Socialist Studies Socialist Studies

EU: In or Out

The European Union: In Whose Interest?

“Do you think that the United Kingdom should remain a member of the European Union: Yes or no?” This is the question which will be put to the “British electorate” by the Tory government at some time in 2016. For Socialists, though, it is the wrong question for the working class to consider.

The most important question for the working class to consider is not the European Union but the ownership of the means of production and distribution. At the moment, raw resources, factories, transport and communication systems and distribution depots are all used for the purpose of making profits. This point not only applies to the countries that make up the European Union but also to the rest of world. World capitalism has at its heart the profit motive, not the meeting of human need.

Regardless of whether Britain left or stayed in the European Union, the profit system, which only enriches a minority capitalist class at the expense of the working class majority, will remain intact. Nothing changes. So the question of the ownership of the means of production and distribution and for what purpose can be put another way - capitalism or socialism?

In other words, should workers be interested in a social system that generates war, poverty, social alienation, misery and unemployment? Or should workers be interested in becoming socialists, and consciously and politically working to establish a socialist system that will serve the social needs of all humanity not just a privileged few?

There is nothing “progressive”, “democratic” or “libertarian” about the European Union. The EU has its trans-nationalism, its flag and its anthem. It now wants to have its own armed forces to pursue wars elsewhere in the world; it is undemocratic, it is overtly bureaucratic, and can never be run in the interest of the working class. However, the same can be said of British Capitalism and any other capitalist country in the world. To both the EU and British capitalism, socialists say a plague on both your houses.

The European Union and the working class

Will the working class be better or worse off in either by the British government staying in the European Union or by its leaving the EU? This question can be answered by an understanding of the wages system in which workers find themselves exploited and imprisoned. Whether workers are in the European Union or not they will still have to sell their ability to work to an employer. They will still be vulnerable to unemployment. And they will still be exploited by producing more social wealth than they receive in wages or salaries. The problem facing workers is the wages system not the question of EU membership.

For the capitalist class and their political agents in the various political parties of capitalism; conservative, Labour, UkIP, Liberal Democrats and Greens, there are interests involved in what the European Union is for and how it is controlled. The capitalist class live off the unearned income of rent, interest and profit and pay for their state to look after their interest. And some are worried. The EU is incrementally becoming a state in its own right, and needs financial and monetary control over the affairs of its member countries.

The potential loss of political control by individual countries – demonstrated recently in Greece and Portugal - is in effect the real worry for sections of the British capitalist class and why they want out. They want their politicians and government to control the frontier, they want to control decision making, they want to control the raising of taxation and they want control over finance and the currency. But it is not an interest shared by the working class. Workers have no country, they have no borders to protect, no state to pay for to look after their affairs and no interest in imports and exports of commodities.

Those defending the European Union claim that the EU has prevented war in Europe for over 70 years. THE GUARDIAN stated “…an imperfect EU is better than none at all…” and went on to say that the constraining framework of the EU would leave the world “even scarier than now” (October 27th 2015). This is the propaganda of fear.

The European Union may have prevented wars between member states but it has not stopped member states engaging in wars elsewhere in the world for example Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and now Syria. Capitalism is a hostile and competitive environment, and the possibility of future wars between an EU state and Russia or China is not without foundation. There will be future wars in capitalism whether Britain leaves the EU or not.

Those who support Britain remaining in the European Union and those who want Britain to leave the EU have to get the support of the working class. Both sides need the support of non-socialist workers. They use arguments, all of them bogus, based on a mixture of fear and reward to gain the votes of workers.

Workers are told, for example, that 3 million jobs will be lost if Britain left the EU and 3 million jobs will be made if Britain stayed in. Who is right? These statistics are pure guesswork by paid economists on either side of the political argument to stay in or leave the European Union. But they can never give any believable guarantees about future levels of unemployment. The fact is that workers are only employed by capitalists when it is profitable to employ them. And this is largely determined by the trade cycle over which economists and politicians have no control.

Yes, the question of the European Union is not in essence an economic issue but a political one but it is a politics which does not concern the working class. The problems of trade, sovereignty and taxation are the problems of the capitalist class and their political representatives not the workers.

Whether workers are employed within the European Union or outside of the EU, they are still an exploited class of wage slaves. Workers have no country; they have no national or European interests to pursue. The only interest workers have is to abolish capitalism and establish socialism.

The capitalist media and the politics of fear

Those opposed to the European Union will use the movement of migrant labour from different parts of Europe in order to get the working class vote through fear of job losses and lower wages. Most employers cannot use immigrant labour as a means of lowering wages but some employers do just this, cynically using low-wage workers without trade union rights and often under the control of ruthless gangmasters to force wages down, especially in “low-skilled” or temporary jobs. Yet what workers get as wages is determined by the state of trade, the ability of workers to organise, particularly in trade unions, and the balance of the class struggle over the intensity and extent of exploitation. The vast wealth accumulated by the capitalist class derives from the surplus value taken from workers in the production process. The capitalist class and its ownership of the means to life is the problem facing workers not migrants.

And this vast wealth is expressed in the war chest at the disposal of those capitalists campaigning for and against the European Union. The capitalists backing the yes and no campaigns have millions of pounds to pay for their propaganda. Do you think for one minute this money is being used to further the interest of the working class? Of course not, nor is the political weight of a partisan media behind both sides.

The INDEPENDENT for example, attacks the Hedge Funds for their greed and self-interest in supporting the “No” vote while praising the EU for “delivering £29 Billion for Britain” (26th October 2015). The DAILY TELEGRAPH and the DAILY EXPRESS will send out a different message on behalf of the “No” vote, attacking the European Union for waste, inefficiency, red-tape, and bureaucracy. Then there will be The DAILY MAIL with its hatred towards migrants, its Little Englander nostalgia for Empire where everyone knew their place; peddling a politics of fear of anything “European”. The capitalist media will be awash with lies, half-truths, spin and propaganda.

Neither in nor out of the EU but world socialism

Those for or against the European Union work on the same false assumption that the market economy is indispensable, and that there is a unified national or European interest which workers and employers have in common. But there can be no common interest between labour and capital. The interest of the working class is neither for the European Union, neither for British capitalism nor for World capitalism but instead the establishment of world socialism, the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production and distribution by all of society, and a world without artificial political boundaries.

Capitalism is based on the class ownership of the means of production and distribution with its class exploitation of wage labour. As such, there is an irreconcilable conflict between the working class and the capitalist class. And this class conflict or struggle exists whether workers find themselves in the European Union or out of it. Capitalism, then, is not the answer for the workers; but socialism is.

Socialism involves the abolition of private property ownership of the means of production and distribution, along with the abolition of buying and selling and the abolition of the labour market; in fact all markets. Socialism will create a social framework informed by the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production and distribution by all of society.

The interest of the working class is to ignore the referendum on the EU, write “world socialism” in red ink across the ballot paper, and join with other socialists to replace commodity production and exchange for profit with production and distribution for social use.

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