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.