Socialist Appeal - British section of the International Marxist Tendency

Tonight sees the second debate between Nigel Farage and Nick Clegg, leaders of UKIP and the Liberal Democrats respectively, with a focus on the question of the European Union. Daniel Morley reviews the first debate between Farage and Clegg, hosted last week, and provides a Marxist analysis of, and socialist alternative to, the EU.

Tonight sees the second debate between Nigel Farage and Nick Clegg, leaders of UKIP and the Liberal Democrats respectively, with a focus on the question of the European Union. Daniel Morley reviews the first debate between Farage and Clegg, hosted last week, and provides a Marxist analysis of, and socialist alternative to, the EU.

A clash of intellectual titans and farseeing bourgeois strategists this was not. These days debates between bourgeois politicians are more like the artificial and meaningless contests of a school debating society, where each side is assigned a position apparently diametric to the other, irrespective of the child’s actual opinion. The debate that took place on Wednesday 26th March between Nigel Farage of UKIP and Nick Clegg of the Liberal Democrats over the EU was no less contrived and superficial.

In reality, their mutual disparity is fictitious, as is the whole debate over the EU in the British media. Both the UKIP and Lib Dem leaders serve capitalism to the utmost and are both former Conservative Party members. To the extent that their disagreement is anything more than an electioneering facade, it is only over the means by which the working class can best be exploited. Therefore socialists do not take sides here, because there is no genuine alternative represented here.

The real meaning of the EU, which eludes the conscious thoughts of these two gentlemen, must be placed within the current epoch, in which global capitalism dominates all processes. Originally established largely to enable the dominant European capitalist powers - in particular Germany and France - to compete with the larger and more concentrated capitalism of the United States, the EU is now being dragged into one big free trade bloc with the US. The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) is a free trade deal being discussed between Washington and Brussels in an attempt to resuscitate the West’s flagging fortunes in the wake of China’s emergence as the world’s leading goods manufacturer and trader. The TTIP is, just like EU regulation as a whole, being drawn up by bureaucratics and capitalists to bolster the exploitation of the American and European working classes in competition with China.

This is what the EU is really there for, and as such the EU is merely a by-product of capitalism in the epoch of imperialist decay. Nick Clegg and Nigel Farage displayed the poverty of their perspectives on the EU and Britain by failing to even mention TTIP, ‘the biggest free trade deal in world history’. They also failed to discuss EU imposed austerity which, it would be fair to say, is both a rather notable aspect of recent EU history and one that is of particular concern to the ‘hard working Britons’ apparently at the heart of Clegg’s and Farage’s motivations.

As the leader of a party untouched by the of realities of having to govern capitalism, Farage feels able indulge himself and his supporters in flights of fancy about the wonders of British capitalism. Drunk on his pose as ‘man of the people’ (which does after all famously involve drinking a lot of pints), the UKIP front man imagines that Britain’s ‘tried and tested’ legal system offered us all far more liberty than any European human rights convention ever could. He actually argued against Nick Clegg that the Commonwealth is (or was) both an economically realistic and a politically more noble and democratic alternative to the EU! Nick Clegg, interestingly, revealed the imperialist behind his liberal mask when he responded by saying the EU is good for Britain because it gives ‘us’ more clout to impose ourselves on the world stage.

Of course, Farage thinks this about the Commonwealth because he fantasises about the might of British imperialism. He belongs to a small layer of society who are about 100 years behind the times! His delusion about British ‘greatness’ mysteriously allowing itself to be hobbled by European bureaucrats lead him to his main argument, which was that in the EU Britain’s borders are recklessly open to 450 million foreigners. He actually argued that 450m Europeans may all at once emigrate to Britain ‘and there’s nothing we can do about it!’ He is of course doing his best to put each one of these potential immigrants off with his display of vulgar British buffoonery, but so special and wonderful is this country that he thinks this might not be enough. Soon all of Europe might find itself crammed into a small island off its western shore!

One might as well argue that London is under the constant threat of having 50m Britons turning up on its doorstep overnight. There’s nothing we can do to stop it happening! It could happen tomorrow! The same applies to California. 276m Americans could just flood into it tomorrow! It doesn’t bare thinking about! Who is allowing this state of affairs to continue?!

Farage also came up with an ingenious argument to destroy Clegg’s sobering point that the British economy would be seriously undermined by leaving the EU. He said “ah, that sounds plausible. But imagine that weren’t the case and we were instead applying to join the EU - which is a club with a £55m a day fee and lots of regulation!” But the fact remains, we are in the EU, and British capitalism is thoroughly integrated with Europe. If Farage is so concerned about the parasitic cost of Brussels bureaucracy, perhaps he will also use his expanded political influence to shed light on and to challenge the daily expenses of the bureaucracy of the British state, right up to the cherished Royal Family, who are the real ‘spongers’ in our society.

Nick Clegg’s contribution, on the other hand, reflected a more realistic and honest appraisal of the realities of modern capitalism. Unfortunately for him, this outlook is not a very confident or appealing one for the working class. His argument, which if you accept capitalism as permanent is a correct one, is that the brand of capitalism with which we are blessed is fragile and anaemic, and we must therefore cling to the EU. We must keep open the gates of Britain to European capitalism in the hope that as wealth moves in and out more freely, some gold might be deposited in all our pockets.

This is the impoverished ‘freedom’ we have in modern day capitalism. The illusion of having a say: the right, apparently, to choose to leave the EU at any time; or to tax the rich; or regulate big business more effectively - should we wish. But our leaders never do wish this way, because the gun of capitalism is always pointed at their head.

It is this crushing dominance of global capitalism that reduces apparently ‘chalk and cheese’ politicians like Clegg and Farage to the same thing. Pro-EU bourgeois papers like The Economist are at pains to point out that it is fruitless for Britain to leave the EU, because it is our biggest trading partner. In leaving the EU, not only would British capitalism ‘gain’ high tariffs on its exports to Europe where there are none now, it would also lose any ability to influence EU regulations and taxation that would continue to deeply affect the British economy.

One contributor from the audience said that the influx of Eastern European workers into the construction industry had led to a massive oversupply of labour, driving down wages. Farage of course immediately seized the opportunity to pose himself as a defender of the British working class. In stage-managed debates such as these, no one asks why there even is a race to the bottom when it comes to work and survival. No one questions how it can be that there is an ‘oversupply’ of labour. Do we not need more houses, schools, hospitals, stations etc? Do we lack the raw materials for all these trained construction workers to use? Evidently not. The elephant in the room, as always, is capitalism, this absurd method of leaving the management of our affairs to the anarchy of the market.

‘Pulling up the drawbridge’ is no solution to this. Clegg and Farage both strive to obscure the opposing class interests at work. For them the EU is either good for Britain as a whole, or bad for Britain as a whole. But the EU is just one means whereby the British capitalists manage to exploit us. On the whole they would rather stay in. But if Britain withdrew from Europe on a capitalist basis as Farage wishes, fundamentally the same problems of unemployment, bad housing and austerity would remain for us, because they are products not of Brussels but of capitalism.

Neither politician comes even close to offering a solution for the working class. The real solution to our problems is to rely on our own strength. It is our organisations, those of the labour movement, which must put forward a position independent from all the false alternatives of bourgeois politics. Instead of Clegg’s (and all the others’) prostitution to the world’s billionaires and their pretence of investment, we must put forward the expropriation of the billionaires to build a socialist, planned economy. Instead of Farage’s inwards looking ‘Great Britain’ reactionary delusion, we must put forward international working class solidarity against this global capitalist system which exploits us all.