“ELECTIONS change nothing,” said Wolfgang Schäuble, Germany’s finance minister. He was responding to the election of Syriza in January. Syriza owed their victory to their pledge to put a stop to austerity which had inflicted five years of grinding poverty on Greece. Six months later Schäuble was triumphant; Syriza’s leader Alexis Tsipras capitulated in the face of the European Union Institutions' threats to pull the plug on the Greek economy.
Across Europe, while governments – including Britain’s – backed what an EU official called the waterboarding of the Greeks, the continent’s labour movements and young people enthusiastically supported Syriza. They hoped that, if they won, the dark clouds of austerity – unemployment, falling wages, slashed services, privatisation – might be lifted.
The EU is an institution that allows the dominant European powers – Germany, France and Britain – to exploit the peripheral countries to their own advantage. This explains why Portugal, Spain, Greece and Ireland have been forced to impose savage austerity. The economic and political union, when combined with NATO, also enables the European ruling classes to combine and act as an imperialist bloc on the world stage, asserting their interests against Russia, China and the Global South.
These functions define the EU's character as an instrument of capitalist class rule. For this reason socialists do not believe the myths about it being a force for peace and equality. Nor should we entertain illusions that all it needs are a number of reforms to turn it into a “social Europe”. That would be like trying to persuade a tiger to become a vegetarian. The EU – just like Britain – needs not reform, but revolution.
But in condemning the EU as a bosses' club, socialists should not slip into praising an independent capitalist Britain and arguing for Brexit in Cameron's referendum.
As Portugal today and Greece earlier this year show, the EU is indeed a reactionary capitalist bloc, intent on enforcing austerity and denying democratic mandates. Despite this, Jeremy Corbyn is right to say he will wait and see what “reforms” Cameron negotiates before committing himself in the in/out referendum. This would give the Tories the go-ahead to sign away workers' rights in advance.
However, that does not mean socialists are neutral on the question of Britain staying in or leaving the EU.
A socialist “Yes” to stay in would not mean yielding to the dictates of the EU Commission, the Central Bank, or obeying the EU’s neoliberal rules and treaties. It would mean defying them in solidarity with workers across Europe. We want to turn a national resistance to austerity into a European resistance.
Of course we would denounce and resist any new anti-working class terms for staying in that Cameron wring from Merkel and Co. But the capitalists of “independent” states will also impose austerity, slash the welfare state and attack workers rights, just as much as the EU: perhaps even more as the pressure on them will be even greater.
We believe that workers benefit from fighting against capitalist attacks and for socialism in the largest possible arena – because the numbers of the working class involved are much greater and the socialist society we want will be much easier to build with the resources of a whole continent.
Socialism cannot be built in one country. Workers have to appeal across borders for solidarity. As they do so, we raise the banner of a United Socialist States of Europe.