So now we now know the date of the EU referendum - Thursday 23 June. And already we see strange bed-fellows such as George Galloway share the platform with Nigel Farage.
The referendum campaign is likely to be a festival of xenophobia. For socialists the issue of whether or not capitalist Britain withdraws from the capitalist EU is irrelevant from the point of view of those forced to work for a wage or salary. The EU is an intergovernmental arrangement between capitalist states the dominant section of whose ruling class perceives it to be in their interest to create a vast tariff-free single market for their goods with the same common standards; also to pool some of their sovereignty to be in a better bargaining position in negotiations with other capitalist states and blocs over trade and other economic matters. It’s a dispute between two sections of the capitalist class. This is why as socialists we shall be urging people neither to vote Yes nor to vote No. Even so, as world socialists who stand for a world without frontiers we will be particularly opposed to those left-wingers who will be beating the nationalist drum for a No to EU vote.
The EU is a capitalist club, designed to simplify and harmonise markets and to make it easier for member countries to compete against the US and Japan and the rising power of China, Russia, India and so on. On this issue, however, there is a split in the capitalist class and their political and media representatives. In broad terms, the bigger capitalists and those who are export-oriented or are based in the City of London are in favour of EU membership, while the smaller capitalists and those whose business is domestically-based are against. Those for staying in say leaving would mean less control over ‘our economic affairs.’ Those for leaving say ‘we’ would ‘regain the power to control of own affairs.’ you need to ask who the ‘we’ being mentioned really refers to. And what kind of ‘control’ do they have in mind here? As workers, we don’t control our own lives and certainly not ‘our economic affairs’, nor can we solve ‘our own problems’. The argument about a referendum over the EU is not about democracy, but about politicians trying to control decision-making. It is the interests and powers of the capitalist class that they are focused upon, though it must be said that even capitalists and their governments cannot control capitalism.
The deal hammered out was in the old fashioned semi-feudal way of ministers meeting in darkened rooms and fudging a solution between each other. It is not an argument about democracy, but a turf battle between competing rulers protecting their own turfs, their zones of influence, versus the wider goals of creating a functional Europe wide market area. The referendum is an example of the sham that is democracy under capitalism; as members of whatever electorate we happen to belong to we are constantly being cajoled to take part in the democratic process when it’s clear that voting will not make any meaningful difference to our future. From a socialist view, the campaign and its result is entirely devoid of interest. Voting one way or the other is not going to change how capitalism subjugates us.