Brexit and the far right

I’ve read a number of articles saying that the major issue facing British workers is the rise of the far-right, appearing now in the shape either of Nigel Farage and his new Brexit Party or the racists and fascists around Tommy Robinson.  The answer to this is usually suggested to be a united campaign by socialists opposing racism and the fascists.

I don’t believe this to be the case – the major issue is, and has been, opposition to Brexit and the continuing effort to implement it.  It is Brexit that has rallied the reactionaries, given them a real success through the referendum and emboldened them to make more and more explicit threats as to what will happen if Brexit isn’t implemented.

In this respect these forces are no different from the increasingly bitter Tories and the unorganised bigots who have felt free to express their long-held racism through verbal and physical attacks.  The combined forces of these reactionaries mustered only a few thousand outside Parliament, while the anti-Brexit demonstration counted over a million.  It should therefore be clear that the major impact of a defeat for Brexit would not be the excitement of the reactionaries to greater fury but imposition of a crushing defeat.

Some of the supporters of the idea that the racists and fascists are the issue are those who have assisted these forces by supporting Brexit themselves, which can only disorient their supporters, give some legitimacy to the reactionaries’ cause and, not least, import their nationalism into the workers’ movement.  The latest example is the statement by George Galloway that he will vote for Farage’s Brexit Party.

Thus, an additional impact is the proposal of the mistaken orientation that the major task is to oppose the racists and fascists.  These forces have greater visibility and impact because their chauvinism is the most extreme form of the nationalism that lies behind the whole Brexit project.  It is therefore easy to sell it as the only real and authentic version.  They thus have a cause they can claim has been legitimised by popular vote.

The standard response of left organisations is to seek the widest unity, irrespective of what are claimed to be secondary issues, to confront the racists and fascists on the streets.  However, by consciously evading Brexit they even weaken their own misdirected strategy.

And they do this by ignoring the real issue.  They surrender legitimacy to the cause of which the reactionaries claim to be the true defenders.  They have purely negative arguments to the positive (however reactionary) cause that the reactionaries put forward, and they are defenceless against their claims to be the real democrats.  The key task is blurred, if not ditched, by thinking that unity with the Brexit supporting left will address the problems that Brexit has itself aggravated immensely.

Above all, it seriously underestimates the significance of the anti-working class attack that the Brexit project involves.  Its implementation would see rapid attacks on the rights and living standards of British workers and increased racist attacks by the State and street thugs.  Even if you thought increased xenophobia and racism by the far right was the major problem, the only way to prevent it getting worse, and actually reverse it, would be stop Brexit in its tracks.

But recognising Brexit as the issue leads to other conclusions.  At the moment the main effort to push some sort of Brexit that can be implemented includes the leadership of the Labour Party.  Despite hopes that this leadership would lead the Party to create a social movement that fully involves its members, the Labour leadership has shown that old-Labour politics of the left doesn’t have much more regard for democracy than the politics of the new-Labour right.

The task after Corbyn was elected was to democratise the Party and this remains the case.  To do so means fighting Brexit and implementing the overwhelming view of the Party’s members and supporters that it should be scrapped.  Such has been the decades of reaction that many seem not to want to carry out this task as vigorously as is required, perhaps because they have bought into Corbyn as much, if not more, that what he appeared to represent.  Unfortunately Brexit and his support for it shows the limits of old-style Labour politics, and the first casualty of Corbyn’s support for Brexit is his reputation for honesty and plain speaking.  The last casualty could be the success of the Party itself.

This reluctance to criticise or organise in spite of Corbyn, and against him if necessary, risks demoralising the mass membership on which the current future of socialism in Britain depends.  So, while Corbyn argues for a Brexit that is little different from Theresa May’s Withdrawal Deal, perhaps the Labour membership should also take their example from their Tory equivalents.

The rank and file of the Tory Party are as in favour of Brexit as their Labour opposites are against it, and are attempting to call an extraordinary general meeting of the Party to get rid of Theresa May to ensure Brexit goes through, deal or no deal. Like the Tory rank and file who are fed up waiting for Brexit, Labour members have been waiting for a general election or the Party to actually support a second referendum.  But both May and Corbyn seem to be doing everything to run down the clock, prevented only by the fact that Brexit would be a disaster quite quickly without significant amelioration of its effects. Accepting what these are and what their cost would be for the Brexit project has prevented an agreed deal.

Today, the real fight for British socialists is to stop Brexit and to mobilise the ranks of the Labour Party against it.  Corbyn matters only in so far as he facilitates working class organisation and the progressive measures that a social democratic Labour Government could introduce.  Brexit threatens both and so does Corbyn’s support for it.

Reasons for Remainers to vote Labour?

I usually read ‘The Guardian’ during my lunchbreak in work, so my attention was struck by an article headed ‘Remainers, you have nothing to fear from backing Labour in the EU elections’.

Mmm . . . this might be interesting I thought.

So, I read it.  The article informed its readers that, unlike the Conservatives “Labour will enter the EU elections from a completely different angle, with a programme that is actually about Europe.”  Yes indeed, and that’s the effing problem; because that programme is Brexit.

Its big message was that Labour’s policy is at one with the manifesto of the Party of European Socialists, although I’m fairly certain that this manifesto doesn’t actually support Brexit.

The manifesto “spells out, concretely and in the abstract, where the solutions lie”, and so “the party has an overriding imperative. It must, in solidarity with its European socialist allies, spread its hopeful vision for the bloc.” Except, of course, it wants to leave “the bloc” and, if it is the least bit logical, wishes that there was no bloc at all.  And, concretely, the policy of the Labour Party – of a ‘jobs Brexit’ – is nonsense and in the abstract is unviable, that is, unviable in the dictionary definition related to biology.

The European Socialist’s manifesto contains all sorts of admirable objectives such as “a carbon-neutral continent by 2050; strong welfare states, social safety nets and quality public services; standards driven up by collective transnational action; a ban on zero-hours contracts and fake self-employment.”  But there is a problem, I’ve yet to see a coherent argument for a national road to changing the climate, or unilateral national action that is collective transnational action.

We are told “We can fixate on the persistence of a pro-Brexit faction within Labour – unarguably, it exists – but it is tedious to continue to locate and analyse it when it cannot have a decisive voice on Labour’s position in the European elections.” But again, happy to be proved wrong, but unless the Party campaigns against Brexit, I think there’s a mistake hiding somewhere in this argument.

And I don’t think Remainers are finding Brexit tedious.  In fact, the one million plus march and 6 million plus petition shows that they are quite fired up. Rather it’s the Leavers who are tired – and why wouldn’t they be?  They were told, and many still believe, that leaving the EU would be easy, quick and painless.  The “let’s just get on with it” mood that Theresa May keeps on saying ‘the British people’ want is from all these leavers who still desperately want to be proved right, and equally desperately want some charlatan to confirm their prejudices.

We’re told of the Labour Party – “Never mind the pro-Brexit faction” – what a pity it happens to include the leadership.  And what can we say about such a leadership that, for example, presents us with the ridiculous spectacle of continuing negotiations with the Tories, that never should have started, that are based on the reactionary-ludicrous assumptions that some sort of progressive Brexit might exist, and might be agreed with the Tories.  And the longer they go on, the greater the effort, the more alienating the Labour leadership becomes to all those members and voters who long ago realised that Brexit is a dish better not served at all.

It gets harder, the more one reads it, to understand just what this Grauniad article is saying.  For example, when it states that the European manifesto “is the foundation for a much bolder question: how could these (EU) institutions be transformed so they served their original purpose?”  Doesn’t the Brexit leadership assume that this is impossible?  And do they not also assume that Brexit is still Brexit while adhering to a customs union and regulatory alignment, while having no say in setting the rules for either, while still in a position to ‘transform the institutions’.

You really could not make this up, which is why the leadership can’t explain how it can be made up, and the EU will tell it how it simply can’t be made up.

So, to sum up, supporters of the ‘successful ambiguity’ of Labour policy appear to be missing the rather unambiguous support the Corbyn leadership is giving Brexit – so unambiguous they proclaim their goal as one of unity with the Tories for their favourite Brexit option, which doesn’t look very different from May’s favourite Brexit option.  And this is called opposition?

Some people nevertheless comfort themselves with opinion polls showing Labour ahead, or rather Labour doing less badly, than the Tories, although this wasn’t the case in the Newport byelection.  What they fail to factor in is a Tory campaign for a hard Brexit– deal or no deal – should an election actually be called, which only they could deliver, and in the process hoovering up the Leave voters – who have no reason to vote Labour despite its policy. A Labour-supporting Brexit meanwhile, might present no reason whatsoever for Remainers to vote for it – which is why this otherwise ridiculous ‘Guardian’ column has seen the need to think up a reason to do so, which it abysmally fails to do.

So how ironic would it be if Theresa May should have called an election in 2017 on the basis of opinion polls, only to see the election campaign pan out differently and the arguments put during it actually have an impact, only for Corbyn to seek to do the same and go into an election telling everyone to ignore the elephant in the room?  What sort of argument for Brexit that almost all his members think is crazy or stupid, or something worse, could possibly win the election, unless relying on the opposition being useless?

But isn’t this what Theresa May did before?  Does this obviously failed leader, who isn’t even the leader of her own party anymore, really have to end up leading no one except the Labour Party, in its policy and strategy?

It is very, very hard to see the next election campaign repeating the same outcome as that in 2017, with a massive increase in the Labour vote – except perhaps in reverse.  About as hard as seeing what’s progressive in Brexit and how it could possibly benefit the Labour Party to support it.

Perhaps that article really should have been headed ‘Remainers, you have everything to fear from backing Labour in the EU elections’.  Of course if you still want to do so you perhaps you had better start doing something about the Party’s policy and its leadership. Non?

The Communist Party of Ireland and Brexit 2

In defence of Brexit the Communist Party of Ireland (CPI) repeats claims made by the Tory Party European Research Group (ERG), claims which have long been discredited. They revolve around the argument that nothing will really change unless we (the British State) want it to.

In dismissing claims that leaving the EU will lead to trade barriers such as tariffs, the CPI claims that “with so much trade between Britain and EU countries it is unlikely that the capitalist class will want to lose this market.”  We get the CPI version of the Tory argument that the Germans will want to sell us their cars so we’ll be alright.  And in another repeat of such nonsense we are told that “many countries would be very happy to begin trading with Britain that are not allowed now under EU regulations. They will now be free to trade wherever they want.”

So, when Britain leaves the EU it will strike up agreements with other countries, and presumably the capitalist rivalry that sets the framework for such deals will involve none of the detrimental effects that arise from those made by the  EU.  Imperialism, neoliberalism, undemocratic impositions etc. will all cease to be a problem when Britain seeks trade deals with the USA, China, Arab dictatorships, Asian tigers and Latin American governments such as that in Brazil.  Such an outcome is described in this way – “The British people have taken the first step towards economic independence by rejecting control by EU capital. The next step is for us to do the same with the native capitalist class.”

Since much of international trade is within a single multinational company, or involves materials or components for further assembly, it is difficult to understand how leaving the EU would lead to independence, never mind the question why you would want such independence in the first place.  It’s not at all clear how leaving the EU is analogous to the British ‘people’ leaving its capitalist class – or having ‘economic independence’ from it.

But it’s not just the faulty imagery of the Brexit project peddled by its Tory sponsors that infects the CPI’s support.  In an effort to bolster its case the Party repeats exactly the same arguments.

So, the ignorant fiction of Jacob Rees-Mogg is repeated in the claim that “under the World Trade Organization’s General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (article XXIV:5, clause 3), Britain will be allowed to have free trade with the EU for ten years while it negotiates a new trade deal . . .”

Brexit, it seems, will mean freedom but it’s a good thing it won’t happen right away.  A modern version perhaps of St Augustine’s prayer – “O God make me pure, But not yet’

This is a claim repeatedly exposed as mistaken, so it is not therefore “all utter nonsense”, as the CPI claim it is, to say that trade barriers will arise when the UK leaves the EU.  The nonsense that exists is the claim of the ERG, repeated by the Communist Party, ironically in an article entitled ‘Brexit: Fact or Fiction?’.

The Party claims that “the open borders for trade within the EU are self-regulatory, in that all members comply with the regulations, and there are no tariffs. If Britain wants to deal with the EU after Brexit it will have to do the same; so there is no need for queues at borders, whether “hard” or “soft.  There will be random checks . . . If British companies are found to be outside the regulations they will be dealt with by the legal system.”

It seems as if the CPI supporters of Brexit feel the need to justify support for Brexit in a concrete way that others such as People before Profit and the Socialist Party do not, although this only exposes their case.

The borders within the EU are not “self-regulatory”, whatever that means, as the CPI itself surreptitiously admits when it states that regulations must be complied with – by members.  But after Brexit Britain will not be a member and compliance works because of thousands of pages of regulations and a legal system that imposes them; a system Brexit supporters are desperate to leave but think will allow Britain to continue to trade as other EU states do.  It is admitted that there will be ‘random’ checks’, but only as they exist now, despite Britain not being a member.  And of course, all this in the version of Brexit sought by the Tory ultras and the CPI, which is of the ‘plain and simple’ kind – i.e. involving no customs union!

So while Boris Johnson wants to have his cake and eat it, it appears the CPI wants the whole bakery while destroying it. The irony of wanting out of the EU because of such things as the customs union, Single Market and EU court system, while relying on these to save the project from disaster must be lost on members of the Party.

It’s not that the CPI is totally blind to the potential consequences of the Tory inspired Brexit but it seeks to disassociate itself from any responsibility for it by simultaneously claiming that while it will makes things worse it will not be very much different:

“If Brexit occurs according to their design and under Conservative Party governance, Britain will remain a largely low-wage country but with a diminishing social wage and a constantly receding welfare safety net—in other words, not greatly different from Britain within the EU”

The Party also recognises that in their fight against the EU they have been joined by viciously right wing parties across Europe and that “the beneficiaries of this growing disillusionment have been the political right,” but again there is no reflection on what this says about their support for the project.

The Party‘s support does however illustrate the alarming similarities between their left nationalism and the nationalism of the right. Both seek to destroy the EU, not in order to replace it with something progressive at an international level, and not in the sense that they seek to reform it in some way.  Their solution is to return to the nation state, and a strong state at that.  There are reports in Britain that such an alliance of convenience might already be sewing confusion.

The CPI has learned nothing from the collapse of the Stalinist states and the disrepute these brought to socialism in the eyes of millions of workers around the world.  It expresses regret at “the defeat and overthrow of socialism in Europe” and ignores the Stalinist regimes’ responsibility for incubating the xenophobic nationalism, racism and anti-Semitism that characterise many of the states in Eastern Europe that lived under this ‘socialism’.

Calling itself Marxist the Party ignores Marx and Engels repeated opposition to the identification of state ownership with working class rule and socialism.  The Party’s goals are not workers unity across nations, working class independence and opposition to their own capitalist states, but support for regression from the international capitalist development of the EU to more backward and therefore necessarily reactionary forms – “a departure from the EU could provide the opportunity to break both dependencies and establish an independent, sovereign national democracy, giving real power and influence to working people.”

The CPI supports Brexit that threatens a ‘hard’ border while it states that “the labour movement needs now to be actively supporting north-south co-operation, the all-Ireland economy, and the protection of the Belfast Agreement”.

It denies ‘retreating to the past’ but its policy is just that – “we need to push real, concrete demands for all-Ireland solutions to health, education and economic and social development, an all-Ireland investment and industrial strategy that favours working people, and targeted capital investment that meets the needs of our people, not the needs of speculators and profit-hungry corporations. This requires national control of capital, something that is totally illegal at present under EU rules.”

Again and again nationalism replaces class: so we have national control of capital not workers ownership; while we must defend the nation state which alone is presented as the road to real change and the depository of “democracy” and “accountability”. The demand is for “national sovereignty and national democracy.”  Not workers democracy and workers sovereignty. This sort of sovereignty is not only not the same but is incompatible with the sovereignty of the capitalist nation state and goes way beyond the democracy that this state will allow.

The Irish working class will be free and sovereign only as a part of the freedom and sovereignty of its sisters and brothers in the rest of Europe.  Not only is national sovereignty the wrong objective to fight for it is impossible, even for the biggest powers,  to claim unchallenged and unimpeded national sovereignty.  It is certainly ridiculous to consider such an idea for a small country like Ireland – the EU is currently teaching this to a much more powerful country.

Brexit is currently an object lesson that exposes the reactionary nature of seeking national solutions to the problems facing the working class.  The confusion and shambles of the current British exit from the EU is not what invalidates it, but is only symptomatic of the contradictions that an attempt to go backwards must expose.

To state, as does the CPI, that for a humane and socialist world “our contribution, as a small country, to this sought-after development must be to create a sovereign workers’ republic—a republic free from British, EU and US imperialism and supportive of progressive humanity wherever it struggles for the good of all” is to believe in the impossible. A sovereign Irish Workers Republic cannot exist while “British, EU and US imperialism” exist.  That’s one reason why the genuine solution is an international one.

The members of the CPI may not be able to conceive what such a solution would look like but that is because they haven’t looked.  Old formulations based on militant nationalism or republicanism laced with leftist phrases are familiar but have failed. The left nationalism of the CPI is reactionary and harks after a past that is dead.  Brexit is teaching this for those who are willing to learn.  If the past is another country, for Ireland’s workers that country is Britain. No wonder they don’t want to follow it.

The Communist Party of Ireland and Brexit 1

In common with every left defence of Brexit, the Communist Party of Ireland (CPI) states that its starting point is “a class understanding . . . does it strengthen and advance the interests of labour (workers) or consolidate and advance the power and control of capital (bosses)?”

Unfortunately, the author then also states that “Brexit is at its heart a question of democracy and sovereignty”, and in relation to these there is no ‘class understanding’ involved.  The article quoted (see below) demonstrates that it does not consider that democracy has a class character, or that the the sovereignty invoked is the sovereignty of a state, and this too has a class character.

So the CPI doesn’t start from the sovereignty and democracy of the working class – the independence and self-determination of the working class – and so does not start from defence of its interests and explain what these might be.  What the CPI starts from is the independence of a nation, or rather two separate nations – Ireland and Britain – to presumably be followed by every other nation state within the EU.

Class becomes submerged under the requirements of individual nation states, i.e. capitalist states, and only within these is real change, in particular by working people, possible– “The strategy of the EU was and is to close down at the national level the capacity of people, in particular working people, to effect real change. It was to neutralise the capacity and the impact of national class struggle, to hollow out democracy . . .”  The idea that the working class must seek to organise itself at an international level to struggle internationally does not appear.

In the case of Ireland this means that it is not only the working class that is made subservient to a European imperialism but also that “The Irish ruling class is still subservient, still parasitic and dependent upon its relationship with imperialism. It is a comprador ruling elite.  The relationship between this state and the EU—as indeed with all the peripheral states—is a special form of neo-colonialism. We see this in the debt imposed on the peripheral states by the core states—all former colonial powers—and in the imposition of various “programmes” to facilitate the transfer of wealth from peripheral to core countries.”

The concrete reality that the Irish State and its rulers have benefited from membership of the EU is covered up while austerity programmes initiated and implemented by individual member states are ignored.  The transfer of wealth is considered primarily, as transfers between nations and not between classes.  For example the implementation of the EU’s Troika programme of austerity in the Irish Sate was preceded and followed by austerity imposed by and through the Irish State.  To proclaim that the answer to fighting the former is to fight for the ‘freedom’ and ‘sovereignty’ of the latter is a betrayal of the interests of the Irish working class and by extension of all those across Europe whose interest lies in their unity against both.

Because it does not start with “a class understanding” the CPI asks the wrong question – “Who needs to win back powers and establish national sovereignty and national democracy? We have to ask the question, Which class needs the tools of national democracy and sovereignty to advance their interests? And which class is subservient to and will collaborate with the EU and imperialism? . . . Are not national democracy and national sovereignty the essential tools needed for advancing the interests of the Irish working class?”

In this way the cause of nationalism is identified with the cause of the working class and the nation (capitalist) state is the instrument of its salvation through “a radical government anchored in a mobilised, politicised working class”

I have written a number of posts (beginning here) on the fallacy of this as a strategy for the Irish working class in relation to its adoption by those who consider themselves Trotskyist, including most recently the Socialist Party, although at least in the current case the CPI are being true to their political tradition.

The tools required by the working class are not the sovereignty of the capitalist state or the democracy that this state will allow to it, except in so far as the democratic norms that exist allow it to organise. The proper tools are the unity, independence and organisation of the working class against the capitalist state, at a national level as well as in opposition to their collaboration at the international level.

The members of the CPI should consider why so many of the Party’s claims and reasoning for Brexit require distortions of reality and arguments derived from Tory-ultras.  Even their most simple- minded vacuous rhetoric finds its CPI equivalent. Where Theresa May justified her most extreme version of Brexit as ‘Brexit means Brexit’, so does the CPI state that “It should not be assuming that Britain is going to remain in the customs union with an agreed backstop, thereby reneging on the result of the referendum, which was that Britain would leave the EU—not “kind of” leave it, partially leave it, or “sort of” leave it. It was a British exit from the EU. Plain and simple.”

So for the CPI Brexit means Brexit, “plain and simple”.  And no matter how complicated it has turned out to be the CPI, like the Tory Brexit ultras, make the same declarations, such as this one (in February of this year) even while the reality of exiting the EU shows it to be neither “plain” nor “simple.”

The CPI, also like the Tory ultras and the DUP, blames the EU for threatening a hard border inside Ireland.  Having opposed the EU-proposed backstop, again like the Tory Brexiteers, that is intended to prevent a hard border, it argues that it is the EU which will cause it to happen – “We must remember who’s doing the threatening. It is not Britain’s border, or Ireland’s border: it is the EU’s border. It is up to the EU to sort out this problem in the interest of its members, in other words Ireland, the only member affected by it.”

The idea that the border of the EU in Ireland affects only the Irish State and not the rest of the EU demonstrates such an ignorance of the issue at stake that it is hard to work out what it is this writer actually does understand.  In any case, once again we see left supporters of Brexit survey its potential wreckage and call on its great enemy to sort out the mess.  This approach is like that of the Socialist Party (SP). In an internal SP discussion their position is stated like this – “We say that whatever way the different capitalist vested interests resolve their business dispute, it must be done without any physical or repressive borders.”

In one contribution to the internal discussion a leading member of the SP correctly describes this position in this way:

“This far too passive and abstract position has been repeatedly echoed and emphasised in oral discussion along the lines of “You [the capitalists] deal with this yourselves. We’re not going to accept any division.” It accepts that the capitalist classes are in power and simply says they must implement Brexit without physical borders. What it doesn’t say is how this real problem would be addressed by a left government with a socialist programme.”

As I have pointed out in an earlier post, there is no immediate or short term prospect of a left Government, even if this was the correct strategic objective to go for, so the question becomes – how is the wreckage of Brexit to be addressed in a political programme?  The obvious answer of course is to prevent it.

The CPI states that “The vote to leave had nothing to do with xenophobia and everything to do with the damage the EU has done to British industry and jobs”, despite the evidence of opinion polls to the contrary.  We are expected to believe that the Leave vote had nothing to do with xenophobia despite it being supported by the vast majority of Tory voters, all of UKIP’s supporters and the far-right, including the fascists.

The loss of British industry and jobs is supposedly to be resisted through Brexit and making new free trade deals with the rest of the world, to where much of old British industry has relocated; while newer industries often dependent on membership of the EU – such as the car industry in Sunderland – are to be defended by leaving it!

It’s one of those occasions where you sigh that you couldn’t make it up, when referring to someone who just has. But then the CPI does it again!

It criticises the Irish Government for “siding with the EU against Britain, which also happens to be our largest trading partner, and against the decision made by its citizens to leave the EU”.  And it says this while supporting a British exit from the EU, which happens to be Britain’s largest trading partner!

So the CPI claims that “The EU is doing to Britain exactly what it did to Ireland during the financial crash”, “the EU and its anti-democratic nature has once again proved itself to be an enemy of independent, sovereign decision-making”, and “the EU has to be seen to punish Britain for leaving.”  We are reminded that “the Irish people today are caught in the triple lock of imperialist interests: British, European, and American.”  Britain appears as both oppressed and oppressor, as imperialist and subject to imperialism,although it’s never explained how, in the CPI’s terms, this is the case.

For the CPI, with Brexit, “at least the North will be shaking off the shackles of EU imperialism. One down, two to go: British and American next!”  Imperialism is not seen as a world-wide system, within which there is a unity characterised by capitalist competition and rivalry, but is understood as a series individual states, or groups of states, which oppress other nations.  The world is divided into nations and not classes, which only attain some sort of rhetorical primacy when they exist within individual, ‘independent’ states.  There is no conception of an international workers or socialist struggle, but at most a solidarity of struggles based not on some tangible and immediate interest but on moral grounds or more distant goals.

Note: In this and following posts the quotes from the statements of the CPI can be found here:

https://socialistvoice.ie/2017/10/brexit-who-decides/

https://socialistvoice.ie/2018/10/the-irish-left-and-the-european-union/

https://socialistvoice.ie/2018/11/brexit-and-backstops-difficulties-for-the-eu-continue-to-intensify/

https://socialistvoice.ie/2019/01/brexit-and-the-divisions-within-the-british-ruling-class/

https://socialistvoice.ie/2019/02/brexit-fact-or-fiction/

 

Brexit and the politics of ‘dead Russians’

I’ve written a number of posts criticising the support for Brexit by some left organisations but these haven’t addressed the original political inspiration for this support.

Brexit is a nationalist project, which is obvious when the likes of UKIP or the right wing of the Tory Party declare their support for it.  However, this is also true of its supporters on the left

‘Lexit’ is simply a left version of Brexit nationalism and left or right, it is nationalism which defines both types of support.  In effect, it doesn’t matter whether the intentions of these leftists are good, or they get one thing right – that the EU is a creation of international capitalism – the left supporters of Brexit have rallied behind a reactionary cause.

So, for example, it is not just the case that left supporters of Brexit were drowned out during the referendum by the more obviously reactionary campaigns; the argument of these people was invisible because it was fundamentally no different from that of the mainstream Leavers.   Both assumed the need to defend the predominant role of the nation state against the internationalisation of the economy and society, including its political form in the shape of the EU.

This can be seen in the many parallels between the arguments of the right-wing supporters of Brexit and its left echoes. Again and again the arguments presented by both, such as they are, are fundamentally the same, as we will see in a later post.  Both denounce the lack of accountability in the EU and compare it unfavourably with the democratic character of member states.  Then we’re told that it’s simply choice between the two.  A simple choice – with a straightforward outcome.

If anyone doubts the similarity, confirmation can be found in the fact that these left nationalists voted for the Tory-UKIP Brexit.  Whatever differences were inside their head never escaped it, even in order to abstain, never mind vote against.

Nothing has changed since the vote. These left nationalists have since failed to offer any alternative to the obvious shambles that has resulted from the decision they helped to make. Where are the left-wing pro-Brexit demonstrations? Where are all the meetings to welcome the great leap forward and discuss next steps?  Why is the left not marching in its own contingent from Sunderland to London as I write this blog?

If there’s a special place in hell for those who promoted Brexit without a plan, the supporters of Lexit have their own particular space already booked.  They are more invisible now than they were before the vote, in some cases attempting to hide behind the patently absurd pretence that what they voted for is not now really that important.

This, for example, is the argument of the most significant supporters of Brexit, which is wrapped around the leadership of the British Labour Party, whose alternative version of Brexit to Theresa May’s is not fundamentally different to her Withdrawal Agreement, including the ‘red lines’ she was forced to abandon.

These include inside the EU customs union while Britain can still negotiate its own trade deals, and participation in the Single Market but without acceptance of its most progressive feature – the free movement of people within the EU.  And the biggest lie of the lot – that you can have a ‘jobs Brexit’ and the left social democratic plans of a new Labour government can go ahead unaffected.

Unfortunately we do have the spectacle of a ‘left’ Labour leadership opposing the free movement of people.  If some supporters of Lexit were forced to sit at a typewriter and type ‘we must oppose the free movement of people’ endlessly, like a Jack Nicholson character in ‘The Shining,’ it would not be surprise if they still failed to register just how utterly reactionary this is.

Strip away the stock left phrases and the argument of the left supporters of Brexit is essentially the same as that of its right-wing custodians. Some cases are more obvious than others.  The example of the Communist Party of Ireland is one of the more obvious, which should not be a surprise, and this will be covered in the next two posts.

This is because it is Stalinism, the nationalist distortion of socialism and Marxism, that is the real political inspiration for left support for Brexit.  It turns out, as if it should really be any surprise, that the old debates by ‘dead Russians’ about the nature of socialism are neither obscure nor irrelevant.  And because they are not irrelevant, neither are the writings of Marx and Engels from whom those who defended the traditional internationalism of the socialist movement in these debates derived their ideas.

These writings include the ‘Communist Manifesto’ in which Marx enthusiastically acknowledges the development by capitalism of a world market, as the grounds upon which the working class created by this development could establish a new socialist society.  This development of capitalism created a new working class, which in turn created an industrial and political movement that was imbued with a confidence that they were on the side of history, a confidence that socialism was all but inevitable.

Do not fear the development of capitalism because it is creating its ‘grave diggers’.  Do not fear the dissolution of old barriers and restrictions, of old conventions and customs because these pave the way for a completely new set of human relationships.  Do not fear the socialisation of capital and the undermining of national divisions because on such processes an international class will be formed and an international movement of workers created.

Capitalism will again and again create a working class in its own image and the reflection that will stare back at it will be just as international in its politics and organisation. Giving birth to it will not be painless or easy, but then the creation of the new never is.  We should not however put ourselves in a position where the political right can point to us and ridicule us like Cameron did to Blair and say – ‘you used to be the future once’.

These views about the nature of socialism meant the movement looked forward not backwards and it is from these that it derived its confidence in its ultimate success, its hopes for the future and its positive programme of transformation. It is therefore not only from the defeats of the working class that the socialist movement lost this confidence, now long evaporated.  It will not come back for as long as the movement seeks only to retard capitalism, to limit it and tame it, or even to stymie it, strangle it or simply to smash it.

The left, as has been pointed out with glee by its opponents, has long been berated for being negative, for always knowing what it is against but not what it is for.  What it is for in a real sense, not empty phrases that are without content, without any practical or immediate application, or if they are real, are simply promises to return to a previous form of capitalism that failed to survive.

So the left is against austerity, against war, against inequality and discrimination.  But when it comes to positive answers the opposition to austerity turns out to involve expansion of the role of the capitalist state, its bureaucratic ownership of resources, and increased taxation of the rich, who unfortunately of course must stay rich in order to guarantee the revenues that feed this form of ‘socialism’.

Opposition to war involves pacifist illusions or support for those fighting imperialism no matter how reactionary they are, because they are ‘anti-imperialist’ – the ultimate end point of a programme defined by what you are against and not what you are for.

Opposition to inequality and discrimination meanwhile has for some now degenerated into identity politics where this negative identification of difference is primary and the grounds for any unity based on common interest is excluded by definition.

And within all this, support for Brexit fits in perfectly – opposition to the international development of capitalism but default support for increasingly outmoded and reactionary capitalist economic and political forms.  All the better for the attempt to recreate the old Keynesian accommodation with national capitalism.

The majority of workers sense what Brexit means, even if they do not have the political consciousness to understand it in the terms presented here.  They understand the backwardness of little England nationalism; they understand the growth or racism and xenophobia as true and authentic reflections of Brexit, and they understand that Brexit means turning their backs on the world in order to subordinate their hopes to narrow-minded nationalist myths.

EU flags fly in Remain demonstrations because the EU is the only political embodiment of a wider international vision they support and want to develop.  The international socialist movement on the other hand has long since submerged into nationalist islands that stand up for the interest of Irish workers, or British workers, or Scottish workers, or workers of the ‘global south’ – for the concerns of any group of workers except their true interest which can ultimately only be defined without national limitation or qualification.

Only in form can socialism be fought for within national terms, and even here this must be less and less the case in order for socialism to advance.  The existence of the EU is a reminder of such a requirement, which is why those who insist on national roads to socialism are unable to deal with it.

And because this purely negative opposition is without any positive content, the left supporters of Brexit are deaf, dumb and blind to the consequences of the no deal Brexit their position requires them to support – for they can hardly support a deal with the hated EU that the whole purpose of Brexit is to destroy.  Again and again the consequences of their decision is attributed to someone else – the Tories, the EU or just capitalism in general.

Key to this degeneration of the socialist movement was the defeat of the revolutionary wave that followed the First World War, itself a reflection of the continued vigour of capitalism, and especially the defeat of the Russian revolution.  From this defeat grew the ugly and deformed phenomenon of Stalinism and the nationalist distortion that was defined as socialism in one country and individual ‘national roads’ to socialism.

This is the history, and these are the conceptions, that lie behind left support for Brexit.  The appearance of a new generation of political consciousness, not necessarily only of young people, provides an opportunity to renew socialism on the internationalist grounds on which it once stood.  The last thing it needs is the dead hand of Stalinism suffocating it with defeated strategies and the promise of a future ‘socialism’, which oppressed millions of workers and which was decisively rejected by them when they got the chance.

This is therefore the importance of rejecting the left nationalism that stands behind support for Brexit and the Stalinism that has inspired it.

The Socialist Party and Brexit 3 – Brexit borders and workers’ unity

The Socialist Party has stated that “the unity of working class people is our over-riding priority and we oppose any moves which tend to weaken that unity.”  This post is about the extent to which this is evident in the party’s support for Brexit.

Unity of the working class is not a bad place to start, although in the context of the EU this should mean concern about the unity of workers across Europe.  However, it is in relation to the unity of Ireland’s workers that the Party shows most concern, and then mostly in relation to unity within the North.

The Party points to the potential for increased sectarian tension and division, particularly arising from the possibility of a harder border between North and South or a new one of sorts between Northern Ireland and Britain.

The requirement for a new border arises inevitably from the departure of the UK from the EU and from its Customs Union and Single Market.  The only way to avoid one would be to maintain membership of both and if this were the case it has been correctly argued that there would appear to be no reason to leave the EU in the first place.

Certainly, Socialist Party opposition to the Single Market means that there has to be a border somewhere. To claim otherwise is not only untrue but places the Party alongside the most extreme Tory Brexiteers and DUP, who currently make this absurd claim.  It is therefore not at all true that “any hardening of borders is unnecessary.”  In so far as the Party considers that its opposition to the EU is more fundamental than other supporters of Brexit, the necessity for a border is stronger.

The Party claims that “the Socialist Party will always oppose any deal which is agreed in the interests of capitalism.”  But since any conceivable deal will be in the interests of capitalism this amounts to opposition to any possible deal.  How could the Party expect the hated EU to negotiate any other sort of deal? Even a Corbyn led Government would not seek to negotiate a deal that went beyond the interests of capitalism.

The Party would then be compelled to oppose any Brexit deal, except of course where there was no deal to oppose.  But since no deal is the worst form of Brexit from the point of view of creating borders, not only has the Party’s support for Brexit created the border problem, its opposition to any conceivable deal also pushes it to oppose any deal that would reduce its scope and impact.

The Party is thus led to advocate the cause of the problem it seeks to oppose without any reasonable policy that would prevent or mitigate it.

The Socialist Party notes that “Northern Ireland voted against withdrawing from Europe in the 2016 referendum by 56% to 44%. There was a clear difference in attitudes between Catholics and Protestants: Catholics voted overwhelmingly to stay by a proportion of 85% to 15% while Protestants voted to leave by a proportion of 60% to 40%.”

The Party also notes that “many Catholics, in particular the young, voted for the EU because for them it represents their outward-looking and internationalist approach to the world. This is a positive impulse, shared by many of the young Protestants who voted remain.”

On the other hand, it notes that many Protestants oppose “any East-West border, no matter how minor, [which] has come to represent a threat to the union between Northern Ireland and Britain.”  This opposition is compared to unionist reaction to the Anglo-Irish Agreement in 1985 and to the “widespread disorder that broke out when a mere emblem of the “Britishness” of Northern Ireland – the union flag over the City Hall in Belfast – was removed.”  Since the latter was clearly a reactionary mobilisation in defence of a symbol of sectarian supremacy it is not explained why such opposition should be conciliated instead of resisted.

The Party believes that “if there is a perception in the coming months and years that the British identity of Northern Ireland is being diminished street protests and street violence cannot be ruled out”, and also seems to believe that this is a legitimate obstacle to be accommodated rather than opposed.  In relation to this, the Party is currently involved in a debate on identity politics, but this capitulation to a form of the most reactionary identity politics should form part of its debate.

The Party has noted that “many Catholics, in particular the young, voted for the EU because for them it represents their outward-looking and internationalist approach to the world. This is a positive impulse, shared by many of the young Protestants who voted remain.”

It would seem obvious then that one basis on which working class unity could be advanced would be to build upon this common view of Brexit, and the positive impulses that have arisen among young Protestants and Catholics.  This certainly looks an infinitely more promising route than trying to build on a Brexit-supporting opposition based on sectarian identity, which has found previous expression in sectarian flag-waving.

Of course, support for Brexit blinds the Socialist Party to this possibility, and even if it didn’t, the Party could not contribute to advancing this potential because it believes that these young people are wrong.  But how does it think it will unite workers on the basis of Brexit?  This is the key question the Party has to answer but it has not even asked.

The Socialist Party and Brexit 2 – part of the programme?

Following economic recession the second possible consequence of Brexit predicted by the Socialist Party is increased division and instability in the North.

Increased division on the island is of course inevitable, since that is the purpose of Brexit – to exit the arrangements that entail the existing unity of the European Union that includes the whole island.  On exit the UK will become a ‘third country’ and the only question is the degree of separation.

Given that left supporters of Brexit see the rules of the Single Market and Customs Union as so harmful to the interests of the working class it must be expected that the sort of Brexit they seek involves a high degree of separation and therefore a meaningful and significant border.

It  doesn’t matter that left supporters of Brexit blame the EU for this – the Socialist Party says that “after a hard Brexit the logic of the workings of the EU is that a hard border would have to be put in place” – the result is the same.  The Party states that “a Labour government should seek to re-open negotiations and demand an entirely different relationship with the EU, based on the interests of working-class people, not the 1%.”

One has to ask however – why would the EU, if it is the irreformable neoliberal construction that is claimed, strike an agreement in the interests of the working class, whatever that might be?  If it were possible there would seem to be little reason to leave in the first place.   Why not use membership to effect such changes for the whole EU instead?

But this is not the perspective of the Socialist Party, which is wedded to a very particular scenario of the way forward, which is “the necessity of a left government having to carry through a rupture with capitalism and adopting a socialist programme.” This “rupture” with capitalism is to be achieved through the “democratic public ownership of the key sectors of the economy”; i.e. through nationalisation supported by the mass activity of the working class.  This must be carried out by each state separately as nationalisation is by definition the action of an individual state.

This essentially nationalist approach to socialism lies behind the Party’s support for Brexit.  At the immediate level this perspective takes shape in the following expected results:

“Socialists in Ireland would welcome the return of a Labour government in Britain. If such a government were to adopt a position of socialist opposition to the EU this would transform the situation. Corbyn should speak over the heads of the Commission, reaching out to working class people across Europe in rejecting neo-liberal rules, calling for co-ordinated action for Green Energy on a Europe wide basis, and popularising a socialist vision of Europe. A left Labour government would be able to call on workers throughout the continent to fight the ‘race to the bottom’ in their own countries and mobilise against attempts by their own governments or the EU to pursue punitive measures against other workers whether in Britain or elsewhere.”

Why a left movement in Britain would be more powerful in reaching out to the rest of Europe’s workers by leaving the EU, instead of remaining and seeking unity of the workers’ movement across Europe, is unexplained.  But this is precisely what supporters of Brexit would need to demonstrate – why an exit was necessary and why it would be more successful in achieving wider European unity. How would leaving assist “co-ordinated action for Green Energy on a Europe wide basis” for example?

Unity of Europe’s workers, through its trade unions, works councils, political parties and workers’ cooperatives is possible but it is made easier by being within a common EU framework, in which Europe’s capitalist classes are seeking their own form of unity.  Only from a perspective in which the rupture with capitalism must first come from national governments in each individual capitalist state is it possible to simply assume without argument that international workers’ unity must follow this and not be immanent from the start.

So at an abstract level the Socialist Party maintains its international socialist credentials by considering such unity only as an end result after almost all the problems have previously been solved:

“Socialists are in favour of a genuinely united Europe. This will only be possible when the socialist transformation of society allows the coming together of nations of Europe in a democratic, European-wide confederation.”

The Party considers its approach to be consistent with the approach of the transitional programme as codified by Leon Trotsky.  This can be stated rather briefly as a programme fought for by a revolutionary party that starts from today’s objective conditions and from the existing level of consciousness of the working class.  It demonstrates through the demands raised in today’s struggles the necessity to take ever more radical measures that culminate in the working class seeing the need for, and being organised to achieve, socialist revolution.

This is the transition that the programme is meant to achieve, as opposed to demands that simply reform aspects of capitalism but do not fundamentally change it, and the maximum programme which demands this fundamental change through demands for socialism and socialist revolution.

There are lots of issues bundled within such a view, and lots of Trotskyists who would hotly dispute that the Socialist Party’s version is consistent with Trotsky’s programme, but that is not what I want to discuss here.  Rather it is to question how support for Brexit can possibly be seen as being part of any transitional approach.  I have written many posts on why I think socialists should oppose Brexit so the purpose here is a much narrower one and is confined to the role that supporting Brexit plays in the Socialist Party’s politics.

The first problem in the Party’s support for Brexit is that it then either abstains or is confused on just what this policy entails.  So it says that:

“We say that whatever way the different capitalist vested interests resolve their business dispute, it must be done without any physical or repressive borders.”

So having voted for a Brexit, to be determined by a reactionary Tory Government and EU bureaucracy, the Party leaves it for these capitalist interests to decide what it means, to ‘resolve’ the issues (within certain limits).  How does this engage the working class in seeking to impose its own solutions?

The view that a Corbyn led Government could simply re-negotiate all the bad neo-liberal rules away and leave the same market access is even more delusional than the Boris Johnson idea that Great Britain can get Johnny foreigner to allow it to have cake and eat it.  Does the Socialist Party really think Jeremy Corbyn could negotiate away the bad bits of the Single Market and customs union for the whole EU, or even just for the UK? And if it was just for the UK, would this not mean that there wasn’t really a Single Market? And if only for the UK, what then for the rest of Europe’s workers, including the Irish?

Would those Irish workers not within the UK have to await its own left government, one that is not on the horizon, before it too would attempt to copy any Corbyn success? Or would it not make a lot more sense for a left Labour government in the UK to fight within the EU alongside allies across the continent, including in the Irish State?

Since we don’t have a left Labour Government in Britain or the short-term prospect of one in Ireland, what is the policy that the workers movement should fight for right now to make Brexit a ‘good’ Brexit, or does silence on this indicate that one does not exist?

So, the first problem is that the Socialist Party has advocated a policy of Brexit for which it has no concrete idea how to give any progressive content.

In an instinctive reaction against their own sterility members of the Party have made a virtue out of their impotence and argued that no positive policies should be put forward in this situation, but instead only negative demands:

“Deliberately not putting forward positive demands, or advocating a particular arrangement post-Brexit, has been correct, and broadly remains correct however. There are issues on which it is not for the worker’s movement to come forward with solutions which address the concerns of the ruling class, and in the main this is one such.”

But of course, a content will be given to Brexit and it will be a wholly reactionary one, and it is really not good enough to vote for a reactionary policy, saying it is progressive and a step forward, and then be unable to build positive demands out of it and arising from it.

The final illustration that the policy of Brexit has no place in any socialist programme is that the Socialist Party is totally silent on the most obvious of questions.  If Brexit is the right policy for the British working class, indeed for all the workers of the EU, why does the Party not follow up on the ‘success’ in Britain and call for the Irish State to leave the EU as well?

It would appear no one in the Party wants to do this, but it is not because they all believe it is wrong. Instead they have saddled themselves with a policy that they dare not proclaim. Every argument defending Brexit and every claim that it is necessary is but another demonstration of the dishonesty of the Party to workers that it proclaims require its leadership – because it is not actually asking the workers to follow it.  It is not leading but hiding.

Once again, the political impotence of the policy is so clear that it cannot be replicated: the nationalist nature of it imposes its own logic regardless of the left illusions of its supporters.  There is no transitional content whatsoever.

Brexit has thus exposed fundamental flaws in the state-socialist programme of the Party, a programme which identifies socialism with state ownership and the route to working class power with governmental office.  Since the state is a nation state this almost inevitably involves conceiving of socialism, and the road to it, in national terms.  And so the Party gets it totally wrong when it comes to key international questions such as the European Union and Brexit.

In the final post I will look at the national question and how the Party’s policy on Brexit fails the challenge of uniting Ireland’s workers.