Jeremy Corbyn and Article 50 – part 1

gettyimages-628009410-e1485368657171-640x481In an interview last November Jeremey Corbyn was reported to have set out his “bottom lines”, without which he would vote against Article 50, which included access to the 500 million customers of the single market; no watering down of employee rights, currently guaranteed by EU law; consumer and environmental safeguards and pledges on the Government making up any shortfalls of EU investment.

However in January he said that “Britain can be better off after Brexit.  “Only a Labour government, determined to reshape the economy so that it works for all, in every part of the country, can make Brexit work for Britain.”

As he went on to say: “as far as Labour is concerned, the referendum result delivered a clear message.  First, that Britain must leave the EU and bring control of our democracy and our economy closer to home.  Second, that people would get the resources they were promised to rebuild the NHS.  Third, that people have had their fill of an economic system and an establishment that works only for the few, not for the many.  And finally, that their concerns about immigration policy would be addressed.”

“Labour accepts those challenges that you, the voters, gave us.  Unlike the Tories, Labour will insist on a Brexit that works not just for City interests but in the interests of us all.”

“We will push to maintain full access to the European single market to protect living standards and jobs.”

“Labour is not wedded to freedom of movement for EU citizens as a point of principle, but I don’t want that to be misinterpreted, nor do we rule it out.”

Meanwhile John McDonnell stated that Labour will help deliver a “sensible British compromise” over Brexit, but also said that Labour would not back a “kamikaze” departure from the EU which hit the economy.

Shadow Brexit minister Keir Starmer then claimed a partial victory for Labour in the aftermath of Theresa May’s big speech on Brexit saying that the government had “accepted” many of the Opposition’s proposals, was heading away from a “hard Brexit” and that May will “fall far short of the hard Brexit that many businesses and trade unions have feared”.

This is straight after May admitted the UK couldn’t remain inside the Single Market and limit freedom of movement at the same time, instead proposing uncertain ideas of staying inside some of the customs union and hinting at special deals for certain industries.  Unfortunately the World Trade Organisation rules on such deals would mean that if the EU agreed them with the UK it would have to agree such deals with other countries as well.  We are expected to believe that the UK will succeed in getting the EU to agree a deal not only to its benefit but potentially to the benefit of a host of other countries as well.

May’s speech came days after the chancellor Philip Hammond delivered a threat to EU nations that Britain could cut its corporate tax rates yet again as part of its post-Brexit restructuring.  But as the Tories are doing this anyway we should be clear among all the confusion that Tory threats of a low-tax, low-regulation bargain-basement polity is not a policy consequent on failure to agree a good Brexit deal but will be a consequence of any Brexit deal.

Outside the EU lies tortuous negotiations with those paragons of all things fair, the Chinese State, and the consistently fair-minded, dispassionate and unprejudiced Donald Trump, who has promised to take personal charge of a trade deal with the UK.  May’s grovelling to one Japanese car company; her swift retreat on second thoughts on buying a ridiculously expensive and unproven nuclear power plant partly from the Chinese; and her assault backwards up the alimentary canal of Donald Trump, even pre-empting the Irish in the process, all testify to what “taking back control’ means for the newly to-be-isolated British State.  What both Trump and May now openly share are threats to the EU, even though Britain states its desire for its success.

So what are we to make of Jeremy Corbyn’s current position – that you can have a good Brexit that is good for workers?

As I posted a while ago – there isn’t a progressive Brexit, not on offer and not remotely possible.  Only the national reformist conceptions of the old Labour Party Left can sustain illusions that there is.  That, and the nonsense of some people who call themselves Marxist who supported and still support something called Lexit.  These left organisations, which had the project of replacing New Labour with their very own version of Old Labour, have also adopted wholesale the nationalist illusions of this old left.

Supporters of Lexit will claim that Lexit is not Brexit; that they voted against the EU for other reasons and/or that what they voted for is not exactly what they wanted – they wanted not capitalist unity in the EU but workers’ unity outside it.  But of course what they voted for was what was on offer – capitalist separation – because that was the only conceivable result of their vote being successful.  Their reasons for voting for it are neither here nor there.  If what they and the rest of us now face were sufficiently different from what they say they wanted then they would now be campaigning to stop Brexit, recanting their previous view and with an admission that they had made a mistake.  But they’re not doing any of these things, so what we all face must be sufficiently close to what they consider they voted for them not to oppose it now.

In comparison Jeremy Corbyn stands on a more progressive platform since there is still some, albeit very unclear and very indefinite, claim that he will oppose a Brexit that is bad for workers at some time in the future if that is necessary, but not now.  Or I think that’s his position.

It isn’t very clear what it is, or what could possibly take precedence and transcend his support for triggering Article 50 on the grounds that the “will of the people” should not be obstructed.  Under what circumstances will the Labour Party oppose the disaster for workers that is Brexit and with what arguments that don’t apply just as forcibly now?

Of course it has been the case that the choice between British capitalism seeking an isolated role in the world or as part of the EU is not one socialists would seek.  But we have enough accumulated knowledge of how to progress the interest of the working class and socialism not to get the answer wrong.

The second problem however is that we were defeated and defeat always imposes a cost.  We should of course seek to minimise this cost but more importantly we should seek to continue the struggle on the new, unfortunately more unfavourable, terrain.  For the Labour Party the problem is posed to them by the fact that an estimated 65% of Labour voters backed remaining in the EU while roughly two-thirds of the constituencies with Labour MPs in place voted to leave.  For a Party wedded to electoralism this creates an obvious dilemma while for socialists the need to take a longer-term view means the opportunist and unprincipled, even blinkered, approach that appears to be determined by purely short-term electoral considerations must be rejected.

The third problem was aptly posed on this blog – the defeat has been a long time coming and rests on long standing weaknesses that exist because of the incapacity and unwillingness of the labour movement to oppose British nationalism.  For Labour this has led to collapse in Scotland as a different nationalism has fed off the ideas that British nationalism and all nationalisms take for granted and usurped its leading role.  In England and Wales British/English nationalism also hurt the Labour Party where it had not had to confront it before, including the failure to tackle the worst excesses of this nationalism in the form of anti-immigrant prejudice and racism.

The media reports that despite the obvious confused incompetence of the Tories they are far ahead in the polls and that many Remainers have reluctantly become reconciled to Brexit.  Some strong Remainers believe there is no case for fighting Brexit and that for the Labour Party to try to do so would be utterly disastrous.  But this is a mistake and one that will have greater consequences the longer we refuse to take up a fight that should have been taken up long ago.  In some ways Brexit provides better ground to take up this fight against nationalism and racism than before.  Why give up when it hasn’t happened yet?

Forward to part 2

The decay of Stormont and Sinn Fein

martin-mcguinness-resigns-2_-lewisWhen a dreadfully ill-looking Martin McGuinness appeared on television to announce his resignation as Deputy First Minister he perfectly personified the alarming state of Sinn Fein strategy.  Whatever about the nature of his illness there is nothing secret about the utter failure of the latter  The repeated response of Sinn Fein to republican critics that these detractors had no strategy to bring about their goals has itself been exposed, as their own policy has become a self-declared failure.

The resignation letter of McGuinness put a poor gloss on a hasty decision that was forced on the party and which it dearly sought to avoid.  Recent actions betrayed a desperation to save its position in the Stormont regime and thereby the regime itself.  It opposed a public inquiry into a scandalous Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) Scheme, designed to protect the climate by giving participants £160 for every £100 they spent on burning wooden pellets.  Unlike the British scheme no limit was set on how much was to be spent on the incentive to burn as much as one could.  It was indefensible and in any other liberal democracy, such as Northern Ireland pretends to be, it would have led to a resignation.

Sinn Fein opposed a vote of no confidence in the First Minister Arlene Foster, responsible for the scheme, explicitly stating it was because it wished to save the Stormont institutions.  It also opposed a public inquiry into the scheme because it knew that the Democratic Unionist Party would not wear it.  It hoped instead that a call for Foster to merely step aside for a few weeks, while some fig-leaf of an investigation did the needful in calming the political waters, would be agreeable.  However, the DUP advanced the age-old ‘not an inch’ approach of unionism to reject its request for the pathetic.

To rub salt into the wounds, just before Christmas the DUP Culture Minister withdrew the small bursary scheme, costing only £50,000, for children to attend the Gaeltacht to learn Irish.  The widespread suspicion that millions were being given to well-connected DUP supporters through the RHI scheme sat beside the vindictive insult to Irish language enthusiasts who are overwhelmingly Catholic.

McGuinness has accused the DUP of arrogance, to which it might be tempting to say that it takes one to know one, where the DUP not in a league of their own. Nevertheless, they made for a workable double act for 10 years and the DUP has not recently changed its spots.

The personal arrogance or otherwise of Arlene Foster (she hardly hides it) confuted the media-attempted creation of yet another new ‘moderate’ Unionist leader and is hardly the point.  Expecting a Unionist leader to show humility ignores the laager supremacist ideology with which unionism is inseparably entwined, summed up in its primitive slogans of ‘not an inch’, ‘this we will maintain’, ‘we can do no other’, ‘no surrender’ and ‘we are the people’, all testament to an utterly reactionary movement.

Sinn Fein sat for ten years promising and not delivering, promising equality while delivering sectarian division; promising to oppose austerity while imposing it; promising opposition to welfare reform while handing powers to Westminster to ensure it was implemented, and within the last year promising a ‘Fresh Start’ and a ‘united Executive’, which produced the old, stale smell of bigotry and bitter animosity.

It failed and its complaint about the failure of the Good Friday Agreement is its own failure – the DUP are not complaining about any such failure.  So sewn up has Sinn Fein been that when McGuinness resigned over the RHI scheme the DUP straight away cynically announced its support for a judicial inquiry, leaving Sinn Fein as the only party not to support one.

It promises no return to the status quo following the resignation.  But how is it going to convince anyone that it can go back into office with the DUP and deliver anything different from the last decade of failure?

We should be clear.  It was not RHI that forced Sinn Fein out.  As we have seen it was prepared to give the DUP a way out.  It has known about this scandal for a year and did nothing.  It put up with unionist arrogance and sectarianism for 10 years on the basis that it too had its own sectarian spoils to dispense.  It hasn’t all of a sudden become remorseful at broken promises: once it abandoned armed struggle against the British state the Provisionals had no principles left.

McGuinness resigned because Sinn Fein’s humiliation was so comprehensive its base were leaving it – through increased Catholic abstention and grumblings even from the membership.  The election of two People before Profit candidates in West Belfast and Derry was a warning that it could face an alternative.  DUP arrogance was a factor to the extent that it knew its predicament wasn’t going to change – Foster and the DUP were openly flouting the rules that both parties were deemed to be equal and could only act together.

Some will see these events as proof that the Northern State is irreformable.  McGuinness’s statement was careful to include the British in the cast of those to blame.  A local Stormont regime steeped in sectarianism has never been unpalatable for the British and Sinn Fein is not now presenting them as the necessary factor in making unionism more amenable to equality of sectarian division.  The final proof of the irreformability of the Northern State, in the sense of its inherent sectarian nature, is that it is more than likely that any election will return the same two forces as the largest parties.

The Stormont regime provides evidence of the instability of a sectarian carve-up.  While almost all commentators and political parties have lamented the loss of credibility of the political settlement through the RHI scandal, this is its only progressive outcome.  Stormont is destroying itself.  What matters for socialists is that some steps are taken by workers to build an alternative.

Karl Marx’s alternative to capitalism – part 13 Mandel vs Warren

neoliberalismnCertain aspects of the debate between Mandel and Warren obviously reflect the period in which it occurred, particularly post-war social democracy, Keynesianism and the accepted role of the state in economic policy.  Some of this would appear to have been misunderstood as simply due to the power of the working class in defining the priorities of society; as opposed to the socialisation of capital and production noted by Marx as a developmental law of capitalism, with an increased role for the capitalist state in this process.  In this development the priorities being asserted were primarily those of capital and capitalism.

The period commonly called neoliberalism has demonstrated both that the working class does not shape economic and social policy through the capitalist state but against it, and that even when it has been unable to assert its interests as much as previously, the welfare state may have reduced and become more strict and punitive but it has not been abolished.

The economic role of the state despite the rhetoric has continued to be large and no one now should be confused that this somehow signals the presence in its operation of the predominance of social priorities set by the working class.  All this should be apparent from the experience of the last 50 or so years, at least with hindsight, although the renewed appearance of a Labour Party left demonstrates the need to learn these lessons again.

This period has also demonstrated that the need for capitalist profitability conflicts with the social needs of working people and that Mandel is surely correct that there are limits to the extent which the latter can be accommodated within the former without instability and explosive conflict.

While both Mandel and Warren are keen to emphasise the political nature of the means by which capitalism will transition to capitalism – class struggle and revolution in the case of Mandel and class struggle and reform, particularly of the state (within limits set by capitalism) in the case of Warren – both appear to take for granted that the productive forces and relations of production have laid the grounds for their particular approach.

Except however that Warren does integrate the development of the productive forces into his analysis of the development of socialism out of capitalism better than Mandel, for whom they are simply a precondition already achieved.  Warren envisages their further development, which has been the case since he wrote, but suggests a means by which this can be the growth of the socialist alternative within the capitalist system.

He argues that socialism will not be the result of a revolution, which must provide its own grounds for success, but from the working class developing itself and its role, to be the leading class in society based on the growth of the productive forces.  Mandel is correct that ultimately working class direction of these forces is not compatible with capitalism, the working class cannot be hegemonic within capitalism, but Warren is correct that the working class needs to develop its social and political power in advance of a political contest for state power.  How far this might go is not predetermined even if its limits are.

Warren is wrong to have seen the developing role of the state as reflecting the increasing role of the working class and its priorities within capitalism but not wrong to see that the latter could take place.  The working class must seek to take a greater and greater conscious role in directing society, within capitalism, firstly by creating and directing its own organisations – its trade unions and political parties.  Its imposition of reforms upon the capitalist state is entirely secondary.

But it should also seek to direct the forces of production themselves through worker-owned cooperatives.  In this way it begins to challenge the capital-labour relationship even if only, as Marx says, to be its own exploiter.  In doing so it becomes its own boss, it raises the horizon of cooperation outside the cooperative enterprise as well as within it – in other words a cooperative economy, and it raises the need for a state that can defend, extend and advance workers ownership, a workers’ state that really does reflect working class priorities.

Otherwise the desire to control society upon which a socialist revolution is predicated is presumed to arise from a pure inability to have any control whatsoever; from disempowerment and failure of capitalism.  But the failure of capitalism to do what?  To deliver the goods in terms of standard of living?  But both Mandel and Warren agreed that this will not be the case, at least not in terms of immiserating the working class.

The case for workers’ cooperatives, as also with trade unions, is not reduced but can actually be strengthened during periods of capitalist prosperity.  Their possibility is not reliant for credibility or purpose purely on capitalist crises, which, Marx noted, are not permanent.  The growth of such cooperative production thus does indeed place the working class in a position to more and more become the leading, hegemonic class in society, even if this must be consummated by capturing political power, an objective to be fought for by a mass working class party.

Of course, it is extremely unlikely that either the capitalist class or its state will facilitate or allow the development of workers’ ownership and of a cooperative sector within the economy that would grow to such scale that it determines the overall dynamic of society’s productive forces and its productive relations; that simply needs completion by creation of a new workers’ state for there to be a new working class mode of production, one that is the direct road to socialism.  But such capitalist opposition is testament to the objective role of the growth of cooperative production in digging the grave of capitalist production.

In all this however it is clear that it is the development of political consciousness that is key.  Only through its development will workers become active makers of their own future, seeking greater and greater control over their lives and thus greater and greater control of society.

break-glass

Marxists believe that it is material conditions that generate consciousness and the purpose of the last number of posts in this series has been to argue that it is not at all clear that conditions of crisis can generate socialist consciousness.  They have not done so in Ireland and some of the first posts on this blog were a record of how previous capitalist crises generated reactionary solutions.  The growth of xenophobic and racist solutions today are testament to this.

Back to part 12