Betwixt and Between By William Bowles

21 April 2004

“Just because you do not take an interest in politics doesn’t mean politics won’t take an interest in you.”
— Pericles, 430 BC

Much play has been made of Blair’s abrupt turnaround over the referendum on the new constitution for the European Union, with talk about it being a diversion from Iraq and/or the realisation that with the collapse of the Iraq adventure, Blair needs to re-insinuate the UK back into the ‘heart of Europe’. But what are the real issues here?

Nothing could be a clearer depiction of the antiquated nature of the British state than the UK’s attitude to Europe. ‘Left’ opposition to the constitution seems to revolve around its undemocratic nature and whilst I agree that it is profoundly undemocratic, I seem to be out on a limb over its adoption and for a number of reasons that I’ll try to lay out here.

First, Britain, whether of the left or right is deeply conservative in its attitude to ‘aliens’ of any kind (deeply conservative to almost everything except a good dose of tits ‘n’ arse on page 3), although it reserves its most reactionary and racist views for our darker hued brothers and sisters. Some put this down to us being an island nation but I think this is a facile argument that sidesteps the imperialist/colonial legacy, and especially its impact on working people. Brits still refer to the French as ‘frogs’ and the Germans as ‘krauts’ (and no doubt have comparable xenophobic labels for all the other ‘aliens’ out there, over the channel. Though what this benighted and mediocre country has to crow about is still beyond me but perhaps that’s the point.

To illustrate the point, a reader took issue the other day with my criticism of the Unity Coalition (UC), the new social democratic party headed up by George Galloway, and wanted to know more about why I had little faith in its possibilities (indeed, why I thought it was a “fantasy”).

The UC at its founding conference back in February refused to take on the issue of ‘aliens’ and ‘asylum seekers’ preferring to avoid the subject for fear of alienating that section of the electorate most susceptible to the neo-nazis/rightwing and by implication of course, the use of the ‘alien’ issue by ‘Thug’ Blunkett, our minister of Home Affairs as well as his demonisation of Muslims. And then the ‘liberals’ bleat about why race hate crimes are at an all-time high and profess outrage at the scene of a black man left to die on the floor of a police station whilst the police stood around laughing and making monkey noises. So what’s changed? Not a damn thing! But I digress (somewhat).

“[Nationalism is] a set of beliefs taught to each generation in which the Motherland or the Fatherland is an object of veneration and becomes a burning cause for which one becomes willing to kill the children of other Motherlands or Fatherlands.”
— Howard Zinn, historian

At the same conference the attendees also endorsed the rejection of the Euro. I view this firstly as rank opportunism and secondly as an indication of the backward-looking state of politics in the UK, an attitude that infects virtually all political formations no matter what their hue.

So why do I endorse the new European constitution in spite of its failings? For the simple reason I’d rather be on the inside fighting for a democratic Europe than on the outside fighting for an ancién regime that has barely completed a capitalist revolution let alone anything beyond Queen Victoria reign. Second, the sooner the UK becomes an integral part of Europe, the better for all concerned and the reason is quite simple – the alternative is to continue to be a floating base for the US imperium (RIP).

It also has a lot to do with the fiction of being ‘English’ (or is it British? Nobody seems to know). People talk about the ‘English way of life’ and ‘English culture’ that an Asian Brit described as follows, “English culture? What English culture? Oh you mean lager and football’. But aside from ‘high culture’ (Shakespeare, Elgar et al) there hasn’t been an intrinsically English culture since the Industrial Capitalism wiped out the rural craft-based economy of England two hundred years ago. Whatever real culture we have here is all from immigrants whether from the days of my grandparents’ Russian-Jewish roots or West Indian and now Asian culture. The entire ‘English’ thing is a complete fiction invented by the ruling elite. The most popular food in England is curry not Yorkshire Pudding.

The sooner the UK gets integrated into Europe, the better chance we have of getting out from under the US. Moreover, the EU, in spite of its many failings is a more progressive institution than the UK’s ‘thousand year-old democracy’. Take for example the EU’s human rights legislation that the UK was forced to adopt but immediately opted out of all the key components covering civil rights! Can anyone doubt the deeply reactionary nature of the British state?

And then there’s the issue of the Euro, the only currency capable of challenging the lock the dollar has on the planet. Of course the UK is the second largest ‘producer’ of oil, that is, it’s the second largest owner next to the US, of marketing and distribution of oil. The UC is also opposed to joining the Euro even though the bulk of UK’s trade is with Europe, not with the US.

I contend that this position reflects not any kind of political (let alone economic) analysis of the situation but is based upon yet more political opportunism on the part of the UC, once more reflecting to parochial nature of the British. (I am also informed on good advice that the key players within the UC are all members of the Socialist Workers Party, and were also opposed to the Channel Tunnel, though personally I’d have preferred a bridge with all the visual drama that would have produced.)

So now we’re to have a referendum on the EU constitution that no doubt will be rejected by the populace and then what? Will that mean the UK pulls out of Europe? What a thought!

“The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed and hence, clamorous to be led to safety – by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary”
— H.L. Mencken

We live in a morally, politically and economically bankrupt country that professes one thing whilst trying to resurrect the empire of the 19th century. The signs are all there from our involvement with the pirates over the pond to the wholesale rewriting of the history of this reactionary and backward-looking nation.

“If the world operates as one big market, every employee will compete with every person anywhere in the world who is capable of doing the same job. There are lots of them and many of them are hungry.”
— Andrew Grove, president of Intel Corp., from his book “High Output Management”

I ask myself, where were the cries of outrage from the so-called left of the Labour Party over the massacres in Fallujah? Where were the cries of outrage from same over the Sharon/Bush annexation of the occupied territories? Kerry backs ‘finishing off the job in Iraq’ as well as the Sharon ‘Greater Israel’ project. US labour unions back Kerry’s ‘jobs for America’ just as the same cry goes up here about protecting British jobs even as the Brit and US corporations export the jobs (2 million in the US and over 1 million in the UK) to the developing world.

If we are to create an alternative to Blairite reaction then let it be a party with principles and the courage to stand up and be counted and not hide behind some flim-flam, old-style Labour nonsense that went out with Harold Wilson. Just as with Kerry (who, according to the latest polls is going to get his arse whipped by Bush), it should be clear to any right-thinking human being that the differences between the parties are now so minimal as to be inconsequential. And whilst I recognise that it’s not time for ‘to the barricades comrades’, it is time to stand up and be counted over issues of principle and even if motivated purely by self preservation as these maniacs will destroy us all rather than relinquish their stolen privilege.

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