Dissident Congress website

A commentary on the British far left's position on global free trade and the EU

By Riaz Sobrany

For many years I have been thoroughly opposed to the EU, and a staunch supporter of trade barriers and tariff walls to protect the British economy and industry from the onslaught of globalisation and cheap imported goods from countries such as China. A rather unexpected result of holding this outlook is that I am regularly accused of being a socialist by many people who are pro EU and favour global free trade. The accusations of being a socialist by holding an anti EU stance has virtually died out since the largely capitalist UKIP made its presence on the political scene, but I am still regularly called a socialist whenever I mention protectionism of British industry by import duties on manufactured goods from low wage sweatshop nations. Do these people who consider themselves opponents of socialism really understand socialism? The answer to that is no.

Two of the most noteworthy features of all political parties to the left of Labour including the Socialist Worker's Party, the Respect Coalition, the Worker's Revolutionary Party, Arthur Scargill's Socialist Labour Party, Socialist Alternative, and the Scottish Socialist Party are that they are strongly in favour of global free trade, and with the exception of the Socialist Labour Party, have no policy on the EU. Scargill's official reason for opposing Britain's membership of the EU is because it is run as a club of capitalists, but in reality it is because Scargill is an internationalist and a third world obsessive. A nation that is a member of the EU is forced to take a Eurocentric outlook and turn its back on countries outside of Europe including the third world of Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

To anybody with a rational mind it seems puzzling why parties that claim to stand up for the poor and disadvantaged of society favour global free trade and are vicious opponents of trade barriers and tariff walls. It is blatantly obvious to anyone with half a brain that the dismantling of trade barriers has resulted in cheap imported goods from low wage sweatshop nations decimating much of Britain's manufacturing base and has made millions of blue collar workers unemployed or forced into unskilled low wage insecure jobs in retail and fast food restaurants. The service sector is under threat as well. Over the past few years we have witnessed the outsourcing of call centres and sections of the IT industry to India and other low wage third world countries. Traditional socialists have no credible solutions to reverse this rot. They have no policy to rebuild British industry and create jobs outside of public services. Any mention of protectionist policies in far left circles will be met with hostility and resent. If a British company is about to go bust or outsource its operations then the only solution the far left will come up with is to nationalise the company. A question arises whether people will buy more expensive products and services from a nationalised British company or whether they will prefer to buy cheaper goods and services from a third world sweatshop nation.

So why are the far left strongly in favour of global free trade when it is precisely what the capitalist establishment along with the suits and spivs of Wall Street have been pushing for decades and have largely achieved? The simple answer to that is because traditional or conventional socialism follows the philosophy of Marx, and Marx himself strongly favoured global free trade and the dismantling of trade barriers. The long term goal of the Marxist movement is a single world government and the abolition of nation states. In a world without international frontiers, where do you put the trade barriers? Marx wrote his Communist Manifesto during the mid 19th century in a world when transport and telecommunications were primitive compared to today, and when virtually all manufacturing took place in Europe and United States which were high wage nations at the time. He simply could not forsee the advances in transport and telecommunications that are the key ingredients of enabling a globalised economy in practice. Even worse, Marx failed to predict the uprising of low wage sweatshop nations in the third world and their devastating effect on industry in the established economies of Europe.

Even more baffling is why far left parties apart from Scargill's Socialist Labour Party have no policy on the EU. It is not that the far left parties are pro-EU and have an explanation and reason why they are pro EU. They just have no opinion on whether Britain should be an EU member state or not. It is as if the EU is a totally irrelevant issue to them and it is probably safe to say that many in the far left are totally oblivious to the authority of Brussels and Strasbourg over Parliament at Westminster. The explanation why socialists support global free trade is because of what Marx said. A possible explanation why socialists have no policy on the EU is because of what Marx didn't say. As previously stated, traditional or conventional socialism follows the philosophy of Marx, and Marx wrote nothing about the EU in his Communist Manifesto because the EU did not exist during his lifetime.

In summary, it is probably safe to say that traditional socialism - defined as following the teachings and philosophy of Marx - is more of a cult or a religion than a political system. Traditional socialists are so tied up in Marxist dogma and philosophy that their members are brainwashed and therefore unable to see the realities of the world of today!

Hardest of all to understand is why capitalists who favour global free trade hold the attitude that protectionism is a socialist strategy. To answer this we have to examine Old Labour and its economic policies. Not many people are aware of this, but the Labour Party was never a true socialist party even in the days of Clement Attlee or Keir Hardie. The best description of Labour from the first half of the 20th century was a semi-populist party run by blue collar industrial workers for the blue collar industrial workers. This contrasts to many socialist parties from the Continent which were run by wealthy Marxists who never had to endure the hardships that coal miners and steelworkers faced. Labour embraced certain principles of socialism that were considered beneficial to the working classes, but thoroughly shunned and rejected other principles of socialism that most working class people would regard as inappropriate or downright unpopular policies. Marx was never seen as a hero by the mainstream Labour movement. Old Labour supported protectionism of British manufacturing from foreign competition and explains why many capitalists erroneously think that protectionism is a socialist strategy.