic – and it is. But it is the Left’s only remaining hope, and so they cling stubbornly to their delusion even if it means betraying democracy and supporting the EU in its current form (and with its current policies) until the time comes for their popular revolution.
And that, to my mind at least, is the most disappointing thing of all. Even pugnacious, articulate left-wingers like Owen Jones and Paul Mason are unwilling to achieve their desired ends by first winning the public debate and then winning a national election. Their commitment to democracy is so feeble that they would rather see their preferred policies foisted on an unwilling British people from above by the European Union rather than do the hard work of winning support for those policies among the British electorate.
Of course, they don’t explain it this way themselves. Talk to Owen Jones and Paul Mason and you’ll get an earful about their deep concern for workers’ rights or some other emotive issue. But when push comes to shove, they would rather live in a country where their minority opinions were forced on the majority by Brussels than do the hard work of convincing voters of the necessity for left-wing policies.
And the Left are perfectly entitled to that opinion. They are entitled to advocate for Britain to remain in the European Union because they do not trust the British electorate to support what they see as essential policies at the ballot box. They can do all that. But they cannot any longer call themselves supporters of democracy.
Postscript: Look at the image at the top of this article, showing a quote by filmmaker Ken Loach, in which he openly boasts that the chief advantage of the European Union is that it thwarts the will of democratically elected national governments. This is the toxic, antidemocratic position which left wing favourites like Owen Jones and Paul Mason have decided to embrace. Shame on them.
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