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MakingSenseBrexitThe Brexit campaign won with the slogan – “take back control”, the rallying cry of right wing Tories and UKIP.  Much more than ironic then that its successful leaders were left totally without control – Boris, Gove and Farage. Except of course Boris has bizarrely been give the job of Foreign Secretary, but then maybe it’s because he’s not even in favour of it but will still be made to share the rap for the Brexit disaster that awaits.

As one writer has pointed out, while the Tory Government didn’t have a plan B this lot didn’t even have a plan A.

It was enough for the Brexiteers that the nationalist argument that UK laws should be made in the UK was won.  There was no plan how they could then put their objectives into effect; for example many have noted that reducing immigration on the scale demanded is not compatible with their demand for single market access.  Johnson’s after-referendum article in the ‘Sunday Telegraph’ promised that everything would now change, with a reassurance that nothing would change – reminiscent of that other nationalist campaign for separation in Scotland.

Despite pretence to the contrary the Lexit campaign – the call for a progressive exit from the EU – made exactly the same call with exactly the same disregard for how the purported objectives behind it could be brought about.

Both Right and Left made exactly the same argument that the UK should be free of the restrictions of the EU with the Lexit Left claiming that this was, and presumably still is, necessary to end austerity.  The EU, it said, was a capitalist club that the UK should leave.  It would appear that the argument here was that this capitalist member should leave the club because somehow it would then be easier to make it less capitalist, ignoring the fact that the UK state is already itself a capitalist club for the capitalist firms within it.

That the capitalist state is already a capitalist club escapes the advocates of Lexit because they start from the perspective that the nation state can be the instrument for socialism while a collective of such states cannot.

The accusation that the EU imposes austerity is correct as far as it goes but it doesn’t go far for the UK; the Tories needed no one to tell them to impose austerity and it would be a cover-up to claim it has not been their responsibility.  In fact it is the UK alongside the US which has spearheaded the neoliberal ideological revolution in Europe and across the world.

Certainly we know Greece has suffered and continues to suffer from Eurozone austerity but Greece is a small and weak country in comparison to the UK.  We have enough evidence that the rules apply differently to bigger countries such as France and Germany.  In any case, just how would leaving the EU assist the Greeks fight the EU’s austerity?

It is argued that the way this might be achieved is through a mass anti-austerity campaign, but just like the Boris’s and Gove’s of this world the Lexit game plan makes no sense and it was obvious from the start it made no sense.  Everyone knew the Brexit campaign would be led and dominated by the most vicious right wing political forces and that a victory for such forces would be a victory for reaction in general.  That doesn’t change with the leading figures screwing up their victory – the announcement of the potential for even greater corporation tax cuts and the increase in racism and xenophobia are two illustrations of this. The assault on Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party is another.  The make-up of the new Tory cabinet yet another.

Which brings us to the Lexit campaign’s alibi for failure.  You see it’s not their fault that this strategy is such obvious mince, it’s the fault of Jeremy Corbyn and his failure to campaign for Brexit. Apparently had he done so it would have made Brexit progressive, it would miraculously have made all the little-Englanders (and Little Great Brits in the rest of the UK) a progressive force.  It would have made them, including large numbers of alienated workers, less racist and xenophobic.  By agreeing with them that the British state would be better off alone it would have made them less nationalistic and would have won them to an anti-austerity message.  Instead of being ignored by the mass media and press in his campaign for Remain, Corbyn would have been propelled by this media to the front row in place of Boris, Gove and Farage.  Wouldn’t he?

No doubt all those workers who voted to Remain, including the majority of young people, would just have followed a Brexit/Lexit call by Corbyn.  Why wouldn’t they?  Wouldn’t this just be an example of what these so-called vanguard organisations call leadership?  People have no ideas of their own, they just follow slogans and ‘leaders’ and would be happy to be on the same side as UKIP. No doubt they would have found it easy to combine support for leaving the EU with support for less vindictive immigration controls, alongside those supporting Brexit who are unhappy that the controls are not vindictive enough.

In the real world, had Corbyn attempted to rally to the Brexit/Lexit cause the Labour Party would have been thrown into chaos and his support in Momentum and the trade unions would have collapsed in demoralisation.  The coup by the Blairite MPs would have been executed before the referendum campaign had even officially began and John McDonnell wouldn’t now be in a position to call them “fucking useless”.

All this might seem to be about re-fighting the last war again, after all the political landscape has radically changed in only a few weeks.  But this is not the case, because the Lexit campaigners have got what they wanted – a vote to exit the EU – so how do they substantiate the claim that where we are now will help the fight against austerity?  How will the legitimation of racism and anti-immigrant prejudice help unite workers?

The Left organisations supporting Lexit are now dependent on the labour Party Remain leadership to be even remotely relevant because the immediate struggle that dominates politics will be the fight to retain Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party.  Only by and through achieving this can an anti-austerity movement be created.

However, because of the referendum result we are now presented with the task of having to fight for a progressive Brexit.  How can we achieve it and is it even possible?  Are there any alternatives?

Brexit will mean the gutting of the UK legal system of legislation either reliant on, or possibly dictated by, the EU or by EU law that is not transposed but directly effective.  Huge gaps will emerge where new purely UK law does not replace EU laws and regulations.  What laws to keep, replace or leave out will be a paradise of anti-worker butchery for the Tory Government.

Jeremy Corbyn has presented the line that the Labour Party must fight to defend workers’ rights in the Brexit negotiations and presumably it is in identifying and campaigning against this opportunity for the Tories that he is referring to.  Going on the offensive it isn’t.

As I have posted before, a Left exit would still require negotiations with the remaining EU on trade and investment and the free movement of people.  In such negotiations not only would the leaders of the EU not be inclined to be generous to the UK, it having just threatened and damaged its project, but it would be doubly antagonistic to demands put forward that were to be in the best interests of British workers.  First, because they would not be interested in the rights of Britain and secondly because they would not be interested in the rights of British workers.

For European workers the British would have been seen to seek their own interests separate from those of the rest of the EU who otherwise could be its allies in fighting their own conservative Governments.  These Governments are therefore under less pressure from their own working classes to accommodate any demands arising from a ‘progressive’ Brexit.

By definition the UK Government, even a left one, could only negotiate a Brexit on behalf of British workers, so immediately the logic of nationalist division weakens a working class approach based on the unity of all workers regardless of nationality.  Why would the EU succumb to the demands of a left British Government that’s leaving?

Perhaps the supporters of a progressive Brexit think that they could simultaneously ride the Remain view of freedom of movement and the reactionary anti-immigrant attitude of Brexit and negotiate more open and liberal migration rules.  But how would they sell this to the Brexit majority and how would they sell more liberal UK immigration laws relating the wider world if these were more open than those allowed by the EU itself, which is what the proponents of Lexit claim they support?

Because while the UK could have more open borders to the rest of the world than the EU the EU would not be obliged to accept entry to it of any additional migration allowed to the UK.  Yet another example of the necessity for international action and the utter blindness of national roads to socialism, or whatever else Brexit/Lexit could more accurately be described as.

So even a Left exit would end up in the same position as Brexit – the EU would set limiting rules of access while the UK would have no voice in setting these rules.  How does this assist British workers uniting with their brothers and sisters in the rest of Europe?  How does this assist opening the borders between workers of different countries?

Of course much of this is speculation – we don’t know how future arrangements may be arrived at but this is an entirely plausible scenario that illustrates that there is no progressive ‘Lexit’ on offer.  It isn’t going to happen.

So are there alternatives?  What about a second referendum?  Or would this not be anti-democratic?  What would the Irish who have been here before say?  Well, I think they would say – yes it would be undemocratic!

It could be claimed that there is little point in observing that the Brexit campaign lied through its teeth and has immediately retracted pretty much all its biggest claims; about money saved going to the NHS or of a future large reduction in immigration.  If telling the truth was a prerequisite for maintaining the results of a vote the Tories would not still be in office.  So there is nothing unique about a vote being based on lies.  Neither is there mileage in numerous anecdotes that many Brexit voters have changed their minds.  Being serious about politics is not a necessary qualification for the franchise.

On the other hand it cannot be argued that these things don’t matter, because they reflect the fact that Brexit is a big delusion and mistake.  You don’t get petitions signed by millions of people if there isn’t some dispute about the legitimacy of the outcome, although reversing it is not a matter of simply running it again to get a different result.

Nevertheless for socialists the first thing to say about such a proposal is that there is no principled reason why there could not be a new vote.  What matters is how this might come about.

Socialists do not regard any particular vote under the terms set by capitalist democracy as sacrosanct because all such exercises are predicated on the majority not being able to implement any decision arrived at.  Instead a political machine called the state carries out all such decisions, to a degree and in a manner that it sees fit, through political parties that carry out the job of filtering what will and what won’t ultimately be carried out.  In other words capitalist democracy is part sham, part neutered and part a necessary requirement for the working class movement to organise and advance its interests.  And it is advancing these interests, the interests of the vast majority, which is paramount.

It is thus not the sovereignty of the state, not the legitimacy of Parliament and not the authority of the Government that is decisive but the struggle of classes; in this struggle it is the advancement of the working class, its sovereignty, its legitimacy and its authority which must be foremost.  It is not one particular exercise in capitalist democracy that is sacrosanct but that of the democracy of working people struggling against the power of a capitalist system which is anything but democratic.

The lies of the Brexit campaign and the inability of those disillusioned millions who voted for Brexit to execute their vote as they intended are all testament to the limitations of capitalist democracy.  The threats of job losses and cuts in living standards resulting from a depreciating currency show how little the majority have control over the society in which they live.  Capitalism makes a mockery of the reactionary and Lexit vanities about taking back control.

In these circumstances negotiations on Brexit and the fight to ensure that the rights of workers are not sacrificed on the altar of a ‘popular’ vote will reveal the realities of the referendum vote even further than the swift events that followed the vote.  A rejection of Brexit however could only be legitimated or accomplished to the benefit of workers and young people if there is a struggle to defend their rights that leads to a vote or election that clearly signals a rejection of the referendum result.

An election engineered to reverse Brexit by the deceitful and debased methods of the referendum would increase the potency of the most bitter and reactionary elements of the Brexit campaign.

The struggle to defend working class interests and reverse the result must be fought in the open if progress is to be made in reducing and substantially defeating the reactionary impulses and prejudices within the British working class.   This can only be done by mobilising its best and progressive forces.  These are currently grouped around Jeremy Corbyn and it is no accident that even those on the Left who supported Brexit find themselves supporting and dependent on these Remain campaigners.

Brexit is reactionary and its implementation will provide repeated evidence of it.  In fighting against its effects such a fight should not renounce fighting their immediate cause.

Fight for Jeremy Corbyn!

corbyn imagesIn one of the post-Brexit debates on Irish social media a supporter of the Socialist Party in Ireland claimed that one of Corbyn’s two mistakes was that he hadn’t tried to build outside the Labour Party.  For sheer blind chutzpah this isn’t bad.

Immediately after the UK elections I wrote the following:

“Right now the opportunity exists to have a debate in front of working people about the wide range of policies that they need to advance their interests.  This arises from the debate on who will be the replacement leadership of the Labour Party.  It will not of course be a debate pitting a pure revolutionary programme (however understood) against a cowardly watered down Keynesianism.  But what could ever lead anyone to expect that?  This is where the working class is at and no amount of wishful thinking will make it otherwise.  Will those organisations claiming to be Marxist be able to place themselves in the middle of this debate?  Will they even want to? The debate will happen anyway and many will look to it for a new way forward beyond the despair that the new Tory regime will inevitably create.”

Of course the left organisations ignored the Corbyn phenomenon until they noticed the world was passing them by, whereupon they suddenly discovered that the world was passing them by.  Now Corbyn and his supporters are criticised for not creating a mass anti-austerity movement and not kicking out all the Blairite MPs immediately.

In a world in which the fundamental problem for working people has been a “crisis of working class leadership”, i.e. workers have not found their revolutionary leaders (for nearly 80 years now – how on earth could this be possible?); for this view all that is required is for a political leadership to decide something and it sort of happens, just like that.  Think of the US TV series ‘Bewitched’ (look it up if you’re too young).

Having contributed nothing, not even awareness of what was at stake after the election, they think Corbyn can magic up a mass movement and upend the whole Labour Party in less than a year.  We’re expected to believe the push to kick him out has been a surprise to him.

Now the immediate and medium term fate of socialist forces in Britain is overwhelmingly being determined by the fight to keep Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Labour Party.  All the criticisms that he is an electoralist is so much irrelevance because this fate will likely depend on an election, one in which the left group members don’t have a vote.

Of course it is correct to criticise Corbyn for being a reformist who is opposed to a total transformation of a capitalist society that can only be achieved in a revolutionary fashion but this is the sheerest hypocrisy from the members of these groups, and here’s why.

For the last few decades these parties have claimed that the problem is a crisis of working class representation arising from the move of social democracy to the right, leading to the political death of the Labour Party; no longer a working class party in any sense and no longer a viable vehicle for workers to struggle from.

So their bright idea was to replace the Labour Party with themselves as the social democratic alternative: in effect a new Labour Party still standing on a Keynesian economic programme.  All the while displaying their new found talent for bourgeois politics by failing to openly present what is supposed to be their real politics, or what they consider to be Marxism, rather like bourgeois politicians who promise one thing but mean quite another. It’s almost as if they stole the Labour party’s old clothes only to find Corbyn appear on the stage with the Labour Party’s genuine old clothes.

Now they have the cheek to criticise Corbyn, who in less than a year has inspired a movement that dwarfs the fruits of their years of effort, on a programme not qualitatively different from their own, while still failing to register the importance of what is happening.

We all make political mistakes but we learn from them.  Since the left organisations never admit to political mistakes they never learn.

Worse still, they have contributed to the disastrous threats that now threaten British workers by having supported Brexit and the tide of reaction it has unleashed.  Like cynics who know the price of everything and the value of nothing they know, or rather think they know, how to destroy capitalism but not a clue how to create socialism.  They know what they are against but are incapable of saying what in the real world, the world that exists now, they are for. They now prattle on about a political crisis oblivious of the nature of that crisis and how well placed the working class is to resolve it in its interests.

Once again they remain blind to the real world, describing the referendum as a workers revolt, “a revolt . . against the people at the top of society”.  This overwhelmingly nationalist ‘revolt’ heavily saturated by racism and xenophobia can, according to ‘Socialist Worker’, “be dragged left or right.  The right will ty to use the Leave vote to deepen racism.”  All this in a leaflet entitled ‘Unite to Shape Revolt against Establishment.’

Once again they’re a bit late.  The Leave campaign started off very right wing but managed to shift even further right the longer it went on.  The Leave campaign has already deepened racism – turn on your TV and watch the news to see its effects.  So who exactly are they going to unite with? Who?  Even ‘Socialist Worker’ had to admit that “#Lexit – the Left Leave campaign we were part of – had only a marginal effect” and that’s being generous.   So who do they think did have an effect?  How did “the campaign get dragged to the right?  Through whose influence?

And what’s their alternative?

They think that Labour should have joined the Leave campaign, a ‘tragedy’ it didn’t.  Apparently it would have “transformed the debate to be far more about democracy, breaking from austerity . . .” an admission of the real character of the real Leave campaign that wasn’t about democracy and wasn’t about breaking from austerity.   Their alternative is the next ‘big’ demonstration in October at the Tory conference and “a general election now.”  But who on earth would they vote for?

The referendum campaign demonstrated the growth of reactionary sentiments in some working class areas presided over by Blairite MPs, in other words demonstrated the importance of that Party, and the importance of a victory for Corbyn as leader of that Party.  The struggle in the Labour Party is not therefore simply an internal matter even if it is the fight inside the party that will decide.

In this fight the Blairite careerists have launched a premeditated and calculated campaign using a mass media that brazenly shows little pretence at balance.    The purpose of this mass media is to make people feel isolated, alone and despondent; that their left wing views are marginal and that all they can do is accept whatever media friendly candidate the Blairites finally unite around.

As I type these words Channel 4 news reports on a demonstration in Edinburgh in favour of Remain and some nationalist says he feels zero per cent British.  Immediately the camera cuts to an unofficial demonstration at Westminster by predominantly young people also demanding Remain.  The obvious lesson – unity, the obvious lesson for nationalists – separation; although now they will find it a tad more difficult to use ‘London’ as some sort of swear word and they will be fighting with that dirty label ‘unionist’ as supporters of the European Union.

The only credible vehicle of such unity now is a Labour Party led by Jeremy Corbyn but that party is now split and will split.  The mass membership will not stay in a party that overturns its democratic decision, that seeks to turn its back on opposition to austerity and seeks to join the movement that scapegoats immigrants.  Equally there is no room for careerist MPs in a Corbyn led Labour Party, MPs who would rather see the Party lose than see it win under Corbyn.  This being the case there is no room for unity.

If the Left wants to do something useful it should re-evaluate its disastrous association with a reactionary cause and throw its weight into fighting in the Labour Party to defend the movement that has given hope to many millions.  Millions that they otherwise have no hope of reaching.

Their Marxism should be the most internationalist, the most alive to the needs of young people, of the workers and its movement; in so doing being the most attractive to all those seeking an alternative to the current system.

“In what relation do the Communists stand to the proletarians as a whole?

The Communists do not form a separate party opposed to the other working-class parties.

They have no interests separate and apart from those of the proletariat as a whole.

They do not set up any sectarian principles of their own, by which to shape and mould the proletarian movement.

The Communists are distinguished from the other working-class parties by this only: 1. In the national struggles of the proletarians of the different countries, they point out and bring to the front the common interests of the entire proletariat, independently of all nationality. 2. In the various stages of development which the struggle of the working class against the bourgeoisie has to pass through, they always and everywhere represent the interests of the movement as a whole.”

(Karl Marx, The Communist Manifesto)

Reflections on Brexit

EU referendumMy daughter wrote in her Facebook page that “I’ve attempted to write how disappointed and shocked I am over the results and I just can’t put it into words.”

My partner said she struggled to get to sleep because she was worried about Brexit, while earlier in the day she had long text conversations with her English cousins who were apologising for the result and (jokingly?) asking if they could come and live in Ireland.

In my office I signed an application for an Irish passport for someone who wants to retain EU citizenship and the freedom of movement it brings, while my partner says she’s going to stop calling herself Northern Irish and will also apply for an Irish passport.  Even in unionist areas applications for them have risen dramatically.

These personal responses to the Brexit vote are instinctive, since we don’t know exactly the changes coming down the line.  None of them are in themselves a political response in any real sense although they are healthy personal reactions.  However they aren’t answers.

Will the EU allow citizenship to those who are citizens of a state, the UK, that is not a member of the EU so that they could be both a citizen and non-citizen of the European Union?

Even assuming you wanted and were able to move to the Irish State the issues of nationalism, the EU and austerity would follow you.  The EU sent the Troika to impose austerity but thinking the Irish state can be some sort of protector is insane when you recall it would rather bankrupt itself than let down the gambling French and German bank bondholders.

And consider this: how fair is it that just because your parents were Irish you are entitled to Irish citizenship while children actually born in the Irish State are denied such citizenship?

The lovable and cosmopolitan Irish had their own referendum in 2004 in which they voted not to allow automatic Irish citizenship to children born in Ireland of foreign migrant (read – black) parents who were ‘obviously’ coming to Ireland to gain citizenship and residency for their whole family.  It was brutal and it was racist and the Irish voted almost 80 per cent in favour of it.

Today, after the Brexit vote, we have faced the smug and reactionary mug of Nigel Farage boasting that “real” and “decent” people have won “without a shot being fired” while these decent people are now emboldened to repeat xenophobic and racist comments to reporters, where previously they repeated them only in private.  The family and friends of the Labour MP murdered by a right wing zealot declaring ‘Britain First’, a rallying cry of the Brexit campaign, may stand shocked and horrified at the claim that not a shot has been fired.

Last night a TV reporter stated how difficult it has always been to get people on the streets to respond to political questions but that now in this Brexit town everyone was prepared to speak.  But of course now nationalist prejudice has been validated; it is now legitimate to repeat bigotry because the Brexit campaign won, it is the majority, its campaign was successful and it will now govern.

That this was a victory for the most reactionary forces is understood by many, and understood in the responses recounted at the start of the post, even by people who aren’t particularly political.  Not only was the campaign reactionary but so also are its consequences, including an invigorated Tory Party, soon under an even more reactionary leader; a rancorous exit procedure that will stir up xenophobic feeling even more; and further accommodation to racist attitudes by Blairite MPs who are plotting against Jeremy Corbyn.

So while the motives for the Brexit campaign have been reactionary and its campaign became even more so as it went along for some, despite all this, it must be considered  as some sort of workers’ revolt against austerity and denial of democracy.  Even Farage has claimed it was a campaign against the establishment, “against the multinationals” and “against the big merchant banks”. This, from an ex-City trader!  But it is no truer when mouthed by the left than it is when claimed by Farage.

Some on the Left have looked on the Brexit majorities in some working class towns and hailed this alienation from the political system as progressive, merely distorted somewhat by anti-immigrant attitudes but nevertheless a healthy revolt.  Since many of the same people also hailed the nationalist illusions of many Scottish workers in the Scottish referendum this creates something of a problem for their view of the world. I have yet to see a rationale for both a vote to remain by Scots and a vote to exit by the English both being valid expressions of opposition to the establishment.

I have also yet to hear what these left nationalists have to say about the millions of workers – including two thirds of Labour Party voters, in London, Manchester, Liverpool and Scotland who voted to remain, who obviously also oppose austerity but who refused to blame immigrants for their problems.  I doubt very much they have many great illusions in the EU either, certainly their leader Jeremy Corbyn gave them no reason to have any, and I don’t recall anyone saying the EU was wholly progressive.  Except of course the Blairite MPs who want to get closer to the one-third of Labour voters who endorsed the bigoted Leave campaign and get further away from the two-thirds who rejected its reactionary appeal to nationalism.

Which brings us to yet another reactionary consequence of the referendum – the renewed, but not entirely confident, demand for another Scottish referendum: a case of maybees aye, maybees naw.  After all, even the most wilfully blind Scottish nationalist is going to wonder how the Scottish state will finance state services with the price of oil through the floor.  Another Scottish nationalist vote against austerity that inevitably inflicts austerity is exactly the same sort of non-solution English workers voting Brexit have just embraced.

So Scottish nationalists, having played the nationalist card and lost, see English nationalists play their own and have responded in kind.  Like the Irish who have forgotten their own shameful racist referendum, Scots nationalists regard other peoples’ nationalism as ugly and their own always attractive.  Except for some really lost people on the left who now seem to regard all these nationalisms as healthy, at least underneath it all, and sometimes not even underneath.  Like most left nationalists they have left wing opinions and right wing politics.

Returning from work on Friday evening I had my MP3 player on, listening to the media show on Radio 4 in which some BBC editor was making a poor show of defending himself against the charge of one listener/viewer who said the BBC unduly emphasised the Tory versus Tory argument in its referendum coverage. Five minutes later the PM news programme headlines carried statements from Cameron, Sturgeon, Boris Johnson and a couple of others but not Jeremy Corbyn.  No wonder BBC pundits claim Corbyn didn’t do enough!

Like some on the Left they have an outsiders view of what is going on in the real world, where some workers are voting for racism but somehow are never themselves racist while workers who reject scapegoating are written out of the picture, swallowed up in categories such as youth, metropolitan elites or middle class because some of them have a good job.  Only voters against immigration apparently express genuine alienation while the others have uncomplicated pro-EU views.

But they, and the near 50 per cent who voted Remain, are the hope for the immediate future in this bleak hour.  The left that supported Brexit can get lost chasing an ‘anti-austerity’ vote consumed by reaction while the former is the basis for stemming the tide of reaction.  The anger expressed on social media, the barracking of Johnson as he travelled to his victory press conference, signal that though there has been initial despair this can translate into anger that can transform into action.

That the campaign was portrayed primarily as a Blue on Bluey fight, which of course was its catalyst, reflects deep divisions in the Tory party, although this is no time for purveying false confidence on this count.  The Tories heightened class consciousness has given them a keen sense of self-preservation and understanding of the need for unity.  Now that UKIP has achieved its programme many of these reactionaries may return to their Tory home.

However precisely because it is the Tories who wrought this overturning of the existing arrangements it is they who will have to account for it and all its looming failure to deliver on its promises.  Already the £350bn to the NHS has been dropped.  The reaction of EU leaders to the hope for a slow exit negotiation process is a warning that the other EU states have no incentive to pander to the requirements of a party that has threatened their project.  The arrogance of British nationalism will clash against the reality of Britain’s much reduced power in the world that has been reduced further by the vote.  Now more than ever the British state is reliant on “the kindness of strangers”, as the Governor of the Bank of England put it, in particular the US. The latter has no reason to disrupt the UK economy, particularly now, but now less reason to give it any privileged protection.

So if the Tories have the potential to split, and will be under stress for their responsibility for Brexit and all it will entail, it is the Labour Party and wider British labour movement that alone offers hope to the nearly half the voters who voted Remain, and even to those who opposed austerity by blaming immigration. Most unions supported Remain and in my own little part of the world, my own union NIPSA, which voted Brexit, got some considerable grief from many members who first heard of the debate after the decision was publicised.  In this decision it aligned itself with that bastion of progressive thought in Ireland – the Democratic Unionist Party.

The centrality of Corbyn to this fight is illustrated by that steadfast and trusted friend of the labour movement, Polly Toynbee in ‘The Guardian’ today:

“Jeremy Corbyn faces an immediate leadership challenge after a performance that was dismally inadequate, lifeless and spineless, displaying an inability to lead anyone anywhere. What absence of mind to emphasise support for free migration on the eve of a poll where Labour was haemorrhaging support for precisely those metropolitan views.”

These ‘metropolitan’ views are socialist views, it’s called freedom. Like all liberals, Toynbee will defend it except when it’s under attack.  Corbyn, to his eternal credit, defended it when every other leading politician was uttering weasel words of exclusion and discrimination.  Having defended these principles it is up to all those who voted Remain to defend him from the blinkered and opportunist attacks of Blairite MPs who would rather see a Tory victory than a Labour victory under Corbyn.

It is speculated that a general election will arise when the new righter-than-right Tory leader takes over, supposedly to give him or her a mandate but equally to protect them from the developing failure of a Brexit project that will breed disappointment and anger.  It is also speculated that this failure, and the anger that will flow from it, will not rebound on the promoters of this crazed project but will intensify antagonism to the already identified scapegoat – immigrants, ethnic minorities and foreigners.  But this is not inevitable, or at least the scale of it certainly is not.  But to ensure it is minimised and defeated requires a working class alternative based on those workers who have already rejected it, as many as possible of whom should be organised into the labour movement.

The underlying weakness of the Brexit project is revealed in its reliance on xenophobia and prejudice because it has no strong rationale of its own.  It will fail to make good its promises, which is why some have been deserted so quickly.  This weakness is reflected in the incredulity of some Leave voters that they actually won. More than one has revealed that they doubt they have made the correct decision.

The evening before the vote I heard an interview with two intending Leave voters who said they were ‘voting with their heart and not their head’; an admission that they couldn’t defend their decision.  This is not to say that the majority who voted leave are unsure, many are dyed-in-the-wool nationalists or even racists but many will not be.  But what will not convince them that they are wrong is the proposal from Toynbee, Blair, Mandelson and all the other career politicians that actually they are right!

The majority of young people voted Remain, another reason for hope.  The millions of EU citizens in the UK are also a reservoir of support.  Claims by the Leave campaign that their rights will be protected are exposed by the fact that they weren’t allowed to vote.

There are therefore some grounds for hope in what is an otherwise depressing situation.  But I am reasonably sure that my grounds for hope are stronger than the optimism that it must be assumed is felt by those lefties who ‘won’ through supporting Brexit.  Lexit was a failure.  The left case for Brexit or whatever you want to call it was and is miserable.

The Socialist Party (SP) in Ireland has claimed that the creation of an EU border in the middle of Ireland will not mean a “hard border” because the common travel area between the UK and the Irish State pre-dates EU membership.  They fail to recognise that both jurisdictions were then outside the EU; they were then both in and shortly one will be out. The only chances that there will not be a hard border is if the EU doesn’t care about its borders, the Brexit campaigners don’t care about immigration or they decide to keep all the Paddies at arms lengthy by putting the hard border at Holyhead, Stranraer, Glasgow airport or Heathrow etc.

The SP make the frankly nonsensical statement that “there is nothing genuinely internationalist about the EU.”  Where do you start with this?

Well you start with capitalism as it exists and fight to make a socialist society based on capitalism’s already international development, not try to wind the clock back to an earlier period that actually never existed.  In this the supporters of Lexit are the same as Brexit – pining for a mythical national development that, even were you to attempt to return to it, would lead forward again to internationalism.  The fact that the EU is an international  political arrangement of international capitalism makes the statement that the EU is not internationalist simply a stupid thing to say.

It may not be our internationalism but the nationalist socialism of the SP is not genuine internationalism either.  The failure of the Lexit campaign means that they may have been on the right side of the result but were on the wrong side of the campaign.  They too, just like the Tories, can look forward to telling us how the evolving exit from the EU is such a great step forward, for them supposedly for working people and for socialism.  Both promised money for the NHS and not the EU and that promise is as worthless from both.

What those disappointed by the result should do now is not simply put down in words how gutted they are but think for a while and put down what they think could be done to make things better.  Even working to understand the issues better is a contribution because out of understanding comes a realisation that there is an alternative and knowing this is an invitation to make it happen.

The EU: neoliberalism and democracy – part 2

images (10)An argument was made a long time ago by right wing ideologue Frederick Hayek that Europe could only be united on the basis of the free market.  Generally speaking, unity by state power can be achieved by conquest, or diplomatic alliance and compromise which would be slow, messy and prone to threats of resort to the former method. The Left supporters of Brexit also pose the unity being attempted by the EU as one underpinned by, in fact essentially and intrinsically comprised of, neoliberalism and its child austerity.  This approach is presented as a policy choice at the national level but essential to the EU, which doesn’t add up.

The imposition of austerity in the Eurozone for example is a policy choice determined by the conservative leadership of Germany and some other Northern European countries. In large part this is a reflection of the interests of their particular national capitalism, or its perceived interests, so not an inevitable feature of European capitalist integration.

The imposition of this particular national capitalist regime across Europe cannot work so it involves the subordination of weaker capitalisms such as the Greek etc.  The ultimate subordination is expulsion from the Euro club, whereupon the Greek state is free to reflect its weakness through devaluation, have greater freedom to preserve or expand crony state ownership and decide which sections of its population it wants to throw to the wolves and which to protect. What it could not do on its own is reverse austerity and develop a strong capitalist economy.  A separate Greek socialism is out of the question.

The refusal of the strongest national states within the EU to seek an alternative to austerity that addresses the needs of all member states is grounded on refusal to implement fiscal transfers between states, common and pooled debt and greater regulation.  This would involve not less but more European integration but will not be accepted by the conservative led national states without their much greater control of the EU.  The question then becomes one of democracy.

For the nationalist opponents of the EU, on the right and left, democracy can only be national.  The Irish People’s Movement repeats this again and again:

“The EU is most accurately seen as a supranational anti-democratic system that deprives Europe’s diverse living peoples of their democracy while serving the interests of its big state members, as mediated through their ruling politico-economic elite, interacting with the Brussels bureaucracy. The project of EU and euro-zone integration is at bottom an attempt to overturn throughout much of Europe the democratic heritage of the French Revolution: the right of nations to self-determination, national independence, and national democracy.”

“. . . This right to national self-determination is the foundational value of all modern democracies and of democratic politics within them. But it is anathema to the EU elite. . . . The core illusion of the EU elite is that the peoples of the euro zone will consent to abandon their national independence and democracy, reversing centuries of European history . . .”

Today the increasing lack of democracy across Europe is sometimes put down to a lack of accountability of the governing elites in Brussels to the electorate, but it is notable that this complaint is widely expressed at national level as well.  The Irish State for example has long had two major parties periodically alternating in office that have had no ideological differences and which have provided no meaningful political choice.  In the last election the electorate voted against the incumbent main party and got it back in government.  In some other counties there has been more appearance of choice but it has been obvious for years that even social democratic parties have embraced neoliberalism, so it is not an EU only phenomenon.

It is argued however that it is worse in the EU and, unlike at the level of the individual state, nothing can be done.  It must be noted however that this malaise at the EU is partially a result of the processes at national level and made worse by being filtered here first. If pressure from below is stifled by the national political system there is much less to transmit upwards to the EU’s bureaucratic machinery.  At this EU level there are no European political parties, the trade unions at a European level are a shell and there are no other vehicles for protest except protest itself and its campaigns that put pressure on institutions but fundamentally do not threaten them.

The organisation, or rather the lack of organisation, of workers at the European level is not something that can be rectified by more democratic arrangements at the EU, although this would obviously help.  It is a task for workers themselves and seeking the nationalist way out is not a solution but rather running away from a problem that cannot be escaped.

The nationalist nonsense that posits democracy rising from the nation ignores the existence of nations that have had precious little democracy and ignores the process of struggle that imposed on ruling elites what democracy there is.  The idea that centuries of European history were devoted to the development of national democracy is as fatuous as the idea that these nations were generally independent states. War and subjugation has been a feature of the history of European states as much, if not more, than any sort of mythical independence, which no longer exists even for large European states never mind the smaller ones.

What is true is that the development of capitalism took place at the national level and that this involved the creation of classes which had a material interest in forms of bourgeois democracy and which fought for them as a result.   The state form within which this development took place has been elevated into the development itself but it is capitalist economic development and the political struggles that it generated that are the real foundations of bourgeois democracy.

That capitalist economic development has burst the bounds of nation states has created problems in relation to the forms of democracy that have taken root at the national level.  At this level the machinery of the state has legitimised capitalism through nationalist ideology and the exercise of state power that has educated, subordinated and reformed the society in which everyone has grown up in; making nothing more natural than the idea of belonging to a nation.  From this ideology and the state’s power to mould society has come the view that rights, freedoms and politics in general can only be framed at the national level with anything above this simply being political relations between the states and therefore not actually above them.

History is further perverted in this nationalist version by declaring that the ideals of the French revolution were purely national, ignoring the proclamations within it relating to the rights of individuals, the freedom of individuals and the equality of individuals.  In the first part of these two posts it was noted that for some Irish nationalists these “are not unequivocal concepts. There is no Union-wide consensus on what constitutes a higher or lower standard of protection of rights; there is no consensus on the source of human rights, such as the theory of natural law, whether secularly or religiously based, that would permit a rational analysis and evaluation of conflicting positions.”  But we are expected to believe such problems of unequivocal definition, consensus on source and application of rights, disappear within the nation, with all its minorities subservient to whatever the national ideal of these happens to be.  Most important of all, the national definition of these non-unequivocal concepts is assumed to be superior to the different understandings of these concepts that arise from the class divisions within society.  Instead these are assumed to be erased by unity behind a mythical ‘national interest’.

This understanding of the world as fundamentally structured by nations within which coherent, consistent and valid interests are formed and expressed reaches its height when we are told that:

“Although the EU has most of the formal features of a state, and Euro-federalists aspire to it becoming a United States of Europe, comparable to the United States of America, outsiders hesitate to regard it as a state in its own right. They think that if it were such it must surely have its own people, who would identify with it and insist on endowing it with some meaningful democratic life. But such a people does not exist.”

If this means anything it means that democracy can only exist for a relatively homogenous people, defined by nationality, which is the worst sort of ethnic-centred nonsense to which all nationalism is prone to fall into. It condemns those states that are multi-national in composition, which must presumably not expect to have any sort of democratic political arrangements.  This also of course absolves the EU, because it too cannot be expected to be democratic.  In fact no future unity of peoples can be expected to be democratic either. The more one reads this short paragraph the worse it gets.

But for a socialist it is precisely the identity of interests within the nation that must be exposed and rejected a false.  In contrast it is the identity of the interests of working people regardless of nationality that is the essential socialist argument and historically the nation state that has been the last barrier to the creation of the new society that expresses these common interests.  Workers of the world unite! is the clarion call of socialism.  If capitalism seeks to unite Europe on its own terms it is not the job of socialists to seek to reverse its progress but to fight for creation of the socialist society on these foundations.

If the nationalist left does not know how democracy, workers unity and a socialist future can be fought for except within the realm of separated national states then it should step aside because whatever the problems posed to socialists by the EU they will continue to exist, in fact worsen, in the nationalist rat race that implementation of their policies would involve.

concluded

Back to part 1

 

 

 

The EU: neoliberalism and democracy – part 1

EU-TWEET-2Both right and left supporters of leaving the EU see it as some sort of emerging Super State, a bureaucratic Leviathan sitting on top of a population of so many Joseph Ks, captured by its labyrinthine rules, in a state of helpless and woeful ignorance of the malevolent plans to which they are subject.

Within its confines there is no way out, there is no solution.  Nothing is familiar.   It is foreign in every respect.  There is no democracy and you can do nothing to change it.  For the Left it cannot be reformed – its essential character is neoliberal – although it can be defeated, or rather it can be escaped from.  And this is what Brexit offers.

It offers release from a putative empire and its recognisable emperor – Germany.  The very breadth of the alternatives presented as possibilities outside its walls is testament to the potential freedom existing beyond its bewildering restrictions, its Treaties, Guidelines, Regulations and Directives. The natural territory of democracy is the nation and the return of national democracy will free Europe’s very different peoples to make their own decisions.

The differences between the British, the Finns, Bulgarians, Greeks and Italians etc. are simply too great.  No cultural commonality or elements of unity can be found and therefore no common political architecture can accommodate their different views, aspirations, values and demands.  Lack of democracy within any project that attempts it is therefore inevitable.

The ‘Peoples Movement’ in Ireland, which opposes the EU and supports Brexit puts it like this:

“The supposition in the EU Treaty that member-states already share a common value system is, moreover, a disingenuous fiction. The principles of “liberty, democracy, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms and the rule of law” which are stated in article 2 of the Treaty on European Union to be the foundation of the EU, are not unequivocal concepts. There is no Union-wide consensus on what constitutes a higher or lower standard of protection of rights; there is no consensus on the source of human rights, such as the theory of natural law, whether secularly or religiously based, that would permit a rational analysis and evaluation of conflicting positions.”

——

Such an analysis is not one that any socialist can endorse or support.  In fact socialism rejects every substantive claim made above.

The EU is not even a State never mind a Super State.  If we begin with the understanding that the state consists above all of armed bodies of men and women then the EU has no army and no police with which to assert the class interests of European capitalism.  It often cannot unite politically even if it did have a single and coherent state apparatus to command. It had no such view when Yugoslavia disintegrated and it was NATO that went to war.  That it is not a Super State became clear in its failed intervention in the Ukraine, where it lacked the economic power, political unity of purpose and military prowess to counter Russia.

The illusion of a united, efficient and increasingly powerful bureaucratic apparatus reveals a view of bureaucracy as a predominantly rational and rules bound organisation that is internally coherent.  But not only is this not the case with any bureaucracy it is certainly not true of the EU.  Even its critics, or at least some of them, are not so much forced to acknowledge this but see it as a primary feature of the EU – that its rules are as often observed in the breech as in the observance.

There is apparently a remarkable level of non-compliance within the EU and its member states, in which EU Directives are not transposed into national law, rules are not adhered to, decisions at summits are not respected and European Court of Justice rulings are not enforced.  In other words the state machinery necessary to impose laws is not in place.

So the Maastricht rules dealing with debt and deficits were first broken by Germany and France while such rule breaking by Greece is anathema.  Much has been made of the Greeks fiddling statistics to get into the Euro but what they did was simply to follow what the Italians had done before, and everyone looks the other way when this is mentioned.  Bank stress tests are taken seriously by no one. The Eurogroup, the body that decides on these economic matters, that determines the economic policy in the Eurozone, has no legal standing and therefore doesn’t legally exist.

The incoherence of much of the bureaucratic machinery is illustrated in the inefficiency and corruption that besets the EU.  It lacks effective financial controls so that it has failed its own Court of Auditors for over twenty years.  In 2003 only 10 per cent of payments by the European Commission “faithfully reflected budgets and expenditure”, while the rest could not be accounted for and over 10,000 cases of larceny were uncovered in the year before. When the Chief Accountant reported that the EU budget “was an open till waiting to be robbed”, Neil Kinnock fired her. He also smeared another whistle-blower after she reported improprieties at Eurostat, a statistics agency whose figures were employed in allocating the EU budget. It has been investigated six times, during which shell companies, slush funds and “rake-offs” were all uncovered.

In his latest Book – ‘And the weak suffer what they must’ –the ex-Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis, rips into the failed design of the Euro and the rules it is based upon but admits that these rules are often in large part made up by the EU as it goes along.  This includes as a result of the struggle between the Bundesbank, its German ordo-liberals and the Draghi-led European Central Bank and its commitment to ‘do whatever it takes’ to save the Euro.

This is not some sort of all powerful juggernaut or all-powerful emerging German empire.  The GDP of Germany in 2015 was over €3 trillion while that of the EU as a whole was over €14.6 trillion, so the German share was around 20%.  Germany also lags behind Britain and France in terms of military capacity so whatever about its economic strength this is not basis for a fourth Reich.  Germany can lead but it cannot on its own determine the future of the EU.

The EU therefore lacks the scope and depth of function required of a state while aspiring to both, the difference for its critics often obscured by its declarations of intent and its bombastic and arrogant approach to what it does control.  It is not therefore easily identified, categorised and summed up so, when its more obviously nationalist critics denounce it, the simplicity of their analysis is often embarrassing. So the People’s Movement can’t help but notice that the EU has no army and police but “Their absence makes it all the easier to hide from ordinary citizens the reality of Europe’s hollowed-out nation-states and the failure of their own mainstream politicians to defend their national democracies.”  The People’s Movement declaration of hollowed out national states fails to register its admission that the EU proto-state is also empty of crucial functions.

The simple story of EU power also includes the declaration that the EU cannot be reformed as it is intrinsically a neo-liberal construct, one that enforces this economic policy on its members.  But as we have noted, such enforcement is not uniform.  The progenitor of the EU, the European Coal and Steel Community, was not a vehicle for the free market but a cartel arrangement for oligopolies. The EEC/EU was part and parcel of Europe-wide Keynesian policies in the 1960s and is now part of the neoliberal turn that was to be consolidated in the European Constitution but became part of the Lisbon Treaty when this constitution was rejected.  It is also strongly in evidence in the austerity agenda mandated by the Maastricht Treaty and enforced during the Eurozone crisis.  It has not therefore always been part of the EU and there is good reason why it may not remain part, including that it is not working, for example irrecoverable debt cannot be repaid.

While the EU has introduced state aid rules that restrict state subvention of private capital it does not prohibit it.  The Lisbon Strategy of 2000 called for it to be phased out but the reality became more rules that explain how it may be permitted.  In the years 2000 to 2011 its level didn’t change, amounting to 0.7 per cent of GDP, so argument continues as to whether public procurement in the EU is more or less open than its competitors in the US or Japan.

The EU is made up of states, which jealously guard not only the interests of their national capitals but also their own interests as states. This includes protection of state owned capital.  For example in the field of energy, where the EU has some competence i.e. it has some control, many components of this industry are still state owned. Even in the Irish State, at the depths of the crisis and diktats from the Troika of European Commission, European Central Bank and IMF, the state retained ownership of much of power generation through ESB and the electricity transmission and distribution system through EirGrid.

Those on the Left who regard the interests of nation states, and their powers of discretion, as the alternative to the neoliberalism of free markets have a lot of explaining to do, in particular how these states that barter and trade off the perceived benefits of trade to themselves, and the big capitalist businesses they seek to protect, are any sort of alternative.  The seeming obsession of the EU with competition rules is in part an inevitable result of any inter-state cooperation, which is undoubtedly more involved in the EU, but which would not disappear outside of it, that is if progress on trade and investment deals is to be made.

The emphasis on free markets and competition arises not just from a general and obvious commitment to capitalism by all the European capitalist states but from the desire to create a free trade area across Europe in the same way that there is generally free trade within the national states themselves.  This is not because the individual states do not want to intervene to bolster the position of national champions but because they must have rules and mechanisms that limit the same intervention by the other states that may be to the detriment of their own capitals.

The developing logic is to create not national champions but European ones, which leads to a similar process at the world level.  The US and Japan etc., like the EU, seek trade and investment deals that will allow the growth of their capitals without discriminatory barriers put in their way by other states.  Each therefore has to strike deals that limit such practices, not only between but also within their borders, and which protect their own big capitalist businesses. The confidence to exploit and exchange commodities that exists at the national level is sought at the European and world level through a single European market and world trade and investment deals.  To see these deals as the problem and not the system of exploitation and commodity exchange that is taken for granted at the national level is to forsake a socialist for a purely nationalist perspective and fail to understand the roots of what is going on.

A contradiction thus exists between the rhetoric of free competition and the state and EU interventions that seek to strengthen particular capitalist concerns.  From this also arises the repulsive system of lobbying by big business that is such a feature of the Brussels scene.  It brings to light the crony and corrupt interface between politicians and capitalists which has grown organically at nation state level and because of this is much better hidden from public view.

The contradiction is also expressed through the fact that the state at a national level not only provides for a level playing field that privileges the workings of capitalist competition, which finds expression through the market, but also intervenes positively to support groups of, or individual, capitalist concerns.

This not only involves what might be considered purely economic measures, such as grants, subsidies, and taxation arrangements but also purely political interventions that for example provide for or foreclose market access.  The rules and the wrangling in the EU are the outcome of the attempts to do this at a supra-national level.  Such activities would continue were Europe to revert to a world of separate nation states – the world beloved of nationalists and a left no longer confident of the future but hankering for a supposed golden age of social democracy, i.e. a particular form of capitalism.

What does change in the EU framework is acknowledgment that the state’s intervention in support of capitalism is no longer adequate if confined to the national level and that the political interventions required also have to take place at the European level.  The logic is creation of a political vehicle that can do this adequately, a European State.  If you don’t like this the answer is not to attempt to turn back the clock to an earlier form of capitalism that the development of the system has outgrown but to make the alternative to capitalism also international.

Forward to part 2

Brexit or Lexit?

CjC9SHcXAAAU8OOWhen the campaign over Brexit kicked off it appeared as an internal Tory argument over just how tough Cameron’s deal with the EU would be in hitting the welfare entitlement of migrant workers.  Two cheeks of one arse, as my granny would have said.

Socialists are against restrictions on the movement of workers and against cuts in welfare that are simply a means of hitting not only migrants but putting pressure on workers further up the ladder.  So socialists were on neither side of this particular argument.

The debate moved on to the economic impact of Brexit, with dire warnings of the impact on living standards of the UK leaving.  House prices will fall 18% says George Osborne, as if this were the worst nightmare of every civilised human being. The IMF also predicts drastic consequences while the OECD says it will cost UK households £2,200 by 2020 if we leave.  PricewaterhouseCoopers states that “by 2030 . . . EU exit could result in total UK GDP in 2030 being between 1.2% and 3.5% lower in our two exit scenarios”.  The UK Government brochure put through my door says “voting to leave the EU would . . . reduce investment and cost jobs.”

The ‘Northern Ireland Better in Europe’ leaflet that has sat about my house before I read it for this article lays it on thick – “leaving Europe is a leap in the dark for you and your family” – “NI Jobs AT RISK”; “Investment AT RISK”; “NI Security AT RISK”; “NI Farming AT RISK” and “NI Trade AT RISK”, at which point the author ran out of paper or things to put on the risk register.

In my work I get an email every morning, which is a digest of the local economic stories in the press and invariably over the last few weeks it has consisted of warnings of job losses and reductions in living standards if Brexit takes place.

Socialists don’t take kindly to such warnings as they usually greet any demand by workers for higher pay or better terms and conditions.  We are told that a major change like Brexit will create uncertainty and involve a leap in the dark, while socialists are of course in favour of even more fundamental change (though it cannot be a leap in the dark), so instant or unreflective rejection of such claims might be an instinctive reaction.

But such a reaction would be misplaced.  Going further, to conscious rejection, would be an example of taking one’s cue from the enemy and putting a minus sign where the establishment puts a plus.   In other words it would be a failure to form an independent view.

Similar warnings of disinvestment and threats to living standards surfaced in the Scottish independence referendum and I wrote at the time that there was no point in crying foul if you didn’t have a sound argument that either the threats were invented or that their effect could easily be countered.  Neither response could be said to be true in the Scottish referendum nor can they be said to be true now.

Whatever the exaggeration there is no doubt that a UK economy torn from the EU would witness increased barriers to trade and to domestic and foreign investment and that this would lead to job reductions and reduced living standards.  Since socialists are the most consistent defenders of workers and their conditions, and if we know that Brexit will have these effects, on what grounds could it possibly be supported?

Not caring for the good health of capitalism, which is a healthy socialist attitude, is not the same as basing one’s politics on seeking its malfunction and disintegration.  After all, we don’t advance policies to screw up capitalism, capitalist crises arise from its own contradictions – it screws itself up.  We advance a movement to replace it.

There are many people who claim to be anti-capitalist, but socialists don’t start from this but from the contradictions within capitalism, which show in what way the system contains an alternative, the replacement that is socialism.  We are not therefore in the business of seeking to prevent the development of capitalism, including its internationalisation, but in favour of building the alternative that will replace it as it develops.  It is this development that increasingly provides the grounds for the socialist alternative.

So on the two issues dominating the debate – on migration and economic consequences – socialists take a view.  We are not bystanders in this debate and when we look at the issues it should be clear on which side we stand.  We should know how this position not only informs our view of wider questions but how our wider view informs how we can understand the role of particular issues.

The left that supports Brexit have their own wider view of socialism, heavily reliant on action by the capitalist state as the vehicle for income and wealth redistribution and state ownership of the economy etc.  This nation-state centred view is revealed in their approach to Brexit.  They propose a different term -‘Lexit’, one with little currency that has even less purchase on either the debate or on the reality it purports to describe.  “Leaving the EU will be part of a process of creating a different Ireland which puts people before profit,” says one organisation, but what is this process?

People before Profit, from whom the statement above is taken, mention five grounds for leaving the EU and we will come to these in a moment.  But first, the essential socialist case for remaining in the EU is that it creates better grounds for fighting to create the international unity of workers than their separation into multiple nation states.

Those who propose Brexit base themselves in one way or another on nationalist solutions.  With the right wing of the Tory party this is obvious in what it says; when it comes to the left it is obvious in what it doesn’t say.

So we have a proposal that “leaving the EU is part of a process” but where is the international element of this process?  People before Profit believe that socialism is international so just where is the international aspect of this strategy?  In its statement on ‘Lexit’ it says nothing.  In its 2016 general election manifesto it also says nothing. (Opposition to war and to Israel do not constitute a strategy by which socialism may come about).

This stems from no serious consideration of how socialism can come about, aside from a moralistic opposition to an evil capitalism that culminates in a revolution that itself is just an accumulation of anger arising from this opposition. It’s a failure to understand that the alternative does not arise ex nihilo on the day of revolution but is built upon and arises out of the existing system and its development.  This is how the existing labour movement has been created; it could arise in no other way. The growth of People before Profit (PbP) itself is an illustration of this, being created out of the electoral system of the Irish state’s political structure. Whatever the limitations of this, and there are many, this is how People before Profit presents a strategy to Irish workers, so how does it think the socialist alternative can grow internationally?

As I said, it gives five grounds for a ‘No’ vote:

Neoliberal policies have been sealed into the EU – but the EU is a creation of nation states and so is its neoliberal policy but PbP wants to go back to these individual states.  It calls the EU a ‘bosses club’.  But who are the members of this club but the member states who in or out of the club will still be the bosses?  How does going back to separate bosses take us forward in defeating either particularly right wing policies or creating an alternative?

The EU is developing military structures to fight ‘resource wars’ – this is possibly the most patently weak argument because the EU is noted for not having an army, not having an armed force capable of asserting its collective capitalist interests and not being able to punch its weight in world affairs.  Again it is the individual states that have armies and that deploy these in capitalist wars.

The EU is fundamentally undemocratic – and so it is and so are the individual member states which are responsible for the EU’s undemocratic structure and functioning.  However it is not the job of socialists to exaggerate the democratic opportunities offered to the working class by the democratic features of capitalist states.  While these are important it is the democratic content of the working class’s own movement that will be decisive in the fight for socialism and the division of this movement by nationalism is one of the key fractures that has historically divided it and disfigured its development.

The EU legitimises racism though fortress Europe – the EU has indeed acted scandalously in its treatment of the refugee crisis but the actions of many individual states has been just as bad if not worse, including the British.  The refugee crisis is a particular example of a crisis that can only be addressed at a European level and hardly even on this scale.  It certainly cannot be solved at the level of the individual states.  How does Brexit or Lexit help?  How does Brexit help the common travel area within the EU or will this be sacrificed because it does not go far enough for those outside?  Will we go backward because we’re told we can’t go forwards?

Finally it is argued that claims that the EU protects workers’ rights are false – PbP argue that these came about during the boom times and capitalism is no longer booming.  In fact this isn’t even true and can British workers expect better working conditions arising from a right wing Tory Government?  One doesn’t need to dress up the EU to see this.  People before Profit say workers can defend existing gains, which draws attention to the real motor of advancement, but it should be obvious that separate states in competition to lower conditions is not advantageous to workers in defending legal rights and working terms and conditions.

The policies of People before Profit are themselves a good example of the difficulty of resisting this sort of capitalist state competition.  The Irish state’s 12.5% corporate tax rate is a central part of the state’s competitive strategy and has gained widespread acceptance in the process.  People before Profit also support it but just demand that 12.5% equals 12.5%.  It has accepted this race to lower taxation on corporate profits.  If there were a common EU-wide tax rate the grounds for such a strategy would be removed.  Why then would this not be supported rather than creating more grounds for state competition that impact negatively on workers?

The arguments for ‘Lexit’ do not add up.  We are debating Brexit, not the fantasy of a left exit, which is so fantastical that it cannot even be hypothesised how workers would be better off the day after exit and what the second step is to follow this first one.

The establishment say that Brexit is a leap in the dark and should be avoided.  In fact a vote to stay in the EU is more a vote for an unknown future than is voting to leave.  The political consequences, and onerous tasks, facing the British state for example, are known to a degree –   joining “the back of the queue in seeking a new trade deal” according to Obama, or making “the UK a less attractive destination for Japanese investment” according Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Staying in the EU on the other hand is not a vote for history to stop.  The EU will either move forward to further integration or it will start to move backwards; the Euro crisis and the treatment of Greece and the breakdown of the free movement of people within the EU are examples of this. Do we want to be part of this fight or declare that it is worthless because the EU cannot be changed?

The fundamentally conservative approach of People before Profit is illustrated when we consider how it would answer this question.  This conservatism appears everywhere, assuming bad things would change and good things not.  It assumes that border controls would not return within Ireland or between Ireland and Britain.  But why, when trade treaties are being torn up, would we have any reason to assume this to be the case?  Why would a common travel area continue when preventing unwanted migration is the major impetus behind Brexit?  Why would the Irish state be allowed to become the back door to entry into Britain from the EU?  It assumes the world will not essentially change for Ireland from a Brexit vote and that partition will not be strengthened.

It assumes that voting to exit is a ‘No’ vote to bad things it cannot possibly believe that it will be interpreted positively as a vote for workers and refugee rights, a vote against imperialist war, against neoliberalism or for a different national democracy.  But it is not even a negative vote, it implies something affirmative.  But what it affirms is nationalist – that in their separate little national states workers will be in a better position.

The Norn Iron Elections – a few rays shine a light on the darkness

PbP imageIt may seem odd at first but the second most significant outcome of the Stormont Assembly election is the turnout, which fell from 55.71 per cent in 2011 to 54.91 per cent in 2016.  And even if the number of votes cast actually increased by nearly 30,000 it’s hard to overlook the fact that nearly half the population don’t bother to vote.  But this disenchantment with the political outcome of a world-renowned  peace process is a faithful reflection of the utter and complete inability of many to identify anything in the current political arrangements that they want to support.

Of course history has been rewritten, even as it was being made, to explain that this political agreement brought an end to political violence, and is still necessary for this to continue, but many (without thinking) are not buying the lie in practice.  While some will never vote, a greater proportion are disillusioned or have never bought into the sectarianism that saturates Northern Ireland politics.  The Stormont Assembly, its Trumpton Government and its third-rate politicians have been so utterly useless in even the most mundane of political terms that their unchallenged corruption is the stand-out feature of the regime.  Or it would be if the sectarianism that is the foundation of the regime and overlays every aspect of it were not primary, sometimes missed only because it is so taken for granted.

The turnout went down by under 1 per cent but this masks a fall in the combined DUP and Unionist Party share of the vote of 1.5 per cent and a fall in the nationalist vote of over 5 per cent; with the SDLP vote-share falling by 2.2 per cent and that of Sinn Fein by even more – 2.9 per cent.  The combined nationalist vote is now back to where it was in the early 1990s.  A majority for a United Ireland is not only a long way off but it’s getting further away.

Even the not very bright political commentators who had previously put this decline down to nationalist contentment with the new political arrangements are now forced to recognise that nationalist abstention is a result of precisely the opposite, and is a protest against the rotten Stormont regime.  Nationalists know they can not look to a united Ireland but the tolerable Northern Ireland is barely tolerable.

It is therefore the continuation of the sectarian regime which is the most significant outcome, despite its abysmal track record.  The largest unionist party, the DUP, has been validated in its nakedly tribal campaign to prevent election of a Sinn Fein First Minister, even when this was never a realistic possibility.  The sectarian card is played no matter what the game.

We now have another five years of sectarian dog-fighting, periodically interrupting a shared implementation of reactionary austerity policies.  It matters not that barely half the population took part in the election never mind the smaller number who voted for the two parties leading this austerity – the DUP and Sinn Fein.  This marriage made in hell is sold every five years based on one party claiming the greatest threat to hearth and home comes from the spouse.  The spouse continues to sell it as a progressive example to the world.

The sectarian gloom is never lifted.  There appears no alternative.  The trade unions first oppose the austerity policies but then welcome and support the political agreement, the ‘Fresh Start’, that saved the regime that now implements the austerity, the austerity that is codified in the political agreement now supported.  The other political parties oppose the big two Parties that dominate but are also in ‘Government’ and also support all the big two’s policies in all essentials and in almost every detail.

Opposition exists in the same way it exists inside the Stormont Assembly – it is assumed not to exist and no provision was made for it to exist.   Sectarian division means that all conflict must be contained lest in go down this cleavage so no real opposition to the sectarian agreement can be conceived.  The setbacks, conflicts and struggles are thus all internal to the arrangements which can brook no alternative.  We have an arrangement that seems rigid but at the expense of little flexibility.  Opposition within it is thus no threat as long as the political framework is accepted by that opposition at which point no real opposition can exist.

In other words a real opposition would oppose the very foundations of the Stormont regime.  It would however be the wildest dreams to believe that right now such an opposition can set itself the immediate task of bringing it down – any putative opposition is too weak and there is currently no alternative.

This however brings us to the third, but most dramatic, outcome of the election.  And that is the election of two self-declared revolutionary socialists from the People before Profit (PbP) organisation.

In the heart of Sinn Fein – West Belfast – the PbP candidate Gerry Carroll topped the poll with 8,229 votes, a stinging rejection of Sinn Fein by many and a rejection all the more cutting for not being unexpected.  The cronyism of the organisation has disgusted many and its disregard for its base illustrated by its support for building a new GAA ground with safety concerns in the heart of the constituency.  This will have particularly resonated in the last few weeks given media coverage of the victorious campaign by the relatives of those who died in the Hillsborough disaster.  This rejection has grown following complete capitulation to Tory welfare changes which Sinn Fein swore to oppose but eventually facilitated the implementation of.

While Gerry Carroll is pictured carried aloft by supporters all waving the red flag the other victorious left candidate, Eamonn McCann from Derry, was to be heard on BBC Radio Ulster singing the Internationale.  Eamonn explained that he was surprised by how many during his canvassing expressed their opposition to being labelled ‘Orange’ or ‘Green’, as is required by the Stormont rules, but said they were ‘Other’, the only alternative designation allowed.  How fitting a sectarian designation’s only alternative is ‘Other’ rather than ‘Anti-Sectarian’ or even ‘Non-Sectarian’.

PbP success represents a dramatic rejection of Sinn Fein but if it is to represent something more it must not just declare an alternative but create one.  Two successful candidates allows PbP to present itself as more than a protest but how much more will depend on how it thinks its revolutionary socialism can be applied outside the Assembly.  As we have seen, what happens inside it is not taken seriously even by those who support it, especially by the DUP and Sinn Fein who carve up the jobs and the decisions between them.

A light can now be shone on the darkness through the election of two socialists but to begin to dispel the darkness will require an alternative labour movement that can offer practical alternatives to sectarian division.  What role will PbP play in that task?