The Jo Cox tragedy: Why opposing fascism does not mean supporting the EU
Not only has the tragic death of Cox been used to bolster flagging support for “Remain,” it’s also been used by Establishment-friendly commentators to attack the whole idea of having a referendum in the first place.
The Independent reports a “surge in signatures” on a petition calling for the vote to be cancelled.
But it would be wrong, wholly wrong, to change the way we intend to vote on Thursday because of the murder of Jo Cox and it would also be wrong if the referendum were to be cancelled.
While it seems certain that the killing of Cox was politically motivated (some, with justification, are asking why it has not been called a terrorist attack), the idea that the best way to make a stand against neo-Nazi and far-right extremism is to cast a vote in favour of Britain remaining in the EU doesn’t stand up to close scrutiny.
For a start, far-right parties are more prominent and successful at the polls in other EU countries than they are in Britain.
The rise of such parties in Europe can be directly attributed to the adoption of deflationary economic policies, which the EU and its institutions have pushed on member states as part of its single currency project. You don’t need to be Nostradamus to predict that when unemployment is very high – as it is across the EU – people are more likely to fall under the spell of ultra-nationalist demagogues who will put the blame on foreigners or immigrants for the economic woes, especially when there have been relatively large levels of migration fuelled by western wars of aggression and destabilization in the Middle East.
The far-right has also been helped by the way that traditional parties of the left have stopped standing up for the interests of working people and instead put their support for “European integration” before everything else. The left, across the continent, has become detached from its working-class roots, and it’s the radical right that’s stepped into the void. That’s the reality of politics in neoliberal Europe in 2016.
The idea that the EU is some sort of progressive bastion against prejudice is absurd. Anyone, for instance, thinking of voting “Remain” to make a stand against anti-Muslim sentiment should reflect on the words of Slovakian PM Robert Fico, whose country takes over the rotating EU Presidency in the summer. “It might look strange, but sorry – Islam has no place in Slovakia,” he said in March.
“There has been no word of complaint from Angela Merkel, Francois Hollande – or, so far as I can discover, by any other European leader. David Cameron has said nothing,” notes commentator Peter Oborne.
Then there’s EU policies themselves to consider. In 2012, it was reported how “heavily subsidized EU-registered fleets,” having overfished in Europe, had turned their attention to West Africa. “Europe has over-exploited its own waters, and now is exporting the problem to Africa. It is using EU taxpayers' money to subsidise powerful vessels to expand into the fishing grounds of some of the world's poorest countries and undermine the communities who rely on them for work and food,” a Greenpeace spokesperson said.
EU foreign policies have hardly been “progressive” either. In the 1990s, the EU and its member states played a key role in the dismantling and destruction of socialist Yugoslavia. In Libya, alongside the US, they helped transform the country which had the highest standard of living in Africa into a terrorist hell-hole. Racism played a big part in this “regime change” op, too, as anti-government death squads targeted black Africans. “Racist pogroms were characteristic of the Libyan rebellion from its very inception, when 50 sub-Saharan African migrants were burnt alive in Al-Bayda on the second day of the insurgency,” says Dan Glazebrook.
The attempt to caricature British opponents of the EU as mean-spirited, racist or borderline racist “Little Englanders” also ignores the fact that the some of the strongest voices of opposition to the EU have come from the genuinely internationalist socialist Left.
The likes of Dave Nellist, Lindsey German, George Galloway and Dennis Skinner – all of whom support “Lexit,” or Left withdrawal, have spent their political careers opposing all forms of racism.
Their opposition to the EU and the opposition of socialists like Tony Benn MP and Bob Crow, the leader of the RMT union, before them, is based on the fact that this undemocratic, multinational corporation/finance-capital friendly organization works against the interests of working-class people, whatever their colour, religion or nationality – across the continent. You only need to go to Greece to see the truth of that.
If right-wing voices, focusing heavily on immigration concerns, have made the running in the referendum debate, then that’s largely to do with the fact that the Labour Party has, since the mid-1980s, taken a wrong turn on the EEC/EU.
It didn’t use to be like this.
Take a look at this excellent, high-level debate from the Oxford Union which took place two days before the last EEC/EU referendum we had in Britain back in June 1975. The two people speaking against the pro-EEC motion are both from the Labour Party. Peter Shore (whose speech is one of the best you’ll ever hear) and Barbara Castle were not fringe figures, but Cabinet ministers. Their opponents, making the pro-EEC case, are from the Conservative and Liberal parties.
Although Britons voted to stay in the then-Common Market in 1975, Euroscepticism in the Labour party remained strong. In the much maligned manifesto of June 1983, one of the most left-wing in its history, Labour advocated withdrawal from the EEC.
But the party unfortunately took the wrong lessons from its 1983 defeat and under the new leadership of Neil Kinnock did a complete U-turn on Europe.
While its new line on the EEC/EU earned the party favour with the liberal commentators, it has undoubtedly cost Labour dear with working-class voters in England in recent years. The votes the party lost to UKIP in key seats in England in the 2015 general election greatly damaged its chances of returning to power.
The left’s moving away from socialist positions to more Establishment-friendly liberal ones – not just on the issue of the EU but on the economy generally – has undoubtedly played into the hands of populist parties of the right.
If a Peter Shore or Bob Crow-type figure had been Labour leader in 2015, does anyone seriously believe that UKIP would have got 12.7 percent of the vote?
What is urgently needed now is what the French philosopher Jean-Claude Michéa called for in his book “The Adam Smith Impasse” and other works, namely for socialism to decouple from liberalism and rely instead on the common decency and altruism of ordinary people.
As Michéa says, liberal bourgeois ideals have triumphed over socialism. Genuine socialist collectivism will admittedly be hard to achieve in Britain even outside of the EU, but as George Galloway has stated, it would be constitutionally impossible within. As I argued here, even Labour’s modest renationalization plans would be likely to fall foul of EU rules and face legal challenges.
The murder of Jo Cox has also been used to attack direct democracy. It’s the fault of us having a referendum, “Inside the Tent” commentators tell us. We need to get back to the “proper” system – representative democracy. That’ll help put the hoi polloi back in their place!
Genuine socialists and democrats though have always regarded direct democracy as preferable to the indirect form, in which “representatives” routinely and sometimes quite flagrantly ignore the views of the majority. The most left-wing leader in Labour’s history, George Lansbury, was a strong believer in the greater use of referendums.
“With an educated nation, every man and woman entitled to vote on equal terms, it is possible to reduce the status of elected persons and use them as servants carrying out the will of the people, instead of as now, imposing their will upon the nation,” Lansbury wrote in 1928.
Social media – which gives ordinary people a voice – has also been blamed for poisoning the atmosphere and making public life nastier. But in my experience, which includes being obsessively stalked online for over 10 years, the most vile and obnoxious trolls on social media have been Establishment commentators themselves.
And if we’re talking about how “inflammatory” statements by politicians could lead to tragedies like Jo Cox’s murder, what about the individual who said that the Labour Party was a “threat to our national security, our economic security and your family’s security” after it elected the anti-war Jeremy Corbyn as it leader? But hey, that was Prime Minister David Cameron, so let’s all move on, shall we?
The British Establishment has been clearly rattled by what the Guardian’s John Harris has called “a working-class revolt” and will, in the weeks and months ahead, try to use the murder of Jo Cox to discredit moves towards greater democratic accountability.
But we should not allow the elite to exploit a tragic death to restore “Business as Usual” and use it as an excuse to put the “little people” back in their place. Voting to leave the EU was the progressive call before the awful murder of Jo Cox. It is still the progressive call today.
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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.