In my last post on Brexit I argued that if the Labour Party seeks to implement Brexit, or facilitate it in any form, it will suffer severe consequences. These will result not only from the effects of Brexit but also from failure to offer leadership to those opposed to it. Last month’s demonstration in London of perhaps 700,000 people indicated the potential such a movement has.
Left supporters of Brexit damned its composition and the presence of Liberals, right wing Labour figures and the odd Tory, who were all in attendance. As I pointed out in a discussion on Facebook – had we witnessed 700,000 demonstrating for Brexit the Left supporters of Brexit would really have had something to complain about. There is zero chance that a demonstration in favour of Brexit of such size could be anything other than thoroughly reactionary and worryingly threatening to everything that the working class movement has stood for.
Yet we still read nonsense from the supporters of Lexit, who maintain their position by failing to engage with reality. At least Jeremy Corbyn and the British Labour Party opposed Brexit. The supporters of Lexit have no such excuse.
The stupidity of their position is no more obvious than in relation to the sticking point of the Brexit negotiations – the claim that there can be Brexit and no hard border in Ireland. Theresa May has claimed that the UK can leave the EU and its Single Market and yet maintain the current frictionless arrangements. But this is impossible, and she is running out of time to either reverse her position on the Single Market or dump us into a no deal.
In the first eventuality there would be no strong reason to seek an exit from the EU in the first place, and in the second scenario there will be what’s called a ‘hard’ border. The supporters of Lexit in Ireland, People before Profit, have announced that they are “ready to oppose a hard border” and “will advocate mass civil disobedience against the imposition of a hard border . . .”
So just what form should or would this civil disobedience take? And how would it be more than just a token protest and actually be effective?
Will, for example, PbP seek to persuade lorry drivers to refuse to submit papers on the border that validate their imported or exported load? Will they picket workplaces of hauliers, ports, factories and warehouses telling the workers not to process export or import paperwork? Will this be done both North and South for those exporting and importing into the North?
Will PbP tell Environmental Health Officers and other border control officials to ignore any changes to regulations and continue to enforce current food and phytosanitary standards etc? Does their support for Lexit entail opposition to these EU standards or to new ones? Or is all this just so irrelevant to their thinking that they have ignored these issues?
What about all the loads that don’t get sent because the companies aren’t prepared for the bureaucracy required to trade across a hard border: the knowledge of regulations, how to implement them and demonstrate compliance with them? What form of civil disobedience will take place here? Or will they magic up a slogan – workers’ control of Single Market regulatory compliance? And since People before Profit are opposed to the EU, will this workers control involve refusal to process regulations under Single Market rules or refusal to implement changes?
But maybe it will ignore the everyday reality of what Brexit entails and just have a political campaign around the Single Market? But since only this can ensure a continuation of the current border arrangements, is People before Profit proposing to campaign in favour of the Single Market or against it?
Or perhaps they want their cake and eat it as well. Get out of the EU but keep all the benefits. Or simply ignore reality and persist with meaningless protest politics which are incapable of addressing the questions raised? For example, how will civil disobedience address the inflation caused by the devaluation of the currency? How will it make up for the fall in investment, or drop in tax receipts as a result of reduced growth, or the recession that will be brought about by the disruption to trade? Have they got proposals that will boost trade with India, China and the “third world”’ or is it not really their place to say?
Will they picket airports and tell pilots that, in the event of a no deal, they should take off and fly to Paris, Malaga and Faro even though they and their aircraft will not have been approved by the EU to fly over its airspace and land at its airports? Is it telling people not to worry and book their two weeks in the sun next year anyway because civil disobedience will sort it all out?
To ask these and a thousand other questions that arise from supporting Brexit show how detached from reality PbP is – protest politics against reality that shows reality more effective in protesting against its politics.
Once again, some on the Left appear incapable of learning that its ‘principled’ politics are no substitute for a real, concrete alternative, i.e. one that makes sense in the real world.
In previous posts I have argued that the objective of seeking to leave the EU and supporting Brexit is not a route to the unity of the working class. This argument is at the level of principle and programme. I have also argued that the practical effects of Brexit are contrary and hostile to the working class’s most immediate interests.
In this post it is clear that even if we start from the Lexiteers own demands, they have no idea how to make them effective; no idea how they could be made to work; and in fact, it is not at all obvious what it is they would be seeking to make effective. Outside immediate socialist revolution they make no sense whatever, and probably even less sense within one.
But that’s what you get if you vote for Brexit, which, by definition, means the erection of new borders, and then you complain that a new border might be created!
PbP want a way out of the contradiction they have walked into by appealing to the Fine Gael led Government – “If a deal is agreed between London and the EU that includes measures like a hard border, the Irish government must veto it. Should a ‘no-deal Brexit’ occur, then Varadkar should clearly state that his government will not implement any measures that would lead to hard border.”
But this just shows that PbP has failed to learn anything from its mistaken support for Brexit and is demanding that the Southern State also leave the EU! And even here, in this statement, there is not the slightest recognition that this is what it is doing, never mind an open argument why this would be a good thing to do.
Once again there is a failure to think things through, to think concretely about what exactly, in practice, its political positions mean, what in the real world are the implications. Because failure by the Southern State to implement the Single Market endangers that market and fundamental rules of the European Union,. There is not even the demand that the rules should be changed – just ignored! In everyday language this is, as they say, just asking for it.
PbP claims that “neither side in the Brexit debate has the interests of working class people at heart, and we refuse to be bullied into backing one or the other.” But that of course is exactly what People before Profit did. It voted for Brexit. And the vacuity of its attempts to deal with the consequences show that they really didn’t know what they were doing and that now, having bought it, they don’t know what to do with it.
But, as the Left is known for saying quite often, it is not the case that there is no alternative – there is. It may involve a shift in the political method of PbP but this should be eased by the fact that changing its mind will lead it away from its current exposed position.
Opposing Brexit entails no support for the EU, or its policies, and involves no renunciation of political principle. It recognises that the unity of the international working class rests on the international development of capitalism and that the creation of a socialist alternative will be based on this development and not on its retrogression. Socialism is a move forward to the future, not back to the past and a national road to socialism. The political tendency behind PbP used to know this.
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There are several issues raised by your article some of them not easy to pontificate about. The conclusion you make is both true and not true, this is the case because you have an intellectual habit of stating propositions in sentences made up of several clauses. You say that the development of the working class and a potential for socialism is ultimately based on the international development of capitalism. This is something Marx, Lenin and Trotsky could hardly disagree with, so what you say is true. However the same men also knew that the international development of capitalism and therefore the potential for socialism is accompanied by what used to be referred to under the ambiguous term “Imperialism”. The problem with the term imperialism is that it sometimes is used as a descriptive noun alone, but is can also said to be something more, in fact a semi developed theory about the relationship between States that are all capitalist by a certain economic standard yet are different by some other standard. The difference used to identified under the label colonial and neo-colonial. Thus the descriptor imperialism complicates the idea that socialism follows neatly on the basis of the international development of capitalism and the numerical growth of the working class, thus the factor of imperialism somewhat goes against the grain of you conclusion.
The factor that has been missing from all of your Brexit material is the absence of a concrete analysis
of Imperialism. You refer us back to the debate of the 1970s that took place within the pages of the New Left Review.
When you point out that Brexit is reactionary you are walking on hard ground , by reactionary you mean an assertion of English nationalism melded with an economic prospect of Great Britain becoming a low tax and low wage economy after leaving the EU. The conventional ‘marxist” account of Great Britain is that it constitutes a declining capitalist and imperialist State, and Brexit would seem to confirm the worst side of this conventional analysis.
What then of the EU? This is the point when the 1970s debate becomes moot. The EU is a Process more than it is a Substance so it is not what is was back in 1974. Since Great Britain is thought to be a declining capitalist and Imperialist political power what does its EU membership say about the character of the rest of the set up? If Great Britain leaves the EU would this make the EU process more imperialist, or less imperialist or not imperialist at all? The fact of the matter is the EU is a process and a political hybrid, it is composed of historic imperialist States like France and Britain, not to mention Germany, and other States that are only low level imperialist States like Holland and then we have former colonies or neo colonies like Ireland that are now also bound up with it. In the old days people like E.Mandel used to speak about the EU as a rising imperialist rival to the USA, one of his books had that description in the title. My complaint about your analysis is that I find it difficult to know why political membership of the EU is thought to be more progressive than not being a member when the analysis is conducted under the more concrete title of Imperialism rather than under your more more forma designation the ‘ international development of capitalism.’ It is also an open question whether the EU really does progress the development of capitalism, look at Italy, it has almost zero economic growth in twenty years.
The quarrel between Brexit and Remain is also part of a wider quarrel within the capitalist class over economic strategy for the near future between those favouring a mercantilism leaning policy and those favouring the neo liberal or global free trade policy. This quarrel is not something new, it has been an ongoing quarrel within the capitalist class from the beginning, Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations was not primarily an attack on feudalism rather it was an attack on capitalist mercantilism. If you read the articles on the Austrian economic supporting web site the Von Mises Institute, you will find their contributors arguing against the existence of the EU in terms similar to some of the Brexit supporters, that the EU is essentially a Mercantile Arrangement that distorts free markets and free trade. The Austrians present the EU as a faltering customs union, they argue that customs unions always fail ie prevent the efficient operation of free markets. On the other side of the fence we have the ‘LEFT’ presenting the EU from the point of view of the Single Market, they rarely mention the Customs Union, and are quietly in favour of keeping it, the public in general can’t tell you what the difference is between a customs union and a single market. Because the EU is a hybrid sort of political process it is both a single market and a customs union. If you are inside the EU it looks like a free market, if you are on the outside it looks like a protection racket.
Speaking more on a more personal note I oppose the EU on the ground that it constitutes Imperialism at another level of ideal development, I call it ideal development because we are not able yet to know what it will finally be, it has not yet become substance, as I said we know it as process more than we know it as substance . Hegel once introduced himself by saying that the philosophers of old studies things from the point of you of substance and forgot about process that was their great error. At one level the process rises above that of a declining British or French Imperialism taken on their own low level of self organisation and national substance. Being on the high plain of imperialism does not make EU progressive in the true sense. It kind of reminds me of the difference between a colony and a neo colony. Ireland was once a colony then became a neo-colony but remained a subject of powers that could not be reasoned with. The banking crisis in Ireland proved to me the EU is not something that can be reasoned with.