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Editorial: Socialist internationalism and the European Union

THE Remain operation aimed at boxing Labour in to support reversing the 2016 referendum result reached a crescendo at the party’s conference today, though its bid to commit the party to campaign against any Brexit deal it negotiated itself was narrowly defeated.

Many delegates backing a move to tie Labour to support Remain regardless of any new negotiated deal with the EU do so from a belief that support for the organisation is, as Emily Thornberry said in her conference speech, part of an “internationalist” outlook opposed to racism and xenophobia.

Socialists are internationalists and committed to the struggle for the liberation of all humankind. Meaningful internationalism means solidarity with those being exploited and oppressed around the world.

It opposes the domination of the world by the capitalist classes of the richest countries and the machinery of imperialism by which the United States and its allies have maintained that domination.

In extreme cases that involves war, and the “war on terror” launched by George W Bush with Tony Blair an eager sidekick has made this permanent, with conflicts raging from Afghanistan to Yemen.

The Nato alliance, which Thornberry explicitly praised in her address, ties our military into a junior relationship with that of the US, joining us at the hip to an increasingly aggressive and erratic superpower. 

The shadow foreign secretary spoke passionately on the horror of the Saudi war on Yemen: she should note that Britain’s own complicity in that war, providing the Saudis with logistical advice and weapons for their murderous bombardments, is inextricably linked to our place in the US-led alliance.

But that domination is also exercised through control of international financial institutions such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund and control of global trade networks by giant transnational corporations with their headquarters in Western countries.

International treaties such as the General Agreement in Trade and Services have been drawn up to facilitate the freedom of these capitalist behemoths to access markets around the world, limiting the rights of national governments to decide the terms and conditions on which they can trade and even to determine which sectors of the economy they should be allowed to access.

Campaigning against this set-up has always been part of a socialist internationalism. “Internationalism” does not mean the right of Coca-Cola to divert water from Indian villages for its bottling plants, or of US pharmaceutical companies to ban Third World governments from producing generic medicines which would make access to life-saving drugs cheaper for their peoples. It means the opposite.

This is why support for the EU on “internationalist” terms is contradictory. The EU is a driving force for imposition of unequal trading terms on poorer countries: its subsidised agricultural exports have had devastating effects on African farming. It is a key architect of treaties aimed at prioritising the rights of corporations over the rights of elected governments. 

As then commissioner Cecilia Malmstroem told John Hilary, then of War on Want, in 2015, when he pointed to the evidence that a big majority of Europeans were opposed to the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership being negotiated with the US, “I do not take my mandate from the European peoples.” 

In the end it was Donald Trump, not the EU, that ditched TTIP.

If socialists are serious about transforming our economy, challenging the power of capital and planning a sustainable future, we cannot simultaneously act as cheerleaders for one of the most powerful enforcers of the global economic status quo. 

Arguments on the extent to which EU membership would impede Labour’s socialist programme go back and forth: at the very least we can say that its competition and state aid regulations will provide ample grounds for companies to haul a Labour government through the courts at every turn. 

But more serious still is the debilitating effect on our movement when “internationalism” comes to mean support for institutions of the ruling class. A revolutionary socialist movement must know its enemies.

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