A left-wing exit is supported by some prominent socialists. We all want to leave an undemocratic, capitalist institution that puts big business interests before workers. But is a socialist paradise, where we are free to nationalise and go after tax dodgers, on offer? Our European sister socialist parties call for a ‘united European left’ to support a continent-wide challenge to capitalism and austerity, and to fight to democratise from within. We must consider the terms of Brexit for the neoliberal forces in favour of leaving would still be present, if not strengthened. Simplifying this into ‘central capitalist rule (in) vs anti-neoliberalism and self-determination (out)’ plays into the hands of bourgeois forces who want us to leave to make it easier to cut our public services and close borders to immigrants and refugees.
The weakness of the EU’s directly elected parliament means that EU power is state-centric. It is national governments who appoint the members of the powerful EU commission. Almost every national government has been run by neo-liberal parties, appointing neo-liberals to key positions. Change will have to come from domestic regime changes. Leaving would consign us to trying to seize state power and disable us from exerting left support across the EU.
With Europeans disenfranchised by centrist parties, the choice is of progressive left or reactionary right parties. The fight to democratize has taken leaps forward with Syriza in Greece and Communists in Portugal to name a few. In Britain, we have a reactionary right much stronger than a progressive left so an independent Britain is not on the brink of the radical changes seen elsewhere. Moreover, as Greece tragically showed ‘socialism in one country’ is impossible under globalized capitalism.
There would undoubtedly be a case for leaving if Brussels was blocking domestic and democratically implemented socialist legislation. However, the ‘out’ campaigns are organized and funded by right-wingers who want Britain to leave because being a part of the EU impedes their desire for a Britain with open borders for private capital but not for movement of people.
In an independent Britain, the neo-liberalism that provides the main reasons for leaving will still remain, possibly becoming even worse. Trade deals like TTIP and privatization would be passed by a right-wing British government far more easily as a Tory dominated Britain will not step back from globalized or ‘Europeanized’ markets. Furthermore, Britain may choose to undercut EU labour and environmental legislation in order to compete in a race to the bottom to attract investment. Britain would find itself at the mercy of international business over which it would have little control while alienating ourselves from the decision-making in Brussels, the outcomes of which we will still have to adhere to in order to trade with the EU as Norway and Switzerland do. The protection from the EU parliament is limited, but it’s better for workers than Cameron negotiating trade deals on his own.
We must also consider the future of the struggle for Scottish Independence. Although it would be wrong to choose a side in this debate because of our desire for independence, there are scenarios where the predicted strong Scottish vote to remain will keep Britain in the EU or be outweighed by overwhelming votes to leave from the rest of Britain. Both provide a mandate for a second indyref, with EU membership at its heart. Socialists who have campaigned to leave the EU cannot support Scottish independence in this situation.
So the pragmatic argument is that leaving the EU in the upcoming UKIP/Tory referendum will not advance the socialist struggle in Britain. We will still be at the mercy of free market economics as Britain engages in a race to the bottom with the EU. Change in Europe must come from the nation state level. Exiting the EU will leave us with the same challenges as before but it could also inhibit our ability to support the current campaign of the European Left to democratize it.
While rightfully acknowledging that the EU is a capitalist institution, if we do decide to leave the EU then it must be on our terms with a socialist government at the helm. That mandate must come from progressive ideas and a class-consciousness forming public opinion, not the current xenophobic and nationalistic narrative that is being driven.
Hugh Cullen is a fourth year student at the University of Stirling and a member of the SSP