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: