Brexit and Ireland part 1 – the Irish Left

irexitI have just read that various police forces in Britain have taken steps to prepare for a spike in racist and ‘hate’ crimes once Article 50 is triggered in March.  It is also correctly predicted that the course of the negotiations will present numerous opportunities for nationalists and racists to turn the failure of these negotiations to deliver on their fantasies into attacks on foreigners.  What the Tories will do verbally in attacking the EU it can be safely assumed that nationalist street thugs will do with their fists.

The reactionary outcome of the Brexit referendum is so obvious that it is simply grotesque and monstrously stupid that those sections of the left who supported Brexit still see it as progressive.  How dim or blinded by political dogma does one have to be not to see the link between the rise in racist attacks and the encouragement given to racists by the Brexit result?

The reactionary consequences of Brexit are glaringly obvious yet the process is being touted by it supporters in Britain as the way forward for the left in the rest of Europe.  The reactionary dreamers of a long lost imperial glory want to go back to the past while left supporters of Brexit imagine that a massive step back to the past will somehow represent a great leap forward into the future.  One of the few difference between the former and the latter is that the former makes more sense!

The European left have the luxury of watching the British events from one remove, but it is not the only advantage that they have.  Having witnessed the dire outcomes of Brexit they should stand firmly against their own states seeking the nationalist short cut to a non-solution though exiting the EU.  They too, just like British workers, must be alert to any weakening and diminution of their rights arising from the Brexit negotiations.  Of course, were Brexit the progressive outcome claimed by some we should expect a boost to workers’ rights from the negotiations, but the ridiculousness of such a thought only exposes the idea as incredible.

This is particularly the case for Irish workers whose state has the strongest links to Britain and could be most immediately and directly affected.  Yet even in Ireland the same left supporters of Brexit trot out the same ignorant arguments in favour of the decision; despite the increased xenophobia, despite the increased racist attacks, despite the massive shift to the right in the agenda of the Tory government, and opposite incoherence of the Corbyn-led Labour Party.  Despite all the evidence that the consequences have been reactionary the Brexit-supporting left has learned nothing.

The basis for their support for Brexit is the same mistaken arguments of their co-thinkers in Britain. Thus, they say that “the EU is run in the interest of Europe’s bosses and bankers.”  It is “deeply undemocratic, anti-worker, racist and regressive.”  Yep, mostly very true, just like the Irish State itself, which is the alternative to the EU that they put forward.  The nation state that doesn’t even include all of the nation is the alternative to the increased unity of the various states which determine the EU’s policy.  Apparently this is because although the EU cannot be reformed, the Irish State can.

In fact the Irish left must be applauded for making their illusions in nationalism so clear – that their opposition to the EU is based on their belief that the various capitalist nation states can be reformed and become the route to socialism.  The task across Europe is “to bring Left governments to power which will nationalise industry, while the EU would only be “a fetter on a future left-wing government.”

Capitalist state ownership and its political power is presented as socialism without an inkling that socialism is the power of the working class, which it is the capitalist state’s function to suppress and repress.  This complete misunderstanding of what socialism is about means that there is no conception of how it can arise from the current system.

It is correctly recognised that the EU is an attempt to “overcome the limitations of the nation state, to allow the free flow of capital and labour so as to maximise profits as well as forming a more powerful geo-political bloc.  The withdrawal of one of its major economies represents a profound blow to these ambitions.”

This apparently is what makes Brexit progressive.  It’s as if the objective of socialism is to restrict the free flow of capital and to frustrate the maximisation of profits.  It is probably news to these socialists that this is not the objective of socialism.

Capitalism presents its own barriers to the free flow of capital and the maximisation of profit, and which are expressions of the contradictions of capitalism pointed out by Karl Marx 150 years ago.  The point of socialism is to resolve these contradictions through the birth of a new system, not to intensify capitalist contradictions as an objective in itself.

On the other hand, it is an objective of socialism to support “the free flow of labour” and it is the objective of socialism to “overcome the limitations of the nation state”.  In fact, one objection to capitalism is that it has so far proved unable to do this.  Socialists do not seek to go back to the nation state but forward beyond it based on the steps that capitalism has already taken.  The first is called freedom of movement, an elementary democratic right and vital to workers’ unity, and the second is called socialist internationalism, the idea of which the Brexit left seems totally innocent.

Finally, this Brexit-Irexit left want to land a profound blow against “forming a more powerful geo-political bloc” by forming a Lilliputian bloc of one.

This left proclaims that it voted for Brexit “not because we have anything in common with the nationalism and xenophobia of the likes of UKIP” but because the EU is neo-liberal etc.  But this is obviously untrue.  The proposed Brexit referendum was sufficiently to their liking that they voted for it, called on everyone else to vote for it, still support even now and call for other countries to emulate it.  Nothing in common?  Is all this just a coincidence then?

What they both have in common is a nationalist conception of politics that is centred on the professed progressive potential of the nation state.  Both seek national independence as a prerequisite for progress and state intervention as the key to it. Totally the opposite of the socialist view that unity across nations is the key for workers and the nation state an obstacle to this.

Even in terms of the specific role of increased state spending, the views of this left are not so far from some of the proposals for increased spending presented by those other nationalists Trump and le Pen.  The tide of reactionary nationalism that these two and the Brexiteers represent threatens trade wars justified by rabid jingoistic rhetoric and sabre rattling.  The world has been here before in the twentieth century.  Giving a left gloss on this growth of reactionary nationalism by tail-ending it is a massive mistake, only reduced in effect by the relatively small forces advocating it.

The Brexit-supporting left is oblivious to their own role in the growth of this nationalist politics.  It minimises the xenophobic and racist content of the Brexit referendum by claiming that the Remain campaign was also anti-immigrant, ignoring the difference in degree and importance of such ideas on each side.  How quickly the murder of a Labour MP by a nationalist fanatic is forgotten!  How likely was this to have arisen from a supporter of the Remain campaign?

This left doesn’t even believe its own excuses – acknowledging that “the majority of ‘Remain’ voters did so for very positive reasons – in opposition to the xenophobia and inward-looking nationalism of the forces which dominated the official ‘Leave’ campaign, expressing a desire for unity across national borders.”  A desire expressed in freedom of movement within the EU, a freedom ignored completely in the series of analyses reviewed for this post.

All this exposes the hollowness of proclaimed opposition to rising anti-immigrant prejudices, prejudices fuelled by the decision they supported and still support.  Political positions have a logic outwith the sincerest of intentions – it’s commonly called the road to hell being paved with good intentions.  But even here the articles can’t help skirt with prejudice by talking of the “strain” caused by immigration and “the real concerns over the effects of immigration.”

This left presents frankly delusional claims that Brexit has been good for the working class – “opportunities are posed for the working class to organise and assert their interests” and “the working class can now more easily shape the course of events than it could within the glass prison of the EU.”

But in the real world the increase in racist attacks continues and reactionary nationalist rhetoric intensifies.  The Tories threaten to create a low-wage, low tax and deregulated free market paradise off the coast of Europe – a threat to British workers and to all of Europe’s workers – not an opportunity.

Most directly and immediately it is a threat to Irish workers.  After all, who else occupies the low tax, low regulation, super-business friendly niche that the Tories threaten to move into more obviously than the Irish?  My goodness, we even speak the same language.  Of course, the Irish State is inside the EU, which is a great attraction to US multinationals, but this does not help trade barriers for Irish-owned industry buying or selling into Britain, when Britain leaves the EU.  So, what better solution than for the Irish state to leave the EU as well?  After all, this fits the Trump agenda into the bargain.  Just a pity that this particular nationalist agenda also presents its own threats to the Irish ‘model’ of development.

Whatever way you look at it the nationalist agenda espoused by the Brexit-loving Irish left doesn’t offer any solutions to Irish workers.  But then, the Brexit left knows this itself:

“The bosses in Ireland will attempt to go on the offensive against the pay and conditions of workers in an attempt to make Irish exports more “competitive”, in the context of Sterling devaluing against the Euro. In short it is workers in Ireland, both public and private sector, who will be hit by the economic fallout of Brexit. Already the ESRI have talked of wage cuts taking place of between 4-5% for up to 60,000 workers. There have also been reports that the government may seek to attack the pay of public sector workers.”

So “it is workers in Ireland . . . who will be hit by the economic fallout of Brexit”.  But sure, wouldn’t it grand all the same?

Forward to part 2

10 thoughts on “Brexit and Ireland part 1 – the Irish Left

  1. I find the original post a basic restatement of Marxism on basic issues. What is most surprising and perhaps depressing is that iit s now necessary. Whilst one could forgive the Brexit lefties their arguments before the vote, the whole point of Marxism is to re-examine theory in the light of experience, something as the author points out they have been loathe to do. Dr Frankenstein denies all knowledge of the monster. Brexit, like Trump has unleashed a wave of reaction. But there is a basic point mentioned here, that Marxists do not seek to retrocede but rather start off from basic bourgeois demands. Demands that do not even meet the basic criteria of democratic bourgeois demands have no place in the discussion amongst Marxists.

  2. I have made these points before but I will make them again. You still have not told is what the EU is, what it is was in the past and what it is becoming. You keep making the point that capitalism is over or nearly over its nation-State period. This is what Lenin and Trotsky were saying in 1920. Why has there been so many new national States established in the mean time? Even within the last 20 years numerous nation-States have been added to the growing European list, 5,6, or 7 depending on how you see it, cut out of the defunct Socialist Republic of Yugoslavia. This is not to mention the ones that broke away from the Soviet sphere. The proposition that capitalism has outgrown the national-State seems rather over drawn given the frequency by which new nations keep being added.

    When I sat down to write an essay on the EU, the problem I had was in defining what in fact it was. It is not a nation-state, it is not a confederation State like the USA or Germany, it is not a State yet it acts like it is a Government, yet it is not a Government, for it is not elected to be a Government. There is a Council of Ministers that acts like it is a temporary Government but not a State. It seems to be a system of Laws to assist business, here it is again exceptional because the laws are in the form of an ever expanding Treaty (remember Lisbon Treaty). Yet government via Treaty is not necessarily good for business, it is much too inflexible to be good for the ever changing needs of business, it is almost impossible now to change the Treaty. Recently the EU acquired a new Central Bank, is this were the new EU is really located?

    Recently I picked up a book about the EU by Perry Anderson, called The New Old World, he starts out with the same problem as I do, he asks what is the EU ? The book is long, some 550 pages, on his first page he says the EU seems like an’ impossible object’, the ‘structure is so novel, and in many respects so imposing, that the term Europe as currently used often refers to the EU, as if the two were interchangeable. But of course they are not.’ At no point have you tried to do what Perry did, clear up what the EU is, how has it changed, and how you see it changing in the near future, you just take the EU for granted, it just sits there in your argument like the rock of Gibraltar. Are you maintaining that the EU Institutions are progressive because they facilitate the development of capitalism? If this is your main point then this is debatable, it looks that way for Ireland but what of one of its founder members Italy, the economy there has barely grown by 1 percent per year over the last twenty years, some put this down to the single currency, and it has sky high youth unemployment that is as good as permanent. So the argument could be made taking Italy as the example, in the first two decades the EU facilitated the development of capitalism, but in the last two decades it has acted as a stronger fetter. I think that just about every economist agrees with the point that GB was prudent to stay out of the single currency, it is about the only thing they praise Gordon Brown for.

    I have to say that when it comes down to it, your main argument seems to be is a moral one, basically you are are in favour of something you call INTERNATIONALISM, yet humanitarians and cosmopolitan are also in favour of INTERNATIONALISM , only they sometimes use the ethic as the excuse to meddle in the internal affairs of unstable countries, like the humanitarian bombers who report for the channel four news outfit. Your version is called proletarian Internationalism, you take this to be the true Marxist principle, however you know that it is not a principle in the moral sense, if it is a principle it is a practical one based in a requirement for workers solidarity. Yet you also maintain that there is no workers solidarity within countries as it stands, you say the workers of Ireland have little or no class consciousness with each other never mind with workers in other countries, so in the end your Internationalism is no more than a rhetoric of good intention. I am not saying that rhetoric is a bad thing in itself, just to quote John Major it butters few parsnips. The other point you make about the Right of free movement is well taken, however within the EU you are not allowed to be in favour or against it taken by itself, it is one of the FOUR FREEDOMS, if you want it you keep it you have to take the other three, not much of a choice then. Maybe some of those those who have fallen out of love with the EU, not so much want their nation back but just want the freedom of self-determination!

    PS: Have written some stuff on Nietzsche and politics let me know if you want to read it.

    • If I understand your point correctly you are saying that unless I can give a definition of the EU, to whatever standards of exactness you deem necessary, the grounds on which I have opposed Brexit are inadequate or just plain wrong.  Even if this were the case this would be a long way short of justifying Brexit, which you have supported and which you fail again to demonstrate how it can in any way be progressive.  Having supported it you now absolve yourself of the responsibility of defending its consequences.

      I have made a number of observations on the nature of the EU but I don’t believe that attempting to refine these into a more precise definition would in any way change my judgment on Brexit.  The Irish Left that I criticise in the post starts from a definition of the EU which is correct – the EU is a neoliberal body imposing austerity – but I demonstrate above, and in other posts before, that such a definition is so incomplete as to be misleading. In order for workers and socialists to determine how they should relate to the EU and to Brexit they need more than a simple definition of the EU but an understanding of how capitalism develops, how the EU is an expression of this development and on what basis a working class alternative can arise from it.

      I continually repeat this point in my posts but you want to limit any understanding of how to approach the question of Brexit to an isolated definition.  It suits this Left to determine its actions by simple definitions because it understands its own politics in such terms.  With such definitions, it is easier to pin labels progressive or reactionary on things, which in this case are just bigger words for good and bad – precisely the moralistic approach you accuse me of.

      You claim my main argument is a moral one because I am in favour of something called internationalism, or proletarian internationalism as you then correctly identify it, so then also having to admit that it is not really a moral stance.  Instead the moralistic content of my argument apparently rests on the view I am supposed to have that the Irish working class does not having any class consciousness so any political position based on it is one built on nothing except moralistic hope.

      The Irish working class does have weak class consciousness, as its political history amply demonstrates, but it does exist. In any event, the case for unity of Europe’s workers hardly rests only on any one of its parts. Again, as I have repeated a number of times, the unity of the working class will arise out of the unity created by capitalism itself, which will naturally be constructed purposively for the benefits of its system but will equally inevitably involve creation of a working class, and upon this the grounds for constructing a labour movement. This process is obviously not one of mere intention, good or bad, and so is not one of mere rhetoric.

      This process, like the four freedoms on which you remark, will inevitably have is positive and negative sides involving its own contradictions; the sort of process not given easily to the simple definitions deployed by the Brexit left. The comments to a previous post brilliantly explain this process.

      As to whether those who have fallen out of love of the EU want some sort of self-determination, I don’t know what this means. What has been clear is that involved in it has been a ramping up of nationalism and racism and stupid self-delusion on the Left.

      • A few more points. Yes I think a description not a definition of the EU is a prerequisite. A definition is only useful when it can act as a name for something that does not change. I make the point that the EU has changed a lot over some 60 years, and is set to change again. In Britain the referendum debate was conducted on the basis of not saying much about what the EU is about and may be changing into. The most that was said was it was heading for a Federal State, and that was something to be feared. One reason why the British ruling class might fear this is that it would mean a reduction in their own power at home, another reason might be that a Federal European Union would become a danger because it would increase the future political hegemony of Germany. My own subjective opinion is that the reason why the Tory party has decided not to fight the Brexit vote is that they do not wish to fall under a greater German hegemony when the EU takes its next step.

        On the economics of the EU, the economist Mark Blythe points out that the policies of the German government tend to predominant because it is by far the most important economy, also it advantages German industry to trade under a currency about 20 per cent lower than it would given the record. Germany has an almost permanent export surplus as big as China, and the USA government complains about China and keeps silent about Germany. Mark Blythe, author of Austerity the history of an Idea, has many videos on youtube about the economics of the EU. I tend to agree with his verdict that the Eurozone is very good for Germany and the countries that go to make up its supply chains but terrible for those that are not so closely tied to Germany.

        Yes I voted for Brexit, not as a Marxist. In formal terms, if I was following the logic of Marxism I should not have voted at all, this was the position of some of the other Trotsky affiliated groups, there is no more orthodox Trotsky group than the International Committee (world socialist website) they called on the working class to boycott the vote on the grounds that to vote stay was as reactionary as to vote leave. I believe that this was the correct Trotsky inspired call. But as I said I did vote, but as an Irish nationalist. I voted on the basis of a calculation of the local NI conditions.

        In my subjective reasoning, the Brexit vote will have detrimental repercussions for Sinn Fein, it will unsettle their position as custodians of the Stormont Agreement. When the border checkpoints go up a lot of nationalists will start to think that they have just stepped back in time. Remember that forgotten figure John Hume, the real intellectual hero of the Irish peace settlement, well his strong argument always was that the co-equal position of the south and the north within the EU was making the political quarrel over the question of Irish unity historically redundant. Move on he said, the world has changed. This was mostly a tactical ruse, but it made sense to many people, exhausted by conflict. It does not surprise me that both nationalist parties are fighting the election on a plea for special status for NI within the EU. Retaining EU membership has been of some importance to the bedding down into permanence of the Good Friday Agreement. This pleasant avenue for local politics is being shut down, and I welcome it. So I voted for a very local political reason, not as an orthodox Marxist and not as a Britisher. That does not stop me from studying the other more objective reasons for Brexit. I take no responsibility for what the Lexit people do or say in Britain, that’s their problem.

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