O wad some Pow’r the giftie gie us, To see oursels as ithers see us!

Image result for corbyn at tuc conference 2019

Yesterday I came across a discussion on Radio 4 between a former advisor to Jeremy Corbyn and a Liberal Democrat MP, centred mainly on their Parties’ prospects in a general election.  The advisor seemed shocked at the radical nature of the suggestion that Article 50 be revoked, although many of then millions against Brexit might approve.  He argued that putting the two options in a referendum of a credible Brexit deal (negotiated by Labour) and Remain would appeal to both Leavers and Remainers.

If they could bottle such stupidity Hollywood would make a film starring Bruce Willis or Tom Cruise ,whose mission – should they choose to accept it – would be to prevent the bottle being broken by terrorists, so releasing the deadly stupidity virus among the whole population.

A majority of leavers want to leave with no deal, so either have no idea or don’t care about the damage that Brexit will do.  Most Leavers just want it over with and certainly don’t want any further delay.  They aren’t going to vote for Labour and another referendum, as far as they’re concerned they’ve already voted and they don’t see the need to do it again.

On the other side of the fence there aren’t millions of Remainers hoping that Corbyn will negotiate his own Brexit deal.  They don’t want any sort of Brexit deal, ‘credible’ or not.   Many Labour voters who support Remain, who are the vast majority of Labour voters, have tried repeatedly to tell Corbyn that the Party should oppose Brexit, not come up with its own version.  Many of them voted Liberal Democrat and Green in the European elections in May, and in a recent opinion poll in early September almost one in five who voted Labour in the 2017 general election said they will still vote Liberal Democrat in the next one.

They no longer trust Corbyn, who spent weeks trying to see if Theresa May’s deal could be supported, and it doesn’t matter from the point of view of honesty if this was sincere or not. The party bureaucracy prevented debate on Brexit by the members at one party conference and at the next disingenuously had a motion put together that appeared to move to an anti-Brexit stance but allowed him to continue to propose a Labour Brexit, while the sound of silence hung over whether the Party would then support it.

Even after the drubbings in the European and local elections and the shift he seemed to make in an anti-Brexit direction, the speech by Corbyn to the TUC conference this week makes plain that a Labour negotiated Brexit deal is still central.  And no one can be sure he wouldn’t do the entirely logical thing and support any Brexit deal he had just negotiated.  He still thinks that there is a good ‘jobs’ Brexit out there so why wouldn’t he?  And why then would Remainers see this as a possible way forward except out of sheer desperation?

The proposal to put a ‘credible’ Brexit and Remain option to a referendum will not attract Leavers and Remainers but will raise the hackles of both and particularly of many previous loyal Labour voters. There isn’t a shortage of reasons to oppose this Corbyn policy even without its awful electoral implications.

There is no such thing as a good Brexit, either left or right.  The thinking behind a left one is that the British  state, unencumbered by EU rules, will build a strong and prosperous social democratic society.  But this forgets that the foundation of any society is a strong productive base and this base will be dramatically weakened by Brexit, as trade is disrupted and reduced, and investment flows out of Britain and away from it as a possible destination.

The Stalinist inspiration for this in the form of ‘socialism in one country’ is obvious, personified by some of Corbyn’s advisors, but the inspiration from some so-called Trotskyists arises from their belief that advances by the working class, telescoped into the idea of near term political revolution, will arise from capitalist crisis, which shall compel workers to adopt their crisis programme.  It’s the advanced country version of ‘year zero’ in which it doesn’t really matter the state of society the revolutionary party on top of the new state takes over, all the ideas of Marx about the primacy of the productive forces and relations is just so much theory, to be discussed academically by the academics who lead some of these organisations.  Internationalism is a word, a long word that appears to hover a long way from practical politics and is simply a moral value free from the capitalist society from which it must spring.

What this means for Corbyn’s credible Brexit alternative is that it isn’t at all credible.  His previous idea of all the benefits of membership of the Single Market and customs union, while having a say in these without EU membership; plus making independent trade deals and exclusion from free movement are delusional.  The EU could not possibly agree to these proposals, which means his ‘credible’ alternative is completely uncredible.

The idea that he would negotiate a Brexit that could only be worse for workers and a Remain option as two valid choices has invited justified incredulity.  Why would the Labour Party invite workers to choose between their Brexit deal and Remain if it didn’t think its Brexit was any good?  In such circumstances it could only mean Labour support for Brexit.

The idea that you could get this policy adopted could only be entertained when you rely on the membership not being able to stop you, and this means betraying the promise of democratising the Party.  For Corbyn and his advisors, it appears that the Party will shift left through left control of the apparatus and decision making from above, as the Stalinist school of socialism inspires wider application.

This plus all the strangulation about Labour’s Brexit policy means that Corbyn himself more and more lacks credibility, itself a consequence of setting himself up as a politician particularly defined by his honesty, demonstrated by his history of principled stands for ‘unpopular’ causes. He is now rated less trustworthy than the well-known liar Johnson, blowing up the idea that Brexit policy could be quarantined from other economic policy.

In the words of the Scots poet Rabbie Burns –

O wad some Pow’r the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us!

In the Radio 4 interview the recent Labour advisor stated that Labour would not be looking for EU membership should Britain leave, with no qualification that I could hear.  Why would Remain Labour supporters sign up to that?

Now it is argued that Corbyn is right to allow the party to take a ‘neutral’ position, just as Harold Wilson did during the 1975 referendum.

Apart from Wilson hardly being a left-wing hero of the Labour Party, this ignores the fact that we have already had the referendum and the time for any sort of neutrality is long gone. Just like Wilson’s ‘renegotiation’ of the terms of membership, Corbyn’s proposed renegotiation of Brexit is a cover for support for whatever come out of the negotiation – there is no point otherwise.

Expecting Corbyn to see the light is therefore a forlorn hope.  If getting less than 15% in a national vote doesn’t get the message through it’s difficult to see what would.  Only the membership in the Party conference can change policy for the next election and that is what it must do.

7 thoughts on “O wad some Pow’r the giftie gie us, To see oursels as ithers see us!

  1. The idea that it is not possible for a left-wing leader to propose pro-working class amendments to the treaties underpinning the EU is simply wrong. The important point would be that for instance, Corbyn should put forward amendments or opt-outs that are in favour of the working class. We would be trying to amend the treaties in favour of the working class, not the UK state. So, for instance, we would be demanding that rules barring state aid to workers co-ops be removed and competitive tendering should favour workers co-ops in any bidding. This could be in the form of an opt-out for the UK ( which would encourage other workers in Europe to follow suit) or a proposed amendment to the treaties which would apply across the EU. There are many other pro-working-class reforms that could be advanced by Corbyn while attempting to negotiate a new pro-working class “Brexit” which maintained a customs union and the single market but with pro-working-class reforms in place. Free movement would need to be fiercely defended. It is unlikely the renegotiations would produce a result ( since the ruling classes of the EU will resist pro-working-class reforms to the treaties or any pro-working class opt-outs) but it would be a useful propaganda process and help kick start a European wide movement for pro-working-class reforms. Unless you are of the view that the role of the labour movement in Britain is simply to defend the EU status quo ( as do the labour right and the lib dems etc) using the Brexit crisis to highlight the need and possibility of pro-working-class reforms throughout Europe seems sensible. if Corbyn has the stomach for it is another matter. Given that he has not been willing to fight back against the labour right there has to be serious doubt

  2. “A working-class exit from the EU would be very different from the Brexit movement we now face. It would be part of a European wide fightback by the left against nationalism militarism and austerity.”

    That appears a contradiction in terms. How could a fightback against nationalism be conducted on the basis of pursuing a nationalist agenda of leaving the EU? The way for the left in Europe to oppose nationalism, militarism and austerity is not to suggest that the causes of those problems is the EU, and so the answer to them is a return to the 19th century nation state, but is precisely for the Left in Europe to come together, to forge a truly EU wide labour movement, with EU wide trades unions, social-democratic parties, a common political programme for democratic and constitutional reform, for opposition to austerity, for an EU set of common rights and benefits for workers, for a defence of free movement, for the establishment of a federal United States of Europe, as the basis for progressive social democrats to fight within it for a Workers Government, and a Workers Europe on the way to a Socialist United States of Europe.

    • It is highly unlikely that a no-deal Brexit would win in a new referendum. The labour movement would throw all its weight behind the campaign against a no-deal Brexit. A defeat in a referendum for no-deal would help spike the guns of the far-right. A Labour government pursuing pro-working-class reforms would lessen even further the small chance that a no-deal Brexit would win

    • “A working-class exit from the EU would be very different from the Brexit movement we now face. It would be part of a European wide fightback by the left against nationalism militarism and austerity.”

      But what is suggested here is not a british exit from the EU but a working-class exit from the EU which would mean an exit by a significant section of the European working class from the pro-capitalist institutions of the EU. That is obviously a scenario for some time in the future once the European socialist left has built up its strength

  3. What should labour policy be on Brexit? I think the left Brexit position ( lexit) of some ( CPB, SWP, SPS, etc) is politically bankrupt and has been shown to be so by the growth and dominance of a British nationalist far-right Brexit movement- now led by Johnston and Farage. This project is a coherent far-right project which aims to link up with Trump and further attack the living standards of the working class. A working-class exit from the EU would be very different from the Brexit movement we now face. It would be part of a European wide fightback by the left against nationalism militarism and austerity. That is some way off in the future and we have to lay the grounds for such a movement now by attempted to link up socialists on a European scale. The Corbyn movement should use its strength to initiate and support such a project. Socialism in one country is a fantasy. Should labour simply call for revoking of article 50 and enter the coming general election with that policy- a clear remain position. I think not. It is not a sensible policy to simply ignore or disdain those workers who voted leave. Many did so in a reaction to the last 40 years of neoliberalism and the last 10 years of austerity. These voters are not hardened, British nationalists or racists. They oppose the establishment consensus of Blair, Brown and Cameron and don’t want a return to the status quo of the last 40 years. They are mistaken in believing that Brexit offers a way forward for workers. The left needs to win them to support a program of pro-working class reforms. By simply overruling the EU referendum result we are likely to drive them further into the arms of the far-right. Far better to offer the democratic option of another referendum but this time with concrete proposals for leave and remain. In this Corbyn is correct. However, I would suggest three options on the ballot in a single transferable vote system. !) no-deal Brexit. 2) a deal negotiated by the labour government and 3) remain. If 2 does not transpire we then have a straight choice between a no-deal Brexit and Remain. This is the most democratic way forward and it is the choice that is most likely to puncture the bubble of the growth of the far-right. If a labour government simply withdraws article 50 it provides a platform for the growth of a far-right opposition to a Labour government. Of course, it would have been far better if the EU referendum had never happened. but we are where we are and we need to map a way forward that stops Brexit while removing any democratic rallying point for the far-right.

    I voted remain because I thought that Brexit would produce a carnival of British nationalist reaction. And so it has turned out. No one could claim that the present movement for Brexit is a pro-working class movement. I agree on the need to build a European wide socialist movement because if we dont we are not going to make any big step forward. To leave under the Tories was always going to be a disaster for working-class people. It sets off a reactionary dynamic which is difficult to stop. But stop it we must

    • “It is not a sensible policy to simply ignore or disdain those workers who voted leave. Many did so in a reaction to the last 40 years of neoliberalism and the last 10 years of austerity.”

      This is simply not true. 70% of the Brexit vote came from elderly Tories. Only 30% came from, mostly elderly also, Labour voters. True we should not ignore the 30% of Labour voters who voted for Brexit, or some of the other workers who voted for Brexit, but who contrary to myth have never been traditional Labour voters. But, ignoring them does not mean appeasing them by continuing the myth that there is some non-reactionary, or even feasible Brexit option that can be negotiated and put to them in a referendum, rather than telling them the basis truth that Brexit is reactionary, it will damage their interests, and that of other workers, and that the only way the kinds of social-democratic policies that might benefit them, let alone any kind of socialist agenda, is possible, is by stopping Brexit, and remaining in the EU where we should fight with other workers for those policies across the EU.

      Corbyn’s Labour knows that, which is why it says it would campaign for Remain in any referendum, including any it called itself, and against any Brexit deal it had itself negotiated. That is bizarre, and shows that this position is designed to deal with the contradictions in Labour itself, based on Corbyn’s continued attachment to reactionary economic nationalism and Socialism in One Country.

    • “!) no-deal Brexit. 2) a deal negotiated by the labour government and 3) remain. If 2 does not transpire we then have a straight choice between a no-deal Brexit and Remain. ”

      And if the result came out for No Deal, what then? Would a Corbyn Labour government have to implement this reactionary policy whose immediate catastrophic effect would be to doom Labour to be out of office for at least a generation, would create a split in the labour movement itself, and would open the door to far right, Bonapartists to step in to restore Law and Order!

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