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What should the reaction of Irish democrats be to the Brexit vote?

The Peoples Movement June 26, 2016 What should the reaction of Irish democrats be to the Brexit vote? Having campaigned for such an outcome, the People’s Movement is in no doubt that the vote is an important blow against what is a reactionary and anti-democratic project. Democrats in the Republic should now seek to win

Book Review: 21st-century imperialism

Seán Edwards John Smith, Imperialism in the Twenty-First Century: Globalization, Super-Exploitation, and Capitalism’s Final Crisis (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2016) In 2002 Anne Daly produced a documentary called Race to the Bottom, provoked by a fire that killed fifty-two workers in a garment factory in Bangladesh. John Smith’s book begins with the Rana Plaza disaster in

Another Europe is possible—another EU is not

The Communist Party of Ireland expresses its solidarity with and welcomes the decision of the British electorate, with working people having played a decisive factor to vote to leave the European Union.  The decision of the people is a victory over Project Fear, unleashed by big business, global banks and financial institutions, with the EU

The Brexit debate and the left

Letter in the Irish Times http://www.irishtimes.com/opinion/letters/the-brexit-debate-and-the-left-1.2674376 Sir, – Many people will have been repelled by the selective xenophobia of the Brexit campaign, concluding there is little option than to vote to Remain in the EU for fear of being tarred with the same brush. However, we would all do well to consider the membership of

10 Reasons to #leave #brexit

1.   Northern Ireland  … Economy The EU subsidies in the form of Regional Grants,  Structural Funds, Farm Payments and money for local ‘Peace Process’ activities  are, in fact, UK taxpayers’ money being recycled through Brussels.  The UK is a major net contributor to the EU Budget, so that local EU projects which people think

What should the reaction of Irish democrats be to the Brexit vote?

The Peoples Movement

June 26, 2016

What should the reaction of Irish democrats be to the Brexit vote? Having campaigned for such an outcome, the People’s Movement is in no doubt that the vote is an important blow against what is a reactionary and anti-democratic project.

Democrats in the Republic should now seek to win back Ireland’s independence by following Britain out of the EU and the euro zone. Leaving the EU is the only way in which Ireland can disentangle itself from the disastrous euro zone. Ireland does two-thirds of its foreign trade outside the nineteen-member euro zone (two-thirds of its exports and three-quarters of its imports).

It is essential that Ireland have a special deal governing its UK trade; but while it stays in the EU it is the Brussels Commission, not an independent Irish government, that decides the Republic’s trade arrangements.

Although the Government and opposition intervened shamelessly in the referendum campaign, the Government should immediately open a structured dialogue with London to help facilitate a smooth British withdrawal from the EU, especially in matters relating to NorthSouth relations. This should start immediately, even before the British government invokes article 50 of the Treaty on European Union.

The Government needs to decide whether it serves Brussels or the Irish people, north and south, unionist and nationalist. So it must not allow itself to be drawn into any EU plans to punish Britain in order to deter other EU members from following its example. Talk of the imposition of “hard borders” must be immediately rejected.

Dublin and Belfast must adopt an agreed joint approach. Up to now the Dublin political establishment has always preferred to act as Irish satraps for EU rule rather than stand up for the interests of the Irish people. Perhaps the lesson of the referendum—that at the end of the day the people will have their revenge for political arrogance and opportunism—may, just may, force them to rethink this stance.

Probably the first stage in the process will be an amendment to Britain’s European Communities Act to prevent any new EU laws or court decisions applying in the UK. There will then be a special act of Parliament to continue in being all existing EU laws, court decisions, and international agreements, pending a gradual working out of which ones are worth keeping in the interests of British citizens and which ones are best got rid of.

Then there will be notification of Britain’s intention under article 50, so setting in train the two-year or longer period for concluding an agreement that is referred to in that article.

Irish democrats will need to carefully scrutinise all aspects of these stages to ensure that the interests of people in this country, north and south, are protected. Probably this should be done by a joint working group of the Oireachtas, the Northern Ireland Assembly, and the British Parliament.

The prospect that membership of a developing European Union would help to bring the people in both parts of Ireland closer together politically was a significant element in securing the assent of the Republic’s citizens to joining the then EEC in the first place. This formed the core of official Ireland’s all-Ireland thinking.

But the fatal blind spot of that policy is that it never had the answer to the fundamental question as to why Northern nationalists or unionists should look favourably on a united Ireland when that would merely mean exchanging rule from London for rule from Berlin and Frankfurt. Official Ireland never had an answer to this question, nor perhaps did it ever really feel that it needed one.

On the other hand, the traditional aim of Irish democracy has not been a united Ireland but a united independent Ireland—or, to put it another way, an Ireland united in independence. After all, Ireland was united between 1801 and 1921 as part of the United Kingdom, but it had no independence. Uniting Ireland or encouraging a united Ireland through “evercloser union” would have had many similarities to that nineteenth-century Irish unity inside the United Kingdom.

The alternative that democrats offer Northern unionists and nationalists is a central role in running an independent Irish state—not subordination to a Franco-German economic fiefdom in which most laws and policies are decided in Brussels or Frankfurt.

Those who aspire to a united independent Ireland should be aware of the new terrain in the struggle for independence and national democracy that Brexit has opened up, and develop their policies and political struggles accordingly.

Book Review: 21st-century imperialism

Seán Edwards

John Smith, Imperialism in the Twenty-First Century: Globalization, Super-Exploitation, and Capitalism’s Final Crisis (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2016)

In 2002 Anne Daly produced a documentary called Race to the Bottom, provoked by a fire that killed fifty-two workers in a garment factory in Bangladesh. John Smith’s book begins with the Rana Plaza disaster in 2013, when another garment factory collapsed and 1,131 workers died. Clearly, the race to the bottom continues. 
The conditions derive from the cut-throat competition between suppliers in Bangladesh and other oppressed countries that is mandated by the transnational corporations in the imperialist countries. The more monopolised the garment industry in the North, the more intense the competition between countries, between businesses and between workers in the global South. Most of the profits accrue to the North. According to an example given in this book, only €0.95 of the price of a H&M tee-shirt sold in Germany for €4.95 stays in Bangladesh. 
Along with other examples of intensified exploitation, smartphone manufacture, and coffee-growing, John Smith connects the outsourcing of production to the lowest-wage economies with the nature of capitalism today. 
The twenty-first century dawned with capitalism—according to most observers in the media—swinging along nicely. The taoiseach of the time, Brian Cowan, cheerfully exclaimed that the era of booms and slumps was over. Only Marxists predicted a crash. (They would say that, wouldn’t they?) 
When the crash came, the economists and the politicians were taken by surprise. They are still thrashing about looking for an explanation, blaming each other, blaming deregulation, blaming rogue bankers, always addressing the superficialities, afraid to look into the abyss: the crisis of capitalism. 
Among the Marxists, Monthly Review Press not only saw the crash coming but described many of its features in advance. It has maintained a spirit of inquiry into the workings of contemporary capitalism, so it is appropriate that it is the publisher of John Smith’s book. This book is strictly about economics, not so much the political and military means of maintaining imperialist hegemony—that would be another book. 
The crash of 2007 was not a surprise; the only surprise is that it was delayed so long, which Smith endeavours to explain. 
One of the responses to the stagnation crisis of the 1970s was the drive to cut costs by moving production to countries with cheaper labour. This was closely associated with increasing financialisation, which the author insists is not a separate phenomenon. Both were facilitated by the advances in information technology. What began as an economic solution has become a pathology. After thirty years, it was fundamental to the new crisis. 
The outsourcing of production, ever seeking cheaper labour power, accelerated up to the crash of 2007: for example, Levi-Strauss, which in the 1960s operated sixty-three factories in the United States, closed its last factory there in 2004. The process was pushed also by the emergence of such retail giants as Walmart, Tesco, and Carrefour—commercial interests coming to dominate manufacturers and growers, at home and abroad. The pressure on suppliers inevitably leads to further pressure on wages. 
According to mainstream economics, the “developing countries” should be catching up with the developed. There is no sign of this happening, however (apart from a few special cases), for a number of reasons. 
The process is controlled by the transnational corporations, whether through direct investment or subcontracting. While there is free movement of capital, there is no free movement of labour. The reserve army of the unemployed and precariously employed is so large, and continues to be reinforced by the displacement of peasants from the land. 
Development is largely limited to the particular activities required by powerful corporations and by commercial and financial interests. It is unusual for a product to be manufactured entirely in one country. For example, transnational companies and their subcontractors operating in China typically assemble articles for export from parts made elsewhere. This keeps control in the hands of the corporation. 
The direct rule of the colonial powers has been more or less successfully replaced by neo-colonialism. Imperialist hegemony is enforced by economic means, in alliance with the local ruling class—not that force, or the threat of force, has been abandoned. Levelling up is just not happening. 
Meanwhile the wages and conditions of workers in the imperialist countries continue to deteriorate, with jobs in production only partly replaced by service employment. They are facing austerity policies imposed by governments and employers. These have so far met with only sporadic resistance, but this may be changing. 
John Smith argues at some length that Marx’s theory of surplus value needs to be interpreted in the global context of contemporary imperialism. As he sums up his argument, “global labour arbitrage—super-exploitation—that is forcing down the value of labour power, is now the increasingly predominant form of the capital-labour relationship.” This he sees as “a defining feature of the neoliberal era,” along with the financialisation with which it is closely associated. He makes the point that financial assets are largely derived from the surplus value extracted from super-exploited workers in low-wage countries. 
Behind the financial crisis of 2007 lay a crisis of production, that is, of capitalism itself, of imperialism. After nine years, no solution has been found. The policy of North American and European governments has been to protect business, keeping share prices up by “quantitative easing” and imposing austerity on working people. They have certainly succeeded in making the rich richer, but the underlying crisis remains, and is spreading to the oppressed countries, which depend on exporting to what is now a stagnant market. 
The return to Keynesian strategies and re-regulation advocated by the left is hardly more promising; nor is the “non-interference” proposed by some on the right. The author argues that there is no capitalist solution to the crisis. There has been, he maintains, an enormous growth in the working class, the industrial working class in particular, which includes women and men, all races and all religions, “more closely resembling the face of humanity than ever before”—a powerful force. 
Either humanity will destroy capitalism, or capitalism will destroy humanity. We are back to Marx: “Workers of all countries, unite!”—never more difficult, never more urgent, never more necessary.

Another Europe is possible—another EU is not

The Communist Party of Ireland expresses its solidarity with and welcomes the decision of the British electorate, with working people having played a decisive factor to vote to leave the European Union. 
The decision of the people is a victory over Project Fear, unleashed by big business, global banks and financial institutions, with the EU and the ruling elite throughout the EU, including the Irish government, playing back-up. We congratulate those in the north-east of Ireland who had the opportunity to vote in the referendum and voted to leave. 
We call for a new referendum here in the Republic on continued membership, coupled with a halt to any further or deeper integration within the EU. We need to reassert national democracy and sovereignty. Also required is an end to the secret negotiations by the institutions of the EU and the United States regarding TTIP. 
The working people of Britain have sent a resounding message to London and Brussels, that they have had enough of the bullying, enough of permanent austerity, enough of putting the interests of big business above those of the people. This is also significant rejection of the straitjacket economics of the EU. The political and economic strategy of the EU is an affront to democracy and the ability of people to democratically decide their countries’ economic and social priorities and possible alternative direction. 
Throughout the EU, millions of workers will welcome this vote to leave, which may well mark the beginning of the end of the EU itself. Project Fear, masterminded by the EU, has been used to bully the Greek, Spanish, Italian, Cypriot and Irish people into accepting debt slavery, that there was no alternative but to bail out the banks and speculators over the rights of the people. But not only them: this strategy has been used against all working people right throughout the EU, using fear to impose the feeling that there is no alternative, using it to mask savage attacks on workers’ rights and conditions, and the further erosion of democracy and national sovereignty. 
The cycle of fear has now been broken. Working people need to take the opportunity now presented to assert their own demands throughout the EU, to assert themselves and build unity of action against these massive assaults. 
Now is the time for the mobilisation of working people to assert that there is a progressive left democratic alternative to the the plans and strategies being imposed big business through the institutions of the EU.

The Brexit debate and the left

Letter in the Irish Times http://www.irishtimes.com/opinion/letters/the-brexit-debate-and-the-left-1.2674376

Sir, – Many people will have been repelled by the selective xenophobia of the Brexit campaign, concluding there is little option than to vote to Remain in the EU for fear of being tarred with the same brush. However, we would all do well to consider the membership of the “Remain Club” – the combined forces of international capitalism, including the World Bank, IMF, multinationals, the US and, of course, the European Central Bank itself.

As a result of the Brexit campaign, the idea that a country might retain a degree of sovereignty and border control has been rendered toxic and even racist. This despite the fact that it is commonplace around the non-EU world! Nor can it be in the interests of countries to see large numbers of their working population leave, many never to return.

The postwar democratic consensus of full employment, public ownership and a welfare state has been systematically dismantled. In the event of a vote to Remain we will see a continuing attack on the public sector and privatisation of services as the EU moves towards federalism.

The next step is TTIP (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership), an agreement with the most far-reaching consequences to date. In essence this elevates a multinational company to have the same status as national governments, will erode further the right of a state to protect its citizens, and force states to go to a third party to justify its actions if a company deems these to have eaten into its profits!

Tell the people of Greece, Spain, Portugal and Ireland that the EU has equality as a priority. When equality has come up against the interests of employers, the latter have won (check the Viking Line and Laval judgments).

There are those in the trade union and labour movement who argue that membership of the EU will protect our members’ rights and conditions. What have they got to say about Greece, with the destruction of wages, pensions, jobs, healthcare and the forced sale of public assets and enterprise on the insistence of the EU? Or France, where the social democratic president’s decision to proceed with legislation to remove the legal protection for working hours and wages at the insistence of the EU, despite political opposition, widespread protests and national strikes? Or Ireland, where the EU insistence that no more than 2 per cent can be spent on social initiatives or infrastructure to alleviate the effects of austerity, which was caused by irresponsible behaviour of world and European banks, irrespective of GDP growth?

Britain does pay in more to the EU than it receives. The common fisheries policy has decimated the local fishing industry. There is endemic waste through the common agricultural policy. There is a trade imbalance which other countries will be loath to lose after a vote to leave. Of course, we are under no illusions that money no longer spent on EU membership will used to replace current funding, which will in any event stop as other regions take precedence. We would have to fight hard to achieve this. The point is though we would be able to do so, a capacity we will lose if the vote is to Remain.

The consensus on the impact of Brexit on Ireland is that a “Border with attitude” is unlikely and even far-fetched. There are precedents for relaxed borders between member and non-member countries.

The headline debate reflects a disagreement about the way ahead for British capitalism, and we are under no illusions regarding the anti-working class credentials of the Brexit Tories. However, a vote to Remain will further erode the capacity to defend living standards, the public sector and in particular the NHS.

The Communist Party of Ireland has opposed the “European project” in all its guises, and we take no pleasure in saying that what we predicted has happened. We support a left exit campaign – a Lexit! – Yours, etc,

LYNDA WALKER,

Northern Area

Committee,

Communist Party of Ireland,

Belfast.

10 Reasons to #leave #brexit

1.   Northern Ireland  … Economy
The EU subsidies in the form of Regional Grants,  Structural Funds, Farm Payments and money for local ‘Peace Process’ activities  are, in fact, UK taxpayers’ money being recycled through Brussels.  The UK is a major net contributor to the EU Budget, so that local EU projects which people think Brussels is funding are really being paid for by UK taxpayers. Voting ‘Leave’ would in principle make possible increases, not reductions, in all such funding.
2.   Northern Ireland …The Peace Process
Claims that a ‘Leave’ vote would endanger the Northern Ireland peace process are wholly unfounded. This is part of ‘Project Fear’.  Remember 1999 and the threats of job losses and economic ruin if Britain did not abolish the pound sterling and adopt the euro?  Or 2011 when Germany’s Chancellor Merkel claimed that peace in Europe was under threat if the Banks were not bailed out to protect the euro-currency?
3.   The Anglo-Irish Common Travel Area
The long-established Anglo-Irish common travel area, which goes back to 1923, is  a matter exclusively for the British and Irish Governments and is not an EU matter.  Irish people will continue to move freely between the two islands and across the North-South border inside Ireland as they have always done.
4.   Social benefits and Wages
If people vote ‘Remain’ David Cameron’s recent EU agreement will be implemented, which means that new immigrants to the UK will have lower social benefits than those already there. It will be impossible under EU law to differentiate between Irish immigrants on the one hand and non-Irish ones on the other. So that new Irish immigrants to the UK must face cuts in social benefits too.
Under EU law  any of the 500 million people who are citizens of the EU can come and live and work in the UK if they wish. This leads to cheap labour, lower wages and reductions  in social standards. This is the main reason why so many employers, especially big ones, want to remain in the EU.
5.  National independence
Remaining in the EU means obeying EU laws made in Brussels by unelected bureaucrats without the ability of either Britain or Ireland to change a single one of them. These laws  and regulations serve the interest of EU-based Transnational Banks and Big Business and not the ordinary people of Britain or Ireland. Brussels can impose heavy fines on any State that disobeys. Is this “the unfettered control of Irish destinies” which the men and women of the 1916 Easter Rising aspired to in the Proclamation?  Is this democracy?  Irish people have a proud record of standing for the national independence of whatever country they are living in. That is why they should show solidarity with the British people by voting ‘Leave’ in the June referendum.
6.   Free Trade
Free trade does not require the supremacy of EU law. Free trade will continue between Ireland and the UK under all realistic ‘Leave’ scenarios, so there will be no customs posts on the North-South border within Ireland, no passport controls or anything like that. Such claims are simply scaremongering. If the ‘Remain’ side wins it means the job-destroying TTIP (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership) is inevitable. This was negotiated by the EU on behalf of its 28 Member States, with its dangerous Private Investor-State Dispute Settlement Tribunals –  instead of Britain independently negotiating its own trade treaties with the 170 States in the world that are outside the EU.
7. More money in one’s pocket
Over the past decade the UK paid over £150 billion to the EU budget – far more than it gets back. It sends £350 million to Brussels every week. This is about half the English schools budget and some ten times the Northern Ireland schools budget. If the vote is  ‘Remain’ it will make this payment permanent and people cannot change it. Why not put this money back in one’s pocket by voting ‘Leave’?
8. This is where the jobs are
Only 1/10th of the UK economy is involved in exports to the EIU. The other 9/10ths  are involved in domestic UK business and in exporting outside the EU.  This is where the jobs are – in the domestic economy, freed from job-destroying EU regulation, and in the export business, with Britain trading with the five continents and with the far-flung English-speaking world.  The EU is an inward-looking shrinking market mired in recession, with a disfunctional currency and hugh unemployment.  The EU is far more dependent on the UK economy than the UK is on it.  By taking back control from the EU Britain can become an economically booming Singapore of Europe.
9.  Hamstrung indefinitely or free?
Do you want to be part of a manifestly failing experiment in continent-wide federalization to be run by non-elected committees in Brussels?  Or to regain control over our fishing industry, tax, economic regulation, energy and food bills, migration, crime and civil liberties by voting ‘Leave’?   By voting ‘Remain’ you copperfasten control of your life and those of your children  for the indefinite future by an increasingly  German-dominated EU.  By voting ‘Leave’ you bring back control to the democratically-elected centuries-old British Parliament.  You regain the right to make your own laws, which Britain helped restore to the rest of Europe in two World Wars. In these circumstances voting ‘Leave’ is clearly the safer optiom.
10.  Human Rights Courts
Membership of the European Convention on Human Rights, which 55 European countries subscribe to, underpins various freedoms but has nothing to do with the European Union. The European Court of Human Rights is a separate body entirely from the EU’s Court of Justice, so that voting Leave will not affect the human rights protections of people in the UK and Ireland.

 

Anthony Coughlin

Why #Brexit?

The National Platform EU Research and Information Centre

24 Crawford Avenue
Dublin 9
Tel.: 01-8305792
Thursday 21 April 2016
 
Dear Sinn Fein Friends
                                    Lost Opportunities?
For Sinn Fein to embrace the European Union at its Ard Fheis on the very centenary weekend of the Easter Rising, behind a rhetoric of working to turn the EU into a ‘Social Europe’ – with Ireland’s 1% EU Council vote? –  and to commit itself to ‘campaigning vigorously against Brexit’ in the UK’s June referendum on the EU, is assuredly deeply ironical.
It would be so partly because Sinn Fein has opposed handing over Irish sovereignty to the EU in every EU referendum from that on the original EEC Accession Treaty in 1972, through those on the Single European Act 1987, the Maastricht Treaty 1992, the Amsterdam Treaty 1998, the Nice Treaty 2001 and 2002, the Lisbon Treaty 2008 and 2009, up to the Fiscal Stability Treaty of 2012 … And partly because the EU is in such a mess these days – and getting messier, with the euro-currency crisis, the migration crisis and the ‘Brexit’ crisis.

I make these points in this ‘open letter’ to you and your Sinn Fein colleagues as a lifelong Left Republican who was involved in setting up the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association in 1967 and who took part in the 1968/9 Northern civil rights marches before ever Provisional Sinn Fein was established, and as someone who has had no party political involvement since my student days and who has supported the ‘peace process’ over the years.

By taking such a course, with seemingly minimal discussion among the party’s members, the Sinn Fein leadership, behind a screen of leftist rhetoric, would be moving decisively down the same road as the erstwhile ‘Stickies’, using similar slogans and demands as they did in their time, and abandoning the possibility of offering a genuinely alternative course for the Irish people on the principal issue of the day in our part of the world – the issue of national independence and democracy vis-a-vis the EU.
Sinn Fein would be throwing away two political opportunities by this development.
The only way to bring about a United Ireland over time is to win over a section of current Unionist opininion to that position, however long that may take, so as to bring about eventually a majority in the North for ending Partition.  For if the Unionists are Irish – as they are – that should in principle be possible.
If Sinn Fein supported ‘Brexit’ it would enable Republicans to side with such Unionists as the DUP against the mainstream policy of the British Government and Prime Minister David Cameron. The latter is being supported by the most reactionary forces in Europe and the USA, from Goldman Sachs* and Wall Street to the German and other EU Governments, the American Government, the Brussels Commission, and EU-based High Finance and Transnational Capital against those people on the Left, Right and Centre of British politics who want to get back the right to decide their own laws and international policies.
If Sinn Fein had adopted such a course it would open other opportunities for influencing hard-line Unionist opinion in a more progressive direction over time.
Instead Sinn Fein seems set on siding with the Goldman Sachses and Prime Minister Camerons of this world – something which Bobby Sands and his H-Block comrades would surely never have credited could happen!
I am well aware that for Sinn Fein to advocate ‘Brexit’ would be politically tricky in presentational terms, but it could be done.   Of course it would not be so tricky if the Sinn Fein leadership had carried out a sustained campaign of education in the party’s own ranks and amongst the wider Irish public on the reactionary and anti-democratic character of the EU over the years: building on its record of referendum opposition to the successive EU Treaties.  But the Sinn Fein leadership has not been telling people that.
For anyone who looks objectively at the facts, Irish membership of the EU/Eurozone is the very opposite of ‘the unfettered control of Irish destinies’, the genuinely independent Irish Republic, which the men and women of 1916 set out to establish a hundred years ago.
The second opportunity being thrown away by this policy volte-face on the part of the Sinn Fein leadership is the maintenance of a significant policy distinction between Sinn Fein and Fianna Fail.  For once Sinn Fein embraces the EU there is no objective basis for Irish voters to prefer Fianna Fail ‘Lite’ as against Fianna Fail ‘Heavy’.  By removing the one significant distinction between real political Republicanism on the one hand and  bogus Fianna Fail Republicanism on the other, Sinn Fein is copper-fastening objectively the revival of Fianna Fail.
That great Socialist Republican Peadar O’Donnell used often say that Republicanism was the most ‘left-wing’ thing in Ireland until the country had attained real national independence and unity.  By that he meant that any ‘leftist’ or radical-sounding talk that does not give priority to establishing real national independence is just so much codology, meant to deceive the gullible.
At the present time the EU’s euro-currency and migration crises are making the ‘national question’,  the issue of national independence and democracy, the big issue of politics right across the EU – including for former imperial countries like Britain, Germany and France which for generations caused national problems for others.
This is happening as these different nations discover the drawbacks of having their laws made for them by people they do not elect, and as citizens everywhere begin to react against how their mainstream politicians have allowed their Nation States to be hollowed out by means of successive EU Treaties – all of which Sinn Fein opposed over the years.
This is not a time when Sinn Fein should effectively abandon Republicanism behind a rhetoric of advocating a so-called ‘Social Europe’ and ‘leading the Left’.  It is not a time when sensible Republicans should abandon the one significant feature that had hitherto differentiated them from Fianna Fail and all the other parties in the Dail – namely criticism of and opposition to the EU/Eurozone – that being the one policy feature which objectively justifies Sinn Fein’s claim to be offering the Irish people a genuinely alternative course of national policy.
Of course one can pretend that talk about ‘leading the Left’, standing for ‘a Republic of Equals’ and advocacy of more radically redistributive tax and spend policies, provide a real policy alternative to the Irish people; but they do not.  Labour in opposition, Fianna Fail in opposition, the Social Democrats, the Anti-Austerity Alliance and the rest will all be doing the same thing in the coming period, with minor variations between them, while at the same time they support Irish membership of the EU/Eurozone and all that necessarily goes with that.
I send you three items below in support of the points made in this letter. The document ‘Tackling the EU Empire’, which gives the basic facts about the EU/Eurozone and what it is all about, has already been sent to you by letter post.
The first item below is ten points on why Irish people in Britain and the North should vote ‘Leave’ in June.The second is an article, originally published in Village Magazine, which shows how the EU, by  eroding national independence and democracy, is the very opposite of the independent Republic that the men and women of 1916 whom we commemorate on this centenary weekend set out to achieve.  And the third  is an article on what the EU/Eurozone policy of a genuine political Left rather than a bogus one should be.
That would be a Left in the James Connolly tradition which gives political primacy to achieving real national independence and unity as against the national sell-out policy of the Social Democrat and neo-Trotskyite parties of one kind or another, all of which embrace the EU and submit to its laws and rules while using Left-sounding slogans and rhetoric to cover their accommodation to it.
Syriza’s former Finance Minister Janis Varoufakis is currently a prime example of this as he campaigns alongside David Cameron, Goldman Sachs, the City of London and the most reactionary economic and political forces in the Western world against those British democrats on the political Left and Right who who seek to regain their national democracy and independence by supporting ‘Brexit’.
And is Sinn Fein now set to join the anti-democratic side?
Yours faithfully
Anthony Coughlan
Director
 
* On 22 January the Financial Times reported that Goldman Sachs on Wall Street was donating £500,000 towards the anti-Brexit campaign in Britain. This is the same Goldman Sachs as is behind the threatened Tyrrelstown evictions in Dublin.

Capitalism is bad for your health

By David Hugh Hartery

Taken from http://www.communistpartyofireland.ie/sv/07-health.html

Going hand in hand with a reduction in the stigma attached to mental illness is a growth in diagnoses. Some of this can be attributed to better health education, leading to fewer sick people going untreated; but with unprecedented numbers now receiving treatment, we have to ask, What part of modern society is making us ill?

This article does not aim to critique the practice of mental health treatment under capitalism—though Peadar O’Grady’s excellent “Stop making sense: Alienation and mental health” in Irish Marxist Review (no. 11, 2014) provides that analysis (and some of it is relied on here); instead it tries to explain why the capitalist system necessarily causes stresses—leading to mental illnesses—and how the very response to that phenomenon has been weaponised by capital.

Firstly, part of the reason for an increase in diagnoses is a definitional one. Increasingly, normal aspects of life under late capitalism are medicalised. Stress, anxiety and uncertainty are often foundational (even laudatory) aspects of the capitalist system, with the precariousness of workers’ contracts seen as a boon to bosses and working yourself to your stress limits seen as dedication, which will be rewarded.

In this way, it could be argued that the anxious, medicated, CBT-practising precarious worker is in fact the ideal citizen of late capitalism.

Marx’s assumption is that humanity is defined by how it labours: there is a drive to create new surpluses, new needs, new value. Alienation from labour, however, is obviously a precondition of capitalism, necessary for the extraction of surplus value.

However, such alienation has takes a psychic toll, with a survey by the British government showing that workers at lower rungs of professions exhibit higher levels of stress than their bosses. Similarly, the report of the Anxiety and Depression Association of America for 2006 shows that workers who were given more autonomy showed less signs of mental illness. Alienation, then, is a scale, and when the degree of alienation increases we see more mental illness or distress, and when it wanes, workers should see mental and physical benefits.

However, such forces have existed since the advent of capitalism. What has led to the surge in mental illnesses in late capitalism? The tendency of the rate of profit to fall—and its effect on the balance between work and life—has a lot to do with this. In the modern neo-liberal order, work is increasingly precarious and highly specific: this is necessary to get the maximum productive value from each worker, as capitalists try to arrest this fall in profit. The advent of zero-hour contracts and an app-based service economy has provided a new way to circumvent hard-won employment protections and introduce a culture of scientific management through the back door.

Even the liberal paragon of employment, the tech start-up, inculcates a culture of absolute devotion through the provision of sleeping areas, free food, and on-site leisure facilities. Tech companies exploit the passion of computer enthusiasts to create a culture of competition—and long working hours. The increasing use of productivity micro-targets in all work-places also adds another stress factor to employment.

When combined with long commuting times, poor nutrition from convenience food and a highly sedentary life-style, this mix of stress and poor self-care is toxic to mental health. Sleep, long established as one of the primary factors in preserving our mental resilience, is also affected by these long, stressful days—with Silicon Valley investigating pills that would defer the need for rest, allowing capital to further colonise sleep. Coffee, however, is our current substitute.

In the face of these factors, these stressors, there is an understandable outbreak of mental illness.

The culture of individuality, so prominent in the economic sphere since the 1980s, is also the predominant mode of combating mental illness. It’s impossible for health to be conceptualised within the wider socio-economic framework when the “blame” for mental illness is individualised. We are told to “Please talk” or to watch the “little things” that will foster better mental health, but there is no talk of the systemic factors that lead to illness. The closest that practice will come to understanding how capital divorces us from our human nature is to talk of the importance of “occupation,” a term that practitioners strive to keep “apolitical” and often a synonym for busywork.

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is perhaps the most egregious example of this. It works through teaching patients to think about their life differently, positing that through thinking more “factually” about events and behaviour we can learn to stop “negative automatic thoughts” and improve the quality of life.

CBT is cheap, short, and scalable, so it has become the poster-child for the neo-liberal health model. It does work for a lot of people—though, as the excellent article “Therapy wars: the revenge of Freud” by Oliver Burkeman in the Guardian (7 January 2016) explains, the success rates are dropping continuously; but it is a sticking-plaster for a social ill. The increasing use of programmed CBT artificial intelligences in many health services, or drop-in centres dispensing CBT worksheets without access to a practitioner, shows how the CBT practice is becoming increasingly cold and inhuman.

We cannot “fix” mental illness by socialising more, arbitrarily choosing to think differently, or making token life-style changes. This amounts to mere commodity consumption, something that can superficially fill the gaps in our human needs, but does not fix the underlying problems of alienation. Our position within the socio-economic system dictates whether we can meet our needs through satisfying work or whether we are left to seek fleeting relief through rituals of consumption.

When we look at the incidence of mental health among homeless people, the incarceration of vast swathes of “undesirables” in mental health asylums throughout Irish history, the tragedy of addiction and the prevalence of mental health issues among the working class, we can see that mental health is undeniably a class issue, and one that is getting worse.

Instead of celebrities enriching themselves through bourgeois calls for “awareness” we need to form a comprehensive, politically aware response to this crisis.

Interview with Prof Ben Fine, SOAS

www.politicaleconomy.ie interview with Professor of Economics Ben Fine of the School of Oriental and African Studies in London.

PDF version of interview Interview with Ben Fine Prof Economics SOAS

Thank you Ben for taking the time to do this interview.

  1. Can you briefly outline for us what you think the causes of the great 2008 crash and subsequent years of crisis were?

Over the past thirty years, the volume of global financial assets to GDP has risen three times. That means that each unit of output has involved three times the level of financing than previously, something that would have been deplored had it been anything else underpinning provision, such as energy to produce electricity, steel to produce cars, and so on. It is hardly surprising that such a system should blow at some point, ultimately globally, with ever larger and uncontainable crises emerging at earlier points along the way.

But something else, and deeper, is involved than the increasing ratio of finance to production, and the increasing proliferation of the types of assets. What we have seen is the increasing role of finance in what might be termed economic and social restructuring and accumulation of capital. Thus, within the capitalist economy itself, more and more finance has been involved, together with financial motives and operations in what firms do. In the USA, for example, non-financial firms make as much money out of their financial dealings as they do out of their real operations. Such, what is termed financialisation, has meant, for example, increasing pursuit of short-term profitability at the expense of long-term investments for increasing productivity and wages. Together with corresponding worsening to extremes of income inequality also over the last three decades, and the priority in policymaking to restore not only the profitability of finance but of its continuing operations, it is hardly surprising that, following the global financial crisis, there should be no signs of rapid recovery.

These processes of financialisation, and their effects, are uneven within and across countries and within and across sectors of the economy. They have also, as indicated, been extended to social restructuring, by which is meant the ways and means by which social provisioning takes place, economic and social infrastructure in general and health, education, welfare, etc, in particular. Not least through privatisation directly, and through all sorts of other mechanisms indirectly such as user charges, public private partnership and contracting out of government services, financialisation has increasingly become embroiled in social reproduction, something that is vital for the rhythm and pace of accumulation.

All in all, the result has been a slower pace of growth across the capitalist world, following the collapse of the post-war boom in the 1970s, with globalised, financialised neoliberalism ultimately suffering a global crisis from which it can barely recover growth in prosperity despite the enormous interventions on behalf of finance as both the levels and efficacy of accumulation and the conditions under which it occurs have been increasingly dictated to by financial motives and markets.

  1. You defend the more traditional Marxist declining rate of profit theory which has come under some scrutiny by Marxian economists in recent time. Can you explain the theory first and then why you see it as still a strong tendency in the system?

Let me answer this question indirectly. Broadly, debate over Marx’s law of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall (and, for me at least, its counteracting tendencies, CTs) have, again for me, been based upon two false framings. The first is does the rate of profit empirically fall or not for some theoretical reason or other. The second is that given the rate of profit has fallen, for whatever reason, does this give rise to a crisis. Answers to the first question have resulted in huge debates across method, conceptualisation and theory, especially concerning the validity of Marx’s value theory and its application. Much empirical work has also been devoted to the issue of whether the rate of profit has fallen or not over particular periods for particular countries, with the presumption that crises can be explained by falling profitability (although capitalists themselves at the time did not have the benefit  of these retrospective calculations). For me, Marx’s law and CTs do not revolve around either of these framings, at least directly. Rather he is concerned with underlying forces that necessarily accompany accumulation and what I have termed restructuring of capital in answering the previous question. The law concerns increases in productivity that arise out of the accumulation of capital; the CTs concern the realisation of these developments in or through exchange. For Marx, this interaction is always contradictory rather than a simple sum in terms of profit going up or down. The issue is less this than whether the market (and non-market) mechanisms for accumulating and restructuring capital can be sustained without an economic and/or social crisis.

Now, if parodying, some argue that Marx’s law resulted in the end of the post-war boom and that the resulting crisis has yet to be resolved so that the current crisis is not a financial crisis at all but an unresolved crisis of profitability. Others argue that, especially in the USA with stagnant wages, profitability was fully restored and so the current crisis is purely financial (arising out of undue speculation and/or insufficient demand because of low wage income). These are wrong or limited, respectively, as the current crisis is one of inability to sustain and renew accumulation and restructuring of capital through what has become the major mechanism for doing so, financialisation.

  1. How do you see the recent years of austerity across Europe in terms of class? Why was it imposed and who did it benefit?

Everyone knows the bankers were to blame but they have got off scot free more or less – socialism for the bankers, capitalism for the rest of us. The imposition of austerity is indicative of the priority to restoring finance in the wake of its crisis so that the working class has been particularly hard hit even though arguments blaming them concerning unduly high economic and social wages do not hold true (although they are offered in case of the EU periphery in general and Greece in particular).

  1. I have to ask you now also about the upcoming referendum on Brexit. How would like it go? and what way do you think it will go?

The single most important thing about Brexit is political. For whatever reasons, the most horrendous coalition of forces is being put together to support Brexit and it would be disastrous if they were to win in terms of strengthening their political position, that is of the right more generally. More substantively, if a little over-simple, Brexit is about whether we want to be ruled directly by a European (predominantly German) capitalist class (think what has been done to Greece, although Britain has not offered any counterweight) or by a British one (think finance). It is hardly a choice that offers anything to working people, with the longer-term prospect being whether British finance is best served (by being eroded) in or outside the EU (as with membership of the Euro itself).

  1. Without doubt there has been a renewed interest in Marx and Marxist analysis in recent years do you see this translating into a raised level of class consciousness in Britain and, if so, will this translate into a rebalancing of forces in the country over the coming years in favour of working people?

I suspect the main direction of causation is in the opposite direction with interest in Marxism responding to developments rather than vice-versa. So the prominence and impact of Marxism will depend upon the growing strength and organisation of working people for which the unexpected and fortuitous rise of Corbyn is a welcome if fragile first step until such strength and organisation emerges and is consolidated.

Book Review: The Empire and Ukraine

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The recent Manifesto Press book by Andrew Murray The Empire and Ukraine has been well received in the United States.

This review by Joe Jamison appeared at http://mltoday.com

This is a crucial book for antiwar activists in the US and others on the Left to study.   The Empire and Ukraine will be of greatest use to the antiwar movements and solidarity organizations in Britain, but its clear-eyed analysis can strengthen the antiwar movement here, still the main lair of the beast.

The title  would seem to suggest a study of one crisis only – Ukraine — but it offers more. The book sets the Ukraine crisis in a more general context of post-1991 world politics. Andrew Murray proposes a theoretical framework for deciding the question of the differences and similarities between imperialism a century ago and now. Then he expounds the complexities of the case of Ukraine. From the analysis flow recommendations on how the political Left, the labor movement and anti-war campaigns should respond to multiple war dangers.

In 138 pages Murray examines the international setting – the nature of contemporary imperialism, the role of NATO and the European Union, the place of Britain in the world order and the impact of the economic crisis that began in 2008 on world politics – and how they relate to Ukraine.

The two main parts of the book are “21st Century Imperialism”  and “The Ukraine in Five Questions”  There are  also three appendices, “Attacking ‘Stop the War’ – Two Polemics,” “How Imperialism Marks Major Anniversaries,” and “The Georgian War of 2008.”

His section on ideological confusions on the British Left depicts a scene not unlike that prevailing in the US. The bibliography of key works on imperialism could be a syllabus for the self-education of antiwar activists.

1916 versus 2016

How does the imperialism of 2016 different from the imperialism of 1916? Apparently many are taking up this question. Yesterday this reviewer received in an email an advertisement for 21st Century imperialism by John Smith from Monthly Review. There is also a new book from a US Left group, the Party for Socialism and Liberation, 21st Century Imperialism.

“Imperialism ” is one of those words from outside Marxism that Marxism has absorbed and made its own.

The word “imperialism” was first heard  from  the mouths of the imperialists themselves, plunderers such as Cecil Rhodes who carved up what remained of still-unconquered Africa and Asia and loudly defended their piratical gains.

Criticism of imperialism, fueled by opposition to the Boer War (1899-1902) took theoretical shape in the book Imperialism by the liberal British writer J. A. Hobson (1902). In the US, opposition to the Spanish-American War (1898) in which the US seized Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines, included well-known Americans such as Andrew Carnegie, Mark Twain, and  Samuel Gompers organized in the Anti-Imperialist League. But when Marxism took over  the concept,  word imperialism largely was dropped in  respectable bourgeois discourse, until a few years ago.

Marx anticipated the qualitative change from free competition to monopoly that occurred at the end of 19th century in  his discussion in Das Kapital of the Laws of the Concentration and Centralization of Capital. Marxists such as Hilferding (in Finance Capital, 1910) and Bukharin (in Imperialism and World Economy, 1915) represented the beginning of Marxism’s theoretical absorption of the new reality. Karl Kautsky struggled with it, defining imperialism  as merely a policy of the advanced industrial countries toward the weaker agricultural countries. Kautsky argued that that imperialism is developing into a peaceful “ultra-imperialism” in which transnational capitalism supersedes national-based monopoly capitalism.

Rejecting Kautsky’s faulty formulations and conclusions, Lenin arrived at the classic Marxist understanding in Imperialism, The Highest Stage of Capitalism (1916) seemingly a modest “popular” pamphlet of 130 pages. In fact the pamphlet was the distillation of his Notebooks on Imperialism, which run to over 800 hundred pages and now make up Volume 39 of his Collected Works. Thus several decades of debate preceded Lenin’s famous work.

By defining imperialism as the monopoly stage of capitalism, not a mere policy, Lenin accomplished  the  grafting of the new reality  onto a consistent body of Marxist theory. That does not always happen; nowadays some Marxists all too readily use half-digested terms such as “capitalist globalization ” or “financialization.”

But, Murray argues, too many Marxists have been content to leave the analysis there, as if nothing had happened since Lenin’s  classic writing. Yet there have been obvious changes: the dominant power has changed (Britain in the decades before 1914; the US from 1945-present). The role of the state in capitalism has changed (modest a century ago except in wartime; massive, at all times, now). The main rival, ascending power has changed (Germany challenging Britain in 1914; People’s China challenging the US now)

A century ago, the revolutionary position was to reject both imperialist coalitions. In the First World War revolutionaries waged an uphill battle to convince  the working class to reject  misleaders who sided with “their own” imperialists. Lenin and the Bolsheviks advanced the slogan, “Turn the imperialist war into a civil war.” On the other side of Europe, in colonial Ireland, James Connolly and his Irish Citizen Army declared in the Easter 1916 Rebellion, “We serve neither King nor Kaiser but Ireland.”

Since 1989-91, obviously, the world balance of forces has changed.  The downfall of the USSR has removed the powerful restraint of the socialist camp on imperialism. Some things remain the same.  There is still inter-imperialist rivalry — there always has been — since imperialism emerged.  The law of uneven development of capitalism still persists.

Does the end of socialism in East Europe and the USSR in 1989-81 mean we simply are back to the world of the First World War and before, when two coalitions of imperialist states, one led by Britain and the other led by a rising Germany, vied for supremacy in the world?

Such a stance, Murray argues,  ignores dialectics. The monopoly stage of capitalism (like the competitive stage before it, from which it evolved) is not static. Murray proposes a framework to enable us to see the imperialist system in its contradictory motion, in its development tendencies, in a word, dialectically.

Affirming his essential continuity with Lenin’s analysis, Murray rejects the notion that nothing has changed. He contends that three concepts that came out of the grafting process can shed light on what has changed in the intervening century.

“Three different abstract political “models” could be consistent with this general order and the prevailing balance of economic power – super-imperialism; inter-imperialist rivalry; and ultra-imperialism.

Super-imperialism assumes the world system is dominated by a single imperialist power, which rules all the rest, from lesser imperialist powers down to states which are not really powers at all, even perhaps within their own national borders.

Inter-imperialist competition argues for a continuing struggle for markets, influence and control by several powers, or blocs of powers, within a world system that tries to resolve their antagonisms on a bilateral or multilateral basis, but without either an overarching hegemonic regulator or combined authoritative mediating structures.

Ultra-imperialism postulates the merging of competing imperialisms into one integrated system, somewhat analogous to monopoly capitalist mergers. It differs from super-imperialism in that there is no one power commanding the others, and assumes a radical diminution of the capacity of the nation-state as a point of organization and power for capital accumulation. Lenin used the terms ‘superimperialism’ and ‘ultra-imperialism’ interchangeably – understandably so, since the idea of a single imperial power overwhelming all others, rather than all of them fusing together, was inconceivable 100 years ago.

Here we make a distinction between the drive for undisputed world hegemony by the US (super-imperialism), and the process of the elaboration of institutions and policies which embody the collective interests of world imperialism (ultra-imperialism), closely entwined as these two concepts evidently are.

In reality, since the emergence of modern capitalist imperialism in the late 19th century, the world system has always been a mixture of all three aspects, and it is so today – never has the world order corresponded entirely to one or the other.” [1]

But there is more to say, surely, in evaluating contemporary imperialism. The  still dominant US  is arguably declining, at least in some ways. US  power is ebbing economically and to some extent politically. But in a military sense,  the world is  still living in a Pax Americana . The US is still dominant in global  economic institutions (IMF , World Bank) , though its sway is challenged  by faster growing capitalist states (progressive ones such as Bolivarian Venezuela and some not so progressive such as India) and by People’s China  (with its new Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, to name only one initiative)

Such states are striving to build up an alternative architecture of international economic relations. Moreover, in 1914 there was no EU. The EU is both a rival and subordinate in relation to the US,  augmenting and sometimes restraining US power.

So what is the new configuration of contemporary imperialism , of the “world system” today? Murray states that elements of all three: “super”, “ultra”, and “inter” are present:

As a number of people have noted in recent times, the unipolar moment in international affairs has passed. Its tombstone will probably read : 1991-2008. A combination of the disasters and defeats of the “war on terror” and the economic crisis of neo-liberalism, together with the bounding growth of Chinese power and the steady returning of strength to the atrophied sinews of Russian authority, have turned the “one superpower” world into something more like “one-megapower” and quite-a-few rising powers planet – all in flat contradiction to the programme of the once-notorious Project for a New American Century which specifically enjoined US administrations to exert every effort to prevent any such pluralism of power emerging. Bush, Clinton, Bush and Obama have all done their best in one way or another, but returning history has proved stronger. [2]

The Cause of the Ukraine Crisis

There is boundless arrogance in US policy toward Russia since the 1990s. US Administrations, of both parties, have dismissed Russian security concerns about invasion from the West, an astonishing position, given the 20th century history of the USSR, with 27 million dead in 1941-45 alone.

The relentless US drive eastward, bringing missiles ever closer to the borders of Russia , forgetting pledges made to the Gobachev leadership in 1990 not to push NATO eastward , is at the root of the Ukraine crisis.

…the crisis has in large measure been provoked by the continuing drive eastward in Europe by the USA and the European Union, the main props and beneficiaries of the post-1991 “new world order”. It is often said, and rightly, that the “unipolar moment” of unchallenged US world domination is passing; nevertheless US power, abetted in this case by the EU, is best seen as undermined and in relative decline, but it remains the only contender for a global hegemonic role. Even as it is troubled in the Middle East, and “pivoting” its immense military resources to the Far East to contain and confront ascendant China, it still looks to incorporate other countries within its zones of control (influence is too kind a word), that is to say, the formal and informal structures of the “New World Order”. [3]

Andrew Murray, calling Putinism a mix of “social conservatism, chauvinism, and nostalgia” but not a “dictatorship,”  [4] He quotes at great length – four pages –  a 2014 Putin speech laying out the logic of the Russian policy on Crimea. This long excerpt makes sense  on this side of the Atlantic. The US public is subjected , perhaps more than a British public, to unceasing demonization of Putin in the corporate media.  Television viewers here will have seen an endless loop  of mocking video footage of Putin  naked from the waist up riding a horse, but they will rarely have been exposed to his actual political views, which are quite rational.

Murray’s detailed summary of Ukraine’s complex history points out that Ukraine’ s borders have always been fluid and contested. He cites this example: before 1914 someone born in the city of Uzhgorod (in western Ukraine) could have lived, by 1992,  in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the western Ukrainian and then the Ukrainian national republics after World War I, Czechoslovakia ,Hungary, the USSR, and independent Ukraine, “all without moving house.” [5]

Here and there in the impressive summary of Ukrainian history an idea intrudes that one could question. “The collectivization of Soviet agriculture was a trauma from which Soviet society arguably and farm productivity undoubtedly never fully recovered.”  [6] But if collectivized agriculture was not more efficient than private agriculture, where did the surplus come from that paid for rapid Soviet industrialization in 1929-41? It’s an important debate about Soviet history, but a minor flaw, if a flaw at all, in a superb book.

Murray regards US “relative decline,” though real, as potentially reversible, a useful caution. US relative decline has been prematurely predicted before.

The Empire and Ukraine  will educate readers on the reactionary nature of the EU. Even the politically attentive classes in the US have a weak grasp of how central the question of the EU is in the politics of the continent. To be sure, knowledge is better now than it once was. The austerity hell through which Germany and its bankers have put Greece and other weaker states has improved understanding.

Attitudes  to the EU are the fault line of European politics dividing in the Left from the Center. The Left rejects the EU as imperialist and a bulwark of capitalism. Center forces — social democrats of the old and new variety — believe that the EU can be an agency of attaining “Social Europe.” They favor “critical engagement” with the EU.

The book is not for beginners. The reader should know something about foreign policy. Murray ‘s  writing is sophisticated and  passionate. This reviewer found delightful  the many flashes of irony and wit.

Andrew Murray has not only been doing excellent antiwar organizing, but also thinking deeply about antiwar strategy  too.  The depth of his thought  is on display in this luminous book.

Endnotes

[1] The Empire and Ukraine, 13.

{2] Ibid., 108.

[3] Ibid., 3.

[4] Ibid.,  48.

[5 ] ibid., 52.

[6]  Ibid., 57.

The Empire and Ukraine

Manifesto Press, Britain, 2015

Preface by John Foster

ISBN 978-1-907464-13-3, 139 pp.

http://www.manifestopress.org.uk

Is Another Europe possible?

Danny Nicol: Is Another Europe possible?

Taken from https://ukconstitutionallaw.org/2016/02/29/danny-nicol-is-another-europe-possible/

Is the European Union an empty vessel into which any political content may be poured? Can it accommodate not just neoliberal conservatism but also Keynesian social democracy, hard-line greenery and even pro-nationalisation democratic socialism? A new UK campaign, “Another Europe is Possible”, would have us believe this, and is touting for votes in the EU referendum on the basis that the Union can be changed into a more socialistic entity, “not [by] a network of politicians but grassroots activists across the UK”. The same optimism is apparent in the Democracy in Europe Movement 2025 (DiEM 2025) in which Mr Yanis Varoufakis looms large. With the ferocity of tigers protecting their young, these progressives attack those who single out the EU as a hotbed of neoliberalism. ‘Can you name an institution not dominated by neoliberalism?’ argued Marina Prentoulis of Syriza UK at the launch of “Another Europe”: ‘National governments are pushing a neoliberal agenda too’.

It speaks volumes that Syriza, a party implementing austerity at the EU’s behest, is accorded star billing in this supposedly anti-neoliberal venture. Overlooked are theconstitutional differences between the EU and most European states. The possibilities for progressive or socialistic advance in any political community depend to a significant extent on the constitutional structure of that entity. If those seeking such advance are serious about achieving a more equal society, they need carefully to weigh up the institutional potential of any given polity. In fact in the context of the European Union there has been no such debate on the British Left. This is hardly surprising. The long record of failure of British socialists may be attributed at least in part to a perennial unwillingness to engage seriously in questions of strategy.

Yet outside the fairyland inhabited by “Another Europe is Possible”, constitutions domatter. Take the USA for example: a country with a constitution which is difficult to amend, save by judicial reinterpretation. Its system of government is famously one of checks and balances, though with normally no check on the Supreme Court beyond its sense of self-restraint. As a result progressivism has been constantly placed at a disadvantage. The New Deal, public healthcare and gun control have all in turn been dogged and retarded by various aspects of the American constitution. However, the US system of government shines as almost a beacon of hope by comparison with EU structures.

Treaty revision

This is because the EU Treaties not only contain procedural protections for capitalism, as is the case in the US Constitution: they also entrench substantive policies which correspond to the basic tenets of neoliberalism.  Let me give a few examples. First, Articles 107-8 TFEU empower the European Commission to vet state aids for their compatibility with the single market. This includes state aids to the public sector. The system also allows private corporations to challenge grants of state aid on competition grounds. Secondly, free movement provisions of the Treaties have been interpreted by the Court of Justice as prohibiting industrial action which “disproportionately” obstructs the free movement of goods, services, capital and workers – see the Viking and Rüffertrulings of the EU’s Court of Justice. Thirdly Article 49 TFEU grants companies the right of freedom of establishment. This includes the right to establish branches and subsidiaries in other Member States. It is difficult to imagine how nationalisation of branches and subsidiaries of companies based in other Member States would constitute a lawful limitation on freedom of establishment. For good measure Article 106 TFEU gives corporations the right to sue governments whenever any public monopoly infringes EU competition rules – including within the NHS.

None of this would matter very much if these provisions were easy to amend or repeal. However, being Treaty provisions, these policies may only be changed by agreement of all Member States. The methods of Treaty amendment are laid down in Article 48 TEU. Under the ordinary revision procedure the Member States must agree by common accord the amendments to be made to the Treaties. Under the simplified revision procedures (used to revise Union policies) the European Council shall act by unanimity. In each case the changes must be confirmed by all the Member States in accordance with their respective constitutional requirements. Crucially, irrespective of which procedure is used, it only takes a single national government to veto treaty change. One would have to await a complete absence of neoliberal governments in order to change the Treaties in a socialistic direction. Such is the stuff of fantasy.

EU legislation and the TTIP

It might be thought that outside the realm of Treaty revision, life for progressives might be easier. With friends in the European Parliament and some in the Council, EU secondary legislation might somehow provide a means of socialistic advance. I am not so confident.

Take the privatisation of public utilities. The socialist position would surely be that Member States should determine the size of their own public sectors. However, the EU liberalisation legislation tends to consolidate privatisation. Nationalising sectors such as gas, electricity, telecommunications and postal services is forbidden by giving rights of market access to corporations.   This prohibits the sort of extension of public ownership brought in by the 1945 Labour government. New public enterprises have to compete with private firms in a capitalist market. But this arrangement is not socialist: it equates to the “competitive public ownership” craved by Anthony Crosland in his efforts to wean the Labour Party onto capitalism after the 1945 era (See C.A. Crosland, The Future of Socialism, London: Constable, 2006).   Publicly owned companies are thereby compelled to act more as if they were private companies, particular when the Treaty provisions on state aids are taken into account. Similar legislation on railways is presently going through the EU institutions.

It might be argued that liberalisation legislation is the product of EU democracy and could be repealed by democratic means. However the Council and European Parliament do not operate in an ideologically-impartial constitutional environment. Whilst the liberalisation measures were enacted by qualified majority voting on the Council, their repeal would be harder to achieve, because of the complication of identifying the correct legal base for any such legislation. Imagine that a national government sought to introduce EU legislation to allow all Member States a free choice over the public or private ownership of their energy, postal, telecommunications and rail sectors. It would have to rely on the Commission – the very architect of EU liberalisation – putting forward a proposal to the Council and Parliament. Furthermore the only legal base which is in any way credible would be Article 352 TFEU which requires the Council to act unanimously. We are back to square one: a single national government can veto socialistic advance.

Another measure which animates socialist circles is the TTIP, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership currently being negotiated with the USA. There is concern that TTIP will enable companies to sue governments where state measures harm profits.   Assuming TTIP is agreed before the next UK general election, the prospects of the EU discarding it rely on even more outlandish fantasies. Assuming withdrawal is permissible, there is no provision in the TEU and TFEU specifying how the EU goes about withdrawing from a treaty. Would one have to fall back on Article 352 TFEU, with its unanimity requirement, once again allowing a single neoliberal government to save the EU’s adhesion to the TTIP? It may be that the only way to discard TTIP is – horror of horrors – to violate international law, something far easier for a state to undertake than for the EU.

Conclusion

There have always been parts of the British Left which have elected to deny the significance of constitutional provisions in making their strategic choices. Instead they have clung to a belief in spontaneous combustion. With the zeal of born-again evangelistic sects (with whom they have much in common), they convince themselves that the people will somehow rise up from below and sweep aside all obstacles to social justice, including constitutional ones. The passage of decades, even centuries, when this doesn’t happen does nothing to dampen their faith.

Against this backdrop whilst there can be no objection to people pressing to make the EU more left-wing, such campaigners bear the responsibility of explaining how they will achieve their objectives in the face of the requirements of unanimity and common accord. As it presently stands, these requirements make substantial socialistic advance virtually impossible to achieve. Unless those who seek such change face up to the constitutional obstacle that confronts them, the only progressive reforms to materialise will be confined to the realms of their own minds.

Danny Nicol is Professor of Public Law at the University of Westminster.