Shining an unforgiving light on the wishful thinking and self-deception powering the naive left-wing campaign for Britain to remain in the EU
Your best read of the day comes from Elliot Murphy at Counterpunch, a writer from the Left who systematically deconstructs the fatuous assertion by the likes of Owen Jones, Jeremy Corbyn and Yanis Varoufakis that the EU can be reformed and turned into some kind of Utopian socialist paradise.
Certainly the EU as it is presently constituted is hardly friendly to traditional leftist interests and obsessions, as Murphy points out:
This groundswell of support for Remain across substantial parts of the Left is hard to square with the facts. State aid to declining industries, along with renationalisation, are not permitted by current EU laws (under directive 2012/34/EU), and any mildly progressive government which managed to get elected in 2020 would be hindered from the outset by the EU. Considerable reforms of the energy market would also be illegal under EU directives 2009/72EU and 2009/73/EU. Collective bargaining is becoming much weaker across the EU, most vividly in France and Germany.
McDonnell’s plans for People’s Quantitative Easing? Outlawed by Article 123 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. The series of anti-trade union laws introduced in Britain over the past few decades? The EU has no qualms with these whatsoever, showing no interest in providing even modest forms of protection for workers.
As the Labour Leave campaign points out, the EU would also outlaw an end to NHS outsourcing, tougher measures on tax avoidance, and general improvements to workers’ rights. The soft Left’s talk of international solidarity and the brotherhood of man in relation to the EU is absurd, especially as it continues to drive forward deeply militaristic and undemocratic (or rather, anti-democratic) policies. The EU is, after all, one the world’s major post-war imperialist projects, boasting an inherently and aggressively exploitative relation with the global South. The entirety of the EU parliament could be filled with McDonnells and Iglesias’s and no substantial reform would be forthcoming: The parliament is an institution purely of amendment and all power lies with the civil servants and the unelectable Commission.
Brilliant. How marvellous it is to hear the fatuous, paper-thin leftist defence of the European Union being properly shredded by somebody who isn’t willing to furiously ignore their own political convictions, suppress the cognitive dissonance and blindly cheerlead for the Remain campaign.
And of course Murphy is quite right – you could pack the European Parliament full of Owen Joneses and Jeremy Corbyns and still it would make no difference to the work and impact of a body which cannot propose or strike down EU laws and policies. There is a reason why the EU’s architects made sure that the one “democratic” component of the entire project was utterly toothless, and this is it.
But what of these nascent leftist “change” movements like Democracy in Europe 25 (DiEM25) or Another Europe is Possible (AEiP)? Murphy has surveyed the work of these and other fantasist left-wing Remainers, and is unimpressed:
When Michael Chessum, a major organiser of the pro-Remain ‘Another Europe is Possible’ (AEiP) movement, is questioned about what concrete ‘changes’ he would like to see in EU, he simply dodges the question. Chessum’s behaviour generalises. To my knowledge, not a single supporter of Remain has presented a satisfying answer to the question of how we are supposed to go about reforming the EU. Even Yanis Varoufakis during his recent ‘Lunch with the Financial Times’ interview confessed that in reality the EU isn’t going to be reformed to anywhere near the extent the Remainers are hoping for (attempts to reform ‘will probably end in failure like all the best intentions’, he claimed). Even Remain supporter Ed Rooksby can write on his blog about how he is ‘not particularly convinced by arguments emanating from [AEiP] in relation to the possibility of transforming EU institutions in a leftist direction’. How is a new, reformed EU possible? How can we change it to break from the Washington Consensus? The answers are, worryingly, not forthcoming.
Quite rightly, Murphy has no time for those who waffle on about reform – “Of course the EU needs reform” being perhaps the most overused phrase of this entire referendum campaign – while failing to outline any concrete or probable steps to achieving that elusive change:
Airy-fairy proposals for ‘another Europe’ to ‘protect our rights’ and so forth simply fill a void lacking any concrete solutions to achieve this and any proposals for how to achieve a new EU constitution. In theory, another anything is possible: Another New Zealand, Another Skelmersdale, Another Isla Nublar, Another Tamriel. It is not as if another EU is inherently unreachable, but rather that without any posited, realistic steps to achieve it, the hopes of the Remain camp will quickly dissolve after June 23rd, no matter which side wins.
Concrete solutions are lacking, then, as it is no good for the Left camp of Remain to simply point voters in the direction of Owen Jones columns and Caroline Lucas YouTube videos instead. The powers of the European Commission, European Central Bank and European Court of Justice are guaranteed by EU treaties and can only be reformed as a result of a unanimous agreement within the Council of Ministers. AEiP may exert some moderate degree of influence over the UK’s soft Left, but it will have to become substantially more commanding if it hopes to influence the Council of Ministers. Likewise, the foundational pro-austerity, market liberalisation principles of the EU are established by the same treaties, which can be modified only by a unanimous agreement by all 28 member states.
Quite so. All of this, one must recall, is taking place in the context of David Cameron having singularly failed to extract even one substantive concession from his fellow EU heads of government during his damp squib “renegotiation” effort.
Now, this blog will be the first to concede that the entire exercise was a sham – the government didn’t even bother to properly consult the people as to the nature of reform which we wanted, arrogantly assuming that they already knew. But in any case, even when faced with the potential departure of the European Union’s restive second-largest contributor, the EU offered nothing by way of sweeteners. Would it have been different had Angela Merkel et al been dealing with a genuinely eurosceptic British prime minister? Perhaps. But if David Cameron couldn’t get any kind of deal from the EU, what chance do a fuzzy coalition of leftists have of achieving reform in another direction?
Neither does Murphy have time for the weak reasoning of foreign leftists who have sought to parachute themselves into the debate with a minimal understanding of the facts:
The Left Remain camp have also recently been galvanised by Noam Chomsky’s tenuous support for their cause, with Owen Jones and AEiP posting quotations of the professor’s brief statements on the matter. Chomsky’s reasons for supporting Remain are extremely weak and don’t stand up to much scrutiny. His reasoning is as follows: The racist Right is in favour of Leave, therefore we should Remain. But the racist Right is also in favour of Remain. Chomsky’s logic seems to be as follows: If P, therefore Q, so why not Z? Indeed, if an Out vote would simply ‘leave Britain more subordinate to US power’, as Chomsky claims, then why did Obama urgently, even desperately call for Britain to Remain? Owen Jones has in the past ridiculed what he calls ‘Chomsky fans’ on Twitter (while also labeling those who politely disagree with him ‘Stalinist’, ‘sectarian’, ‘ultra-left’ and ‘Gallowayite’), but deems it appropriate to sign up to his views when they align with his own. Chomsky’s opinions about the UK are naturally not going to be thoroughly well-formed and articulated, unlike his criticisms of US domestic and foreign policy: For instance, during a visit to the University of St Andrews in 2012 he expressed pro-monarchy feels for the rudimentary reason that if people enjoy it and find it fun, then who’s to object to it?
Many on the left simply cannot begin to address the limitations of the Remain camp: For instance, Media Lens, UK leftists sympathetic to Chomsky, have been oddly silent about the entire EU referendum. A certain level of unease and awkwardness pervades a lot of discussion about the EU, with many preferring simply to abstain or delay decision making until later. At Chomsky’s university, Matt Damon recently addressed MIT’s class of 2016 with ideas that Will Hunting would be far from impressed with, calling for a Remain vote with his typical mixture of casual arrogance and self-assurance, but devoid of any argument or apparent understanding. Damon ultimately retreated into the safe territory of banker-bashing, forgetting to justify his reasoning for supporting Remain.
So Matt Damon thinks that Brexit is a bad idea. Who the hell cares? Damon clearly has no understanding of the history or political issues at stake, and is merely parroting what he believes to be the “correct”, right-on opinions in order to signal his own virtue. More worrying is the fact that when it comes to the specific question of the EU, many thinking leftists are doing the same thing – temporarily switching off their brains and switching themselves over to “mindless repetition of approved talking points” mode.
As this blog conjectured when Owen Jones abandoned his nascent euroscepticism and went back to loyally cheerleading for the EU:
It is a shame to see Owen Jones – at his best an intelligent and articulate voice on the Left – frittering away his time on the EU referendum campaign by pointing out the foibles and tactical hypocrisies of the Leave campaign. But what other choice does he have? Despite knowing full well that the EU is unreformable, Jones has committed to supporting Britain’s continued membership.
I think that this is a betrayal of the democratic accountability and local control that Jones spends much of his time promoting. And I suspect that he does, too. Which is why we can all expect to see lots more “gotcha” videos on YouTube criticising individual members of the Leave campaign, but not a damn thing praising the European Union or explaining how this magical socialist “reform” of the EU is to be achieved.
After all, nothing distracts from a guilty conscience like pointing out the flaws, failings and inconsistencies of other people.
The behaviour of the British Left during the EU referendum campaign would probably make quite an interesting psychological study as an exercise in mass delusion. Thousand of not millions of people with solid left-wing beliefs and a rightful distrust of the establishment are now simultaneously trying to convince themselves that voting for the establishment and the status quo is somehow the brave, left wing thing to do.
This coping mechanism takes its toll, which is why left-wing Remainers are so much happier when they are criticising the behaviour of the Leave campaign (making their slanderous allegations of racism and so on) – the more they talk about the wretchedness of the Evil Tories, the less time they have to consider their own betrayal of left-wing principles.
And just look at what it is the supposedly compassionate, generous and open hearted Left are endorsing by campaigning for a Remain vote:
One of the major disasters of the Remain endorsement by substantial parts of the Left is that many seem incapable of acknowledging that the EU has by now become masterful at generating racism and promoting finance capitalism. Acknowledging this dynamic is frankly essential in understanding the rise of Far-Right forces across Europe. The EU was more than willing to impose sanctions on Greece when it became tempted to disobey orders to kowtow to European banks, but it seems far less willing to do anything about the rise of the Far-Right in Germany, France, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Austria and Hungary. As Kevin Ovenden recently put it in Counterfire: ‘Far from countering the far right and authoritarian tendencies, the EU – with its austerity, Fortress Europe, anti-democratic diktats and endemic national antagonisms – is generating those reactionary features: and not only on the far right. The EU is fully behind the French government of Francois Hollande. It has suspended basic freedoms under an eight-month old state of emergency and is using the militarised police to batter through new austerity measures passed not by parliament, but by executive decree’.
[..] The ‘choice’ of austerity in Britain is no such thing in the EU, being part of its treaty. Anyone who claims that the EU is beneficial to workers’ right clearly hasn’t read the text of its treaty, which makes it very clear what the EU’s intentions are, and always have been. The ‘freedom’ for big firms to move capital, labour and commodities without any restrictions in order to maximise profits, regardless of social or environmental cost, is something no genuine socialist, communist or anarchist could ever support. Moreover, the EU is infamously driven towards privatisation, ‘free markets’ and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (largely the work of the Troika) – which signifies game over for much of Britain’s indigenous industries if adopted, as the EU’s 28 states engage in a race to the bottom in order to diminish living standards and workers’ rights.
Hardly the kind of behaviour that a good comrade should be defending, surely?
Oh wait, this explains it:
In the face of this apparently austere ideology, the EU is nevertheless careful to generously fund British quangos, charities, arts groups, museums and universities to ensure the recycling of a healthy pro-EU sentiment amongst the influential middle class intelligentsia, academia and commentariat, ensuring that most of its major limitations are sidelined or forgotten about. It manages to do all this after having intentionally destroyed Britain’s fishing industry. This system amounts to one of the clearest definitions of a racket.
But it is more than a racket, isn’t it? It is almost what you might call class warfare – the privileged and well connected upper middle classes aggressively asserting their interests (continued funding for their quangos and charities) over the interests of the working classes. Again, Murphy is absolutely right to call out the hypocrisy.
Murphy is also right to ask how the Left will be viewed if Britain does vote to Leave, in a future where smoothly exiting from political union while maintaining access to the single market ensured that none of the Remainers’ apocalyptic warnings of economic ruin come true:
A serious Left argument against the EU needs to be presented both in the event of a Leave or Remain vote, since without the presence of any serious Lexit arguments being presented, in the event of a Leave vote left-wing Remainers will be thoroughly cornered and will be forced to rapidly re-orient their tactics to accommodate for the likely UKIP gains (among many other things). When Remainers focus purely on the positives of the (often dubious) positives of EU, we should ask how this dishonest and skewed set of priorities will be interpreted post-referendum.
When the dust settles, and when Britain continues its slide away from democracy in the event of a Remain vote, all that people will remember is the likes of Jeremy Corbyn and Owen Jones – people who pride themselves on their right-on credentials – standing shoulder to shoulder with the establishment in defence of the status quo. And when they tremulously offer their “battered spouse” excuse (but I thought we could change the EU!) they will rightly be scorned, and mocked and then ignored.
Already UKIP is starting to encroach on Labour’s heartland vote. Labour MPs and former ministers are lashing out in confusion and outrage at the unwillingness of local councillors and ordinary party activists to help them in their great establishment effort to keep Britain in the EU. On this issue, the parliamentary party and the grassroots are starting to come apart at the seams. And in the event of a Remain vote, you can be sure that UKIP will be there, ready to pick up swathes more disaffected Labour votes.
The question of Britain’s independence is not a partisan issue. It is equally as shameful when conservatives are willing to sell out their own democracy as when socialists do the same. But given the nature of the EU, and how this corrupt supranational political union benefits the wealthy and well connected elites far more than the people, it is Labour’s dogged support for Remain that stinks to high heaven.
Tony Benn would be ashamed of what his party has become. Labour are supposed to be the party of ordinary people. We know because they never shut up about it. And yet nearly the entire Labour Party is uncritically cheering the status quo and our ongoing membership of a dysfunctional political union which nobody would invent if it didn’t exist, and nobody would join if it did.
But of course, there were always two sides to the Labour Party – the cerebral middle class ideologues and internationalists, and the working class movement borne out of the trades union movement. Well, we know what happened to that particular branch of Labour in the age of the SpAdocracy. Now all that’s left is the middle class clerisy.
Now, the middle class left-wing clerisy want desperately to stay in the European Union – it funds their research, universities, development schemes, artistic projects and businesses, funnelling them British taxpayer money without the unseemly need to beg the taxpayers directly in elections.
They love the EU because it enables them to virtue-signal their enlightened progressivism, while also delivering a whole host of lucrative in-house side benefits. And if it means betraying democracy, betraying the poor and betraying the interests of Labour’s core voters, that’s just fine. So long as that grant money keeps flowing, of course.
Sadly for these parasitic folks and their defenders on the pro-EU left, some of us are watching, observing and taking note. And when the time for blame and judgement comes around, there will be no escaping accountability for having sided against democracy in their arrogance, fear, ignorance and greed.
We will make sure of it.
Top Image: Economist
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“Sadly for these parasitic folks and their defenders on the pro-EU left, some of us are watching, observing and taking note. And when the time for blame and judgement comes around, there will be no escaping accountability for having sided against democracy in their arrogance, fear, ignorance and greed.
We will make sure of it.”
I’m quaking in my socialist boots.