Brexit and any step forward by the working class in Britain are incompatible. So what attitude do we take to a party that promises both? Up until now the way forward was to fight for the Labour Parry to be democratised so that its Remain supporting membership, backed by the majority of Labour voters, could impose a progressive Remain policy on the leadership. This had to be done irrespective of the Jeremey Corbyn leadership. In other words, it was a gulp, and then ‘No, Jeremy’.
Failure to see this or to carry it to success, for whatever reason, now means that we have to face a Labour Party of MPs who don’t support Corbyn, especially any progressive policies he stands for, and are no more likely to force a radical agenda in Parliament if the Party won a majority than they were under Blair. On the other hand, if the Party lost the election badly, Corbyn would be finished and there would be an almighty push to finish any progressive element of the Corbyn project with him.
This is one reason why socialists and working people more generally should call for a vote for Labour, because it provides better grounds on which to fight for socialism, inside the party and outwith it.
Even if the Party won, of course the fight to get the parliamentary party to take the action it needs to take to implement any sort of radical agenda would remain. The Party would also still be run by a Brexit-supporting apparatus that would deliver up either an unsustainable Brexit or simply more years of political paralysis and crisis. If so permitted, in either eventuality the Party would suffer, and especially the leadership that delivered either of these outcomes. It would be better that the Tories bear responsibility for Brexit than it be implemented by Labour, although this means only that we should fight for Labour to adopt a socialist policy on Brexit, not leave it to the Tories.
A socialist policy would not simply mean opposition and support for Remain. It would mean taking advantage of EU membership to organise on a pan-European basis, trying to win support for the social democratic policies that are currently put forward only within national limits but can only be implemented, at the very least, on a European level. Of course, such a social democratic programme is not in itself socialist, but a fight to ensure solidarity across each member state would seek to level up labour rights, working conditions and regulations etc. in order that national differences are eroded and the nationalism that feeds off them is undermined. In this way the grounds for the international unity of the working class can be increased.
So the socialist position is not to attempt to prevent or hold back the unity of Europe but to rapidly advance it in order that the best conditions for the organisation of workers as a class, irrespective of nationality, is created. We don’t take the view that this cannot be done under capitalism but must somehow wait until after socialism has been created, just as we don’t wait for socialism to unite workers right now within nation states. If capitalism breaks the restrictions of these states all the more so should the working class.
Those reactionary socialists who can conceive of socialism only as a set of sympathetic diplomatic relations between separate states have no comprehension that the real unity of workers will arise from the internationalisation of capitalism, just as the working class itself is a creation of capitalism, upon which the independent organisation of workers has been and will continue to be built.
The former can only emphasise the sovereignty and independence of separate states while the latter stands for the self-determination and independence of the working class – in opposition to these states and the institutions they create for subordinating workers at the international level, which includes the EU. The objective is therefore a single socialist polity across the continent.
The first priority now is to campaign for all those standing in the election who at least support Remain and do so on an internationalist basis, who are seeking to advance workers’ interests in the knowledge that the principle of solidarity that ‘divided we fall and united we stand’ applies at the international level as well.
But of course, we have a problem. Opposition to Brexit also defines the right MPs that still form a large slice of the parliamentary Labour Party, not to mention the Liberal Democrats and Scottish and Welsh nationalists.
It would not make sense to call for a vote for only left-Remain Labour candidates – there are not two Labour Parties and we have not yet democratised the one we have so that it reflects the views of the overwhelming majority of the membership. If we could ‘solve’ this by only voting for left-Remain MPs then this task would not be necessary.
A majority Labour Party is the best position at the present time to not only defend ourselves against the Tories plans for massive attacks on the working class through Brexit, but also to move forward to opposing Brexit itself inside the Party. Such a fight would provide a way out of the prospective dangers already mentioned, of a unjustifiable and unsustainable Brexit or continuing paralysis and crisis. So while the resources of socialists should be concentrated on supporting left-Remain candidates and campaigning more widely for the socialist Remain argument, the overall call is for a Labour vote. In this process the left inside the Party can demonstrate the correctness of its approach through the inevitable failure of Brexit to deliver what it claims.
Where this does not apply is to those Labour MPs who have voted for the Tory Brexit and who have employed reactionary arguments to defend it, while advancing reactionary politics that essentially blame foreign workers for the problems faced by British workers. In this they are also fundamentally no different from the Tories, which is the ultimate reason why they voted for it.
So what about the Liberals and the nationalists? They are for Remain – so why not support tactical voting in an attempt to get a Remain majority and at least prevent the Tory’s Brexit?
At this point we have to take a step back, and remember what was said in the first post. It was argued that Brexit would entail economic disruption that ‘means loss of markets and economies of scale in production; reduced capital accumulation leading to lower economic growth, and loss of necessary labour power both skilled and unskilled without which some current production will cease, shrink, or grow more slowly.’
This is obviously no more in the interests of the bigger capitalists who engage in foreign trade, seek economies of scale and require as wide a pool of labour to exploit as possible, as it is for workers – whose interest is not in more primitive forms of capitalism, in comparison to which the form of capitalism encapsulated in the EU is actually more progressive. It’s why the Liberals and nationalists, not to mention the Blairites and some Tories, are also for Remain. They do not do so because, as I said, Brexit will reduce workers’ incomes and employment and diminish the capacity of a social democratic government to provide welfare payments and to redistribute incomes. They aren’t interested in this, except to stop it; their opposition to Brexit is not our opposition and cannot be endorsed.
So, apart from the fact that the Liberals and nationalists’ keenness for an election has revealed that their priority is not opposition to Brexit but their own party, their projects cannot be supported in any way. Their politics are antithetical to the interests of workers in the same way that Brexit is, in so far as they seek to divide workers by nationalism, and in the case of the Liberals, in pursuing an opposition to Labour that has so exceeded their differences with the Tories. It would not even be such a massive surprise if the Liberals did another deal with the Tories after the election, if the Tories required one; a deal for example that could be packaged as a ‘soft’ Brexit. However, even on their own account, their reactionary politics can easily encompass support for a Tory domestic and foreign policy agenda that would be perfectly consistent with a Tory Brexit. In short – the Liberals are a party of the class enemy.
The election may facilitate increased awareness that the choice now facing working people, at least outside Scotland, is more and more to be considered as one of Johnson and his Brexit or the social democracy of Corbyn’s Labour. Much of this awareness will come from increased understanding that the dangers posed by the Johnson-led Tories derive particularly from their plans for Brexit. This makes it even more inexcusable that the Corbyn leadership refuses to oppose it but has effectively come down harder in its defence. Even so, contrary to speculation that Corbyn would, as he first appeared to indicate, talk about everything but Brexit, he has said more about it than expected precisely because it has become so clear that Brexit is the sharp end of Tory plans to assault the living standards and rights of the working class.
Nevertheless, the position of Corbyn on Brexit makes it less likely that the Labour Party will appear as the alternative that strong supporters of Remain would like it to be. And we now have numerous polls indicating that a very large number of potential Labour voters fall into this category. The call for a united party from Labour spokespeople in the election has so far effectively been used to further unity around the leadership’s Brexit agenda.
Nevertheless, opposition will not be advanced by abstaining from the election on the grounds that an election victory would see the Party likely end up in the same Brexit position as the Tories. This is because at least in the short term, this would not be the case. While a Corbyn proposed Brexit may be of the ‘softest’ variety, it will entail a cost, and will appear all the more pointless the softer it is. Opposition to any Labour deal from the right and from the left would end up effectively making this same argument.
The view of the left that Brexit is not in reality compatible with any radical social democratic programme will impose itself one way or another. Labour supporters will not dismiss mounting evidence of its threats as do the demoralised, blinkered and prejudiced supporters of Brexit who in their majority now favour no deal. They will less and less accept a policy of ‘respecting the referendum’ the more this entails they’re having to respect their rights and living standards being shredded.
So the truth that socialists must always fight beside the working class, however backward it views, will find support from the majority of Party members and supporters who are opposed to Brexit. A Corbyn policy of getting Brexit ‘sorted’, if put to the test, would encourage further efforts to sort it by stopping it.
The longer the struggle goes on to impose this reactionary project the more likely it is that the reactionary supporters of Brexit will be demoralised. ‘Taking back control’ will seem further away the further Britain gets into the reality of Britain on its own. Whatever the result the reality of Brexit will impose itself with the most obvious losers its Lexit supporters, whose illusions are the most absurd.
While elections are important, socialists argue that it is not fundamentally elections that are determinate. Rather elections reflect the state of politics and the class struggle and can influence them but not decide them. What is most important therefore is that the vast majority of members of the Party are mobilised in the election in such a way as to strengthen the left in the party and its capacity to impose its views by putting a Labour Government into office. In 2016 the referendum was to decide the question and it didn’t, and neither did the 2017 general election. It would not be a great surprise if the current election didn’t either. In any case the the task is to ensure an election result that puts us in as strong position as possible to resist a Brexit that still has a long way to go.
Back to part 1