The article below was written just before Jeremy Corbyn decided to enter ‘stupidest politician of the year competition’. Having seen Labour punished in two elections for supporting Brexit he has decided to reaffirm this support and again put on a very long finger the prospect of a second referendum, this time even ruling out Remain as an option. In doing so showing as much contempt for democracy outside the Labour Party as he has shown for it inside, ignoring as he does the shift to a Remain majority.
Socialists should be clear that his position on the most vital question of the day is thoroughly reactionary. Most people can record this empirically through the leadership and support for Brexit coming from the right and far-right and through the growth of racism and general xenophobia that it has encouraged. Others have realised the damage it will do to the capitalist economy, also realising that such damage has nothing to do with creating a socialist alternative.
It is fundamentally reactionary because it seeks not to replace capitalism, as a reformist we would not expect that, but to make reforms to it through winding the clock back to a time when capitalism was essentially a national phenomenon, where there may have been a world market, but not world production. Brexit, in fact, implies such a disruption and narrowing of trade that it seeks even to retreat from the world market never mind the international division of labour.
It seeks not to replace the capitalist state, again as a reformist we would not expect that, but to make more perfect the capitalist state that exists, a more perfect national state, without the international features that arise from the internationalisation of trade and production. Worse, it is a belief that what international interaction that must exist can involve influencing international political arrangements but not being subject to any influences in return, which by necessity limit national policy making.
This is clearest in Corbyn’s idea that Britain can be in a customs union and wider trading arrangements within the EU, and have a say in its policy, but not be a member, with all the obligations this entails. It is also clear from his opposition to free movement of people and belief that socialism will come to Britain by its own state, and not by the actions of the working class, which cannot ultimately be defined or limited by nationality.
Brexit thus has to compress the productive forces that have spread across the world into a purely national framework that they long ago burst asunder, within a declining nation and its weakening economy. This project can therefore only fail and fail so badly that it will not get past the first engagement with the EU. Britain can no longer determine the terms of its interaction with the rest of the world, which is why it only makes sense from the right-wing reactionary point of view that somehow Britain is still or will become a world power again, or Empire 2.0 as it has been dubbed.
It is reactionary because it attempts to change the world by taking capitalism backwards, not build on its growth, development and achievements. Any such attempt, if it were successful, would produce the monstrosities of Stalinism that came into being during the twentieth century. But of course, it won’t even get that far. Even the attempt to go back to the national stage of capitalism championed by the reactionary right cannot succeed, because capitalism will not go backwards, unless it transforms itself/is transformed into something else entirely.
Socialism will be built upon the creations of capitalism and its highest developments, not its earliest and most primitive forms. Only a fully developed, educated and cultured working class can build a socialist society, which depends on it being an international class, and this in turn depends on the international development of capitalism itself. There is not, and cannot be, an international working class without an international capitalism from which it arises.
This is what is truly reactionary about any idea of socialism that seeks to retard capitalism and turn it back from its international development – it sets back and subverts the only possible source of socialism.
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“Let the people decide the country’s future, either in a general election or through a public vote on any deal agreed by parliament. For Labour any outcome has to work for our whole country, not just one side of this deliberately inflamed divide.”
So said Jeremy Corbyn after the disastrous European election results. It’s his version of Theresa May’s “nothing has changed” – the world changes dramatically, but their view of it is frozen.
Which isn’t necessarily a problem if your view of the world is correct, if it has understood the change and determined correctly the course of action. Theresa May’s “nothing has changed” came to reflect her inability to get a Brexit that fulfilled the impossible promises of Brexit with the only deal she could negotiate. She only said it once, but sometimes once is more than enough.
And now Jeremy Corbyn continues to proclaim that he wants an outcome that works for everyone – Leavers and Remainers – as thoroughly dishonest as Theresa May’s version because it’s Brexit with similar impossible promises as her’s. In his case, it’s a policy that opinion polls show must ignore the wider and stronger identification people have with Remain and Leave than with Labour and Tory, so that hoping to rely on the latter to over-ride the former just won’t work.
And we know it won’t work because we have had local elections and now European elections that reveal the collapse of the Tory and shredding of the Labour vote. But still we get the Corbyn meme that Labour policy must work for everyone. He fails to appreciate that Brexit is a policy for the (very) Few and not the Many. And that millions of Labour voters didn’t vote for the Party, or voted for the Liberal Democrats, Greens, Plaid Cymru and SNP. After all, they have a range on Remainer choices. Only a much smaller number voted for the Brexit Party, which shows the reactionary character of the policy Corbyn clings to
It is claimed that a general election will be different because the Tories will be offering a hard Brexit and Labour supporters will be compelled to vote against them. There are so many things wrong with this it’s hard to say what is the most important. A ‘Corbyn’ transformation based on no more than hatred of the Tories? A vote against a Tory no-deal Brexit which would mean supporting another Brexit prospectus based on the same impossible conditions that led to a withdrawal deal so pointless it led to support for no deal – in other words a vote for a Labour Brexit that has nowhere to go but the same dead end that May ended up in? And all those voters will be won back to gain a Labour majority when Labour is 5th in Scotland, third in Wales and down to 14%?
The Tories only need a new leader promising Brexit, with a bit more credibility, to have a hope of some recovery, and they’re electing one. And if they fall short it will not be because Labour has surged forward but because Farage has managed to carry forward his success into a general election. And how would this be a success?
Brexit will still be the issue in a general election.
It is also claimed that Labour’s message was confusing, but Corbyn’s policy of attempting to cover-up policy by process was supposed to be confusing. Except most people are not confused – they understandd perfectly well that his policy is to support Brexit. You can’t repeat “respect the referendum result”, put forward your own Brexit ‘plan’ and spend weeks negotiating with the Tories to get a joint Brexit without revealing that you support Brexit.
Now there is a debate raging about whether the Party should support a Peoples Vote. But the majority of Labour supporters of a ‘Peoples Vote’ only want it to stop Brexit. It’s not about a referendum – if Labour supported some version of Brexit to be approved by a referendum Corbyn would be politically as dead as a Monty Python parrot. On the other had, If the Labour Party had vigorously opposed Brexit the march of 1 million people would have been demanding a general election and a Labour Government. Instead it was led by Liberals who were allowed to come back from the dead and Chukka who is now irrelevant. The real leader of that demonstration was missing, so no wonder so many on it kept on walking into the polling booth and will continue to do so, ignoring him as he ignored them.
The increasingly delusional and rancid nature of Brexit statements by supporters on the left reveal the growing contradiction between its claims about the progressive character of Brexit and the more and more obvious reality. From being a necessary break from neoliberalism they went on to claim that it really wasn’t that important after all, to some now saying that Corbyn’s problem is that he isn’t Brexit enough. They seem utterly oblivious to the fact that this trajectory of supporting Brexit (without a clue as to how it could happen), to support for the most extreme version, is exactly the same as the right-wing leadership of the movement they are so obviously trailing behind.
A similar process is now underway inside the Party, with the Brexit supporters more and more exposed as their ‘confusion’ becomes less confusing and the disastrous results of their policy bears fruit. The latest article in ‘The Guardian’ is but one more example.
Inside it Ian Lavery, the Party chair, puts together an article less rancid than the Stalinist nonsense in ‘The Morning Star’ but every bit as delusional and misleading.
“Our duty is to heal rifts, not exacerbate them”, he starts, as he surveys the failure.
“Polls in the run-up to the European elections showed that voters did not understand Labour’s position on Brexit. Conference had voted to leave all options on the table to stop a destructive Tory Brexit and our position has been fairly straightforward.” So all options were on the table and this is straightforward?
We are told that “Labourlost voters in all directions and polling appears to show middle-class voters moving to the Lib Dems and Greens, with working-class people moving to the Brexit party.” A repeat of the nonsense that the working class voted Brexit and the middle class Remain – a middle class that is getting bigger by the day it would appear.
He claims that he “has opposed a so-called public vote, not least because parliament has no majority for it in principle and nobody has the faintest idea what we would actually put on the ballot,” although I think most Remain supporters would be able to help him with the wording.
“It does feel that a certain portion of “leftwing intellectuals” are sneering at ordinary people and piling on those trying to convey the feelings of hundreds of thousands of Labour voters. Perhaps, in reflecting on the results, we should consider the effect all of this has had.” So, it’s ‘not my fault guv’nor’ – it’s those intellectuals, who, like the middle class, seem to have developed extraordinary powers.
“We’d do well to remember that Labour is an internationalist party of social and economic justice”, says the advocate of the policy of national isolation – called ‘sovereignty’; restriction on freedom of movement and a British road to social democracy.
“We cannot win a general election by simply fighting for the biggest share of 48% and, while some polling data suggests more people left Labour for the Greens and the Lib Dems, it is equally concerning to see leakage to the Brexit”, says he who thinks the percentage of the Labour vote going to the Brexit Party is the same as that going to Remain parties.
It reminds me of the Paul Merton joke on ‘Have I got News for You’, who proclaimed concern for the ‘ho’s’ when Czechoslovakia split between the Czechs and Slovaks. His policy must presumably be to go for the 0% who don’t give a f***.
“The reason we are in this mess is because those in government who engineered the original referendum had no idea what to do if they lost” – as if it was the Tories responsibility not to shred the Labour vote.
“Polling expert Professor John Curtice has lambasted the People’s Vote campaign because of its failure to attract any significant support from the leave side of the argument”, he says, except when you go to the link the Professor doesn’t lambast the People’s Vote campaign.
But, it is, as they say, a poor book from which you can learn nothing, and Lavery manages to say something very true: “Given that it is associated almost entirely with the remain campaign, it does raise the question as to why its proponents don’t simply issue a call to remain . . .”, which is of course correct.
As I have said, the only point of another referendum for the large majority of Labour activists, members and voters is to prevent Brexit. Lavery tells us that we are headed for a no-deal but he is mainly concerned simply to accept it – “For some, the prospect of no deal is too frightening to countenance, but we need to be prepared for what is an ever growing threat.”
“If we do crash out on 31 October some on the right will be eager to exploit their newfound freedom to roll back protections in the workplace, exploit the environment and enrich themselves. We need to be united and ready to rally the entire Labour movement and all progressive forces in the country against this. If the Tories do take us over the edge, we must be ready to spell out what a Labour future for our country looks like outside of the EU.”
He doesn’t explain why such freedom should be given to them and why therefore we shouldn’t campaign against their reactionary project by opposing Brexit altogether. It would therefore be good if he could actually explain what a Labour country would look like outside the EU, after a fall in the value of the currency; capital flight; drop in new investment; disruption to trade and its consequent reduction in jobs and incomes.
Perhaps he believes that the British State, which alone seems to be potentially uniquely progressive (or why leave all the other capitalist states in the EU?), will start making cars made only in Britain and all the other goods that cannot be made in the UK. Perhaps he believes that having blamed foreigners for the austerity and inequality he can then turn round and reject charges that it is immigrants and non-whites who are still the problem for the greater austerity and inequality that must follow Brexit.
The real consequences of Brexit, and not delusions about what might happen, are what has led a majority to now oppose Brexit. The elections now confirm opinion polls and other evidence such as the enormous demonstrations and the petition of six million.
Politics isn’t about forgiveness. As Corbyn seeks to continue his dissembling support for Brexit the membership cannot afford to wait to give, or withhold forgiveness. It’s time to change party policy to complete opposition to Brexit, and if Corbyn gets in the way that’s his problem.
You write, with reference to JC’s position: “It seeks not to replace the capitalist state………..but to make more perfect the capitalist state that exists, …………………….. without the international features that arise from the internationalisation of trade and production.” And, “Brexit thus has to compress the productive forces that have spread across the world into a purely national framework that they long ago burst asunder, within a declining nation and its weakening economy.”
But is it true that JC wishes to reduce international trade and production? Surely his insistence on maintaining as close a relationship with the rest of Europe through a customs union and the single market stems from a recognition of the importance of trade (and thereby international production)?
And, as for Brexit “compres[sing] the productive forces into a purely national framework”, I am not convinced about this either. One of the key refrains of the leading Brexiteers is that one of the benefits they see of leaving the EU is to “free” the British ruling class to be able to make trade deals with any countries/trading blocs without being restrained by the “shackles” of the EU.
I am not saying I agree with them; their strategy is likely to lead to significant disruption to UK capitalism. But I cannot see any major players on the UK political scene arguing for a reduction in trade nor in international production, as I think your article is suggesting. Or am I missing something?
You write: “Brexit thus has to compress the productive forces that have spread across the world into a purely national framework that they long ago burst asunder, within a declining nation and its weakening economy. This project can therefore only fail and fail so badly that it will not get past the first engagement with the EU.”
Is this what those advocating Brexit are really aiming for: the compression of productive forces that have have spread across the world into a purely national framework? My understanding is that one of the slogans of the leading Brexiteers is that by the leaving the EU, the UK would be in a better position to negotiate trade deals with the rest of the world. They are not arguing for national self sufficiency, but rather a realignment of trading relationships. I am not saying I agree with them, or that it would not lead to major disruption of UK capitalism, just that this is what they are saying. Or am I missing something?
If you would advocate getting rid of Corbyn because he accepts the result of a referendum on a trading bloc, I don’t think you’re as much of a socialist as you think you are. He will certainly be replaced with someone more right-wing. Advocating a soft Brexit has always been the correct and moral response to the referendum.
So, if another referendum after Brexit blames the rise in unemployment on blacks and women, and calls for immigrants to be expelled, and women sent back into the home, as Orban proposes in Hungary, and some of Trump’s supporters argue for in the US, would a “socialist” then think that the moral response to such a referendum would be to argue for a “soft” version of these reactionary decisions?
Should they perhaps argue for only half the immigrants being repatriated, and half the women forced back into the home, or perhaps the women could be allowed to work for half of the days of the week, so as to appease the “democratic” wishes of the bigots.
You may be right that if Corbyn goes he will be replaced by someone from the right, but it will be Corbyn’s own actions that will be responsible. He has failed to democratise the party, failed to allow the membership to decide who their candidates are for elections and allowed the right to maintain its grip on MPs. He has failed to confront the right-wing attack cloaked in charges of anti-semitism while he has ignored the wishes of the membership who put him where he is.
No one can ignore and dismiss the views of their supporters while conciliating their enemies and expect to survive. So if the left refuses to fight Brexit and refuses to fight to democratise the Party against Corbyn’s opposition it will guarantee a right wing replacement. Brexit will sink him.
The ‘soft’ Brexit he proposes is an illusion and a fantasy – having a say in EU trade policy without being a member. Should he ever be in a position to attempt to negotiate such a thing he would end up looking as useless as Theresa May. The only soft Brexit would make the UK subject to EU rules but without any say in those rules, which makes no sense to anyone – left or right.
If the EU were such an enemy he would be advocating accepting its rules but not being able to influence them. So instead he asks that the UK be outside but still influence the rules. You have to be stupid to believe this is a possibility.
Supporting Brexit, which will be a disaster for workers, is losing the Labour Party votes and in no one’s book is that either correct or moral.