Workers' Liberty #53 


Militancy pays; Kosova; Europe and the left

Militancy pays

The lesson of the Stephen Lawrence campaign

The killing of 18-year-old Stephen Lawrence by white racist youths as he waited for a bus was an atrocity which highlighted not only the fact of racist attacks but also rampant police racism and police collusion in racist attacks. Members of the London Metropolitan Police sent to investigate Stephen's death made themselves accomplices after the fact of murder. Either through indifference, negligence or deliberate intent they covered for the racist murderers.

As the pressure for police chief Paul Condon to resign mounts, the campaign which Doreen and Neville Lawrence have waged to get justice for their murdered 18-year-old son Stephen brings a priceless lesson to the whole labour movement: if you fight back you can achieve a great deal.

The curse of the labour movement is the still-prevalent sense of helplessness, resignation and apathy. It took a grip in the aftermath of the victories of the Thatcherites over the working class in the 80s, the failures of the labour and trade union leaders to organise a serious fight-back, and then their political and ideological surrender to Thatcherism.

Labour's election victory over the Tories has not led to the repeal of the laws which outlaw key aspects of effective trade unionism - in the first place solidarity action - nor, so far, has it led to a serious anger and disappointment-fuelled working class revolt against these laws.

Though the Thatcherites are no longer in government, Thatcher's jackboots still press heavily on the neck of the labour movement. What can we do about it? Learn from Doreen and Neville Lawrence!

Faced with seemingly impregnable police indifference to the murder of Stephen Lawrence, and lower-level police collusion with the racist murderers, they did not sigh and shrug and take refuge in bits of defeatist "wisdom" like, "You can't fight the police and the Establishment. They are too strong." They said: this is wrong. They said: "We won't accept this!" Doreen and Neville Lawrence fought the police and the Establishment and, though it is too late to bring Stephen's murderers to justice - three of them have been tried and, thanks to police indifference, acquitted - they just might get Condon's head on a plate.

They started to agitate - to tell people about their wrong. They explained their case to all who would listen. They took the issue into the labour movement. They appealed to the sense of fairness and justice in the labour movement. They thus gave many of their listeners a chance to view their own experience of police injustice and legal constraints in the light of the Lawrences' experience.

They offered an example of determined militancy, of stubbornly "unreasonable" determination not to accept defeat, not to bow down before the fact of police racism protected by the Establishment. Slowly they made headway.

The contrast between what their small and under-resourced campaign has achieved and what the mighty seven million strong battalions of the trade union movement have failed so far to achieve, is an indictment of the leaders of that movement.

And it is an indictment of the left, which, by its disunity, political confusion and ingrained defeatism (too often disguised by ultra-left posturing and "revolutionary" play-acting) has also so far failed. The lesson of the Lawrence campaign is that we don't need to fail: a great deal can be done.

There is tremendous anger against the decline of the health service, which millions experience as an outright failure - months and years of waiting in the queue which the well-off can jump - to offer medical care to sick people. But people don't know what to do about it. If the left threw its weight behind a campaign to defend the National Health Service and the welfare state, we would be able to give many, many thousands a sense that something can be done - even if only big demonstrations at MPs' surgeries and hospitals.

Active trade unionists hate the anti-trade union laws that disable trade union action. But the New Labour and TUC leaders are united in agreeing to leave the laws in place. Rank and file action is needed. We can rouse up that action by determined agitation and education. A united left would do it immensely better.

Doreen and Neville Lawrence set out to bring the tribute of justice to the memory of their murdered son. In doing it with such courage and determination and refusal to be beaten, they have bestowed a priceless lesson on the labour movement and the left. We must heed it!

Kosova, imperialism and democracy

The Serbian regime of Slobodan Milosevic is for certain the most brutal and most murderous regime in Europe. Serbian expansionist chauvinism, central to the Belgrade government, has in the last decade destabilised and disrupted former Yugoslavia and made it into a slaughter-house for its national component parts. The Serb regime pursues policies akin to primitive dark ages imperialism in which non-Serbs are massacred or driven out and Serb colonists planted in their place, making the territory organically part of "Greater Serbia". It is a "geno-imperialism" whose objective is genocide and whose methods are genocidal. The thing is not new, but in face of Slobodan Milosevic's policies in the 90s a new term has been coined: "ethnic cleansing". Chauvinism and primitive "volkist" nationalism such as that of Serbia, calls forth or encourages things like itself in those it targets: but the history of this conflict leaves no room for doubt as to where the prime responsibility lies. Now it is Kosova's turn. Kosova was an autonomous province of Serbia. In one of the earlier moves in Milosevic's Serb chauvinist offensive, its autonomous status was revoked. Ninety per cent of its population are ethnic Albanian. Ruled from Belgrade it became in effect an internal colony of Serbia. As with other nationalities of former Yugoslavia, confronted with Serb expansionism, relations between Serbia and Kosova have edged towards war. The Kosovar Liberation Army attacks representatives of the Serbian state; the Serbs massacre ethnic Albanians.

By every principle of democracy and socialism, the ethnic Albanians are entitled to self-determination, to control their own destiny. They are entitled to independence if they want it. By every principle of democracy and socialism they are entitled to the backing and support of consistent democrats and socialists.

Yet we have the strange phenomenon of many socialists backing ... the Serbs against the ethnic Albanians! The Morning Star - "the Paper of the Left" - reports events from the point of view of Milosevic and uncritically reproduces and echoes the Serb government's comments on the KLA. Tony Benn is a friend and defender of Serbia; so are many less eminent Labour "lefts". Arthur Scargill's Socialist Labour Party is for Serbia. So are various kitsch-Trotskyist groups. What leads to this betrayal of the elementary principles of democracy and socialism? They are "anti-imperialists". What else but imperialism - and of a very primitive sort - is Serbia engaged in? No: the important imperialists are the German imperialists! Didn't Germany rush to recognise Croatia, thus triggering the break-up of Yugoslavia? This idea - not as "anti-imperialism", but as old-fashioned British anti-Germanism - is what seems to guide Tony Benn and similar people into Milosevic's camp.

There is no doubt that the collapse of the USSR has opened up great fields for the expansion of European Union and specifically German influence in the East. It is the nature of great powers to do this. Should socialists try to thwart the big powers by automatically backing their antagonists - in this case Serb imperialism (which in contemporary Europe has far, far more points in common with Hitler's old genocidal German imperialism than with any other existing European power)? To say "Yes" here is to abandon all independent working class politics. It is to subordinate everything to being against "Germany" or "imperialism" (arbitrarily defined). In this case it is to make oneself an apologist for the prime mover in the imperialism of ethnic cleansing and genocide in the former Yugoslavia, Milosevic.

Arthur Scargill's paper, Socialist News, put it with refreshing crassness last December. Germany "led the pack" of imperialists by recognising Croatia and Slovenia. But "the sole challenge to this meddling was an unanticipated level of Serb resistance to the carve-up of Yugoslavia," despite some "muddle" for Milosevic ... So it is better if "Yugoslavia" remains as a Serb empire oppressing all the other people in the old Yugoslavia? Why?

"Can the hard-won 'workers' state' tradition", asked Socialist News, "continue to maintain resistance?". That "this resistance", this "thorn in the side of the West, continues to describe itself as socialist can only pour more salt in imperialism's wounds." "The current wave of anti-Serb 'genocide' propaganda is driven by the spectacular failure of the Kosovar Liberation Army (KLA) secessionists to put a dent in Belgrade's influence [sic: influence!] - which makes Western imperialist meddling look stupid and outmanoeuvred (again)."

But suppose all this is true: the only imperialism is German and EU imperialism, Serbia's little "Yugoslavia" is a workers' state or has a "workers' state tradition". For socialists, there is still the fact that 90% of this province is ethnic Albanian. that they were deprived of autonomy, and are now, bloodily, being deprived of self-determination. From what point of view other than that of Serb chauvinism and racism would opposition to German policy outweigh the elementary democratic and socialist duty to back the right of the ethnic Albanians to self-determination. They don't count? They are a "reactionary people" who forfeit all rights?

Back in the days when the "socialist" USSR led one of two great imperialist blocs, the left, Stalinist and Stalinist-influenced official-Trotskyist, more or less automatically took sides with the USSR against the other imperialism and rationalised from that fixed star. Now that the USSR is no more and there is only a "workers' state tradition", this "method" is still dominant amongst these disgraceful socialists who back Milosevic, and act as apologists for Serb chauvinism.

Where a "good" "socialist" imperialism counterposed to our own imperialists does not exist, they invent one, and plump for - the nearest thing to Hitler's Germany in contemporary Europe! They long for a socialist or anti-imperialist Fatherland - and settle for Milosevic's genocidal imperialism! Victims of the long ingrained habit of believing what they need to believe, they draw conclusions not from analysis and exploration of the world as it is but out of the fantasy and imagination of minds from which both the facts of the real world and all remnant of democratic or socialist principle were long ago banished!

They are the reductio ad absurdum of a once powerful current, the obscene last kick of a degenerate line.

Europe and the left

"The immediate mission of socialism is the spiritual liberation of the proletariat from the tutelage of the bourgeoisie, which expresses itself through the influence of nationalist ideology. The national sections must agitate in the parliaments and the press, denouncing the empty wordiness of nationalism as an instrument of bourgeois domination. The sole defence of all real national independence is at present the revolutionary class struggle against imperialism. The workers' fatherland, to the defence of which all else must be subordinated, is the socialist International."

Rosa Luxemburg

The Russian Revolution is the great positive example, showing what the working class is capable of when it has properly armed itself with clear working class ideas and built an organisation capable of offering leadership in the battle with the bourgeoisie. The German Revolution of 1918/19 is the great negative proof of the same thing. Both experiences have a direct bearing on the discussion in the British left on Europe.

The consequences of the betrayal and defeat of the German socialist revolution reverberate down to our own day. The unification of Europe takes the bourgeois form it does and presents itself to the working class of Europe in the way it does, because of that defeat. There were other opportunities for socialist rev olution in Germany, most importantly in October 1923, and other defeats, up to the final catastrophic one in January 1933 when Hitler was allowed to come to power peacefully. But the defeat of 1918-19 was the all-important turning point. If the German workers had won in 1918-19, then we, the workers, would have united Europe on a radically different model. In the event the Russian Revolution was isolated - in conditions where the victorious workers had no possibility of building socialism. Because of the defeat of the communists in Germany at the end of the World War, Stalinism grew out of Russia's isolation and backwardness - the Stalinism which, at the head of the German mass Communist Party in 1933, colluded in letting Hitler come to power without working class resistance.

How did the present bourgeois unification of Europe emerge? In 1914, the German Social Democracy and after it most of the parties of the Second International collapsed into nationalism and chauvinism. In 1919, the victorious powers imposed a predators' peace on Germany and thereby laid the basis for a second World War two decades later. The economies of the great European states, in the first place that of Germany, were stifled within national boundaries, and cried out for economic and political unity. The unification of Europe - under the German jackboot - had been the programme of the Kaiser as it was later of Hitler. In 1940, Hitler succeeded in achieving it for a while, stoking up a tremendous anti-German nationalism in the occupied territories.

The end of the Second World War in 1945 saw nationalism rampant in the European states. It also saw Russia in control of half of Germany and of much of Eastern and Central Europe. Looming war with Russia was universally expected, a war in which the Russian army would swiftly occupy Western Europe. In fact, the prospect of a third World War gave way to the prolonged balance of nuclear terror after the USSR developed an atom bomb in 1949. The unification of bourgeois Western Europe now assumed a new urgency. Recent European history made political unity impossible. So the bourgeoisie of Western Europe, prodded by the friendly US and the antagonistic USSR, resolved on a "Zollverein" (customs-union) strategy for uniting Western Europe: work to create economic unity and eventually the rest would follow. The Zollverein had linked most of the states of disunited Germany economically after 1834; on 18 January 1871 most of Germany was united politically when the King of Prussia, which had just beaten France in the war of 1870/71, was proclaimed Emperor (Kaiser) in Versailles.

Germany's Zollverein would be the model for uniting Europe. And so it has been. The Coal and Steel Community (Germany, France, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg) was created in 1951; they signed the Treaty of Rome in 1957 under which there would be a series of moves over time to eliminate internal tariffs and make common external tariffs. In 1973, the UK, Denmark and Ireland adhered to the EC; in 1981, Greece; in 1986, Portugal and Spain; in 1995, Sweden, Austria and Finland. There are now 15 states in the European Union. In Western Europe only Norway and Switzerland are out. Over 40 years, the sovereign national houses of the European Union have remained standing, but the economic walls separating the states have been largely eliminated. On top of the economic unification, and lagging way behind it, the structures of political union are still being erected piecemeal. The political power of the national parliaments has been increasingly nullified; it has not been replaced by a European Parliament with power even on the level of the old bourgeois democracy in states like France and the UK. Increasingly, united Europe is run by a bureaucracy largely outside of democratic control. The European Parliament has very limited powers.

Yet even politically, Europe is more united than at any time in the last 1500 years, that is, since the collapse of the Western Roman Empire. Unification has been shaped by and in the image of the bourgeoisie which has achieved it.

The European Union is a great cartel, confronting the underdeveloped countries as a predator and confronting migrant workers from outside its walls as "Fortress Europe". Many things about it outrage the spirit even of classic liberal democracy, not to speak of socialism. Old national antagonisms have only been buried, not drained off.

There is a great deal to object to in this bourgeois united Europe. But what policy will best serve working class interests? There are two basic lines of possible policy. One is to build on what the bourgeoisie have built and unite the working class across the EU to fight the bourgeoisie on a European scale. That includes fighting to democratise the EU by way of scrapping existing bureaucratic structures and replacing them with a sovereign elected European Parliament. It includes a fight for levelling upwards of working class living standards, and for a plan to eliminate unemployment and social exclusion (cut the working week, expand public services), and so on.

It does not commit us to support, or forbid us to oppose, any specific bourgeois measures, for example the Maastricht Treaty. It does commit us to counterpose working class measures on a European scale to the bourgeois measures; and it commits us to European unity and against advocacy of the old bankrupt European bourgeois national state system.

That is one clear line of response to where we are in the evolution of Europe. The alternative is for the workers' movement to respond to the bourgeois character of this existing European unification by advocating regression to an earlier stage of bourgeois rule - the era of competing and sometimes warring national states. Despite its advocates' concern with working class self defence, this is a reactionary policy.

The unification of Europe was a policy of the working class left long before this sort of unification became the policy of the ruling bourgeoisie. Trotsky raised the call for a United States of Europe in the middle of the First World War. Marxists, including Trotsky, dismissed bourgeois plans for a bourgeois united Europe as utopian. In 1923, on Trotsky's instigation, the Communist International adopted the slogan for the Socialist United States of Europe.

It took the Second World War and the destruction of large parts of Europe, before bourgeois unification, in the form described above, became possible. One of the preconditions for what has happened was the successive series of defeats our movement suffered, beginning in Germany in early 1919. Not the democratic Socialist United States of Europe, but the bureaucratic bourgeois European Union, was the way that history, shaped by the bourgeoisie, has answered the objective need for the uniting of Europe, whose delay had led to World War One and then World War Two.

Issues similar in principle have confronted labour movements for over 150 years, and there is a strong Marxist tradition on such questions. The bourgeoisie industrialised much of Europe in the early 19th century. Objectively they were creating the preconditions of socialism - a high level of labour productivity and thus the possibility of abundance for all. In life they created industrial hell-holes, foetid slums. They worked young children to death. They tore down all the old defences of the working people. The pioneer technology, that of the British cotton industry, made it profitable for the cotton kings to get their raw material by way of Black slavery in the USA, where chattel slaves were worked to death in seven or eight years of hard labour to feed the cotton mills, with their children and women wage-slaves.

Early working class rebels - who broke machinery - and good willed observers wanted to "rescind" industrialisation and go back to an earlier stage. The Communist Manifesto, the foundation stone of modern socialism, proposed instead that the working class should take over industrialism and humanise it, use it for our own ends.

At the turn of the 20th century, imperialism bestrode the world. Grand trusts and cartels united with powerful states to fight other states and their industries for markets and colonies. In response there arose a movement against these "unacceptable" manifestations of capitalist development, and proposals for breaking up the giant industries. In America such ideas were made law, and Standard Oil was broken into parts: most of which then developed into giant corporations...

Lenin, Luxemburg, Trotsky and that whole generation of revolutionary Marxists mocked at the ideas of the "trust-busters" and denounced their plans as a petty-bourgeois utopian effort to roll capitalism back to a stage it had long passed and could never return to. Lenin saw the gigantism of capitalist organisation as a potentially progressive work of social integration and organisation: the answer to its exploitative and brutal capitalist character was for the working class to win political power, and thus control over the new industrial economy, by expropriating the bourgeoisie. Though it remains itself, capitalism will go on developing until we overthrow it. The European Union represents an irreversible stage of capitalist development - or, at least, a stage reversible only by regression to chaos and war.

When the bourgeoisie unite Europe and integrate the European capitalist economy in their own way and for their objects, Marxists who learn from Marx, Engels, Luxemburg, Lenin and Trotsky do not propose to roll the film of history backwards or want Europe to regress to the old system of antagonistic states and alliances that produced the two World Wars in which so many millions died. We seize the chance to unite the European working class; we propose that the working class takes over from the bourgeoisie and creates the Socialist United States of Europe.

In contrast to this, the predominant position on the left in Britain has for decades been to "oppose" the European Union as such and to champion "British withdrawal". Often it is implied that this has something to do with socialism. But the immediate alternative to British capitalism in Europe is British capitalism out of Europe. The notion that these British nationalist ideas can play any positive role in rousing British workers against either British or European capital has been shown by decades of experience to be utter nonsense. The right, and the forces of working class disunity, gain from such nationalism, not the left.

People who call themselves revolutionary socialists and "Trotskyists" raise the slogans "No to Europe", "No to Maastricht", "No to the single currency", or whatever, linking them with "Yes to the Socialist United States of Europe". But the road to the Socialist United States of Europe has to be the road of building European working class unity, the road of class struggle, the road of fighting one's own bourgeoisie in the spirit of Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg who raised the cry in 1914: "The main enemy is at home." In reality, now, the Socialist United States of Europe is not the available alternative to the European Union, and a socialist Europe could never be a merely British alternative. The available alternative is an independent capitalist Britain, or, rather, one oriented more to the US than to Europe.

Anybody who thinks "Britain out of the EU" means the Socialist United States of Europe is a fool or a liar, or both. In their eagerness to merge with the British nationalist opposition to "Europe", they have forgotten basic truths of the revolutionary socialist movement.

"The method of ideological imitation of the opponent and of the class enemy... is thoroughly contradictory to the theory and the psychology of Bolshevism... the spirit of mimicry, constant imitation of the opponent, a striving not to use their own weapons - which, alas! they do not possess - but weapons stolen from the arsenal of the enemy." (Leon Trotsky: "Against National Communism", August 1931).

And if Trotsky does not convince these mimics who have got the poisonous splinters of nationalism under their internationalist skins, perhaps they can learn from Cole Porter:

"Don't you know, little fool,
You never can win
Use your mentality
Wake up to reality ..."

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