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Anti-imperialists must vote leave, argues Sean Ledwith

As the EU referendum campaign heads for its climax, many on the left seem to have shuddered at the shrill anti-immigration rhetoric on both sides, but most conspicuously from the official Vote Leave campaign, and begrudgingly decided a Remain Vote is the least worst option. The duty of socialists, however, should surely be to step back, widen the focus of such a crucial decision and locate it in the context of the global contest between the forces of the oppressors and the oppressed; between the forces seeking to consolidate the epicentres of imperialism and those seeking to undermine them.

The conclusion of any such analysis can only be that a Remain Vote on Thursday will be followed by an almost audible sigh of global relief among the parasitical elite, leaving them feeling more secure; whereas Leave will trigger an organic crisis that could last for a generation, opening up new fissures in the system out of which resistance can emerge.

As the transatlantic alliance between the US and Western Europe remains a bedrock of imperialism in 21st century, this unprecedented opportunity to knock a chunk out of that alliance should not be spurned. When Obama, as President of the country that spends more on defence than the next 10 countries combined, pleads with us to Vote Remain, alarm bells should be ringing in the mind of anyone who regards the US as the major cause of global turbulence in the modern era. Apart from the opportunity to disrupt American imperial strategy, the referendum could lead to the unravelling of Europe’s homegrown expansionist grand plan that was revealed unwittingly by former EU President Barosso a few years ago: 

We are a very special construction unique in the history of mankind. Sometimes I like to compare the EU as a creation to the organisation of empire. We have the dimension of empire. What we have is the first non-imperial empire. We have 27 countries that fully decided to work together and to pool their sovereignty. I believe it is a great construction and we should be proud of it.

No member of the Euro elite today would want to be caught out giving voice so unashamedly to the subterranean aspirations of the system, but the inner logic of EU expansion since the fall of the Berlin Wall leaves little doubt about the direction of travel. Apart from the historic opportunity to thwart the ambitions of the US imperial project and its currently less potent European equivalent, there are other reasons any activist who regards anti-imperialism as a serious cause should be drawn to Vote Leave on Thursday: 

1. The concept of the EU was framed by the US, not Europeans: Contrary to the myth that the origins of the institution lie in a common desire on the part of France and Germany to avoid another world war after 1945,the former had to be threatened in order to sign up. Initially, the French government wanted to cripple the German economy and only agreed to participate in the embryonic EU when the US threatened to withhold the funding available through the Marshall Plan. A revived Western Europe was seen by Washington as crucial to its cold war contest with Russia.

2. The EU triggered the Yugoslav Civil War: Contrary to the myth that the EU has preserved peace in Europe since WW2, the rapid recognition of Slovenia and Croatia as independent states, separate from the former Yugoslavia, played a decisive role in upsetting a delicate diplomatic situation in 1992 and ultimately plunging the region into the worst conflict the continent has known since 1945.

3. The EU role in the Libyan Chaos: Cameron and French President Sarkozy used their influence in the Council of Ministers to launch the idea of military intervention in Libya in 2011, ultimately leaving that country in an unresolved civil war and the ongoing refugee crisis in the Mediterranean.

4. Likewise in 2014, the EU pressurised Ukrainian President Yanukovich into accepting a provocative ‘Association Agreement’, knowing full well it was highly likely to antagonise the Russians and undermine their sense of security. The subsequent stand-off between EU/Nato and Russia brought the continent to the brink of a calamitous conflict. 

5. The EU is committed to its own military expansion. A unified European army is still a distant prospect but senior figures have made it clear that is their desired outcome. Viewed from Moscow, such a force would obviously be massively destabilising for the balance of power on the continent. In the wake of the Ukraine crisis above (triggered by the EU) Jean Claude Juncker,Commission President stated:

With its own army, Europe could react more credibly to the threat to peace in a member state or in a neighbouring state. One wouldn’t have a European army to deploy it immediately. But a common European army would convey a clear message to Russia that we are serious about defending our European values.

6. The EU and Nato are already organically linked: the Berlin Plus agreement of 2003 enables the EU to make use of Nato military assets when necessary. 21 of the EU’s 27 states are members of both organisations. This deal has provided the framework for the EU’s own ‘rapid reaction force’ that has already been deployed in the Balkans and Africa.

7. A Wikileaks release of classified documents earlier this year revealed how the EU is already expanding its military capability in the Mediterranean under the guise of attacking people-smuggling bases in North Africa. These naval operations already factor-in the probable escalation of ‘onshore’ interventions in the future.

Clearly, the EU is currently not an imperial power in the league of the US or even Russia. Yet its recent evolution leaves little doubt that its guiding figures envisage the organisation emerging as a key geopolitical and military player in its own right at some point in this century. An emboldened EU cannot benefit the working class of Europe in any possible way and can only serve to threaten the very existence of the wider global working class. 

The internal contradictions of the EU may yet prevent it ever rivalling the reigning superpowers, but not before it provokes other dangerous flashpoints such as those already witnessed in former Yugoslavia and Ukraine. The referendum, for the left, should primarily be seen as an opportunity to hurt the world’s most dangerous imperialist power-the US-and slow down the rise of another-the EU.

Sean Ledwith

Sean Ledwith is a Counterfire member and Lecturer in History at York College, where he is also UCU branch negotiator. Sean is also a regular contributor to Marx and Philosophy Review of Books and Culture Matters